JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 262: 6 March 2009

Keeping an eye on technology futures.
Business commentary - no hidden agendas.
New attitudes, no platitudes.

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Capitalism & the American Dream

American Capitalism became the success story of the 20th century. Theorists had predicted that Greed would be the downfall of Capitalism. But the failures of Communism in Russia and China made America the living symbol of Capitalist superiority.

The American Constitution included the phrase "enlightened self-interest", perhaps the founding fathers' warning against unbridled greed. But then, as a new millennium dawned the selfish excesses of Enron and a host of others demonstrated systemic flaws. The barometer of capitalistic success, the stock-market, plummeted.

In the new century's first decade, Greed again raised its ugly head. This time it had spread to more Americans than ever before. Savings vanished and credit became rampant. The dotcom mania was replaced by the housing boom. Fuelled by fresh visions of instant wealth, the American Dream became home ownership for all.

The government kept borrowing from China and others to finance an unpopular war "off the books". Banks began inflating their loan-to-asset ratios to astronomical levels, making "liar-loans" and selling them off as mortgage-backed securities and derivatives. It was Greed under another guise.

Futurist John Peterson writes: The problems we now face are structural; they're systemic, a product of how we live, our values, priorities and principles. Without extraordinary, fundamental changes in the way we see ourselves and the world, we will keep getting what we are getting.

The old system cannot be made well again. Government bailouts to get back to "normal" by helping banks to make car-loans and home-loans again, are chasing a myth.

"Consumerism" is dead. Revolving credit is dead - at least at the scale that became normal during the last thirty years. The wealth of several future generations has already been spent and there is no equity left to re-finance.

So, how will we emerge from this mess? My own view is through what our founding-fathers suggested, "Enlightened self-interest": Innovation, Diligence (hard-work), elimination (through high taxes) of all non-value-adding activities.

Click Enlightened self-interest

Click John Peterson - Vision 2012

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America's immigrant ingredients

In a fast-changing world, the drag on Western Europe and Japan was their own insular, old cultures, relatively rooted in long history.

By contrast, America was completely different. The country was founded by immigrants and its culture was an eclectic integration of many cultures, more than anywhere else in the world.

The thing about immigrants - and this applies today as it did throughout history - is their willingness to adopt the ways of their new country, and to work hard to succeed in their new world. That's what made America what it became. Those are the roots of the "American Dream".

The first Americans were predominantly Europeans. There were Chinese and others too, but they seemingly adapted to the Euro-like cultures. Strange names were shortened, or anglicized, as they became the new Americans. This was the spirit and enterprise which built the most successful, powerful and admired country in the world.

Today America itself has become an "old country". Paradoxically, the nation of immigrants doesn't like immigrants. Especially in a down economy, old Americans are uncomfortable and resentful of immigrants who are seen as "taking their jobs". Often, immigrants are confused as being "illegal", even when they are not.

This resentment is not focused on just low-end jobs. As a case in point, consider why Indian immigrants seem to dominate in US Software/Hi-Tech companies, and why there is a xenophobic backlash against managers from India at Wonderware, a software company based in Southern California, part of Invensys. To understand the background, read the Invensys weblogs, link below.

  1. Many Indian immigrants are engineers who came to the US for higher studies. Some came with a one-way ticket, a few dollars in their pocket, two suit-cases (one full of books and one with clothes) and a letter of acceptance from an American graduate school.
  2. As these people were growing up (during the 1970s and 80s) their backs were pretty much to the wall - failure was not an option. Immigrant parents put a lot of value in education; their kids are driven to do well academically, and to work hard to succeed.
  3. In Software (as in Medicine, count the number of Indian doctors in major hospitals) because of their educational and cultural background, these people kept rising to the top. Software requires engineers who spend long hours to learn and think - it's like Math, the more you practice the better you become.
  4. Through hard work and good results, Indians started moving into marketing and senior management jobs at Wonderware. There were always lots of Indians working at lower levels; but as soon as they were promoted to higher levels of management, there was resentment. Why?
Now, here's a twist. NY Times columnist Tom Friedman quotes the editor of a newspaper in India, who (tongue in cheek) proposes immigration as the cheapest and surest way to stimulate the US economy. He wrote:
    "All America needs to do is grant visas to two million Indians, Chinese and Koreans. They'll buy up all the sub prime homes, work 18 hours a day to pay for them, immediately improve the savings rate. (No Indian bank today has more than 2 percent non-performing loans because not paying your mortgage is considered shameful in India.) These immigrants will start new companies to create their own jobs and jobs for more Americans."
Tom Friedman adds his own plea:
    "America, please remember how you got to be the wealthiest country in history. It wasn't through protectionism, or state-owned banks or fearing free trade. No, the formula was very simple: build this really flexible, really open economy, tolerate creative destruction so dead capital is quickly redeployed to better ideas and companies, pour into it the most diverse, smart and energetic immigrants from every corner of the world."
Think on this: Are YOU part of the "old" America? Or the new?

