Monday, June 30, 2014

Keeping it Real - Green is the Key to Sense of Place

The science is clear about the importance of green infrastructure.  It supports the Durham (North Carolina) City Council’s recent move to dedicate a half-cent of property tax for partial maintenance of a tiny fraction.

It was an important step but not nearly strategic enough.

Oh, it is very strategic in execution.  It will fund 12 new FTE’s (the equivalent of full time workers) to keep parks and trails in better repair, maintain clean bathrooms, keep the turf mowed (in most cases weeds,) and maintain basketball goals and ball fields in better condition.

The plan also stipulates inter-agency coordination and defines performance metrics.

On the down side, it neglects the vast majority of green infrastructure, areas even more at risk, such as urban forests.

At the same time, officials quietly axed a popular and effective summer youth litter patrol.  Why?  The grant wasn’t renewed.

Durham, like a lot of communities in the years after I first moved here, did this with the grant-inspired Durham Service CorpsBut they don’t really get what grants are for.

They aren’t intended to subsidize operations but to momentarily leverage innovations until grantee communities can make their capacity sustainable.

The problem is not only that what the City Council just did for parks and trails is woefully insufficient, but the angst by which it was forged will likely mean that expectations will be as though it were.

Rather than serve to pilot strategic scalability, far too often officials everywhere wearily turn instead to the next crises.

To be truly strategic, a move such as Durham’s for parks and trails should have comprehensively addressed overall green infrastructure as an overarching strategy (a means to spearhead and achieve many others.)

Green infrastructure, including upkeep, is correlated scientifically to:

  • Reduce crime (especially domestic violence,)
  • Improve public and mental health outcomes,
  • Invigorate neighborhoods,
  • Reduce homeowner costs and street maintenance,
  • Develop and foster workplace skills such as executive function skills,
  • Engage civic participation and organizational citizenship
  • Develop the economy from both supply and demand sides,
  • Improve curb appeal/property values, and more.

Strategic mindset, unfortunately, isn’t a requirement to run for office, although it should be for governing.  Nor is this mindset sufficiently found or exercised enough by day-to-day public servants or administrators.

This oxygen becomes even thinner at higher levels of government.

To put what the City Council did in perspective, this new tax will generate $1.2 million annually to improve one tiny corner of green infrastructure, a fifth or sixth of what local governments spend each year related to the ten-year-old American Tobacco Complex, revealed by recent news reports.

Both are key, the former strategic and the latter tactical, to retaining Durham’s status among the fewer than 1-in-3 places still considered “real and authentic.”

This core sense of place asset correlates with appeal to talent, resident passion and engagement, relocating and expanding business and visitation but belies how quickly it is eroding.

Historic and natural or green infrastructure rank highest in perception as real and authentic, according to national surveys.

Even among those drawn to attractions and entertainment - sports, performing arts (especially musical theater,) generic events and other amusements and fantasies rank least as contributing to “authentic.”

The nationwide study was conducted by PGAV Destinations which has developed or revitalized attractions visited by 75 million people each year.

When it comes to sense of place appeal, it can be both/and but as in wine parlance, always historic/natural character forward.

To get a sense of how determined officials are to keeping our community “real and authentic” or falling vulnerable to surrendering sense of place, follow the money.

Lets hope the long overdue attention given to to even a fraction of its even more crucial green infrastructure is more than a “one off.”

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Greatest Legacy of All

It has been barely more than 40 years since I stood on a bridge over the Spokane River as a newly-minted community marketing executive watching President Nixon officially open the six month “environmental” World’s Fair.

America then was at the nexus of three global crises, the Cold War, the Watergate Scandal and the Energy Crisis.

My boss suggested I steer clear of the floating stage due to my “way below the ears” hairstyle and the outrage I had expressed as the Watergate cover-up dissolved.

In observance, I recently replayed an incredible 58-minute documentary produced twenty years later by KSPS public television for the Expo ‘74 anniversary.

It includes rare footage of that opening ceremony (if you look you can see me on the bridge – not.)

It also captures interviews with many of the primary movers, many of whom have passed on, using exclusive footage by an amateur historian of what the 100-acre site looked like before, during and after demolition.

This included 15-acres of marshaling yards for what had been six transcontinental railroads, by then four, using Spokane as a hub.

Behind me in that footage is the symbolic Great Northern clock tower, shown in this link a year before counting down to the opening.  It remains an artifact in the incredible park created when the fair’s structures were sold off and repurposed.

For Spokane, the smallest city (170,000 at the time) to ever host a World’s Fair, that had been the objective anyway.

In 1974 I had finished my first year of law school across the river at Gonzaga University, taking classes at night and using the experience I had gleaned from a part time job at BYU during the days to help organize a destination marketing organization to carry on after the Expo.

Already I had begun to sense that I was backing into another career, one that stretched until I retired at the end of 2009.

I had supported Nixon in 1968, although too young to vote, but not because all of my extended family except my great-grandfather were conservative (for that time) Republicans.

When anti-war Republican hopeful Governor George Romney dropped out and Democratic hopeful Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, Nixon just seemed the best option for ending the futile Viet Nam War.

When he didn’t come through, I turned to Senator George McGovern in 1972, a South Dakota liberal and WWII hero.

I’m a native of Idaho, where before it was even a territory my ancestors helped establish the first permanent settlement in 1860.  They thought they were in the upper Cache Valley in Utah, until more than a decade later when surveyors marked the 42nd parallel.

My Mormon ancestors took time away from their ranching to mill railroad ties, haul gravel and lay tracks up through southeastern Idaho Territory.

From what they saw, and encouraged by railroad promotions, my paternal great-grandparents and grandparents eventually homesteaded ranchland up in the nook that points into the Tetons and Yellowstone Park.

But back then Mormons were Democrats, and that was a problem.

Idaho has always had three “state capitals,” and still does today.  For the north, it is Spokane  just across the Washington line.  For the southwest, settled by Midwest Republicans, it is Boise.  For Southeastern Idaho, it is Salt Lake City in neighboring Utah.

At its narrowest, Idaho’s panhandle is only 50 miles wide because the mountainous third of what is now Montana conspired with Congress to lop it off on the pretense that it would be too difficult for Idaho officials such as circuit judges to travel through the Bitterroots.

Miffed when the territorial capital was soon “stolen” away by Boise in the years before Idaho became a state, Northern Idaho lobbied Congress to annex it to Washington instead, a move that made it through one house of Congress, but stalled in the other.

To appease northern interests, the territorial legislature relocated the University of Idaho from what is now Idaho Falls in the southeast up to Moscow, Idaho in the north.

Had it stayed it Idaho Falls, I’m certain that is where I would have attended college.

But there was a much bigger hurdle to statehood:  the Mormons.  Back then Congress took a partisan approach to granting statehood.  Let’s call it macro-gerrymandering.

Republicans didn’t want to lose control by granting statehood where divided political affiliations might shift the balance of power.

So threatened with disenfranchisement as subterfuge,  Mormons converted to Republicans in Idaho (page 419.)

That “reddest” of states today belies a much more diverse political and ideological heritage.

Spokane always identified more with the Northern Rockies than the much further west Cascades, and eventually this “Inland Empire” came to describe its market area including parts of three states and a slice of Canadian province.

During my time there, I created a winter ski promotion called “Ski The 51st State,” incorporating four nearby ski areas including two in Idaho.

Today, “Inland Empire” in Spokane has given way to “Inland Northwest,” a nod to a region in California, although with later claim.

But for Spokane, that moniker probably came from an interurban railway by that name, one of many running in the years before about six Transcontinental's made Spokane a hub.

People rightfully feared the transcontinental railroads would become monopolies. The Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway was largely created as a Great Northern and Northern Pacific joint venture to work around President Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting.

By the time Spokane leaders hatched Expo ‘74, these smaller railroads, if even in name only, had merged into their parents, collapsing the remaining four Transcontinental's whose blight had alienated its river from downtown.

