Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Misery Index Redefined

Reagan famously called the sum of the rates of inflation and unemployment "the Misery Index". In the current recession, a better indicator, particularly regionally, would be the sum of the rates of unemployment and foreclosures.

Lately, it's been worrying to see a convergence of libertarian and liberal economists on many major economic policy issues. Yikes, does that mean it's so bad that there are no other options? I wonder what would happen if an economist constructed a Misery Coefficient: the extent to which the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times agree on such matters as government bailouts for the financial and auto manufacturing sectors and fiscal stimulus spending. Perhaps it should be called the Panic Index. Would we be at a historic high? And if so, what does that imply?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hillary Kerfuffle, Part 2

A lot of press and blog attention (Jodi Kantor's story in the New York Times on Saturday which was re-posted on HuffPost and heavily commented) has been given to what Hillary's appointment to Secretary of State means for women. At this point, that seems like an odd question. The questions should be, "what does Hillary's appointment mean for US foreign policy? What will her appointment mean for women in developing countries? And waht does it mean for this extraordinary woman's career?

As the third woman to be Secretary of State, Hillary is not breaking new ground for American women. Still, I'm thrilled that she will likely become the most high profile and effective Secretary of State in a generation and that women in developing countries have much to gain with her ability to affect development policy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Sexy Century

The most popular NYTimes article today is "Pastor’s Advice for Better Marriage: More Sex". “Today we’re beginning this sexperiment, seven days of sex,” Pastor Ed Young of Grapevine, Texas said, with his characteristic mix of humor, showmanship and Scripture. “How to move from whining about the economy to whoopee!” Amidst this enthusiasm for congregational copulation (singles can have chocolate cake), we may find ourselves at the dawn of a giddy wave of abundant marital sex.

Perhaps our new Presidential couple can help set an example for our conflicted sex-obsessed yet Puritan culture. Ebony magazine nominated the Obamas in 2007 as the sexiest couple of the year. Photos in the French press lately confirm this view. I will try to scan photos from the print editions of Paris Match and post them. They are electrifying. See post below "La Force D'Un Couple".

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Feminism is My Frenemy

My friend Barb and I were talking today about the state of feminism. I am fascinated by everything relating to women and expanding women's power, yet I cringe at some feminist's grievance and demand based approach to feminism. We have to work hard to build infrastructure to support women's advancement in greater numbers across all sectors, first and foremost. We also need to Obama-ize feminism, ie, move beyond the status quo of grievances and on to the next stage of hopefuleness. Trust me, I know this is still fuzzy!

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Hillary Kerfuffle

The blogosphere is alight with commentary on Obama's selection of Hillary for Secretary of State. A Huffington Post article on the topic has generated over 17,500 comments By comparison, a post by Gavin Newsom is barely breaking into double digits - so much for electric cars. Back to the Team of Rivals. I would love to see Hillary stay in the Senate and I love the idea of her being Secretary of State. Sorry to the angry Hillary opponents. The American Prospect wrote this about Timothy Geithner in September, "In a deep crisis, truly talented and effective people can earn broad respect." The same should hold true for Hillary.

Some that oppose Hillary simply want big change and a much more progressive agenda. They are going to have a rough ride in the next year as I predict many more disappointments to come. Let's be realistic, not much is possible in a financial meltdown and with a President who has said that he is Pay as you go (or would be in more normal times). Get your antacid ready.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Closed Circuit: A Top Tip Towards Ending the Blame Game

Have you ever found yourself justifying yourself repeatedly in your mind, over and over again. If so, consider this: you're wrong. You’ve got a problem with your own story. You don’t believe yourself, otherwise your mind would be settled and you would have stopped trying to prove your point to your most gullible jurist: YOU! Back up. Find the flaw in what you have contributed to the situation and address it. Blaming someone else does not move you forward and only after you’ve addressed your contribution to the problem will your mind be at ease.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Can Anyone Be A Visionary?

Leadership literature often makes the case that anyone can be a good leader with the appropriate training, self-awareness and discipline. I haven't yet seen the question of whether anyone can be a visionary. Here, I'll make the case that, yes, anyone can be a visionary. As fodder, I compare two strategic planning sessions for the same organization with the same board members. Both sessions started with visioning exercises. The first year, we came up with a broad, credible and most importantly, energizing vision. This vision infused the entire day with enthusiasm and drove our decisions in the right direction. A year later, we skimped on time and planning for our visioning session. Each of us chimed in with great ideas about our long term vision. Yet, a down economy can make people practical and some ideas were met with splashes of cold water. Without the discipline of "greenlighting" all ideas, we were quickly bogged down. Vision requires a few simple things: frame an open mindset, spend the time, and greenlight all ideas with discipline and optimism. As Steve Jobs has said, vision is connecting the dots. Anyone can be visionary with the right framework.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

La Force D'un Couple

In the commemorative edition of Paris Match (the French version of Life magazine), there is a captivating photo of Barack and Michelle Obama's embrace onstage at Grant Park. The caption gushes "they are alone in the world in front of millions of spectators. Barack et Michelle Obama, Mister President et la First Lady, la victoire de la passion." In this photo, the Obamas look like the winners of the tango Olympics; the intensity of their relationship leaps off the page. I had not seen their relationship portrayed this way in the American press.