Click Immigration: The Living Mosaic of People, Culture, and Hope

Click Invensys (Wonderware) weblogs

Click Tom Friedman - The Open-Door Bailout

Click The Impact of Immigration on American Society

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Debunking third-world myths

TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) started as a conference in Monterey, California, bringing together the world's brightest minds, the thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives - in just 18 minutes. Two years ago, these talks became available with dazzling video player technology on the TED website.

Watch this TED video, and you'll have your perspectives shifted. Hans Rosling is a professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, and his current work focuses on dispelling common myths about the developing world.

In the western world, we are used to thinking that the rest of the world is far behind. But our ideas are outdated. In fact, most of the third world is on the same trajectory towards health and prosperity, and many countries are moving twice as fast as we are.

What makes Hans Rosling different is the stunning way he presents. I guarantee that you've never seen huge amounts of data presented like this - the trends come to life and the big picture snaps into sharp focus. The animations transform the shifting numbers into moving bubbles and flowing curves that make global trends clear, intuitive and even playful. Rosling narrates with a sportscaster's flair.

Rosling developed this breakthrough visualization software through his company Gapminder, which was bought by Google in March 2007. This is free software which can be loaded with any data. Take a look.

Click Hans Rosling: Debunking third-world myths

Click Software: Gapminder

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Kindle-2 eBook - E-Paper launch

I'm an Amazon addict and a gadget freak. This week my new Kindle-2 eBook was delivered. I love it and am half way through e-reading my first book. Plus I entertain myself by reading book samples before I buy.

The original Kindle (Nov. 2007) seemed too clunky, and at $359 it was expensive; so I decided to wait. In the meantime, I fiddled a bit with Sony's eBook in the store, but was not impressed.

My wait for Kindle-2 was justified, even though the price (unchanged) still seems high. But heck, if an iPod music player justifies that kind of money, why not an eBook?

Kindle-2 is about the size of a slim paperback and only 1/3 inch thick. At 10 ounces, it's lighter than a paperback or magazine. And you don't have to fumble with pages - navigation is easy, with convenient buttons to flip pages back and forth, anywhere you want.

The display is smaller than an average paperback page, but the text is crisp and readable and you can change text size to suit. Visually, it's as good as paper.

You can read for days without re-charging. The AC power-cord/charger is slick, with the DC supply built right into the plug, from which you can unplug the USB connector for a PC link. Nice surprise.

Kindle is more than just a book; it reads out loud to you with built-in speakers. Or you can include music (MP3) in the background.

The wireless connection is 3G high-speed Internet, available anywhere, like a cellphone. You can download books anytime, anywhere; no monthly fees, service plans, or hunting for Wi-Fi hotspots.

Kindle gives you a choice of 250,000 books, magazines, newspapers, any of which are delivered directly to your e-book in under 60 seconds. Most books are $9.95 each, and the 2 gigabyte memory holds over 1,500 books. Nice on a plane-ride, or on the beach, or a long-trip.

The company behind the high-contrast, low-power "electronic paper" screen is E-Ink (based in Cambridge, MA). They've been waiting more than a decade for e-paper to take off. This will be it.

Amazon won't say how many Kindles they've sold to date; the guess is only about 10-15,000. Estimates for Kindle-2 are euphoric - about 500,000 this year and more than a million in 2010. This means more than $1B revenue for Amazon. If it hits anywhere near those numbers, e-paper and e-books will finally have arrived.

All this excitement is in the face of a dire recession. Indeed, Kindle-2 is a symbol of what's coming with revolutionary new products and value-shifts for new kinds of economic success.

Click Kindling a Revolution: The Future of Publishing

Click Micro-Kindlenomics: Cost benefit analysis

Click Kindle's A Huge Hit. $1 Billion For Amazon In 2010

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Empty titles in lieu of pay

Let's discuss the subject of hierarchical labels which are often substituted for monetary rewards.

There are businesses that have a great proliferation of confusing titles: Banks are the most liberal with titles — Senior VP, Executive VP, Vice President, Asst. VP, Junior VP, etc. Of course, down the ladder, substitute the word Manager, instead of VP.