Today all four, including two more Transcontinental's further south, are all part of BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe.)  Only the old logos remain.

To their credit, the railroads agreed to donate land, reroute tracks, construct new bridges, and clear what is now Spokane Riverfront Park.

The year these mergers commenced, Congress created Amtrak, or the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, in 1970 which relieved private railroads to focus on freight.

It wasn’t to save passenger rail travel, it was to save the railroads.

Amtrak began service in 1971 as passenger rail miles bottomed from their high in 1944.  By the time I started grade school in 1955, passenger train travel was lower than the pre-war 1920s peak (page 18.)

In 1974, not only did nearly a fifth of the Expo’s 5.2 million attendees go through the Amtrak exhibit, but greeting the arrival of its uber-scenic Empire Builder is how I first connected with two career mentors.

Still its most popular long-haul route today, back then the nation’s tourism leaders took the Empire Builder (the founders nickname) to simultaneously promote both Spokane’s World’s Fair and Amtrak.

First to step down from the train was Charlie Gillette, a WWII hero who had worked for the New York City DMO since when I was born, becoming CEO the year before the World’s Fair there a decade earlier.

Four years before I met him in Spokane, Charlie had begun handing out small lapel pins, then stickers, using its old Jazz nickname for NYC, The Big Apple.

Having retired the year before I arrived in Durham, I treasure his last letter congratulating me.

I’ll always be grateful for that Spokane start to my career.  My daughter was born there and I still hear from friends from those days.

Occasionally, I drive past Riverfront Park as I shuttle to and from the airport during annual family rendezvous' at lakes along the Idaho border near there.

Ironically, in 1908, the famed Olmsted Brothers identified that part of of the river as a prime site for a city park while creating an overall plan for green infrastructure.

No one listened then, but 50 years later civic leaders began thinking of ways to reclaim the area from blight.

Looking back today, I am particularly impressed that conservative business leaders had the sense to embrace the environmental movement as a means.

Unheard of, not only did the private sector volunteer a temporary business and occupation tax (B&O) to help pay for the World’s Fair, but the private organizers were among the very first in the nation to conduct an environmental impact statement.

This preceded studies by the EPA.

As the city editor for the local newspaper there noted a few weeks ago, the 1974 event “brought new ways of thinking to that area,” maybe the greatest legacy of all.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

An Archaeology of Connections

While nosing around in my own history, I ran into some interesting connections that also relate to others.

In college at BYU I was named a Hinckley Scholar during my junior and senior years.  The private scholarship recognized a 3.8 grade point and “service to community.”

Many sought it for prestige, others such as me out of need.  Each grant was around $1,500 which in today’s dollars would be more than $8,000.

Among the 1,300 students the fund has recognized to date are Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Supreme Court clerk and law school dean and three college presidents (no humblebrag intended – smile.)

But then there are a whole lot of folks like me, who also devoted their lives to community service.

Robert, the Hinckley son who, with his brothers, endowed the scholarship in 1954 in honor of their father, college professor Edwin S. Hinckley, was a “New Deal” FDR-Democrat.

What makes that particularly interesting is that Robert H. Hinckley also endowed the first of its kind bipartisan Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah where conservative-Republican-guru Karl Rove cut his teeth.

Rove is the operative currently floating rumors about Hillary Clinton’s health (one of his trademarks…remember swiftboating?)  At the Hinckley Institute he was taught to participate in politics and do it “in a decent and honorable way.”

As his mentor once lamented, Rove apparently only learned the first of those two lessons.

Bob Hinckley was a Mormon, who in his 20s cut his teeth in public service as a state legislator representing the overwhelmingly Republican Sanpete County which had been settled by my great-great-great grandparents in 1849.

Like his father, he was a liberal Democrat, but married into the family of a wealthy Republican rancher who grew Marino wool and bred Rambouillet sheep for export.

Then came the Great Depression and Bob Hinckley soon found himself appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to oversee all New Deal programs in Utah.

This was at the time that some Mormon leaders, egged on by an influential former official in the ousted Hoover Administration, were bent on undermining the New Deal.

Fear-mongering about putting people on “the dole” reached such a fevered pitch in that state that Mormons eventually created their own “dole,” but during the Great Depression, it didn’t come anywhere close to relieving the need, including those of 75% of Mormons.

While Mormons are notoriously resilient and self-sufficient, Utah back then had the highest per capita use of federal welfare programs in the nation.

While Utah is about 40% active Mormon today, in the 1930s it was 65-70% Mormon.

For every tax dollar Utahans transferred up to the federal government during the New Deal, they received seven in return.

Another way to view it is that Utahans received ten times as much from federal programs between 1936 and 1940 as they did from Mormon Church welfare.

In actuality, Roosevelt's federal administrators such as Harry Hopkins hated “the dole” too, preferring work relief programs instead, according to Hinckley’s papers.

In 1934, for instance, Utah was hit by a devastating drought.  Ranchers turned stock loose and thousands of families were drinking from irrigation ditches.

Hinckley implemented a $600,000 Water Conservation and Development Program, putting Utahans to work drilling 276 wells, developing 118 springs, lining 118 miles of irrigation ditches and laying 98 miles of pipeline.

As Hinckley predicted, this saved the government several millions of dollars in relief.

It was also a year later that U.S. Forest Service research led to conversion of an old mining site into Alta Ski Area and the foundation of Utah’s reputation for snow skiing.

Robert H. Hinckley went on to serve as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce and chaired the aviation administration during the construction of Washington’s National Airport and oversaw pilot training for WWII.

He was a driving force behind formation of the “Tuskegee Airmen.”

He also led a war effort to build strategic airfields around the United States.  This, along with aircraft technology fueled during the war effort, laid the groundwork for the subsequent explosion in air travel during the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Taking his first flight in 1913 with famed female aviator Mellie Beese, he acquired a Dodge Brothers dealership in 1915 (touring car shown) which his descendants owned for four generations.

He founded Pacific Airways in 1927 and invested early in radio. Hinckley obviously had an eye for useful technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.

D.C.’s airport is now ironically renamed for conservative Republican President Ronald Reagan.

Even more ironic is that both Hinckley and Reagan would be considered moderates today while Mormons have become the most conservative faith in America.

Still more than 1-in-3 are moderate or liberal, more than 1-in-5 are Democrats or lean Democratic and 36% overall would like to see a bigger role for government while nearly 60% of Mormons overall believe environmental laws are worth the cost.

Hmm, so much for stereotypes I guess.  Why is this news to many Mormons?  Perhaps many are just softer spoken.

It was a Hinckley Institute Fellow and resident scholar at a conservative think tank who co-authored the recent bestseller entitled, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the Politics of Extremism.

A quick read of this book will reveal why many otherwise reasonable people, when grouped together in control of the North Carolina General Assembly, have turned zany, mean and vindictive.

But the book’s author Dr. Jay Ornstein apparently did pay attention to the Institute’s full curriculum.

One of the easiest ways to spot today’s extremists anywhere is not only by their lack of empathy but by their serious deficit when it comes to ethics.

Two years before I was born, Bob Hinckley teamed with Ed Noble (of Lifesavers fame) in 1946 to found the American Broadcast Company, building it into what it is today, merging with Paramount and taking a 35% stake in Disneyland along the way.

Some of that ABC stock found its way into the scholarship fund from which I benefited in college.

I hope I’m able to repay that scholarship one day.  At one time it was the largest private scholarship endowment at BYU.  To return the irony, maybe Mitt would consider making it even larger, if he hasn’t already.

I have two other connections to Edwin S. Hinckley in whose name the fund was created by his sons.  He was born in Cove Fort, down by what is now Fish Lake National Forest in 1868, a contemporary of my great-grandfather Hyrum Edward Bowman.

His father Ira knew many of my earlier Mormon ancestors very well.  Those who created settlements south (most headed north where I was born) such as the Shumways and Sheltons, would have seen young Edwin playing as they repeatedly traveled through the fort.