I double-checked. Time magazine features a photo of the very same moment from a different angle. The affect is completly different. The Obamas look like a pleasant middle-aged couple who get along with ease. It's caption reads, "Yes, they can. The President-elect shares an embrace with the future First Lady. The couple have promised their children a White House puppy."

I know we Americans are puritans, but really: a puppy?

The French narrative about Barack Obama glorifies his passion for his wife and attributes at least some of his political success to his passion. It seems that Americans, in their demand for family values symbolism, throws cold water on our leader's passions, and their marriages for that matter. What kind of model is that?

After many years of marriage, our most ambitious hope is a puppy.

The Obamas appear to have an electric relationship and we should be granted the ability to embrace them. Let's see if the American media can get it right next time.

The Obamas have a lot of hopes pinned on them and I have another hope to add: maybe, the Obamas can restore faith in marriage.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ruthless Ambition: More of That

What makes people angry in the world of politics and ideas? A good friend of mine ran for city council this fall and she spoke eloquently about the small things that make city life enjoyable. As she discussed her vision for her community, she reminded me of Jane Jacobs’ “The Rise and Fall of Great American Cities”, with an eye to the closely observed detail. In 1960, when Jane Jacobs published her book,

“some critics used adjectives like "triumphant" and "seminal" to describe the book while others... eviscerated her ideas. The battles she ignited are still being fought, and the criticism was perhaps inevitable, given that such an ambitious work was produced by somebody who had not finished college, much less become an established professional in the field. Indisputably, the book was as radically challenging to conventional thinking as Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," which helped engender the environmental movement, would be the next year, and Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique," which deeply affected perceptions of relations between the sexes, would be in 1963.” NYT 2006 obituary

Like Jane Jacobs, my friend has many admirers who call her their “hero” in thank you notes and e-mails. She also had a critic who said she had run a negative campaign (with no specific examples) and cited her “blind ambition” in a complaint. This tempest in a teapot has me thinking about the nature of controversy.

There's no question that my friend was running for office to gain power to implement her ideas. And there will always be those that disagree with a candidate’s ideas. We can’t be so naive to believe that seeking power and shaking up the establishment will always be met with smiles and approval. The only way we will enjoy smooth sailing is if we field candidates who wait in line and have few fresh ideas that would disrupt the status quo.

When we have critics, we must listen for the kernel of truth that they are so desperate, if ill-equipped, to convey and we must adjust our tactics where appropriate. We must also plow forward and loudly encourage those with ambition and vision, who while perhaps imperfect, are our engines of progress and reform.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Oprah's Human Hanky

Thanks to Sam Perry for allowing me and Katie Stanton to re-live his election night celebration with Oprah leaning on his shoulder. While election night was emotional for many of us, this photo represents the gleeful week after.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It’s a Downturn, Is Your Team Happy?

Most people are happy to have a job as they see unemployment rise and their 401k fall off a cliff. Instead of being satisfied that retention is a non-issue, now is the time to double down and help your team perform in ever more productive and innovative ways.

Yes, I'm talking to you. A Gallup study in 2003 found that only 28% of employees were fully engaged in their jobs. (more on Gallup with citation below).

First, a good metaphor.

In their book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath describe Stephen Covey’s sticky metaphor for job satisfaction. It is based on a poll of 23,000 employees drawn from a number of companies and industries. Findings are:
·37% said they have a clear understanding of what their organization is trying to achieve and why.
·Only one in five was enthusiastic about their team’s and organization’s goals.
·Only one in five said they had a clear line of sight between their tasks and their team’s and organization’s goals
·Only 15% felt that their organization fully enables them to execute key goals.
·Only 1 in 5 fully trusted the organization that they work for.

If, say, a soccer team had these same scores, only 4 of the 11 players on the field would know which goal is theirs. Only 2 of 11 would care. Only 2 of 11 would know what position they play and know exactly what they are supposed to do. And all but 2 players, would, in some way, be competing against their own team members rather than the opponent.

Below is a simple test drawn from the Gallup Q12 instrument (a survey designed to measure employee engagement. It has been used on thousands of work units and millions of employees):

The Q12 Index

1) Do you know what is expected of you at work?
2) Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
3) At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
4) In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
5) Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
6) Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
7) At work, do your opinions seem to count?
8) Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
9) Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
10) Do you have a best friend at work?
11) In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
12) In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?
(From the Gallup Management Journal, “Feedback for Real” Author: John Thackray)

Do all your team members reply “Yes” to these questions? If not, use your lifeline.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Push or a Pull: More Positions of Power for Women

I have long held the view that there are no longer any "women's" issues. Women's issues, those subset of issues that affect women more directly, are a ghetto. It's not to say that the women's issues of yesterday are trivial. It's that I believe all issues are women's concern. If there is any remaining "issue", it is gaining more positions of power for women in all sectors: private, public and non-profit.

In a 19 year study of 215 Fortune 500 firms, Roy Adler shows a strong correlation between a good record of promoting women into the executive suite and high profitability. Three measures of profitability were used to demonstrate that the 25 Fortune 500 firms with the best record of promoting women to high positions are between 18 and 69 percent more profitable than the median Fortune 500 firms in their industries.

What's going on? Some have said that profitable firms are more able to experiment with promoting women. I would guess that companies with more women in senior positions have higher employee retention rates and promote more from within - great indications of well-managed companies.

In any case, the data support the huge benefit of having women in the highest ranks. