JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 235 : 7 August 2007

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

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14 mins.

Declining middle-class - symptoms of larger issues

I received a LOT of feedback on the item about the "super-rich" in the last issue of eNews (27 July 07). Some thought it was just a "class-envy" rant, which it was not. Others thought it was yet another protest about the excesses of the super-rich, which it wasn't either.

It WAS a commentary on a country that is controlled by the media/industrial/military complex. The government subscribes to outdated "trickle-down economics" theories, the result of which is accumulation of huge gains at the top, at the expense of the middle class which is rapidly sinking into third-world status.

My European friends pointed out that some Europeans are not even doing as well as their American counterparts. Indeed, Europe is struggling between its two souls, Capitalism and Socialism, which at some level are incompatible. This doesn't minimize my point that America is pandering to the first, and ignoring the second.

The gross inequities are the visible "cracks" in the structure which no one wants to notice. The metaphor comes from the recent bridge catastrophe in Minneapolis. The deficiency was flagged in 1993, but ignored. One out of every eight bridges in the US are deemed to have structural problems. Yet this is not "news" till there was a death-toll. The cost to fix all the unsafe bridges is estimated at $65 billion - just one year of direct US military operating costs in Iraq. Sadly, this "wake-up call" on the bridges will remain a political football for only a few days, and will then sink into Katrina-like oblivion.

There are more "cracks" in the structure that are noticeable:

  • 45-50 million Americans are too poor to afford health insurance. The US has slipped to No. 37 in the world for health care.
  • In Dec. 2003 the US Congress passed a law that benefited big-pharma, while penalizing the poor and middle-class - a direct result of brash and unashamed lobbying. Heavy TV advertising now proclaims how much people will "save" with prescription plans - an awful distortion of the truth.
  • The American education system is ranked (by UNICEF) as #18 out of 24 in the world, behind all other "first-world" countries.
  • US presidential candidates are judged (at least initially) by the size of their financial war-chest, which buys votes through heavy TV advertising. The power-structure perpetuates.
  • The National Debt continues to climb. In 2005 the public debt was 64.7% of GDP. China now holds the most US debt - over $1.2 trillion in mid-2007.
  • Terrorism continues to demand our attention and use up our resources, while we continue to be close friends with the most repressive, non-democratic regimes in the Mid-East.
How will these problems be solved? Only AFTER more and more bridges have collapsed? Here's something I wrote over 4 years ago - JimPinto.com eNews, 10 January 2003:
    "In a turbulent new century, this could perhaps be the beginning of a major transitional shift for humanity. We may be entering a profoundly different era. Nothing really different can come about without an awakening, not of just a few fringes, but of humanity itself. Today, the vast majority remains silent, feeling like helpless onlookers completely incapable of doing anything. How much pain before the paradigm shifts? How many millions must die before our collective conscience awakens?

Click The rise of the super-rich

Click Transition to a VERY different future

Click Finding a softer approach for a new century

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The caterpillar pillar

There's another point I'd like to make, related to my mention of people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Many people develop wisdom at some time in their life, while others never quite "get" it.

My point is best explained through the "caterpillar pillar" parable which was told to me many years ago. Through the power of web search, I found the story. You can read the long version using the weblink below. Here's the Pinto summary:

    This caterpillar was crawling around learning about life, when he saw lots of other caterpillars crawling up a great pillar, as if there was something up at the top. So, he crawled up too - because everyone else was crawling up. As he got higher, he noticed that the caterpillars were stepping on each other to climb up the pillar. So he too climbed aggressively.

    As he continued to crawl upwards, he noticed some caterpillars crawling down. "Don't bother," they said, "there's nothing up there". It turns out that they were simply climbing up a pillar which was nothing but other caterpillars.

    The story ends with our caterpillar coming back down to the bottom and learning how to become a butterfly.

This little parable has helped me in my own progress through life. I hope it'll help you.

Well, apparently Warren Buffet has climbed that pillar. Here's his advice to all the caterpillars struggling to get to the top.