Edwin graduated from BYU back when it was a combined high school/college academy and then took his family to Ann Arbor for graduate work in geology at the University of Michigan before returning to teach at BYU.  He retired after twenty years in 1915.

He then took charge of reforming the State Industrial Reform School for several years before returning to Provo to put his stamp on economic development.

Juvenile delinquency had reared its head among Mormons as early as 1868.  Gangs had formed by the 1870s including the “Squirter’s Squad” known for spitting tobacco juice on goods put out for sale resulting in creation of the territorial reform school in 1888.

Edwin S. Hinckley died on the eve of the Great Depression and didn’t witness his son’s role in the nation’s recovery.

He is famous for saying, "When one man says something can't be done, he is usually interrupted by someone else doing it."

His son Bob is famous for saying, “Democrats are for the people,” and “Republicans are for things…they favor property over people every time.”

A contemporary of my grandparents, he was also famous for saying, “I was just born lucky.”

Before I could say thank you, Robert H. Hinckley died just prior to beginning my final stint leading the DMO for Durham, but I’ve read and occasionally reread his autobiography, an oral history monograph.

Entitled I’d Rather Be Born Lucky Than Rich, it was published about the time I headed from Spokane to Anchorage to lead my second DMO and long before I made any connection.

I agree, and part of my luck was paid forward by him.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Distinguishing Complainers From Whiners

Dove-tailing on yesterday’s essay, I have always found it puzzling how many people who are unfriendly to data and analytics or resistant, at best, are found working in organizations whose very mission is formed around analytics as a core asset.

This includes organizations at the forefront of today’s economy such as healthcare, pharmaceutical, biotech and educational concerns.

One of the board members who recruited me to Durham, North Carolina credited me recently in a retrospective for teaching board members about destination marketing in general and specifically, the value of using data to forecast direction.

That may be, but only the governing board as a unit as it evolves through time can make sustainable the embedding of analytics and strategic mindset as core values in the culture of an organization.

If other members aren’t continually vigilant, however, this culture can be so easily undermined by pressure from special interests for whom being strategic is an obstacle to self-serving agendas.

It can be as simple as forgetting to measure performance of analytics which is now considered equal in importance for executives to creativity, falling right after strategic mindset.

Even boards who persevere over many years are vulnerable to regression during periodic CEO successions, a time when charisma often overwhelms substance.

Crucial is selecting someone who grasps both the organization’s story, and in the case of destination marketing organizations, (DMOs) that of the community it serves.

This is best detected by how well they grasp the analytics central to the collective culture and narrative of both.

We shouldn’t make the mistake of always lumping together data and analytic tools such as metrics.  Those same authors I mentioned yesterday distinguished them in an earlier article this year in Harvard Business Review.

Data is data, but it isn’t something over which we have control.  Analytic expertise, particularly at the executive level, is the ability to convert data into metrics that can be consistently tracked and utilized over many years.

Then it can be woven into a strategic narrative.

An organization such as a DMO should be able to track several hundred metrics which are then collapsed into a dozen or so that not only represent what a DMO and its community care about, but more importantly, what they should care about.

This requires measuring against comparable sets of community destinations not for purposes of emulation but to identify outcomes that can truly differentiate a destination while still achieving market share.

In other words, metrics aren’t always about exceeding the norm, some metrics are maintained to measure a community’s divergence away from the norm.

In the words of Dr. Michael Porter, strategy is “about deliberately choosing to be different.”

At the deepest root of why DMO’s exist is the notion of protecting and fostering sense of place, that unique character that makes them worthy of affection.

Visitation, demand-based economic development, and tax revenue generation, are all merely a means to that end.

If residents of a community predominantly value sense of place, they will see its DMO as relevant.  If it is relevant to people who truly love the community, then the DMO will be relevant to local officials.

But it is also a DMO’s responsibility to sound warnings about things that erode sense of place.  Using data-analytics-metrics to strategically evaluate and choose among trade offs greatly improves the odds of doing that.

This is also why being a DMO exec is so precarious.  This part of the job will cause the DMO to occasionally step on the toes of some very powerful special interests, and it should.

Left unchecked, appeasing powerful but mainstream interests sets in motion forces that rapidly hollow out the very essence of place and “what makes our physical surroundings worth caring about or visiting.”

Fostering a community’s unique character is more than just protecting its past.  In the words of development expert Ed McMahon, it means helping communities adapt to change while maintaining and valuing the things that make it distinct.

There were occasions in all three communities in which I served when special interests attempted to blackmail governing boards.  They were rescued by sound analytics-driven decisions along with copious amounts of moral courage.

The management and boards of effective DMOs will be labeled complainers from time to time, ironically by those who themselves are whiners.

But pity the poor DMOs without data and analytics to back up their concerns or inability to discern the difference in those descriptions.

Many who serve on boards, including elected boards, fail to distinguish complaining from whining.

A complainant is one who has the best interests of others and the community at heart.

Whiners are those who seek special treatment or simply resent paying their share.

Oh, there is one more difference.  Whiners are often cheap, mean and vindictive.  Complainers are just frustrated and puzzled but willing to shoulder their full share and more of any cost.

Both deserve to be heard and provided more information but the former deserves more attentiveness, especially if the concerns are data-driven and contrary to prevailing opinion.

Training on how to triage complaints, including pressure from whining special or self-interests, should be de rigueur for all who serve on governing boards, especially elected officials.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Resistors to Information-Driven Decision-Making

People, not all of whom are friends, tell me that I was an innovative community destination marketing (DMO) executive during my four-decade career in .

That’s sad, because two characteristics with which I am credited are still so rarely found: what we now call integrated marketing and the use of analytics for decision and strategy making.

Any credit due is because I worked under innovation-friendly governing boards in each of the three innovation-friendly communities I served.

Even today, still only 12% or 1-in-8 organizations globally qualify as “analytical innovators” according to a new survey by the MIT Sloan Management Review and North Carolina-based SAS Institute.

This means they thrive in an analytics-driven culture, mandated by senior management, which means endorsed by board policy. These organizations have groomed higher levels of analytic skills and here’s the kicker, they are deploying analytics for strategic advantage.

Strategic mindset and analytic skills are now more important for marketing executives than creativity according to executive search giant Spencer Stuart.

This is because, in the words of Tony Parker who heads up marketing for a company whose brands now touch 1-in-4 people globally every day, analytics enables and enhances creativity.

A strategic mindset from the board through its chief executive to every corner of an organization is a huge competitive advantage because deciding what to do as well as forecasting the best direction is all about evaluating tradeoffs.

Being driven by data-analytics-metrics is simply the best way to choose among tradeoffs.

So where do the vast majority of other organizations fall?  According to the study, nearly 6-in-10 are analytics wannabes.  They have an attitude of “oh yeah, that too” but they fail to deploy analytics as a “core asset.”

Fully a third of all organizations are “analytically challenged.” This means they rely more on just anecdotal experience and personal opinion and suffer from poor data and analytic management skills.

Half of the 78% that believe they need to be more innovative are held back by “analytically challenged” executives and governing boards.

Ironically, many data skeptics and resisters are also usually top performers personally, according to an analysis last month in Harvard Business Review dissecting the psychological resistance of those afraid of data-driven management.

This is why a friend of mine who consults with community destination marketing organizations like those I led got so much grief from sources he didn’t expect when he chastised DMO execs for being data-resistors.

Data enemies have high perceived but low actual performance.  Data friendlies are perceived low but are actually high performers.  Data skeptics fall in the quadrant of high perceived and high actual performance.

The authors found that those who resist data are what I would call “control freaks.”  They hold their organizations hostage because they fear data will show a better way than their experience alone and they will look bad or their organization and community will look backward.

Because of rotations and term limits, I probably worked with around 120 different board members during my career.  I say “with” because an executive only works “for” the board as a unit.

