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Monday, October 31, 2011
Dean Kamen, a prolific inventor believed to hold more than 80 US patents dropped out of Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The founder of Oracle Corporation, Larry Ellison dropped out of two universities, University of Illinois and University of Chicago. Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic Airlines did not drop out business school. At 16 he dropped out of school.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are hundreds of unknown and unsung heroes, men and women, who do not posses college diplomas but have built incredible businesses, created value, and transformed communities and changed our world.
But how is it possible that some of the world’s most brilliant innovators are college dropouts? In contrast, the academia has been outstanding in churning out lawyers, doctors, engineers and professors. We have no shortage of writers, literary critics, historians and politicians. Of the 55 UK to date, 41 have been graduates of Oxford and Cambridge. 15 out of 44 US presidents, including George W. Bush attended and graduated from Ivy League colleges.
What is it about the classroom and formal education that enables bureaucrats but stifles and suffocates for entrepreneurs?
The global economy is struggling and in dire need of new businesses and new jobs on a global scale. Moreover, we need business that will create millions of new jobs while providing sustainable solutions to our food, water and energy challenge. Meeting this challenge will require thousands, even millions of start-ups by a global army and network of entrepreneurs, ready to fail and rise up again.
University education as we know it today is about learning through narrowly defined academic subjects geared toward high stake tests and assignment of grades. Failure is stigmatized and must be avoided. Poor grades or failure looks bad in a resume or transcript. This is antithetical to the DNA and logic of biological evolution and business. Why does education through exams and grades discount the Darwin’s grand idea that failure and error can progressively give rise to models of intentional design?
We must re-imagine education for a tumultuous, uncertain world. A world that is vastly different from the world for which the classical models of education were fashioned.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Just over a decade ago, there were 6 billion people on the planet. At the end of this month, there will be 7 billion of us. Associated with rapid increases in human population is urbanization. By some estimates, only 30 % of the world’s population lived in cities. It is estimated that by 2025, 60 % of the global population will live in the cities.
The challenge of providing adequate water, food, shelter and atmospheric resources for 7 billion people, a majority of who are urban dwellers is incredibly complex.
A crowded and more urbanized planet could touch off an environmental crises and inevitable lead to social, economic and humanitarian catastrophe. To produce more food, especially with current technologies, we will strip the earth of the vital vegetation resources, especially rainforests, coastal forests, savannas and wetlands. The attendant loss of biodiversity will be colossal, triggering further crises in the delivery of critical ecosystem services.
At the current population and with the projected growth of a another billion in 14 years, is it possible to offer all human beings a chance for a productive and prosperous life while sustaining vital services including provision of food, water and a place to live?
Our planetary resources are no doubt finite. For centuries, since the industrial revolution, we have deployed technology to mechanize production and processing of goods and services. The use of global atmospheric resources to fuel growth has generated a veritable tragedy of the commons. The global impact of climate change presents a singular lesson on the limits of growth.
Could population be the trigger for the end of how civilization, at least as we know it today? Is there any such thing as sustainable development?
The easy thing to think about in these circumstances is population control. One might argue that we must stabilize the global population at some point before the mid century. This is hard enough especially when you have to confront the deeply private and sacrosanct dimensions human sexuality, culture, religion and more importantly, gender power relations.
Consumption, our demand on the planets ecosystems has become especially problematic. Per capita consumption of global resources has grown geometrically. We use more water for domestic use, we need more “atmospheres” to dump green house gases, and we need more food and hence more carbon, land, fertilizers and water for agriculture.
Global consensus and cooperation is needed to achieve two goals; slow down human population growth and scale down our demand and use of planetary resources.
Maybe we need another planet if our civilization is to continue to exist.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
What ails the US economy has been years in the making. What we see today; the collapse of housing markets, job losses, crippling Federal and private debt, troubled banks and corporation are fundamentally symptoms of deep systemic malaise.
My sense is that what is wrong with the US economy has got to do with the hubris of Washington and the greed of Wall Street and Corporations.
But I think that the US is really a victim of globalization and technology. Globalization and technology are the reason jobs will not return to the US and unemployment will remain stubbornly high. Let’s face it, no amount of grandstanding and brinkmanship by the US Congress will bring jobs back, at least not high quality well paying jobs.
Globalization has created a league table of winners and losers. And the US tops the table of losers. For instance, a typical worker at GM in the US weighs in at $56 on the hour. In China and India a worker performing at the nearly as productive as the US worker costs GM under $5 an hour.
In Ramos Arispe Mexico where GM is investing $500 million, labor costs are $7 an hour. To stay profitable in an increasingly competitive auto industry, it is not hard to figure out why Detroit is not the place to be. It is therefore not surprising that GM has reduced its hourly workforce from 89,000 to 50,000 in the last five years.
In 2008 Volkswagen arrived in Chattanooga Tennessee with a packet of dough, $1 million and a promise to create 2,000 jobs and a $14.50 per hour pay package. The median hourly wage in Chattanooga was $12.66 in 2007. This is not anybody dream job and certainly not the promise of perks of middle-class. And if you think about, what VW is offering to pay in Chattanooga is truly globally competitive.
Like agriculture in the last 50 years, the role of manufacturing is in a precipitous decline. So “designed and made in America” is just wishful thinking. Re-treating into protectionism is one option of getting manufacturing humming again while paying $56 an hour. But this is a sure way to undermine global competitiveness of US products against lower-cost imports from places such as China, India Mexico Brazil and South Africa.
