Who’s not your community!

About ten years ago I took a road trip from Los Angeles to visit my parents in Montana. After a couple weeks, I departed via my sister’s place in Nebraska. When leaving Christy’s place, I thought I’d try something. What if I made it all the way home to Southern California without touching an interstate highway or spending a cent at a national chain company.

It’s too easy to default to the easy … get on the highway, get off and eat McDonalds – and get back on the highway, and on and on. But isn’t there more?

My first stop was in Oklahoma. It was noon … lunch time, on two lane State Road 14. Out of nowhere was a little grocery store … and next to it was this huge black gentleman laboring over a barbecue barrel. This was lunch! After three dollars, great conversation – and the best pulled pork barbecue sandwich I have ever had, I drove on.

Pie Town Cafe

Now I could go on about the next two days. I could talk about Pie Town (the pumpkin pie is to die for!) … but I think you know how it’ll turn out. Every stop was memorable. Little I did know that that venture would result in a “business purpose” I’m putting in play today.

Our president is unveiling his jobs plan as I write this. Unemployment is high and consumer confidence is low. And the “insane clown posse” that poses as our government bickers about things that even my ten year old next door neighbor wouldn’t think relevant.

I wrote a post four days ago about “Who your community is.” This fit’s into the above diatribe.

But as important as recognizing who your community is … it’s also important to recognize who your community isn’t. It’s not your Wal-mart, it’s not your Target, it’s not your corporate owned McDonalds and it’s not the big box store down the street. They may be in your neighborhood … but they’re not your neighbors – they are not your community!

These faceless corporations are here to take – to take your money, to take the life blood out of the locally owned firms who are your community. The more you give them – the less you have to give to those businesses that really matter, your neighbors – your community.

Of the sponsors of the Minot relief concert I was at (with L. Sean Key, my collaborator) with the Black Eyed Peas, none of them were these firms, even though all had presence in the town. There’s a Wal-mart in Minot. There’s a Target in Minot, and the there’s two MacDonalds. Only local business gave their time, their effort and resources.

This disgusts me!

Keep your money in your community

Times are not good in America right now. But it’s not because there’s a lack of money. It’s because it’s going to wrong the places. Any time you patronize a national concern over a locally owned business, you are sending money out of your community. Every time you use Bank of America over your local credit union, or Home Depot over your local hardware store … you are killing your community. You are sending money to offshore accounts, to bloated institutions or worse yet greedy, self-serving CEOs.

40% to 50% percent of each dollar spent at a locally owned business stays in the community. Yet only 15% percent does with a large corporate entity, like Wal-mart, Target or Home Depot. What does that tell you!

You may think that the couple of dollars you save – is worth it …. but is it?


I can be found on Twitter at @clayforsberg


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High unemployment is here to stay … so what are you going to do about it?

I had a discussion yesterday with Sandy Maxey on Twitter about the unemployment issue here in the United States. Up till now, I’ve just had cursory thoughts about it. Everybody seems to have a solution. On one end we have full-scale government job creation intervention. And on the other, some profess in the unabashed free market. Of course the solution probably lies somewhere in between. Here’s my take on it.

First, not all short-term issues need to be “fixed.” Economies, just as the seasons, cycle and repeat. Just as you can’t expect your tulips to bloom year round – the economy isn’t always going to be bullish. There is a limit to prosperity. We don’t live in utopia. And very often our short-term interference does more harm than good.

We have evolved into a pampered society. We expect things to always be rosy. I don’t mean say that there are not people who are hurting … because there is. But for most of us – our plight is greatly overstated. Our individual wellbeing will ultimately be dependent on us ourselves. How we each deal with our up and downs is the determining factor, because our ups and downs will happen.

Second, we are witnessing a profound shift in the employment needs of the marketplace. In years past, we made things and we, along with world bought these things. Today, such is not necessarily the case. Manufacturing jobs, jobs which defined middle class are gone – and probably won’t be back. There is nothing government intervention or lower taxes can do about it. Efforts to nurture declining industries and their corresponding jobs will do more harm than good. It may not seem like that when you’re trying to pay the mortgage – but it is what it is.

Middle management job fair

This doesn’t mean there aren’t employment opportunities out there though. Unfortunately, our education system and most of all our attitudes towards jobs and security haven’t kept pace with reality and the changes in the marketplace. Our education system keeps churning out college graduates with middle management skills – yet the prospects for these jobs are bleak. We educate more and more want to be lawyers, yet technology is making much of the legal field obsolete.

The biggest culprit in this chasm between labor supply and demand are the parents of our youth. “I want my son and daughter to go college.” It doesn’t make any difference whether there’s a job at the end of ten of thousand of dollars of debt – they’re still going to college. It doesn’t even matter what the degree is in – “they’re still getting one.”

Now to my third point. The jobs that will fuel our labor recovery don’t exist … at least not right now. And I can’t tell you what they’re going to be. They’re just going to happen. What we as a country has to do is create a workforce that excels at being able to change … to adapt. We have to get back to being a country of entrepreneurial spirit. This is where the job and the opportunities will be – not with the Fortune 500. Our biggest problem is our reluctance to give up old perseptions and norms. We have a middle-aged unemployed workforce that is searching for jobs that aren’t there. We have college graduates searching for a secured career like their grandparents had.

Who would have guessed that the internet would have become what it has and spawn the opportunities it has. Nobody. Even five years ago, who would have predicted there would be ten of thousands of people creating cell phone applications – from their home. Nobody. There will opportunities that will surface that entrepreneur will take advantage of. But these entrepreneurs may or may not be in this country.

In fact, our insistence in holding on to outdated institutions has actually put us a disadvantage in creative thinking. We want things like they were. Even from a personal standpoint – we whine about gas prices, yet few of us make changes to our lifestyles. “Take a bus a day a week to work – not me.” Rather than take advantage of opportunities that higher gas prices have created – we bitch about it. Inactivity will do nothing but drop you further behind.

Well, things have to change. There’s no going back to the good old days of the past (even though they might not even have been so good). The crucial skill we have to learn and embrace is the ability, and even the mastery of being able to change and adapt. We have to learn to see what’s not there and take the risk to make it there. We may stumble, or even fall down. But if we know how get back up – who cares! We need to nurture our own personal Phoenix (see the post about my daughter’s tattoo and you’ll get my drift).

This new adaptable attitude has to encompass our entire lives including what we put value in. If you’re a parent, quit pushing your kids into a career and lifestyle that makes you feel good and impresses your neighbors. You won’t feel so good when you’re the paying off their college debt while your son or daughter lives in your basement looking for a job – unsuccessfully. And get over the “white picket fence” syndrome. While owning your own home might have been the American Dream for generations past … it’s no longer. In most cases, all it is is a ball and chain mortgage strapped to you that limits your geographic flexibility. You have to be able to go to where the jobs are. And owning a house certainly puts a crimp in that, especially in this market.

We can all sit and listen to politicians talk about what they’re going to do to jump-start the economy and lower the unemployment to pre-recession levels.  But they have no better idea than you do or I do. Only you know what your own personal answer is.  You have to take matters into your own hands. But please, loosen up your criteria. Whatever security you had in the past is probably gone – so deal with it. When you think things are bad … they could be a lot worse. I know. For two years I rotated between living in motels and a tent (with my teenage daughter). And in hindsight, neither one of us is any worse for wear. If anything we’re both a lot stronger and more empathetic.

I know I’ll get comments bagging on my lack of sympathy. And they’ll be right. Sympathy is not my strong suit. But what I do have is empathy. I’ve been there and know what it takes to completely change my frame of reference and really come to grips with what’s important to me.

All I ask from you is develop the skills to adapt and see the opportunities that out there – not the ones you wish were out there. And please help your children do the same. Don’t cement their view of value and the world with yours.

“The mind can make heaven of hell … and hell of heaven.” So get out there create your own heaven.

Please comment. Your views and insight, pro or con, are valuable and make the post.

Also follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg. There’s always good stuff happening there.


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The government isn’t going to help you … so get over it!

I originally wrote this post two years ago but with recent developments in Congress recently, it is might be even more relevant now than then. This last Thursday, the Republican led voted to cut $40 million out of the food stamp (SNAP) over a period of five years.

For literally thirty years, I voted in every election. It didn’t make any difference what was on the ballot. It could have been a presidential election – or even just a local bond initiative. It didn’t make any difference,  I voted.  I even spent three years as my precinct head when I lived in Orange County, California.

There were two things that were mandatory viewing in our house when my daughter Alex was growing up – both days of the NFL Draft and every election. I even took Alex’s 6th grade teacher to task when she assigned math homework on the night of the Clinton / Gore election. Election day is to learn about elections, government and all things related – not math.

Election day is a big deal for me and it started early. I cried when I was a fourth grader in 1968 because Humphrey lost to Nixon. “If only the blacks in the south side of Chicago would have come out and voted, then Illinois would gone Democrat and the election would have been thrown into the House of Representatives which would have voted in Humphrey.” Needless to say, I was into elections.

The last two years have saddened me. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. I don’t need to go in detail the reasons why. Let’s just say government has become a “useless abyss of self-centered attention grabbing clowns.” They have completely lost their way and I see no hope in sight.

But probably more than government itself, I’m saddened by the people, the people who have come to rely on government – and those people who have championed their causes. The safety net so many have depended on, is rife with holes and the seamstress in charge has been laid off. But yet I hear the same chorus sung to the same audience. “Please fix the net.”

Government assistance is not what it used to be

I read an article in Harvard Business Review (read the article here) last week about the plight of inner city youth and the success the program, YouthBuilders, is having. But as with so many of these government assisted programs – funds are being cut and their survival are in question. The author made the comparison of the benefit of funding YouthBuilders rather than incarceration (the likely other alternative). His solution is to further inform the voting public of the benefits of the former over the latter, in hopes they will vote for candidates that favor the preemptive assistance strategy.

In theory all this makes sense. If you give the people the information, then of course they will make the right decision. This theory assumes government works, though. This a big assumption and most likely a wrong one. Below is the comment I submitted on what it’s going to take to fix the things that need fixing that government used to fix but isn’t interested in fixing anymore (wow, that was a big breath).

Charles, I feel for you and the others who have obviously spent much time and energy pondering our county’s urban dilemma – the state of urban youth. Unfortunately I disagree with your approach.

In your closing, you posed the question – “Would more information help sell the public on the benefits of the programs you described?” I believe it’s your hope that by providing detailed analysis, the light will be turned on in the pubic’s head and we will be on the road to “making the right decision.” The problem is – people seldom make decision based on rational and analysis. They make decisions on emotion. Just take a look at the insanity we’re witnessing with our political bodies throughout the country. If anyone actually looked at the implication of these “half-backed” scorched earth ideas, there would be revolution in every state and locality, in addition to D.C.

The public assistance pendulum has swung past the reach of those who truly need it. And it doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. There needs to be a different approach – a different plan of attack.

The power to solve our urban woes does not lie in Washington nor even in a state capital. It lies in the streets – in the streets of the neighborhoods you’re trying to change. For any meaningful change to take hold and have staying power, it has to come from within the community. And no matter where the community is, it has resources. The solution lies in maximizing these resources.

When all we do is obsess over why the government isn’t there to help prop us up, we lose the focus to help ourselves. And by ourselves, I mean the community as a whole – not just us as individuals. Everyone has resources to offer … and I don’t mean money. Around every corner there are mentors, there are tutors – there are role models. They may not be as easy to find as in the suburbs – but they’re still there. You just have to look a little harder, and be a little more creative.

Rather than fight and obsess over what probably won’t be there – find the answers in your neighborhood. Take the components of successful projects such as YouthBuild and figure out to implement them yourself as much as you can. They may start out abbreviated – but with time they will end up larger and stronger than ever. The strength is there. The resources are there. But it will take resolve and focus to solve decades of old problems.

But maybe this is the time – the time when it looks as if the light is dimmest. Maybe the solution is just around the corner … with our friends and neighbors.

That kind of sums up where my head’s at. Everything is local. And the solutions lie in our neighborhoods. It’s where we live and it’s where help is … at least where it should be. The future I want will lie in the neighborhoods, not in the capitols, not in the boardrooms. The problems we have, as well as the opportunities, will be addresses by us on the ground floor. Nobody in the silos of conceit and self-indulgence has any interest in anything but themselves.

Some may think protests or demonstration may be effective in changing the status quo. I don’t. Direct implementation is though. We are going to have to band together, as stakeholders in our future, and fix things ourselves.

The faster we admit it … the faster can get going and do something about it.


You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg or on Google+.


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Revisiting Medici

A few years ago, when I was still down in Los Angeles, I was on my morning walk through West L.A. and I ran across a homeless gentleman collecting cans and bottles from a dumpster.  I stopped to talk to him.  We talked for about for fifteen minutes.

We talked about a lot things, the weather, the BP oil spill and eventually the conversation turned to the economy.  His take was that he thought things were getting worse, rather than what we’d been hearing from the news media. “How did you come up with that?”  I asked him.

“Well I see more cheap brand cans in the dumpsters than I used to.  Even last year when things were supposedly worse, people still drank Coke and Budweiser .  But now it’s changed.”  It’s Shasta and Natural Light.

Interesting, a frame of reference I wouldn’t have gotten through my normal channels.

I remembered a post I read in copyblogger.com talking about the Medici Effect during the start of the Renaissance.  At the end of the Dark ages poets, artists, painters, sculptors and the like came to Florence, Italy to study and collaborate thanks to patronization of the wealthy Medici family.  Essentially, this melding of different backgrounds and disciplines started the Renaissance.

How can we personally duplicate this for ourselves?

Get out of your comfort zone.  Humans are creatures of habit.  We tend to do the same things, associate with same type of people and be influenced by the same sources as we always have.

Mix it up!

If you are a doctor, hang with a plumber.  If you’re white, talk to a black person.  Take the bus sometime (no – people on buses don’t bite).  If you live on the west side, have dinner on the east side.  And most of all if you’re old (yes Boomers you are old) … get some insight from someone young – someone that’s not your own kid.

Our brains are nothing more than synaptic connections which are built and strengthened through habitual activity and thought.  Build some new ones,  God only knows we could use more.

Who knows … maybe your next piece of inspiration may come next to a dumpster.


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“I may be homeless, but I don’t have to look like I’m homeless …”

This afternoon I was thinking about how people react to adversity.  It amazes me that some people can maintain a positive frame of mind in the most adverse predicaments.  I’ve been in some situations that most people would have nothing to do with … but it’s nothing compared to the people I met a couple of months ago on Skid Row in Los Angeles. A few months ago I met a woman through a mutual friend.  Special K as she called herself, was an advocate for the homeless in Los Angeles.  In June she called me and asked if I wanted to join her at a clean-up on Skid Row.  I accepted.

The next Saturday I took a bus to Skid Row.  Now I lived in the Los Angeles area for twenty years, and I’ve spent a lot of time in downtown … but I’ve never been to ground zero Skid Row.  I took the bus from my daughter’s place in Century City to the clean-up.  It was Saturday morning at about 11:00 am, so this was about as good as it gets down there. It was eye-opening – as I expected.  There were people literally laying everywhere, again kinda what I expected.  But one thing I noticed … there were no stores, nowhere to buy anything.  But what there was, was literally soup lines.  There were several of them, pretty much all put together by local churches.  I felt like I was transported to an area that had just been hit by a natural disaster – a hurricane or tornado or something.  But there wasn’t anything natural about this … just disaster.

Skid Row
Skid Row Los Angeles

After about a half an hour, I found Special K and we joined a crew of about fifteen others and began cleaning the sidewalks, the streets and anything that needed it. There was thing that surprised me though.  There was hope.  Not everybody acted down and out.  For example, there was Richard.  Richard had just moved to Skid Row – not that he had to be there.  He had just moved from Laguna Beach (high rent district for those of you not familiar with Southern California).  He moved here to help, it’s where he said he belonged. 

Richard and I spearheaded the clean-up. One of our most energetic workers was an attractive young woman named Veronica.  I thought she was just another of the volunteers like me … she wasn’t.  She’d been living on the streets in Skid Row for the last two and half years.  I commented that she didn’t look like she was in the situation she was. This was her response: 

“I may be homeless, but I don’t have to look like I’m homeless.  If I look like I’m homeless, I’ll always be homeless.”

It kind of takes, “faking it till you make it” to a new level – doesn’t it. 

You think she’ll make it out?  I’m not betting against her.

Next time you’re stressing over credit card bills or whatever else you stress about, think of Veronica … I’m sure she’d trade places.


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“Believe it or not it may not be about you!”

This is one of those “don’t forget this.”

A couple of years ago I was traveling on Amtrak from Orange County to Seattle to visit Jennifer (you’ll hear more about her down the road).  Trains are great … way better than planes and cars.  You get to spend hours together with people you’ve never met and probably will never see again. All you have is that single experience.

The Buddist

At the beginning of the trip, I met and sat next to a young man who happened to be a buddist.  Now he didn’t look like the stereotypical buddist – no shaved head, no robe … just kinda like I looked twenty-five years ago (except probably better looking).  For miles we talked, ate and talked some more.

One of topics of our conversation was his girlfriend – who lived with him on a buddhist compound outside of San Diego.  Over the last couple of months their relationship had declined.  She would come home from work in a surely mood and stayed that way through the night.  “What was wrong and what had he done to cause her malaise.”

“What can I do to make you happy” was the pretty much how every evening began.

At wits end, my new Buddhist friend went to his monk for advise.

This is it:

“How can you be so arrogant and self-absorbed that you think everything in her life revolves around you and is caused by you.”

The next time you beat yourself up over something having to do with somebody else, try empathizing – look at the world from their perspective.

Believe it or not – it may not be about you.


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The Baby Boomer, Gen Y communications gap and social media … the solution or the problem?

I got up this morning at 4:30am – and as I do every morning, I attacked my “1st thing To Do in the morning task.”  Today it was clean out the people I follow on Twitter.  I was getting to the point where I couldn’t even delve into the links because there was too much stuff – stuff I had no room in my brain for.

One thing I found myself doing today was taking a look at the age demographics of the people I followed.  I’m a generational analysis freak, so I got off on this.  Out of the 100 or so people I follow, I found that they were pretty much equally distributed after taking out my industry related stuff.  I have about the same amount of Baby Boomers, Generation X and Gen Y tweeters.  As a reference point:  I’m fifty-one, on the cusp of the Boomers and Gen X.

This got me thinking:  Is this a normal distribution?  After looking into who the people who I followed, I looked to who they followed.  I surmised that I wasn’t the norm.  Humans have a tendency to gravitate towards comfort.  And comfort normally lies with those of similar age.  My observations backed this up.

Now this bring us to this post.

As we all know, the mechanics of communication and socialization have changed greatly with the advent of social media.  God, Facebook has 500 million members, Twitter has almost 100 million and LinkedIn has 80 million.  Countless people all over the world spend countless hours tweeting, following, connecting and friending.

The generation gap

Social media has been touted as bringing the world together – connecting people from disparate cultures and enabling them to get to know each other.  But how much “bringing together” is actually actually going on.  From a geographic sense, sure.  But other than that … is social media bridging a communication gap – or is it creating one.

As I mentioned above, according to my informal research, people are spending more time with others in their own age group due to the time they spend on social media sites.  In “the old days,” we made contact with people of all ages because … well, because we just physically ran into them.  When we were teenagers, if we went to our friends’ houses – we saw and talked to their parents.  With no social media, any contact we would have would have to be either on the phone (normally limited because of only having one house phone) or in person.  If you didn’t get out in the real world, you didn’t socialize.  Remember the term “homebody?”

Seldom do the younger people have contact with the people my age, and vice versa.  On the surface this might not seem like a big deal.  There’s always been generation gaps.  But never has there been an opportunity like this with the ubiquity of social media and the connection and communication possibilities it brings.

And not only are we not taking advantage of it … we’re using it to our disadvantage.

The young need mentoring.  They need to hear stories about what happens if they do stupid things.  The need to know that life is not a straight line, but rather a series of ups and downs and cycles.  And the Baby Boomers like me need the nieve optimism that we once had but has now been replaced by risk aversion.  We need the energy.  We need to know that we may be 50 or 60, but we sure as hell don’t have to feel and act like that.  Satchel Paige once posed the question, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”

I participate in four social media venues:  LinkedIn, Facebook, Brazen Careerists and Twitter.  Let me tell you how I see these four shaking out from a generational perspective.

  1. LinkedIn: As my twenty year old daughter says – LinkedIn is Facebook for old people.  That kind says it all.  Since it’s broken down primarily by professions, I associate with those within profession, digital printing and database marketing.  I would guess the average age is just about my age or maybe a year or two older, within little age diversity.  I also belong to a social media group.  Average here is about fifteen to twenty years younger – and again with little generational crossover.  In summary … I talk to people may age.
  2. Facebook: I don’t really spend much time here.  My only contacts are mainly those people I went to high school with – my age.  And because of the requirement to approve any “friends,” you circle is probably pretty closed and limited to your real world friends.   Any chance meeting with somebody of another age group is small.
  3. Brazen Careerists: This is a site populated mainly by Gen Yers.  Most of them are go getters and I joined to get the “younger” perspective on things.  A lot of the conversation centers around careers (thus the name) and how to move ahead.  My question is, how can a bunch of twenty somethings give career advice when they’re in the middle of the process themselves.  There’s a resume forum which drives me crazy.  “Employers don’t hire resumes … they hire people.”  I know this may sound trite but the focus should be on making contact with those people in the hiring positions (not human resources).  And these people are my age, 50+, or at the least Gen Xers in their late 30s and 40s.
  4. Twitter: This is my favorite – and until this morning I really didn’t know why.  Now I do.  I can follow and listen to whoever I want to.  And anybody can follow me and listen to what I say.  There are blocking features, but who actually uses them.  As I said at the beginning of this post, my Twittering is “equal opportunity across all age groups.”  I like this.

As you can see, with the exception of Twitter, social media (at least the ones I use) restricts intellectual diversity as much if not more than they accommodate it.

OK, enough of the problem.  Let’s fix the game. Together we can all find a phone booth and put on our capes.  Here’s my solution on using social media to bridge the gap.

First for us old people.

  1. Get on Twitter.  Forage around and open your mind to things that you wouldn’t normally.  Follow young people.  Especially for motivation.  Start with @marsdorian and @jennifer_good.  If you can’t make it happen after reading their stuff – go back to bed and start over.  If you find somebody you like, see who they’re following and get their inspiration from.  Try to follow people across the age spectrum equally.
  2. For all you LinkedIn and Facebook people and followers of other permission based sites:  Find people in the real world and on Twitter and invite them to be your friend and /or connection.  Now I’m talking about people of other generations.  Because of the viral nature of social media, people you bring into your circle will automatically be exposed to your existing group and your existing group to them – and your efforts will be leveraged.
  3. This isn’t really a social media thing but I’m including it anyway.  Listen to music outside your comfort zone, i.e. the stuff the kids are listening too.  “It’s the best way to bridge the communication chasm.”

Now to all you Gen Yers, yes Alexandria – you too … you’re not off the hook.  You have to meet us half way.

  1. Join LinkedIn.  Facebook is not the “be all end all.”  Maybe if you expose some “parent types” to your rambling  machinations, you’ll clean things up a bit.  Just maybe. The more the “old people” (the people who will make your career) are exposed to you the more opportunities you will have.
  2. Get on Twitter.  Again Facebook is not the “be all end all.”  See above for my reasons.
  3. And finally … phones still work.  You can still text your friends till your fingers fall off, but don’t let your vocal skill set totally petrify.  Us “old people” still use the phone.  And at last notice, I don’t think texting has evolved into an mainstream interview tool.

I don’t know much protection these suggestions are going to have against the kryptonite of the social media segregation … but it’s better than just continuing down the road of the status quo.

Enough of my ramblings … I have to get back to Eminem.


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