While the boards as a whole were data and innovation-friendly, there were at least ten members appointed who weren’t and many of those were high performers in their day job.

They were easy to spot.  While they endorsed board policies such as being data-driven, they usually worked in meetings to undermine, restrict or pooh-pooh data.

A couple were data cynics who made cheap shots by purporting that anything can be proved by data, perhaps saying more about how they use it than me as the target of their dispersion.

A few others were data-skeptics, some because neither their personal experience nor that of their employer valued analytics as a core asset.  Some just never grasped the difference between data, analytics, and metrics and how to weave them into a guiding organizational narrative.

A few even tried to pull the organization backward from best practices to outmoded regressive practices only because those were familiar and often because they had been siloed from best practices.

It worked a time or two until other board members realized the ramifications and we got back on track.

I’m less forgiving of executives who remain stuck in their heuristic ruts.  Studies find them even more common in marketing and media organizations where until four decades ago standard metrics were difficult to come by.

But many want to be data-driven, they just work for boards that don’t, ironically populated by the 3-out-4 of non-marketing execs who still struggle with believing that marketing can drive demand and revenue.

According to the study by MIT and SAS, there is a high correlation between an organization being an “analytic innovator” and being growth-oriented.

Maybe being growth oriented and “analytic friendly” should also become pre-qualifications for serving on boards.

Obviously they should already be for any executive.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Tactical Importance of Strategic Mindset

You would think from the news that people are complaining a lot about having the option of checking mobile devices during leisure trips.

But research (see full study) shows that of the 88% of travelers worldwide who take mobile devices along on leisure trips, six-in-10 use them once a day and only 22% for work-related, e.g. checking emails.

Among American leisure travelers, nearly five times that use is for staying  in touch with family or friends or to take photographs or videos.

The top two travel apps are GPS/Google Maps and those created for communities by destination marketing organizations (DMOs) such as the three which I led during my career.

Other research suggests that those who complain about technological access may actually have trouble thinking strategically.

So they cover it up with hyperactivity and then humblebrag about it, to use a term coined by author, comedian and TV producer author Harris Wittels.

It is a form of false modesty that author Greg McKeown applies to people who complain about being harried as a “sort of back-door-way to brag about being busy,” code for “being successful and important.”

In another of his insightful books entitled, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” his research makes the case that paradoxically, people who complain/brag like this have trouble deciding what is important at work and at leisure.

It isn’t about IQ though.

Roger Martin, a researcher in strategy-making at the Martin Property Institute finds that smarter people often struggle at being strategic because they get caught up in making the “right” choice rather than just the “best” possible choice.

Working now less than we did in the 1960s and 1980s, unless you are working single mother, Americans on average can’t complain of being overworked.

Maybe it just seems like we are because newsrooms seem drawn to anecdotes, perhaps heard there first.  Humblebrags lead to especially juicy anecdotes.

For people with a strategic mindset, having access to mobile technology on a leisure trip provides peace of mind and enables deeper relaxation.

It is about trade-offs because they know they won’t be holding co-workers up waiting for something simple, and also because they can nip issues in the bud before they fester.

The secret is the related skill of focus, more specifically, the ability to quickly refocus back on leisure (they can also take power naps.)

Those who can’t do this on a leisure trip probably aren’t able to at work either.

Even people who complain about technological access probably don’t when it permits them to soften the distinctions between work and leisure time, e.g. attending their kid’s school-related events.

They might also suffer from an odd definition of leisure, placing it in perpetual tension with work.

These are the folks who drain every second of vacation time and usually return exhausted from working so hard at it.

According to Dr. Ken Matos at the Families and Work Institute, a better definition of leisure is actually being able to “do what you want, when you want to do it,” including perhaps switching on and off more frequent “10-second” vacations during the workday.

“Mental flexibility,” including the ability to shed distractions and/or immediately refocus back on tasks, is one of the three pivotal “executive function” skills we begin to learn between ages 3 and 5.

They are the scaffolding for learning skills such as focus, planning, prioritizing, scheduling, anticipating, deciding and analyzing according to Dr. Edward M. Hollowell, the author of Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People.

Studies show that focus, in particular, is a better predictor of both health and success than IQ or background.

We continue to hone “executive function” skills at home and in school well into adolescence.

Adults who haven’t mastered them find themselves ill-equipped for the workplace. But while more difficult, it is possible to hone them even then through diligent exercise.

However, lacking them isn’t just about coming from a disadvantaged background.

In my four-decades as an executive I was always puzzled when I came across high performers who lacked one or more of these skills even though they came from secure homes and earned good grades through college.

Giveaways signs were a low tolerance for uncertainty or complaining about finding too many emails waiting for them on Monday morning or being aggravated at having to change or shift gears throughout the day.

Trying to kid them out of their angst by asking if they would rather find an old-fashioned inbox full of paper memos and yellow sticky notes dated me and went right over their heads.

When that didn’t work I would try to teach them how to quickly and strategically triage emails before closing them by either taking them as an FYI and deleting, quickly answering before deleting, delegating them, or tracing for follow up as a project.

Overload is usually a sign someone is postponing this triage while repeatedly opening and closing the same emails.

It is also an indication that someone probably isn’t protecting or spacing their calendar from all but two meetings per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Frustrated, I would often mistakenly resort to trying to breathe fire or a sense of urgency into them or by just trying even harder to show by example what seemed easy to me.

But I realize now these otherwise high performers didn’t just struggle with the discipline we all do to minimize on average the 75% of all distractions in every workplace that are self-interruptions.

It also wasn’t enough that we worked according to a “best practice” strategic plan, nimble enough to be organically tweaked each time new or better analytics became available.

More than lacking in strategic mindset, these otherwise high performers may have just needed more time to think.

Knowing what I know now, I could have instituted one of the hundreds of gems in McKeown’s new book including one attributed to Frank O’Brien, the founder of a 50 or so person marketing organization called Conversation:

A once-a-month, day-long, full-staff unstructured “think day.”

Known for organizational strategy, I had one glaring weakness.

To appease community interests who were lagging behind, when we would calibrate differentiation for the community based on newer or truer analytics, I would sometimes try to straddle strategies, a term coined by Dr. Michael Porter.

It works for investments just not organizations (especially community organizations.)  It “forces us to make sacrifices on the margins” warns McKeown, hardest in my experience on high performers.

That was often accompanied by another mistake, trying to take the pressure off high performers by filling vacancies way to fast.

Not until the last decade of my career did I find and adopt a much tighter selection process and begin to “hire slow and fire fast.”

Consultant David Camner showed me that a vacancy or two is far less costly than a poor hire.

As former Apple-evangelist Guy Kawasaki, author of The Art of the Start intimates, poor hires attract more poor hires who weigh high performers down, even resulting in a “Bozo explosion” and the need to clean house.

I’ve known some private organizations with incredibly narrow missions that work without plans of any type, not even job descriptions.  Based on what we know now, that was a faulty notion that strategy-making was passe.

Today, having a strategic mindset and hands on analytics are the foremost “must-haves” for executives, even more important than creativity for marketing execs.

In part, McKeown’s book takes many of the strategy-making principles in a book on organizational strategy by Dr. Porter that I read in Anchorage in the mid-1980s and referred to incessantly while differentiating Durham during my final stint down to the the individual  level.

Whether organizational or individual day-to-day, strategy-making is all about “…making choices, trade-offs.”

Technology is not really the problem.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Weaving Place Authenticity With Restoration – 2 of 2

This is part two of an essay I posted yesterday attempting to trace sense of place authenticity in my life.  I’m using restored airplanes and their contribution to sense of place as an example.

Conducting a place-based inventory in Spokane, my first community marketing start-up in the mid 1970s, took me a few miles down to the valley below the steep bluff along South Hill and a grass air strip named Ox Meadows.

In his early 50s then, it was my first of many visits with Ed “Skeeter” Carlson, who as contemporary of my dad’s, had also first been intrigued by places when he saw vintage aircraft flying low across ranch and farm land to deliver mail.

Skeeter, who today is over 90 years of age, had already by then been restoring historic airplanes for twenty years. 

That day he took me up in his first restoration, a 1927 Stearman biplane, still today the oldest flying.

He also had several other aircraft in various stages of restoration lined up in an open shed along the path between his farmhouse and Ox Meadows.

In the early stages was a 1917 Curtiss JN-4, the famous “Jenny” that he was bringing back to flying condition, the oldest in America.

Maybe it inspired the huge scale model of the Navy seaplane version of the “Jenny” hanging above the landing between floors of my house.

Skeeter flew that old Stearman for forty years out of Ox Meadows before finally selling it back when he turned 85.

Today I think his old “Jenny” has been passed to a private living historic aircraft museum in north central Pennsylvania about thirty miles northeast of Williamsport.

When I arrived in Durham, North Carolina 25 years ago to begin my third community marketing startup, the initial feature inventory took me to old Farris Field, a grass airfield here similar to Ox Meadows, renamed many year ago as Lake Ridge Aero Park.

Operating since the mid 1940s, it sits on what was made into a peninsula in the early 1980s when Falls Lake was impounded, shown in this spectacular sunset landing there.

Until recently, Mike Ratty, a retired American Airlines pilot, took visitors flightseeing from there each summer and fall over Durham in his restored 1941 Waco UPS 7 biplane (pronounced wah-co,) a 1920s and 1930s contemporary of Stearman.

Speaking of American Airlines, when I arrived in Alaska in 1978 to begin my second community marketing start up, I soon learned of the restoration of a 1936 Stinson A Trimotor the airline had first owned.

It had ultimately been sold in 1942 to the Anchorage-based Ray Peterson Flying Service, a precursor to Wein Air Alaska before it made a forced crash landing and was abandoned in 1947 in the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley a few months before I was born.

When I arrived, Ray was just retiring as the CEO of the state’s largest airline.

The company had pioneered jet landings on remote gravel runways and innovated a moveable bulkhead in Boeing 737s to easily calibrate between cargo space and passenger seating.

Wein folded in the mid 1980s while I was there, a victim of a leveraged buyout and corporate raiding.

In the late 1960s, that Stinson trimotor abandoned in 1947 was saved from an inferno by BLM firefighters.  Then using a Cat, a man from Fairbanks spent eight years pulling the old plane to where it could be reached by road.

He then sold it to a United Airlines Boeing 727 pilot in Illinois who fully restored it.

Aviation in Alaska goes back to 1913 when a Gage-Martin biplane landed in Fairbanks, just two years after the first airplane landed in Durham and three years after the first one landed in Spokane, the latter two both Curtis Pushers.

For Alaska, though, it soon became more than a novelty.

This was only a decade after the first flight took place in Kitty Hawk, NC, but Alaska has always been an extremely aggressive “early adopter” as a means of leapfrogging less remote places, as it did with its own satellite for communications in the 1970s.

In the 1920s, aviation in Alaska took root in Anchorage where biplane pilots used a strip first used as a golf course and park to take off and land.

Today that strip is purely recreational open space running alongside Downtown Anchorage, but aviation, both historic and modern, was a huge part of Anchorage’s sense of place.

The state had become strewn over time with the remains of historic civilian and military aircraft over the five or six decades before I arrived there.

One of the first people to visit my office in Anchorage was Ted Spencer, a fish and game biologist and third generation Alaskan.  In the late 1960s or early 1970s, he had begun cataloguing abandoned but restorable vintage aircraft across the state as a passion.

Ted founded the Alaska Historical Aircraft Society a few months before I arrived and shared with me his a vision for an historic aircraft museum in Anchorage.

He dropped in regularly to give me updates and to get help and ideas and because his stories of surveyed wreck sites resonated with me as an important part of Alaska’s sense of place.

Many of these vintage aircraft were being looted.

This fueled an incredible sense of urgency and intensity in Ted that many people couldn’t understand but because I was involved with community marketing start ups, I could.

Not everyone grasps the fragility of sense of place, and many instead seek to undermine it, some on purpose.

A year after my near decade in Alaska concluded, Ted and others made the museum a reality, cobbling together grants and donations including an old hanger on Lake Hood, a float plane base between downtown and Anchorage International Airport.

A few months later, the museum reclaimed that now restored Stinson Trimotor.

Military units supported the museum by using the rescue and recovery of vintage aircraft around the state as training exercises including a PBY, P-40, a Stearman like Skeeter’s and many others.

Volunteers labored for decades to restore them for display, a few to flying condition.

In 1998, the museum had to part with the old Stinson A, selling it to a collector with a a private museum in Minnesota who freshened it up as shown in this blog.  I understand he uses it in movies and American Airline promotions.

Shortly after its founding as I arrived in Durham, the Alaska Aviation Museum also sold the same collector a 1928 Ford Trimotor 4-AT-B that had taken the first overland commercial flight to Alaska in 1934.

Ironically, the plane had begun its days in Spokane flying out of old Felts Field, today the home of a fleet of flying antique Stearman biplanes inspired in part by Skeeter.

Instead the Alaska Aviation Museum acquired a 1931 Fairchild Pilgrim 100B previously flown by the precursor to today’s Alaska Airlines.  Originally ordered by American Airways too, the 9-passenger aircraft was the first with steam heat, luggage racks and a toilet.

It is flown around the state each summer to promote the museum and the state’s aviation history.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The First Signs of Authentic Sensibilities - Part 1 of 2

I started to reflect on something after recently retracing the history of an old 1940’s vintage DC-3 I found on display in 1989 when I first arrived in Durham, NC to head up its marketing.

How far back is it that some of us glean sensibilities for authenticity?

Why do some understand the sense of place created around placed-based assets while others so quickly substitute those authenticities with fantasy and simulation?

I’m certain a part of my sensibilities for authenticity traces back to an ancestral horse and cattle ranch, a weave of nature, historic structures, livestock, antique machinery, wildlife and Rocky Mountain culture.

But how far back, for instance, does my connection of places to historic airplanes go?

Did it take root while tossing a toy P-51 “74” glider made by American Junior Classics” around the front yard when I was three or four?

But even so, why was I then drawn even more to the one emulating an historic plane when the company had begun pushing a substitution resembling a then modern Korean War jet.

This sensibility to artifacts and place authenticity probably formed as my parents took turns repeatedly weaving narratives for me around family photos and memorabilia.

In young children, this coupling has been found critical to fostering “executive functions,” part of our brain’s “air traffic control system” that employers rate as most essential.

A memento I still keep was a souvenir ticket shown in this essay dating to 1935 when my rancher dad was a boy and took his first flight up in a Fokker Universal ski plane with Farold H. “Chris” Christensen at the controls.

What inspired his parents to drive him through the Centennial Mountains from the Idaho ranch where both he and I were born up to the airport in West Yellowstone, Montana so he alone could take the flight?

Likely it was to see the start of the nationally-famous 55-mile American Derby sled dog race that ran down the snow covered railroad tracks from West Yellowstone to Ashton, Idaho where the trains stopped during winter months.

Christensen had been the first to land there a few months earlier.

Idaho-based Scenic Airways had formed two years earlier by the pilot and his partners to take visitors flightseeing over the nation’s first national park.  They were also outfitted with skis in the winter for my dad’s first flight and delivered mail as well.00014_p_10aeuyf6sw0479_thumb1

Other family heirlooms were photos of my dad’s cousin Edward, shot down in WWII, and another of his cousins, Bill, reloading ammunition into the nose of a real P-51 in Korea.

My two uncles were too young for that war but they would come up to work on our ranch each summer as my maternal grandfather had done when he worked for a time operating the dam a mile away across the famed Henry’s Fork, giving mom and dad a chance meeting.

The youngest, “Ferd” (George,) who was only seven years older than me and more like a brother, would sit around the kitchen table with me at night teaching me to build scale models of Korean War F9F Panther fighters, the Navy’s first carrier jet.

Less than a decade later, he would be flying his first of three consecutive tours over Vietnam in the front seat of an F-4 Phantom jet fighter, including more than 300 especially dangerous missions over North Vietnam.

He received the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, an Air Medal with 26 oak leaf clusters, plus a Bronze Star.  He was later killed flying as a DEA agent.

Disqualified from following him by a high school football injury, my first airplane flight was at age 7 in an old Piper Cub tail-dragger giving rides during the county fair. 

It would be nearly 55 years later following a few months of lessons before I would learn just enough to fly myself.

But my connection of sense of place with old airplanes was really fueled in the 1970s during my first community destination marketing startup in Spokane and a chance meeting with Ed “Skeeter” Carlson.

More on that tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Contrasting Expressions Behind Two Views of Independence

A contrast caught my eye the morning I began to write this blog post.  I usually write essays several days or even a few weeks before they are posted.

One was this month’s cover story in High Country News, an excellent magazine about issues along the Rocky Mountains westward, where my family’s genes now go back eight generations.

Written by a progressive, it explores both sides of the great gun debate from the perspective of gun-lovers and gun-nuts on both sides. The author also provides industry statistics showing that the “gun culture is dying.”

I’m a political Independent.  I grew up with guns and I own a couple of old rifles and a German WWII pistol, all family heirlooms, but I fall on the “more sensible background check” side of that debate.

One disturbing quote attributed in the article is that “a liberal who happens to like guns is still an enemy.”  I assume that is meant to cover Independents too, but it provides insight into extremists.

Some of the best research on gun owners is found in surveys by the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

It shows that “more and more guns [including assault weapons where are classified as “modern shooting rifles” or MSRs] are being purchased, but they’re being sold to the same shrinking group of middle-aged white men.”

As I was reading this, a Google Alert brought my attention to a letter apparently written by “Joe the Plumber” of the McCain-Palin campaign’s 15-minutes of fame.

Apparently, in light of one of the latest mass murders he gently warned the parents of those who died that “your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.”

You can’t hold him against westerners.  The closest he has come to being one is working in Ohio to build western-utility Jeep Wranglers like the one I drive and during an Air Force stint in Alaska near where I once lived.

As obnoxious as his statement is, it illustrates that a lack of empathy more than any level of gun control may be the problem behind mass killings, according to research cited by essayist Mark Manson.

It is only one way that gun extremists today are troubling. And part of it may be genetic.

High Country News was founded back in 1970 by Tom Bell, a Wyoming rancher and decorated WWII hero who turned 90 last month.

He was a contemporary rancher of my father, growing up across the Tetons from the one where he and I were born on a spread down the Wind River Range of the Rockies.

This is the setting for northern Wyoming transplant Craig Johnson’s series of “Longmire” mystery novels and the A&E TV series of the same name, although it uses northern New Mexico as a stand-in.

While flying bombers similar to the one in which my dad’s cousin and closest friend Edward was shot down and killed, Bell lost the sight in his right eye.

Coming home to Wyoming he earned a master’s degree in wildlife conservation and game management but always found solace in the wide open spaces his family settled there in 1878.

But by the mid 1960s as I was graduating from high school, Bell began to organize groups to counter the blight occurring throughout the Rocky Mountain West.

One Bell creation, High Country, is still well known today for investigative reporting on various issues.

I guess wannabes such as the Nevada cheapskates along with their assault rife toting posse (sorry, “modern shooting rifles”) would consider Tom an enemy based on that earlier quote.

The difference in these two kinds of westerners occurred to me recently as I read about a purposeful sequel contrived a few weeks later in San Juan County, Utah.

That’s the area that takes in the southeast corner of Utah below Moab and includes parts of Canyon Lands National Park. Think of country similar to the back drop for John Ford westerns or Easy Rider or Forrest Gump for that matter.

Toting those same “modern shooting rifles,” a group with a similar sense of entitlement deliberately drove ATVs down into a canyon where a federal agency ban was protecting fragile Native American archeology.

Not everyone seeking mechanized access across our “commons” is like that, though.

Up in the Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho, snowmobilers have been volunteering to carry GPS units as a way to better inform land closures to protect endangered species.

Recent studies find that the difference between Tom Bell and for that matter me, and those deliberately desecrating the public lands in the west, may come down to how we express a dopamine D4 receptor gene we all have, named DRD4.

In variations or mutations from individual to individual, this gene is linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dysfunctional “thrill seeking” such as unprotected sex and various addictions such as gambling and alcohol.

University of Michigan researchers from various disciplines including business have now found that people like Tom Bell see the world as interdependent because they have a variation or allele 6 times greater than those who see their independence as trumping any harm their actions bring to others.

In his fascinating new book entitled Inheritance: How Our Genes Change Our Lives – and Our Live Change Our Genes, neurogeneticist Dr. Sharon Moalem describes how our behavior, our experiences and even the food we eat can inform genes differently in people.

It is possible that Tom Bell’s service to his country during a time rampant with fascism, as well as the way he was raised, his field of study and witnessing a desecration by individuals and corporations, might inform his variation of that gene differently.

I share a similar background with the instigator of that recent Utah showdown.  Raised 600 miles apart in the Rocky Mountain west, we both graduated from BYU.

We both descend from the earliest Mormons who settled along the Rockies six or seven generations ago.  In the 1870s, one of my ancestors also created settlements along the Colorado Plateau shared with San Juan County.

A decade or so ago, we each served as presidents of Rotary Clubs in two different parts of the country.  Though we obviously have different interpretations of what’s racist, we both recite the Rotary 4-Way Test, an ethical guide.

The counties where we were raised in Utah and Idaho respectively, are set aside in “commons” for all Americans, his a fourth and mine a third.

We both enjoy the outdoors, mine from astride a Harley with views of the open road and scenic preservation, his tearing off road on an ATV.

So what makes me sign up with Robert Redford while he apparently fancies himself after the Edward Abbey character in his 1975 novel The Monkey Wrench Gang?

Why do I see the federal government as stewards on behalf of the people rather than as a capricious and arbitrary enemy apart while he apparently agrees with the executive director of Gun Owners of America that:

 "The government's out of control, and all three branches are united against the people and the Constitution." 

The difference between us may very well come down to how our experiences have modified or expressed our DRD4 gene, an indicator of a sense of interdependence in some and extreme independence in others.

I’m as stubborn and independent and functionally narcissistic as they come, but in me that gene stops short of the point where my actions might harm other people, a conservative principle forgotten today.

I hate to think that one day some of us on the “interdependence” side will be forced to stand up shoulder to shoulder against those who disrespect public lands and agents just trying to do their job.

And just because I give a damn about others or trust in the law, don’t think for a minute I won’t.  As the article in High Country notes, there are “gun nuts” on both sides of this debate.

Okay, “stand down cowboy.”

Where did you stash the firing mechanism for that old Winchester .32 Saddle-Ring?  Like I said, “gun nuts” on both sides.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

New Tricks for an Old Dog

My triglycerides have climbed much too high just as my 85-year-old mother’s have most of her life.  By my age, they are high in one out of every three of four people.

So, nudged by my doctor, over the last month or more I’ve cut my intake of beef or pork to once a week, more than doubled my intake of chicken, and tripled consumption of fish and chicken combined.

I’ve also cut my wine intake by half, switching to red only, and increased my exercise to no less than five days a week.  I’ve tried to drop a few pounds and may soon weigh less than I did in high school, although on a reduced frame.

That’s a lot of change for an Idaho boy with several generations of cattle rancher in his genes.

It may turn out to be a false reading caused by a supplement or medication I am taking as it turned out to be for me in the mid-1980s. Even if it does, these changes were long overdue and have already become ingrained habits.

The concern was triggered when a screening of my carotid arteries, first by Life Line Screening, then immediately followed up more in-depth by my doctor, revealed the first sign of a very thin layer of plaque build up on the left side.

By the way, both the tech who did the imaging and my doctor were very complimentary of Life Line’s service.

My dad died of a stroke when he was age 77 so my doctor has always been on the lookout during the thirteen years since then.  We caught it at the first sign detectable.

According to my blood type, O-Negative, and research by biogeneticists, eating lots of red meat is in my genes.  But so is eating lots of vegetables and whole fruits.

That’s probably because because I sensed at a young age that sugar and foods that quickly convert to sugar were poison to me.  Eventually I was diagnosed as reactive (to certain foods) hypoglycemic more than 4 decades ago.

I metabolize sugar, juices and processed carbs far too rapidly, and this sets off a very unpleasant chain reaction.  Mine is not related to diabetes, which is much more serious, but it still involves insulin.

The sugar surges far too quickly through my system and into my blood stream where high blood sugar triggers a surge of insulin from my pancreas to clear the blood of the excess.

But it does far too good a job and as the blood sugar plummets, huge amounts of adrenalin are triggered because the reactions are similar to the threat of dying, which is exactly what it feels like.

One morning in late 1970, I hopped out of bed for an insanely early accounting class at BYU.  That was the last thing I remembered for some time.

I awoke on the floor and immediately went to the university infirmary where the doctor admitted me to the local hospital.

Student nurses gathered around and took practice inserting a tube through my nose down into my stomach and started pumping ice cold water there.

I had a serious bleeding ulcer.

The thing about a bleeding ulcer is that the blood masks the pain so you don’t realize until you detect other symptoms of ulcer disease.

Back then they sent you home with a drug developed a decade earlier to suppress your nervous system because that’s what many still believed was the cause.

But at the time researchers at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) were fast closing in on a revolutionary class of drugs called Histamine H2-receptor antagonists that would revolutionize the treatment of ulcer disease.

Researchers had been working on this since I was in high school, the same year the Rolling Stones were founded and charted their first hit in America, Not Fade Away - a song written by Buddy Holly seven years earlier.

During the time of my diagnosis, clinicians such as those who treated me were only just learning that ulcer disease didn’t have anything to do with being nervous, it had to do with secreting too much acid.

New studies were also being circulated that identified a link between a hypoglycemic reactions and hyperacidity.

It turns out that the vagus nerve that runs from our brains down behind our the carotid artery and jugular vein in our neck runs down between our trachea and esophagus to the stomach.

This nerve is the one that stimulates the over secretion of insulin during a hypoglycemic reaction to certain foods.  But it is also the one that simultaneously floods the stomach of anyone with this condition with way too much acid.

Researchers were in a conundrum as to whether to dial down the insulin or the acid so I was stuck for a few years with a bland diet and a suppressed nervous system.

To be fair, my nervous system is pretty intense to begin with, so no one knew the difference but me.

In 1976, a few years into my first community marketing startup, the dilemma was resolved when the new class of drugs which dial down or partially block the secretion of acid became available, enabling my nervous system to fully express itself again (smile.)

This has been the treatment I have used for nearly 40 years now and probably will the rest of my life.  Newer options have come along but don’t work as well for me, along with triggering that earlier false Tri reading.

And while never bland, I even more rigorously held to a lifelong diet of high protein and fiber, few carbohydrates and absolutely no sugar to prevent or slow down any metabolistic chain reaction.

Coincidentally, a few years after the launch of that drug, GSK opened its North American research facility in Durham, North Carolina, a few years before I would begin the last half of my now concluded career in community marketing and where I still live in retirement.

In the book Inheritance, the author, who is a neurogenticist, explains that genes also explain while I metabolize caffeine from coffee so slowly while others can’t even tolerate a bit of chocolate.

For me eating lots of red meat during my life was not only an expression of my genes but because my body told me very early that a healthy dose of protein and staying away from sugar would prevent blood sugar issues.

It was a habit I inherited but no longer needed in the quantities my ancestors did. 

For me, breaking the beef habit pretty much followed the process New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg describes in his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do In Life And Business.

I changed the cue or reminder that triggered eating too much beef by realizing it was a default.  My work always involved huge amounts of decision-making, so others such as menu decisions went on auto-pilot.

I retained a bit of the reward from the old habit with  weekly “steak nights” but lately that has become every two weeks.

An added reward may be living longer.  You never know.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Fewer Working As Adolescents Means Many Are Ill Prepared

Something crossed my mind while reading both a McKinsey report and a recent op-ed in the New York Times.  We seem to have forgotten the importance of working to ready adolescents for the workforce as adults.

It polishes skills learned from the time we are age 3 in a way that classroom learning can only augment.  In fact the root of not nearly as many adolescents working today may be an over-reaction to what progressives had to overcome to mandate education.

Before I get to the science, it occurs to me that I honestly don’t remember my parents needing to push me to start working for people other than family starting when I was 10 years old.

I held down 14 or so jobs working for an even greater number of employers before heading off to college.  It was a far more forgiving route workforce readiness as an adult than many kids take today.

Workforce readiness has nothing to do how well or how far you go in school.

I’m sure my parents kept close watch on where and for whom but they seemed far more concerned that I just learn to enjoy working hard.

My mom’s only word of advice when I took my first job away from home was - “If you aren’t busy, grab a broom and make yourself busy.”

Taking heed of that advice made me stand out to more than one employer and later left me puzzled when doing the hiring myself that so many candidates seemed unready and lacking work ethic.

Today, many kids are well into college before they get workplace experience, when the the expectations are less conducive to learning your way around a workplace or how to work in general.

Since 1981, the percentage of 12th graders working 16 hours or more a week during the school year has fallen from 44% to only 25% while the percentage volunteering once a month or more has risen from 23.6% to 35.5%.

A recent survey of employers by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that they ranked employment during college much more valuable than extracurricular activities, a specific major, college reputation or volunteer experience.

This was even more true among those working in HR and in upper management.

Working at a younger age helps polish “executive function skills” and are found most important by employers.  These include focus, working memory, cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control, critical thinking, self-directed learning and making connections and perception taking.

If you missed it, read the recent NY Times Op-ed by Dr. Gordon Marino at St. Olaf College entitled, A Life Beyond ‘Do What You Love’.

The essay also introduced me to a much discussed article in Jacobin magazine early this year, where Miya Tokumitsu” argues that this “cultural mantra of our time” in fact “disguises its elitism as noble self betterment.”

In his 2012 manifesto entitled “Stop Stealing Dreams (what is school for?)”, famous entrepreneur and author Seth Godwin reminds us that 150 years ago people were incensed about child labor but the outrage wasn’t just moral.

He points out that the “economic rationale was paramount.”  Kids were taking jobs away from adults because industries could get them to work for much less in the decades before education became compulsory in 1918.

At the time corporations and other businesses fought restrictions on child labor and mandatory education while fueling conservative rhetoric that “losing child workers would be catastrophic.”

“Professional confusers” back then used the same arguments they do today to stymie efforts to address climate change.

In fact, Godwin reminds us, that the rationale that finally weaned industrialists off child labor and in support of compulsory education was the argument that “educated kids would actually be more compliant and productive workers.”

Thus our schools today are still organized much like assembly lines with “scale much more important than quality.” 

“Education,” he argues, was “not developed to motivate kids or to create scholars. It was invented to churn our adults who will then work well within the system.”

Beginning several decades ago, surveys of American workers have revealed that 7-in-10 are not engaged at work and nearly 2-in-10 were actively disengaged, e.g. trying to undermine others.

But conditions such as engagement and being in the “flow” aren’t about doing what you love but learning to love what you do.

In my experience people can find purpose in any work.

Mike Rowe agrees.

He is the producer and host of the TV show Dirty Jobs where he played an apprentice for a variety of jobs, now more than 200 over its eight seasons which are now available online through various services.

While preparing for a sequel series by a different name coming later this year on CNN, he has taken a lot of grief recently for a commercial he narrates for Wal-Mart entitled “I Am A Factory.”