Can the US reverse what seems like an inexorable decline in incomes? By 2010, real median household income had fallen to $49,445, compared with $53,164 in 2000. So it is about time US politicians stopped talking nostalgically about the restitution of manufacturing jobs. That ship has sailed away to a far off land, literally.
It seems to me that the US has not yet come to grips with the reality of globalization or the international connectedness of production. It has one disastrous consequence for US manufacturing: decline.
The US has only one option if it must stay in manufacturing. It must evolve its industrial infrastructure base into producing high tech products that capitalize on the high skill levels of its workforce.
The US should focus and enhance its edge in aviation and defense. These are far superior sectors with regard to wages and the US has no competitors here, yet. I think the US should play to its strength in education, entertainment, computing and financial services.
Although the median household income fell between 2000 and 2010, wages for those with higher education rose by 1.4 percent in the same period. But attaining a college degree remains a distant dream to millions of Americans.
The White House says 1.2 million students drop out of school each year, and only about 70 percent of entering high school freshmen go on to graduate. The Obama administration is offering a $900 million carrot to the nation’s school systems to tackle what many view as an abysmal dropout rate that threatens America’s ability to compete in the new global economy.
Only 41 percent of low-income students entering a four-year college managed to graduate within five years, the Department of Education found in a study last year, but 66 percent of high-income students did.
Higher achievement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is critical if the US is to remain globally competitive. But the Program for International Student Assessment revealed that students from 20 other nations in math and science outperformed the top-performing US high school students.
This is troubling statistics. But the inter-generational consequence on US global competitiveness is dire.
The US cannot compete in the same league with Brazil or Russia or India or China. It has to out educate and out innovate the BRIC.
So merely yelling jobs on the floor of Senate or the House or out on the campaign trail just won’t do. Real and urgent investments in Education is fundamental and urgent.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Here is what I find eternally wise about Steve Jobs.
1. Giving commencement speech at Stanford. "this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation."
2. Dropping out of college. " one of the best decisions I ever made in my life."
3. " You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. "
4. Getting fired from Apple. " the best thing that could have ever happened to me. .." It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life."
5." You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever."
6. "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right."
7. " You've got to find what you love."
8." Death is very likely the single best invention of Life."
9. "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life."
10." Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish."
Here is the full commencement speech. You decide.
"I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.
The first story is about connecting the dots.
I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?
It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.
Video of the Commencement address.
And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.
It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
My second story is about love and loss.
I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.
I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.
I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.
I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.
My third story is about death.
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.
This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Thank you all very much"
Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone from Zain Kenya
Monday, October 3, 2011
The Perry presidential announcement usurped attention from the Iowa Straw Poll.
Rick Perry stole Michele Bachmann’s thunder. Mitt Romney’s front-runner position was instantly diminished.
Rick Perry was the man of the moment. He had the big stage, an adoring base and a messianic halo over his head.
Then came a torrent of pretty dramatic pronouncements from Gov. Perry. Within a week of announcing he criticized the Federal Reserve, suggesting it was treasonous and that the people of Texas would treat Ben Bernanke “pretty ugly”.
Rick Perry called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” in his 2010 book, “Fed Up.” He repeated this claim at the CNN/Tea Party Republican presidential debate, adding that the program was a monstrous lie. Perry makes a broader point, arguing that the social safety net was fundamentally an unconstitutional expansion of big government, which Americans have been “forced to accept.”
Clinton described him as good-looking rascal. Obama was more gracious, calling for Perry to choose his words more carefully.
Rick Perry’s recent goofy and incredibly tongue-tied performance in the GOP presidential debates has cast a long dark shadow on his capacity and political staying power. And Herman Cain winning the Florida GOP straw poll is fueling speculation about Perry’s ability to withstand the rough and tumble of a long political campaign. According to Obama, Perry must realize that this isn’t like running for governor or senator or for congress.
Perry has taken sustained hits from GOP opponents, especially Michele Bachmann, have questioned Rick Perry's 2007 decision to issue an executive order mandating HPV vaccines for schoolgirls, arguing that the policy amounted to a "government injection".
Moreover, moderate Republicans worry that his Perry’s professed doubts about global warming and evolutionary theory will make him a tough sell among independent voters.
This Perry situation reminds me of one of the most fascinating Greek Myths is that of Daedalus and Icarus, his young son.
Daedalus managed to create gigantic wings, using branches of osier and connected them with wax. He taught Icarus how to fly, but told him to keep away from the sun because the heat would make the wax melt, destroying the wings.
Icarus soon saw his wings melting.
Icarus fell into the sea and drowned. The Icarian Sea, where he fell, was named after him and there is also a nearby small island called Icaria.
I am not suggesting that the Perry presidential campaign will crash. But it could really struggle in the days to come given the precipitous decline of his stature.
In the assessment of the GOP field of candidates The Economist used a soccer analogy. It is a penalty kick and POTUS is standing at one corner of the goalmouth, his leg shackled to a heavy anvil, the economy. Republican presidential candidates line up to shoot the ball. One by one they trip up and fall before they kick the ball.
In the words of The Economist the Rick Perry is the "latest figure spread-eagled haplessly on the field".
It is becoming clear that the GOP donors are getting nervous about the field of candidates that have come forth. The donors are exerting pressure on Governor Chris Christies of New Jersey to enter the race. The growing belief that somehow Chris Christie may be the GOP savior represents a sapping of confidence that Perry can beat Obama in 2012.