Nurture your “Weirdos” … and let them bloom!

“We have a new bigotry in America. We don’t want to be around anyone who disagrees with us about anything.”~ Bill Clinton at the 2013 GLAAD Awards

We live in world of conformity. Being different, being … “not like everyone else is or like your supposed to be” – is bad. Because if you’re different, then you’re unpredictable. And most people need predictability. Their minds aren’t programmed to understand, or even accept these “outliers.”

And it seems like it’s getting worse.

In the misguided (and ineffective) effort to be globally competitive in the education world, we have sacrificed all for the pursuit of rote math and science instruction. This relentless focus has left all creative pursuits, such as art and music, nothing more than carnage in the ditch along the academic road to mediocrity. It’s like we’re programming an army of drones.

nonconformist

Instead of nurturing creativity, we test. Instead of teaching applicable real world problem solving, we test. And we test by filling in ovals on multiple choice tests. Easy to teach, easy to grade … and mostly irrelevant. We do this instead of nurturing art and music – disciplines proven to ignite synaptic connections, ironically the same connections used in math and science proficiency.

The march towards further standardized testing is only intensifying with the implementation of the Common Core Standards. On face, these standards don’t seem to be so bad. But digging deeper, you’ll find that the initiative is headed by David Coleman, president of the College Board. The College Board is the testing behemoth behind the SAT and all it’s siblings. Reading the signs … with its focus on math and English, Coleman’s appointment as “overlord” of American education curriculum, does not bode well for a well-rounded instructional approach.

The education dilemma in the United States has deteriorated to the point where hundreds of thousands high paying, intellectually stimulating jobs go unfilled. But it’s not so much because of lack of math and science … but lack of creativity and problem solving skills in math and science.These are skills that can’t be acquired when all attention is paid to short-term memorization designed around ovals and #2 pencil. This situation is detailed in a recent piece in the Atlantic, “Why are American schools obsessed with turning kids into robots.” 

So disparate are these technology companies … a years worth of H-B1 Visas are snatched up in a matter of days. Foreign educated prospects have been schooled in real world application of the fundamentals. To these students, the fundamentals are means to an end, not the end itself – only to be forgotten in a couple of weeks.

Normal is not something you aspire for … it’s something you run away from! ~ Jodi Foster

It’s the creative people, the out-of-the-box thinkers … who are ones who push the boundaries and shatter the status quo. They tremble at the words – normal, or conventional. These are the “Weirdos.” The ones that don’t conform, the Albert Einsteins, the Steve Jobs, the Truman Capotes and the Orson Wells. These people “scare” other people. They scare the normal people, the ones who do what their parents did. The ones who are “politically correct.”

When this country has made strides and moved ahead – it’s the “Weirdos” that blazed the way for others to follow … often to much prejudice and ostracism. But we forget that those proverbial roads we often take for granted – were the result of the chances they took … and not us.

It’s easy to say to point to successes of the people I mentioned above and recognize them for their accomplishments. But what about the “Weirdos” close to us. The guy down the street with the dreadlocks. The Goth girl who always keeps to herself writing … always writing. Or even the boy next door that his teacher is “hell-bent” to get him on ADHD meds because he doesn’t sit still (through her boring detached lectures). These “Weirdos could be the next Bill Clinton or Jennifer Lawrence, both of which were bullied and looked at as outcasts. But too often instead of embracing them – we brand them with a Scarlett Letter.

Last night at the 2015 Academy Awards, Graham Moore, winner of the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, gave an inspiring acceptance recounting his adolescence where feeling ‘weird’ almost drove him to suicide. These are the exact people we need to nurture … not ostracize and shun.

They say, “all politics is local.”  So is misunderstanding. So is prejudice. What you do to accept the “Weirdos” in your community, whether young or old, will help construct the flavor and individuality of your community.

And it’s how you nurture these nonconformists may very well influence the future of your community … the nation and even the world.

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You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg

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‘Farm-to-School-to-Market’ … Cross-Generational Rural Synthesis

A couple of days ago I was having a Twitter discussion with Sandra, from Nebraska. Sandra is hard-core in the ‘farm-to-school’ movement. Actually it really shouldn’t even be called a movement since it’s just common sense. She posted an article from NPR discussing the fact that revenue from farmers markets nationwide have more or less peaked and in some locals even declined. There are areas that are still seeing increases, but overall the trend is not what you’d expect considering all the publicity of the last few years.

The article detailed several of possible causes. According to Sarah Low, a USDA economist and lead author on the report; “Farmers are increasingly using middlemen to sell to restaurants, grocery stores and distributors. With an increasing share of their produce, dairy or meat going to those channels, some farmers may choose to forgo the farmers market.” Simply put, the farmers market phenomenon may just be ‘growing up.’

However there was one quote that caught my attention.

“It’s just not as cost-effective for producers to be face-to-face with consumers,” Low says. “A lot of farmers like to spend their time farming, not necessarily marketing food.”

IMG_445732030

Thinking about it, this makes sense. And taking it one step further – what if this reason is a major factor why there’s not more locally grown food available overall. This especially hits home with me. I live in a farming community outside of Billings, Montana. The farmers around here grow either corn or sugar beets if their land is irrigated, or barley and wheat if it’s not. And that’s it. Aside from an occasional ‘corn-on-the-cob,’ nothing grown in the fields here make it to my table.