In most companies, one climbs up the hierarchical ladder via a succession of titles: Supervisor, Manager, Director, Vice President, Senior Vice President, Executive Vice President, and President.

In Europe, the title Director is reserved for members of the board of directors; in the U.S., this is simply a title above Manager but not quite a Veep. Of course, one could always add the prefix "Assistant" to any of the above titles, as a differentiator for those who are conscious of such things.

Some companies have VP of Human Resources which clearly shows that people are more important, since the title is not just a plain old "Manager" of Human Resources.

The same applies to Quality and IT - the honorific Vice President is added on to show that these people have access to decision-making power at the highest levels. Some even name VP of Strategic Planning, or VP of Innovation, as a means to hire a senior person who was VP somewhere else and would not consider joining without that extra honorific tagged on.

In Sales & Marketing there is a confusing hierarchy. VP Marketing may perhaps be considered a tad higher than VP Sales. Of course, some sticklers for the finer points insist a "Senior" be added, to demonstrate a clear hierarchical advantage. But, does Senior mean that the person gets paid more? Or is entitled to a bigger bonus? At these higher levels, they tend to be very secretive about who gets paid what. But titles give no indication at all of pay-scales.

In the Vice Presidential hierarchy, would the VP of Finance be equal to, higher than, or lower than the VP of Marketing or Manufacturing? Of course, the Senior could be added on, to clarify the pecking order.

Finally, at the top of the pyramid, one gets the titles Chief Operating Officer (COO), and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) tagged on, to be more explicit regarding the executive chain-of-command. For example, the President may be just the COO, with the title CEO reserved for the Chairman of the Board, the ultimate supreme commander.

As a consultant, futurist, speaker, and author, when I am asked for my title, I usually respond with "Supreme Commander". I mean, why should I settle for anything else?

Click In lieu of pay, how about an empty title?

Click The Relevance of Employee Titles

Click What's in a Job Title?

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Mike Sabers, [XHuncaMuncaX@gmail.com] provides feedback on my recent article on global automation perspectives:
    "I'm an American automation engineer in a production plant. Even from that insulated position, you make sense.

    "I am, literally, in a dead-end job. A well-paid and interesting one, but a dead-end nonetheless. If I expend every ounce of energy I can, drive improvements, and work long hours, I can, at best, increase my compensation by about 5%. And that's at best - in our current economy, extreme efforts are likely to have no visible impact on my career.

    "This isn't about complaining - as I said, I am well paid. It's about comparing. How many of my peers are in similar positions? Even when I first started my engineering career 20 years ago, it was clear that giving my all would help advancement, but not drive it.

    "When I read about tech people in near-developed countries, and their energy and drive, I envy their motivation. They must absolutely love their work, and the opportunities it presents. I hope their managers see that energy for what it is, and nurture it instead of reaping short-term benefits from it."

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Rick Lamb [relamb@midtechv.com] commented on my urging to "Quit your job - become an entrepreneur":

    "In this economic climate, I doubt if too many people are going to take your advice and quit a job to start a business. If anybody does, let us know!

    "However, there's one thing I've been considering - especially since you've been writing about your bucket list travels. Perhaps I should take a sabbatical for 6-12 months and go on a trip. I just read an article about a couple in their early 50's taking a 2 year round-the-world adventure on a sailboat, figuring they'd better do it while physically able, and do it early enough so they could come back to work and earn back the money before they retired. You'd think in a couple of years off, you'd gain some experience that might make you more valuable to an employer, or discover an opportunity that you never would have thought of if you were stuck in the same job (or laid off) for those months.

    "What do you think? Should those who've been recently laid off start home schooling their kids, and go backpacking around the world?"

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Robert Unseld [Robert.Unseld@huethig.de] from Germany sent me his thoughts on the current financial turmoil in Europe:

    "I'm still thinking about: twitching economics, automotive companies in turmoil and many others suffering too, the poor, poor banks which are gulping more and more state-money. I do not trust that this will be used properly; it's throwing good money after bad. We are using money we don't have, and are financing (through debt) the very people that were responsible. We may burn even more. Is this really a safe business plan?

    "There's a kind of fast up-and-down with daily politics, like not buying SUVs on Tuesday when gas is at $4 per gallon. On Friday, two weeks later, people are running to cancel their Prius when gas is at $2 per Gallon.

    "In Germany we had discussed CO2-Exhaust related taxation of Cars, and then monsters like Porsche Cayenne would have become relatively cheaper because tax was cut above a certain engine size.

    "Maybe the Economy has become a little too big and complex to be steered at all. Alas, big change will come..."

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