  • Stay away from credit cards and invest in yourself.
  • Money doesn't create man; it is man who creates money.
  • Live your life as simple as you are.
  • Don't do what others say, listen to them, but do what you feel is good.
  • Don't go on brand name; wear those things which make you feel comfortable.
  • Don't waste your money on unnecessary things; spend on what you really need.
  • After all it's your life; why let others rule it?
Our illusion that the super-rich are "happy" at the top has been shattered many, many times. And yet, there are some of us who still strive to climb that pillar.

Click Some wisdom from Warren Buffet

Click The caterpillar pillar - The Stuff of Butterflies

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Tour of the Future - 2057

How would YOU like to take a tour 50 years in the future?

Discovery Channel has a 3-episode series: "2057 - The Body, The City, and The World". Each episode is about 45 minutes. This may be the first broadly disseminated video series to look out so far into the future. It was brought to my attention by fellow Futurist John Smart (yes, that's his name, and he's one of the smartest people I've met).

Here's a quick summary of what you'll see on the videos:

    The Body
    • Smart clothing
    • Self-flying cars
    • Artificial blood
    • Medical nanotech (microbubbles)
    • Iris scans (shades of Minority Report)
    • Tissue engineering
    • Brain machine interfaces
    • Telesurgery
    • Living to 200 years
    The City
    • Holograms
    • Intelligent agents
    • Self-driving cars
    • Automatic braking systems
    • Subterranean highways
    • Humanoid robots
    • Cybercrime
    • Face recognition
    • Predictive criminalistics (Minority Report)
    The World
    • Peak Oil, Global "Energy Crisis"
    • Space elevators
    • Nanotube production
    • Nuclear Fusion
    • Global warming
    • Smart personal armor
    • Invisibility cloak
    • Electroactive polymers
    • Laser satellite communication
Interesting quotes:
    "In the future, optional health insurance could consume up to 25% of your salary, but it will provide medical miracles."

    "To compete with oil or coal, solar panels need an efficiency of 50% or more."

    "It is 10 times lighter, and 100 times stronger than steel. It is called a carbon nanotube."

Each of the 3 segments is good edutainment. If you have a couple of hours to spare one evening, take a look - you'll see how my grandson will be living when he's 55.

Click The DVD "2057" can be purchased at Discovery Channel Online for $19.95

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Keys to successful innovation

In the new, fast-moving global environment Innovation is the key to generating continued growth and success.

Clearly, for the vast majority of companies, innovation is not just limited to disruptive technology changes. It includes improvements of all products, services and support mechanisms, infrastructure, manufacturing and production, marketing & sales channels, and delivery logistics.

Innovation is not just the occasional "eureka" flash - it includes the PROCESS of making improvements: generating new ideas, methods, devices procedures that yield major cost or value shifts. In the organizational context, innovation is linked to performance and growth through improvements in efficiency, productivity, quality, competitive positioning, market share, etc.

Innovation may also have a negative or destructive effect as new developments change old organizational structures and practices. The innovation process often stems from completely new thinking which many people cannot embrace.

Organizations that do not innovate effectively will be destroyed by those that do. Consider what happened to yesteryear's giants like Westinghouse, RCA and Western Union; they fizzled and withered away with antiquated products and services.

More than ever, an organization's success depends on its ability to remain a global innovation leader. The global race to develop cheaper-faster-better products and services demands sustained innovation. Serious decline will result for those who base their plans on yesterday's paradigms.

Study your own company's innovation processes and you'll get clues about your own future growth and success.

Click Automation.com - The keys to successful innovation

Click The pursuit of Innovation

Click Automation World Innovation Series

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Book: The Strategy Paradox

Strategy Paradox Everyone knows the old saying "risk vs. reward". But how many businesses really manage their risks to generate rewards?

Executives and managers know that success depends on choices based on assumptions about the future which cannot be predicted. The "collision between commitment and uncertainty" creates THE STRATEGY PARADOX. This is the title of the new book by Michael Raynor, coauthor of bestselling "Innovator's Solution".

Ambitious, bold managers take big risks, for greater rewards. Conservative managers hope that the future will bring more clues about which direction to take, and they wait - usually till it's too late. Most managers shy away from bold commitments, sacrificing the possibilities for greatness, for a chance of mere survival.

Michael Raynor, explains how leaders can beat this tradeoff. Here are some of his suggestions:

  • The CEO should not be evaluated on the company's performance, but rather on the strategic risk profile
  • The CEO should not drive results, but manage uncertainty
  • Business unit leaders should not focus on execution, but on making strategic choices
  • Line managers should not worry about strategic risk, but devote themselves to delivering on commitments
Raynor's book includes case studies of success and failure at Sony, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, AT&T and other major companies in many different businesses. It presents a framework for strategic action.

Business leaders at all levels - this is a good book to read.

Click Strategy Paradox - Book Reviews

Click Review & Buy "Strategy Paradox" on Amazon.com

Click Wikipedia - Strategy Paradox - Summary & Reviews

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Mike Marullo [MAM@oncfari.com] thinks that consumerism should not be blamed totally for the shift to Chinese products:
    "Sure, there are lots of people who go looking for the cheapest goods. However, there are also lots of people who would rather buy quality - but today they can't.

    "There's a big difference between the current situation with Chinese imports, and the last time we headed down this path in the 1950s when the US started importing cheap products from Japan. Japanese goods (then) were deservedly considered junk. (Younger people might find that hard to believe!) The difference between then and now is that there was still a choice. You could either buy cheap Japanese products (which broke easily or never worked), OR, you could buy American, which at that time still stood for innovation, quality and value.

    "But, that was then and this is now. I sometimes buy cheap when it doesn't matter. But for important purchases, I look for quality. There's a difference between being thrifty and simply not having a choice.

    "Sam Walton must be turning in his grave to see what his successors have done to his hallmark practice of selling American products whenever and wherever practicable. Sadly, the choices at Sam's and Wal-Mart have turned into no choice at all. Today, it's all about low price.

    "Don't get me wrong; I'm not an isolationist - just a realist. My point here is that I wouldn't be too quick to draw sweeping conclusions about consumer behavior, or exactly whose greed is responsible.

    "The largest retailers wield enormous and unprecedented market power that should not be discounted (no pun intended). Indeed, consumer behavior is greatly influenced by choices. Lately, we don't seem to have many when it comes to shopping for value rather than price. I'm afraid that our children and grandchildren are in for some hard lessons about the value of diversity."

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Bob James [bobarc6364@sbcglobal.net] writes on the subject of technology making us stupid and unproductive:

    "I talk with people all the time regarding the growing inability of otherwise intelligent people to write anything of logical substance, not to mention good grammar.

    "Twenty years ago professionals had a professional secretary to keep them looking 'literate' in their correspondence. Then along came the PC on everyone's desk and the elimination of the secretary, followed by the replacement of 'real' correspondence with e-mail. Today many younger professionals can hardly write a complete sentence without sinking into the e-mail mode of sloppy writing and bad grammar. Now we have text-messaging, reducing the two-finger mode to one thumb and even less structure. Coupled with the fact that we have replaced telephone and office conversations with the endless string of e-mails, it is a wonder that anyone gets anything of substance done in today's typical office environment.

    "Is anyone doing anything about the productivity of office/knowledge workers? We can access information at the speed of light. But we read it at the speed of a slow stroll through the park, and we reply and react to it at the speed of two fingers or one thumb. Where are we headed? Will technology come to the rescue yet again?

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Margaret Lowery [marget1927@yahoo.com] comments on the issue of America going bankrupt:

    "I'm afraid there are only a minority of us who fear for the solvency of our country. I find too many people who claim the national debt is nothing to worry about as we're paying interest only to ourselves. Ha!

    "There are times when I've thought I was the only one who could see disaster ahead. But, for sure, it's waiting and ready to pounce while we, as a nation, continue with our reckless ways. And how does one, as an individual citizen, without millions to throw into the political mess, help to change the course? Can we possibly help, before it's too late?"

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