I’m far more often a critic of big box formula stores and a proponent of paying a “living wage” but even for the 3.3 million Americans still being paid minimum wage or less, it is the practice, not the work, that we should condemn, something advocates miss.

I was intrigued at how nimble Seattle’s daring experiment is with raising its minimum wage to twice the national level, including a provision to keep teenagers employed.

That all work can be purposeful and meaningful appears to be the point of Rowe’s “Works” foundation where in part he has raised millions of dollars for scholarships in the skilled trades by selling memorabilia from his “Dirty Jobs” days.

Far too many of us have these wires crossed.

In a TED talk, Rowe argues that “follow your passion” may be the worst advice ever given.  He finds that the people he encounters filming Dirty Jobs are decent, hard working, balanced people.

But they didn’t just follow their passion or wait around for work they could love.

We live now in a risk adverse society that makes it harder—but not impossible—for kids to get a job.

We’re robbing kids of the learning and character traits that can only be forged by early exposure to the work place.

Of course, I’m not talking about truly hazardous work such as tobacco fields where a report shows workers absorb dangerous levels of toxins.

A grim report by Human Rights Watch may overstate the dangers of farm work in general while trying to put a spotlight on abuses in a four state area that includes North Carolina.

Unfortunately, many of the parents denying their children a chance to work until well into college or even later may be the same parents who won’t let their kids ride the school bus or explore nature along the street where they live.

Judging from McKinsey research conducted mid way through the recovery from the current recession, we’re getting on track to regain full employment again by 2020 or soon after, about 20 million jobs more than we have today.

By then the recovery will have taken 14-20 years.

The great recession wasn’t just a recession, it marked a paradigm shift and not just because visitor-centric industries will be one of the top three drivers of job recovery by 2020.

Job growth after the new millennium has been at half the rate it was in previous decades.  Business creation fell during the recession too, 23% in the first three years alone.

The labor market is plateauing while we’re generating a million and a half fewer college graduates than we need to meet the 2020+ goal.

But it isn’t just college they will need.

All of this is to say that work experience is as valuable as education for young people.  We need to recalibrate to both/and.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Infographic - National Study of Employers

Friday, June 13, 2014

Empowering New Innovations Toward A Sustainable Future

One of the most spectacular ways to drive up into the Rockies of northern Idaho is a winding 140 mile stretch of US Highway 2 from Kalispell, Montana to Bonners Ferry, Idaho and then down the Idaho panhandle to Sandpoint and Lake Pend Oreille.

A unique solar energy demonstration project in a parking lot there will draw me along this route again soon, maybe after picking up US 2 west across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula near the Hiawatha National Forest.

Of course, the trip will take a detour south at the North Dakota line to collect my grandsons and daughter in Salt Lake City before heading up to the Northern Rockies.

Two local engineers there are testing road-worthy solar technology on a parking lot in Sandpoint as part of the Federal Highway Administration’s effort to accelerate innovation.

This has the promise of turning every highway, parking lot and runway into generators of renewable energy.

Germany’s dramatic “Energiewende” transition away from nuclear and carbon-sourced energy including a new grid, is already generating as much as 75% of that country’s power from renewables (up from 6.6% in 2000) so don’t be surprised to see the Autobahn system become a solar roadway first.

It’s that country’s biggest infrastructure project since post-WWII reconstruction.

Of course, the challenge with energy in this country is not only America’s antiquated, “main frame” (therefore vulnerable) grid, but the storage and transmission to and from remote areas where renewables are in abundance.

Roads may be part of the solution but so are rails.  ARES stands for “Advanced Rail Energy Storage,” and is already proven as a utility-grade, grid-scaled solution using rail car carriages.  Click here on a recent story in High Country News for a better explanation.

ARES could enable access to vast geothermal energy including from areas up in my native Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho that could make “fracking gas” a distant memory surfaced only by occasional news about Superfund hazardous waste cleanups.

The energy internet means at least two things from what I read.  One is patterning the distribution of energy through a grid much like how the internet works, allowing supplies to function like a network where they can be rerouted an infinite number of ways.

It also refers to smart grid technology including microgrids that would allow, for instance, households and businesses that generate excess solar or geothermal power at home to exchange it with other people and businesses in need.

This would all be without being required, as it is now, to dump the excess energy onto the archaic main frame grid that utilities use but for a fraction in return for what they resell it.

Microgrids which have rapidly evolved from use on military installations and university research facilities to adoption by cities and neighborhoods are now being commercialized.  Deployment is projected to quadruple in seven years to $40 billion by 2020.

Early adoption has been by third-world towns and villages left behind by the current grid, which, by the way, they are now entirely leapfrogging.

Beginning more than a century ago when saying it was too costly, investor-owned utilities refused to run power to many American cities and towns as well as rural areas so coops and municipally owned power generation and distribution systems evolved.

The Municipality of Anchorage had its own system in the 1980s when I lived there and as of two years ago still did.  There has been something of a resurgence in these systems since the late 1990s.

Now the hybrid think tank Rocky Mountain Institute is projecting that with microgrids, the relationship of both communities and utilities will evolve again including in some models re-municipalization.

This transformation promises to end power outages.  It also scares the bejesus out of utility companies because it not only means they become less relevant but because these changes promise to drop the marginal cost of energy to close to zero.

For more on that, a good book is The Zero Marginal Cost Society.

Jumping way out in front where I live is Solarize Durham, bringing to mind the pejorative from a state legislator who recently quipped, “whatever it is you do in Durham.”  Oh, if he only knew how inspiring his works were instead!

Ah, I guess his attempt also applies to two 40+ acre solar farms in Northern Durham, one up and running and the other under development.

I guess the two, which together generate enough to power 1,500 homes, could also be part of any microgrid in Durham’s future.  Other developments here also bode well in this regard.

Google, which is considering Durham for super-fast fiber, already has one of its tech hubs here as well as partnering in a sustainability pilot energy project with Duke Energy developed by environmental scientists in Durham to convert hog waste on a farm across the state.

The company is also going into the solar business, partnering to offer them to homeowners on affordable leases.  According to a report, Google and other tech giants have given North Carolina a reputation for server farms because Duke Energy had excess power to provide.

Duke Energy established its roots here when a Durham native, forced to divest of one of the nation’s biggest trusts, reinvested in not only education but renewable hydro power technology instead.

Now the company is better know here for its insistence on crotch cutting street trees to prop up an obsolete technology responsible for most power interruptions.

Unsightly telephone poles are the reason “more than 10% of all electricity is ultimately lost due to conversion inefficiencies.”  Central European utilities have already jumped on new technology from an American company named Transform, whose is putting words such as mini and efficient into transformers that regularly blow up.

Unfortunately utility companies don’t factor billions of dollars caused to households and businesses as well as their own losses when power is made unsalable when things like weather events cause outages because they refuse to put lines underground.

After a study showed lowered costs and enhanced benefits, Florida  slashed the cost of putting overhead lines underground instead by more than half or more.

Some energy companies brag about their sustainability achievements but spend millions lobbying bills to state legislators hoping to erase mandates to shift to renewables, ironically under the name “Electricity Freedom” acts.

It is no wonder then from the campaign donor reports that I’ve seen that the company is a heavy donor to regressive-leaning elected officials in North Carolina while at the same time hedging bets by investing in Clean Power Finance.

Mandates such as North Carolina’s are working.  Click here to see how the state’s energy will be sourced by 2050 if momentum isn’t undermined by those who are threatened.  Click here to view other states.

New research shows a side-benefit from the projection that 50% of North Carolina’s energy will eventually come from offshore wind.  Those turbines are modeled to reduce wind speeds in hurricanes by 56-92 mph, and storm surge by 6-79%.

That’s a doubled edged sword for North Carolina because drinking water supplies historically rely on hurricanes.  But by then we will have also greatly improved the recycling and use of water.

But water collection, treatment, use and reuse is undergoing its own revolution.