I have a small garden and grow herbs, kale, tomatoes, carrots, etc. And they all grow very well. Yet our local farmers don’t grow any of this, and most don’t people in my town don’t even know what kale is. I know since I give away a lot of it. Their crops are put in big trucks and driven to processing plants owned by multinational corporations headquartered in lands far removed from this little farming town.

But what if the farmers had another option, an option where they didn’t have to spend their time marketing to and groveling in front of those picky consumers looking for ingredients for their next caesar salad or Chicken Florentine (just kidding).

Now on a different subject, but not really, as I’ll come back to this in a minute: My town has a big generational gap. I’m not saying this divide is intentional, but rather I just don’t think there’s much contact between the teenagers and the retirees (or even just adults). And I guessing this might be the case in a lot a small towns and even big cities in America. We’ve always seen age divides, but with the advent of the diversion of personal technology, these chasms may be getting even wider. There seems little opportunity for common ground.

Schools are part of your community – and your community should be part of its schools

I believe a lot of this is the fault of schools. After all, aren’t schools responsible for developing the young talent that supposedly is the future for the community it serves? Yet how much connection is there actually made with its community? And yes schools are supposed to serve the community. The residents pay property tax to fund the schools. But schools are often viewed as the castle on the hill … including the moat. I’m not going so far to say there are crocodiles in the water under the drawbridge, but what hell. In some schools there might as well be. For example, in my little town, even my father, a high school teacher with 25+ years experience, is uncomfortable even going in the building. Here’s someone with a wealth of knowledge at their disposal he’s willing to share … and nothing. Yet they have no problem sticking their hands out asking for money for renovations to update a school that should be closed and consolidated with those of the neighboring towns.

But what if we could change this, especially in rural and farming communities. We have the perfect vehicle for it too … the farm.

Now, let’s get back to my previous point about farmers wanting to farm and not be marketers. After Sandra initially posted the NPR article I mentioned above, I tweeted back:

What about a middleman between farmer and a  handling marketing, packaging, distribution, etc.

And her response was:

One local farmer I know hires students from a nearby school to come out to help him get ready each season. Great experience.

And there was the synthesis that sparked the fire that created this piece and my Farm-to-School-to-Market’ concept.

What if rural high schools and middle schools created programs where students could be the marketers for local farmers producing farmers market ready crops. Not only could the kids market the crops, they could handle the whole post-harvest process as fledging entrepreneurs. Heck they could even help with the harvest if need be. And why stop there, they could even work out co-op deals with the farmers helping grow the crops in the first place. And who says the Farmers Market has to be their only outlet for sales? The students could negotiate deals with local independent grocers and restaurants for additional revenue streams for their products.

Community gardns

I’m sure virtually all rural schools have Vo-Ag programs in their curriculum, but what I’m outlining here isn’t just a farm project. It’s a hands-on exercise in entrepreneurialism and business development. Imagine each school having several groups of students, each potentially spanning different grade levels – creating mini-produce companies. The students in each group would be responsible for all aspects of their micro business, possibly even working with the farmer for crop selection down to the branding and packaging of their product. They would also determine where they would sell them; retail through farmers markets, door-to-door in town, or contract out for wholesale (stores and restaurants). And who knows, maybe some enterprising group could create packaged products from their raw crops – like kale chips. Their options are limited only by their imaginations.

Each group would structure their company how they wanted and allocate duties and decision-making accordingly. Some members of the group may want to take on more responsibility and then be compensated accordingly. I want to note that ‘Farm-to-School-to-Market’ is not meant to be a school fundraiser. It’s the kids who are putting in the work, so they should be the ones who are rewarded financially. The school benefits by the fact that here’s a ready-made curriculum piece dropped in their lap that actually provides real-world benefit, unlike most activity associated with the dreaded standardized tests, so much in vogue.

Many aspects of ‘Farm-to-School-to-Market’ could be integrated directly into regular class activity, either as part of traditional instruction or as independent projects. Each student group would also have to keep an account of their experience with their company, probably through an online blog. Their ideas, tips and suggestions would also be included and shared as other ‘Farm-to-School-to-Market’ groups spread geographically and became commonplace in the rural eduction curriculum.

Students who attend schools with farm-to-school programs are 28% more likely to choose healthy food options. This is especially important given the recent findings showing that once a person becomes obese they will most likely fight obesity all their life, regardless of whether healthy eating and exercise routines are adopted. Anything that can be done at early ages to promote healthy eating, must be done. And imagine if these healthy eating habits were taken home as homework to benefit the whole family. But these farm-to-school programs can’t happen with just desire. They need a supply of healthy food. And that means local farmers raising it … the core tenet of ‘Farm-to-School-to-Market.’ 

Be part of making your community’s school a real world experience

America’s public schools are often accused of creating test-ridden robots of their students. Here’s a way to counter that accusation, and at the same time help bridge a generational divide all too prevalent in rural America. Combine this with helping seed and nurture a much-needed ‘farm-to-school’ movement … you have trifecta of benefits.

Rural America needs outlets for its young people. The best and brightest of these communities will go where they can express themselves creativity, artistically or through business endeavours. Whether they flex these creative muscles in the towns they grew up in is up to their communities and the metaphorical canvases they provide. Their home towns have the advantage. Retaining talent is a lot easier than attracting new. But make no mistake, having young talent is not an option for a community to flourish. It is mandatory.

Literally and figuratively … it’s on your plate. Now it’s up to you. Wake up your schools! After all … they are your schools.

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I can be reached on Twitter at @clayforsberg or on Google+. And also please follow Sandra at @_prairiespirit. If it wasn’t for her … you wouldn’t be reading this.

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Is Your Community Investing in its ‘Cerebral Infrastructure’?

Two days ago I opened the newspaper to a proclamation that President Obama was proposing a $478 billion public works infrastructure revitalization program. This is no surprise to me. The word infrastructure has been bantered around for the last few months as we ready ourselves for yet another chapter in book of the endless presidential election cycle. “America is losing its edge and is in jeopardy of loosing its vaulting status as the ‘Exceptional One.'” Reminds of the Eddie Murphy movie of the ’80s, “The Golden Child.” No matter how misguided it may bewe must protect and sacrifice for the infrastructure.

The previous chapters have been dedicated to the illusion that education reform would be the savior protector. Now with the not so stellar result results of ‘No Child Left Behind’ and ‘Race to the Top,’ the fleeting attention span of the electorate has been redirected to building things. Not so much new things per se, but rebuilding old things; highways, bridges, pipelines, maybe some electrical lines and transmitters, but mainly stuff revered in support of the almighty automobile. Eisenhower’s corpse six feet under probably has a smile on its face. And believe it or not – as I’m writing this on comes a commercial for NASCAR on Spotify (apparently I’m too cheap to spend the eight bucks a month).

Earlier this week I wrote an open letter to state of North Dakota, where I grew up. Their legislature approved a 800+ million infrastructure bill to rebuild the what the oil industry has decimated in the short time since the oil boom began a few years ago. The state is going to build more roads on top of the ones they’re planning on rebuilding. Dirt roads will get paved and two lane roads will turn into four lane roads. They’re going fix bridges and build overpasses and new sewer systems and whatever else they figure out they can use a backhoe on. Oh, they’ll be some new schools too. After all, those people doing the digging and building need a place to put their kids while they’re doing all that digging and building.

And if it’s not enough for public municipalities to do the building, they’ll be  handing the keys to the city to outside corporate conglomerates in hopes they will be the proverbial “white knight, in the white hat on the white horse” by doing more building. Seldom, if ever, does this work out though. Civic planning textbooks (which apparently aren’t read) are littered with a plethora of stories of corporate subsidies pledged in return of promises of “jobs.” Oh that word “jobs;” it’s as intoxicating as the snake with the apple in the garden of Eden (if you believe in those things). But the apple and the snake … they didn’t work out either. But it doesn’t matter if politicians can say they’re working to provide “good jobs for good hard-working folks.” Look at the craziness we’ve had to endure with the two years of Keystone Pipeline debate. If you’re a politician from anywhere close to where the proposed pipeline is running nasty carcass – you’re touting “jobs.” It doesn’t make any difference that there’s only going to be thirty of these full-time “jobs,” it’s still jobs.

And it doesn’t matter what politicians are doing the talking. They could be Democrat or Republican. They could be federal, state or local. They just can’t help themselves. It’s like crack to them, no  matter the quality.

This insanity has to stop

Coffee Shop posterize

Now I’m all for “jobs.” But it seems all these jobs being talked about are pretty much the same, as I said “good jobs for good hard-working folks.” This is fine, but not everyone wants to work ‘hard.’ And by hard I mean ‘blue collar hard.’ And I’m willing to bet that a lot of those doing the ‘blue collar hard’ jobs are doing them because they don’t really have any other option. Given the chance I’m sure they wouldn’t mind using their mind instead. Trust me, money or not, it no fun working outside in North Dakota in the winter.

Information technology and the internet have changed work opportunities dramatically. However, few of these opportunities are being taken advantage of in places like North Dakota and other states that are composed primarily of small and medium-sized towns and cities. These ‘new economy’ opportunities are seen mainly in urban areas. But it’s not like they couldn’t be distributed more equitably. These opportunities are not geographically bound. Unfortunately few leaders in the public space understand the real potential here. They are myopically focused on getting the most ‘bang for their buck’ with that new backhoe they proudly acquired for the city.

Apple created $10 billion in revenue for third-party application developers for the iPhone and iPad in 2014 alone. That’s more than all of Hollywood generated. And these developers can live anywhere, even in their parent’s basement in Devils Lake, North Dakota. How much of this flowed to North Dakota or states like that. I don’t know, but probably not much.

The ‘Nomad Economy’ is what I call the makeover of this new workforce. These are people, (mainly young but not entirely) who are either self-employed or own small businesses. It’s estimated that by the year 2020, forty percent of America’s workforce will be freelancers. These are NOT the jobs doing the building and digging in the traditional sense. Most of the digging these people do is digging in their minds and figuring out how to navigate the future which is ever evolving and so much less stable than that of their parents. “Holding onto yesterday” and expecting the life of the long-term corporate employee is no longer an option, or preferred.

Introducing the ‘Cerebral Infrastructure’

Even though the ‘Nomad Economy’ is not geographically constrained, it still requires infrastructure. But it’s not the infrastructure you would think. It’s more of a ‘Cerebral Infrastructure.’ By this I mean accommodation for the physical and mental spaces these self-employed, small business owners or ‘Nomads’ need to congregate, collaborate and create – molding the future for themselves and those around them. Schools can help, but they’re only a part of the solution. We need to look past tradition and what worked in the past to now and beyond. What might have worked a decade ago, may be obsolete today, let alone tomorrow. This is time for elected officials and those they appoint to starting asking questions more relevant than the one they asked even five years ago.

  • Do their cities and towns have co-working HUBs designed to nurture entrepreneurial dreams and turn them into job generating start-ups?
  • Do they have the bikeways, parks, public transportation and community gathering places Millennials, the bulk of the ‘Nomad Economy,’ require?
  • Do they have Makerspaces; places where younger and older generations can learn from each other using 3D printers, laser cutters and CAD (computer aided design) technology to make the unimaginable a reality?
  • Is Twitter prominently used both in the public and private spheres where thoughts and collaborations know no international boundaries?
  • Are there state and local sponsored efforts to not only encourage, but assist financially with these collaborations? Or are they looked at with disdain … as something that comes from where elsewhere and doesn’t belong in its revered culture from the past?
  • Do state and local municipalities utilize technology that involve residents in civic decisions and corresponding operations?
  • Are today’s cities, towns and states collaborating with local NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to solicit ideas on how to make its residents leaders in the realities of the new Nomadic economy?
  • Are they creating contests to attract the best ideas from their best people to build their communities in ways that will benefit all its residents (not just the few in its primary industries)? And do these contests provide financial rewards and mentoring assistance?
  • And are their communities places where the country’s best and brightest would want to move to, to use not just their hands – but their minds; and not only use their minds for others, but to build companies of their own? If it’s not … then why not?

Imagine taking a portion of the money used for roads, curbs, gutters used to reinforce the idolization of the automobile. This money could be used to create a ‘Division of Cerebral Infrastructure.’ North Dakota has a state-owned entity called the Bank of North Dakota. Other states, and even local governments could do the same thing. Not everything has to go through Bank of America or Wells Fargo or Citibank or any other of those blood sucking Wall Street devils that have none of your residents’ wellbeing in mind.

Current I live in Montana. The state has a coal fund that grants or loans money (I’m not sure of the exact details) to businesses based in the state. In theory this is all well and good. In practice … not so much. You see Montana’s coal fund requires any recipient business to back it with collateral. That’s good for brick and mortar businesses like casino/convenience stores and car dealers that ironically don’t provide any real benefit since they just cannibalize other local businesses. But it’s not good for ‘new economy’ businesses and the self-employed like the ones Apple paid $10 billion to last year. It’s also is not good for ‘new economy’ firms like Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and the ‘Nomads’ they provide opportunities to. These firms and those like them have raised ten of billions of dollars in venture capital over the last couple years.

This new ‘Division of Cerebral Infrastructure’ can’t act like a bank though. It has to act like a venture capital/private foundation morph. This division’s goal is not to make money directly though. It’s to help generate third-party economic activity which will in turn generate benefit for the community, some directly financial, but most in indirectly as a private business stimuli and resident wellbeing costs savings.

This concept is called obliquity: “the best way to achieve a goal when you are working with a complex system is to take an indirect approach instead of a direct one.”

From competition to ‘Resource Maximization’ using the multiplier effect

The fun part of this ‘project’ would be generating the ideas from the public. The “Division of Cerebral Infrastructure” could hold an annual contest with the applicant projects being voted on by the public via the web. A similar vision of this was implemented by LA2050, a non-profit initiative in Los Angeles that gave away $1 million in grants to winning projects focused improving and transitioning the city to the year 2050. Your community could do the same thing only on a more applicable scale (large or smaller). And the LA2050 people might even give you some advice setting it up (if you asked nicely).

If the public has to vote on it, then the presentations would have to be visually attractive and able to concisely communicate the vision of creators and the benefits to the public. Picture these like the way Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects present themselves. Maybe a contest like this would even bring back some expatriates who jumped the metaphorical ship for greener pastures elsewhere like the urban areas that do offer what they require. And imagine if projects that weren’t funded directly, gained attention and were financially ‘kickstarted’ via other means. Just another example of obliquity. This could go on and on once it got started. In fact, it would be hard to stop –especially if the contest became an annual affair.

When I was at school at the University Of North Dakota, my microeconomics class taught me about bank reserve multipliers. Every dollar put in a bank supposedly generates ‘x‘ times that in economic activity via loans, etc. And by depositing money in the “Division of Cerebral infrastructure” and investing or granting it locally this multiplier concept could become a reality that takes place in every community in the state. Imagine $100 million magically turning into a half of billion dollars. No offense to roads and bridges, but you ain’t seeing that kind of return in traditional infrastructure improvements.

Street fair posterize

But if you have to make physical improvements, don’t make everything so car-centric. The Millennial generation, the foundation of this new Nomad economy, wants bike paths and sidewalks and trees. They want ‘places.’ They want their towns, cities and neighborhoods designed for them and their fellow residents … not for cars. They don’t want to be an afterthought, a nuisance to the automobile culture of their parents and grandparents. Hell, maybe their parents and grandparents would even like these new ‘places’ too given the opportunity.

If a city doesn’t provide these amenities (or actually basics), they have NO hope of retaining their ‘best and brightest’ – let alone attracting them from elsewhere.

No matter the state, all cities, all towns and all neighborhoods are the same

ChangeYourMind

This conversation should be had in every state, every city and every neighborhood in this country and abroad. To rely on the same thinking that caused many of the issues we face today is a prescription of ‘more of the same.’ “Trying to solve traffic problems by building more roads is like trying to solve obesity by buying bigger trousers.” It’s time for us to redefine the definition of public infrastructure. The infrastructure we need should be focusing on is what’s between the ears, the ‘Cerebral Infrastructure’ … not just what’s between the curbs and gutters.

It makes no difference if you’re in an official decision making capacity for your state or your city or town. Change can come from anywhere. In fact it normally comes from outside the established power structures and ‘ivory towers.’ Regardless it’s still your community. If you sit idly by and let the ‘same old’ become the future … there’s no one to blame but yourself.

Header image by L. Sean Key (Fargo)

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You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

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What Uber and Lyft are really about … the ‘Nomad Movement’

Last week I was reading a piece by Joe Mathews in Zocalo, a Los Angeles publication that focuses on culture, ideas and local politics. The title was: “Yes, Airbnb has a dark side.” The piece was about the sharing economy and it’s relationship with existing rules and regulation. Considering the title Joe bestowed upon his prose, I expected an expose’ on the horrors of letting someone stay in your house or of jumping into a stranger’s car for a ride. This was not the case though. There were no horror stories, unless you consider the disruption of the local government regulatory system one.

Of which I don’t.

                               Alexandria's Lyft

Alexandria’s Lyft

First I want to talk about the term ‘sharing economy.’ I’ve had people take offense to my use of that term to describe these app driven upstarts like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb. So I stand corrected. While Airbnb could be considered truly sharing, the ride sharing services really aren’t. They’re a replacement (In my opinion, a better one nonetheless.) for cab companies and  their relatives – black car services, etc. I prefer to call this app driven movement the ‘nomad economy,’ or better yet the ‘Nomad Movement.’

I like to look at this movement from the perspective of the providers of the services; the drivers, the pet sitters, etc. This is in contrast to looking at it from the owners’ or media’s view. They are going to label it however they feel will catch on the best. And all the power to them. It’s branding. Coke and Pepsi do it. Why can’t Lyft and Uber. But from the drivers perspective, it’s something else to a lot of them.

As Joe mentioned in his piece, many involved in the industry view it in a humanity-saving way: “reversing economic inequality, stopping ecological destruction, countering the consumptive and materialistic tendencies of First World societies, enhancing worker rights, mitigating the effects of globalization, empowering the poor, curing cancer and other diseases, and reimagining our politics in more participatory ways.” That may be. But those descriptions feel very ’60s to me, very counter-culture. While these goals may be admirable, and for some primary … this isn’t the ’60s. Most young people or Millennials think this way just because they think that the way you’re supposed to think. It’s not a statement as much as it is a way of ‘being,’ a way of living.

Alexandria and Flash

Alexandria and Flash

My daughter, Alexandria, is neck-deep in the ‘Nomad Movement’ in Los Angeles. She drives and mentors for Lyft. She boards dogs short-term at her house and resurrects Mac computers and iPhones for her friends and their friends. She is a professional nomad. Her attention is focused on what will produce the most results. She lives by ‘resource maximization’ and her various skills and time are the resources. But this professional nomad existence is not an end, it’s a means to an end. The end is Alex’s and her partner, Christina’s, reptile breeding company, StarDust Scales. StarDust Scales breeds rare morphs of Brazilian Rainbow Boas, Satanic Leaf Tailed Geckos and other scaly creatures. Her various nomad pursuits, most specifically Lyft, allow her the time and money to fulfill her entrepreneurial dreams.

And that’s a good thing!

It’s not what older generations would call job security. It’s not your standard corporate career path. But does that path even exist anymore? And when was the last time it actually did – a generation ago, maybe two. Assuming it is a viable option (big assumption) … why should it be the preferred one?

Those who paved this so-called path sure as hell haven’t done a very good job keeping up the maintenance. And it doesn’t matter what end of the political spectrum you’re on, the potholes haven’t been fixed in decades. Government has been AWOL for years. And corporations demand conformity to rules and procedures long archaic years ago (and hardly applicable now). What might have worked for their parents grandparents has been thrust upon younger generations dramatized by stories of the “good old days,” that weren’t really very good in the first place. Maybe it’s like Tyler the Creator said in a recent interview with Larry King: “The suits are scared.” They’re scared of something. Maybe it’s just change.

Fortunately my daughter didn’t go down that path. She’s making her own. It’s not easy. But it’s fun and it’s stimulating for her. Work isn’t work for the sake of work. It’s a journey down a path to goals she’s created, not one of the suits. I know. I see it. I visit it her twice a year for a month at a time. I sit on the couch next to Blake or Brody or Sydney, their cattle dogs – constructing my own path.

Joe from Zocalo is concerned. He’s concerned for his young kids. And that’s to be expected. He started out his piece referring to them and referred to them again at the end. He believes this new ‘Nomad Movement’ will cause upheaval that government (local, state and federal) won’t be able to keep up with. That seems to scare him for the future of his children.

His view may be warranted. I view it as ‘glass half empty, yet with a hint of optimism.’ Fixing the status quo, tweaking it to try to make it better. That’s seems to be Joe’s path. But that’s not mine. And it’s not Alex’s, nor many of her friends I had the pleasure of meeting. The ‘Nomad Movement’ is the younger generation’s way of dealing with all the craziness and the crumbling of the once vaunted traditional institutions built years gone by for generations mostly long gone also. The ‘Nomad Movement’ is their tool for survival and more than that … their tool to realize their American Dream. This is a dream where they can create their own path; potholes, washouts and all. But it’s still their own. To discount it or look at from how it affects regulation and government and the rest of messed up economic world given to them to negotiate, is hardly empathic to those having to clean up the mess.

                 Sydney

Sydney

A memo to the elders in this world: Would it be so damn hard to get out of your children’s way? They’re not asking you for much … but just get out of the way. If you can’t see that: I’m sure I can make some room on the couch next time I’m in Los Angeles.

Plus, Sydney’s always up for a good belly scratch.

Hail the new American Dream!

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Come and join me on Twitter at @clayforsberg or on Google+.

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Yet another blow in the search for the next Hemingway

Yesterday it was announced that the College Board would drop the essay requirement for the SAT college entrance test. This along with free access to pre-test preparation material is hailed by many as a good thing, the change that will level the playing field for low-income and disadvantaged students. I view it as subversive tactic to rid American schools of writing in lue of irrelevant facts, figures and Common Core nonsense. After all David Coleman, the man behind the Common Core standards, is also the president of College Board.

When my daughter was in high school, our living situation was not ideal. Now we lived in a great area, Manhattan Beach, California. We had the beach, the weather, crime was virtually nonexistent and the neighborhoods were clean and friendly.

Our physical abode, was little different story. Well actually, we didn’t have one – at least in the traditional sense. We had motel rooms and tent, a very good tent … but a tent none-the-less. However, we made it though and I believe we’re both better off because of our precarious living situation those years. Alex, my daughter, had one thing she could always fall back on. Alex wrote. Writing was her own personal therapy. She wrote about the good times … and she wrote about, well – the not so good times.

Writing

But writing was more than therapy for Alex. It was a source of pride. She writes well, very well – and she knows it. Being a good writer give a student a ‘leg-up’ in not just English class but in any other venture that involves communicating – and that’s most everything. And not being able to write effectively can set an otherwise good student back a step.

Writing enables you to form thoughts in a way that requires you to think before you talk – which all too often happens in discussion. This thought process fine-tunes articulation. By altering just one word, meaning can take on a whole different twist. From this thoughtful articulation, synaptic connections are built. And we all know we need more synaptic connections.

Writing also has an archiving function. You can always go back and read what you wrote a month ago, or year ago and reflect. You can build on past ideas, thoughts and revelations. It’s not so easy to reflect on a conversation you had with someone six months ago. Chances are it’s gone the way of burnt out memory cells.

You would think our schools would make it a point to incorporate writing into the curriculum wherever they could. Don’t sequester it to English class. Every class, every subject requires communication, and writing is high level communication. And every class and every subject need our students to further develop their abstract thinking abilities. And that’s where writing comes in … it’s perfect for that.

Well that’s what you’d think. But … NOOOOO! That just makes too much sense. Here’s a technique that would systematically improve our student’s prospects now and when they leave school. But … NOOOOO! We can’t do that – we have standardized tests, and we have our ‘fill in the right oval or be damned’ philosophy. After all we have to keep up with Jones (oh! I mean the Chinese).

I’m fifty-five years old. I didn’t really start writing until five years ago when I started this blog. Before then I didn’t write. I don’t think I wrote 5000 words total in my life. I didn’t write in high school and I didn’t in college. But I didn’t need to. Because even back even we had the ovals – and I knew how to play the oval game.

But I’ve found out something over these last two years and 200 blog posts. Even being ‘old,’ I’m thinking better. My comprehension of issues is better. My articulation of these issues is better. And the breadth of my understanding on diverse subjects, subjects I’ve had little exposure to – is better. And this is happening now at age fifty-fifty. Imagine the effect it would have on the formative brains of teenagers!

But … NOOOOO! Writing proficiency is too subjective. How are the teachers going to grade writing? Where’s time for them to go through all those words? “Just give me multiple choice … and give me my ovals.” Now I see the point in periodic testing. If you don’t test students on progress, how are you going to know if  someone is following behind to the ‘point of no return.’ But does that mean we have to kick writing to the curb because it involves more effort and can’t be tested with ovals?

Our public education situation in the United States is unfortunate at best and more accurately, pathetic. This vaulted institution which reigned king has dropped precariously in world comparisons. And this free fall shows no sign of letting up. Writing would help … help a lot. But we have no time or no patience for writing in our schools. We have ovals. And in the age of ubiquitous technology and social connectivity where’s so much information to devour and write about, this situation is ironic.

The internet 2.0 is based on communication – back and forth. I say something, you respond … and so on. Constructive dialogue using writing is what it’s made for. Some would say term papers are writing. I suppose, in the broadest interpretation of the word. But outside of a grade and a few notes in the margins (mainly grammar corrections), there’s no dialogue.

Personally I write about things that interest me. While I’m twice as old as the average college student and three times that of someone in high school, I don’t consider myself a better, or worse writer – just one with more real world context. My 25-year-old daughter writes better than I do. But what if writing could be that bridge that connects school to the real world for these students? What if writing made all those irrelevant ‘facts’ relevant? And what if writing provided that “spark” that ignited an interest in school … and a want to be there, and a desire to learn when they’re there.

They way we can do this is through blogs, blogs that students write. I’m a firm believer in students creating a blog that can travel with them, even after they graduate. The content can be personal or it can be incorporated with class material. Students can determine relevance on their own terms – not just on the teacher’s. In other words … they would be thinking.

I believe the purpose of school is prepare a student of a life-long habit of learning, a yearning, an addiction. You can learn a trade or a profession. But what happens if that trade changes, or worse yet – becomes obsolete and goes away.

The skill of learning prepares one to adapt to the changes that loom as inevitable as the rising of the morning sun. And the sun is going to keep rising until we’re all dead and gone.

And writing is the vehicle that can deliver that skill.

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Come and join me on Twitter at @clayforsberg or on Google+.

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Now you’ve ‘Raised your flag’ … what’s next?

The events in the Ukraine, and specifically Kiev, over the last couple weeks have been extraordinary. A group of determined protesters overthrew a government with heavy backing from Russia. And most amazing is that the protesters were not driven by irrational religious zeal, but rather by a desire for economic reform. They’ve ‘Raised their flag’ in pursuit of having lives dictated by their of own doing … not according to decades of old ideas hatched in the former Soviet Union. And if the rebellion in the Ukraine isn’t enough, it appears a similar situation may be unfolding in Venezuela.

Ukraine Protest

About twenty years ago I coined a phrase. “On the Road to Your Perfect World.” It was used mainly in the context of my recruiting business. It’s premise was that life is a journey, not a destination. Thus the “Road” moniker. I told my candidates to view a job as step to where they wanted to go. And if the job they had or the one they were considering didn’t go down the path they wanted to go … then find one that did.

Well the “Road” and “the Perfect World” has taken me a whole lot of places I would have never envisioned back in 1995. But that’s a whole different story and the concept itself has evolved. “The Road to Your Perfect World” is now about more than just work and career. “The Perfect World” is my way of looking at life. It’s about breaking from the way you’re supposed to do things and the being on the road you’re supposed to travel according to societal norms (or what others think ). Everything is in question – even the our whole system of how we value ourselves and our place in this world. I got into this a couple of weeks ago in my post,Can we ever stop the march of the Neanderthals.

Greg Rader over the years has also articulated a lot of the same issues in his blog. Two years ago he posted a piece on making the jump to this alternative way of thinking and breaking from convention. I commented on this post about what happens after one makes this break. Below is my comment:

“Well here we are. We’ve done it. We’ve waged war on the status quo for control of ourselves. We’ve thrown out conventional wisdom concerning education and the value of a traditional institutions. We’ve decided that the accepted professional ladder climbing is no longer acceptable. We’ve even redefined our system of value – with the ‘undying sole pursuit of material goods’ being a casualty. The welfare of all is to be held above our own personal desires and wants. Our knuckles are bloodied, our will tested … but we’re here.

Now what’s next. We’ve deconstructed every norm we can find. We’ve sought them out in the classroom, in the boardroom and even the bedroom. No room was left untouched.

But now … what’s next!

It’s easy to tear down, to point out the faults of convention and the “one model fits all” thinking. But it’s harder to actually break loose, to endure the ostracism of the masses, the lemmings on the crusade to the cliff.

But again I ask  … what’s next. It’s not enough just to declare victory. One can only look at Egypt. They won the battle for freedom from tyranny – to be replaced by what? Have we, us fellow “sociopaths” relegated ourselves to a similar fate? What will fill the void of conformity and a life not unlike the one Donald Sutherland so valiantly tried to escape in the ’70s classic, ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers?”

Reminiscent of post World War II, now is time for us to develop our own person Marshal Plan. How are we going to succeed in this new world we’ve thrust upon ourselves? It won’t have a timetable of months or even years. It is a plan we will need to follow, to implement, over the course of our lives. And our plan must take into account not just ourselves, but all who we have a vested interest in, and  those who have a vested interest in us; including the generations who will follow. For all them are stakeholders and will be effected.

We’ll lose some of them. Some just won’t be able resist the pressure to conform and step back into the old societal comfort. We’ll have to accept that. We’ll just have to make it so that those that matter most remain in our fray, and realize their own “Perfect World” – even if it’s not in lockstep with ours. All we can hope for is understanding and empathy. Because to succeed in this rebuilding effort, we’ll need them.

We’ve raised our flag, assessed the damage – envisioned the possibilities. Now it’s time to go to work!”

This very well could be a mantra for the heroic of Kiev and the other nations who have sought and will seek to break from the convention of physical and societal tyranny. Or it could just be your own. Discarding the status quo is only the first step. It’s only the first of many battles that will have to be fought. The hardest ones will be ones of choice, of what to do next. Deciding the goal to ‘tear down’ is an easy one to make. The decision of what to build in its place and how to do it … not so much so.

I’m not going to tell you what your “Perfect World” should be. And I’m not going tell how you should travel your road. That’s up to you. All I’m saying is it’s alright to map your own journey. Moses didn’t have an eleven commandment saying you have to blindly join the crusade to the cliff.

But once you have ‘Raised your flag’ and you ask yourself what’s next … you better have your own Marshall Plan.

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You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg

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Can we ever stop the march of the Neanderthals?

Update January 19, 2013: I wrote this post three years ago. And just, if not more appriopriate today than then. Naively so I thought that maybe by 2014 things might be different. Maybe in some respects they are. A new generation is gaining more of a foothold in the world (For the better I believe). But at the same time, the old guard of attitudes, those resident in the ‘ivory towers’ of materialism are digging in deeper … reminiscent of siege of the Civil War battle Vicksburg.

Yesterday (February 21, 2011) I commented on a provocative blog post by my friend Greg Rader, “The Future of Status – Conspicuous Production.”

Imagine if there was no money and no things to buy. How would you show the world your worth? How would you show yourself?

Would your value lie in the number of friends you have – physical or electronic? Would it lie in the quality and depth or your relationships with these friends (kind of an esoteric three-dimensional assessment)? Maybe it would lie in the number pieces of art you produced, or books and articles you’ve written.

Or better yet … what about the number of nebulous karma points you’ve accumulated by doing random acts of good? Haven’t we reached a point on Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ where we can at least flirt with self actualization?

Over your last couple posts, I think you’ve been us leading to this. It’s obvious, the standard societal measurement of wealth and worth just isn’t cutting it for you. I join you brother.

Maybe this is the first step – discontent. Only then we can find our own “store of value.” and from there truly maximize it’s worth. Maybe this is what I mean when I talk about “On the Road to Your Perfect World.” Thanks for pointing me the way.

I viewed the focus of Greg’s piece as: “Isn’t there a way of presenting our value to world other than just through the money we make and our consumption habits?” As you can tell from my comment above – it’s a topic that’s been on my mind also.

Recently, in light of the sky-high valuations of several dotcom 2.0 stocks, such as Facebook, Groupon and Twitter, this matter seems to be especially relevant. Recent investments have Facebook worth $52 billion and Twitter at $10 billion, while Groupon recently turned down a $6 billion offer from Google.

But I ask you … on what are the values based. In the first two it’s their ability to act as advertising platforms, and Groupon is worth what it can take as a cut of the pie. Isn’t there more though … more than just advertising, more than just a vehicle to accommodate more and more consumption. God I hope so.

Let’s put Groupon aside, they are what they are – a group buying coupon service … nothing more, nothing less. Eventually they will fall prey to another ‘new and improved’ version of the same.

But Facebook and Twitter are different. To label then as just advertising platforms is to vastly understate what they really are – what they’re really worth. One needs to look no further back than one month. Only thirty days ago the political environment in the Middle East was much the same as it’s been for the last thirty years. No longer. Tunisia is liberated. Egypt is liberated (well kinda). Libya will be in a matter a days, and whoever is next is anyone’s guess.

While Facebook and Twitter didn’t overthrow these dictatorships … they played an integral role. They facilitated strategic and tactical communication that was on the level of a sophisticated military sorte, only performed primarily by young civilians. These social networks provided something that wasn’t there before … coordination. The results to this point have been the liberation tens of billions of dollars and ten millions of people, people who now have the prospect of governing themselves and having a say in their future.

What’s that worth?

Have you evolved?

How can you put a monetary value on person’s freedom? How can you say in dollars and cents what it’s worth to know you have something to get up for in the morning, to know that just maybe your children might just have a better life than you … a life you could only dream of.

Why does everything have to be based on money and what we spend it on. Just because you drive a Mercedes 450SL and I drive a Ford Taurus – does that make you worth more than me. I could make a case on the contrary. We focus so much on our children making sure they go to college and get a job that pays a lot of money. How many us even discuss any other options – any other means of worth? This valuation system seems Neanderthal in the light of what’s happening in the world these days.

I have been there and done it. I’ve had the nice car, the apartment on the water, the original art on walls. But it sure wasn’t “the be all end all.” The car’s gone (well,not a Mercedes – didn’t have one of those), the apartment gone and my daughter has the art. The memories are good, but now it time to move on.

It’s like the pursuit of possessions had put me in a cloud. I had other pursuits, but the almighty dollar seemed to reign supreme. No longer.

My valuation lies not in my financial net worth, but rather in what Greg says, “my conspicuous production” and what results from it. Production can be anything. It could this blog post. It could be the comments that result from it. And as I said in my comment above, it could be in the karma points I accumulate by doing good things. So here it is, here is my new definition of “my value:”

My value is the sum total of all positive synaptic connections I have a role in creating, both in myself and in others. In other words, the more I can get people thinking in ways they wouldn’t otherwise think in – and correspondingly, act in ways that benefit themselves and others … the more I’m worth.

There you have it.

Now it’s time to pick up my hands … my knuckles are bloody.

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And if you like this … please Tweet it and follow me on Twitter @clayforsberg

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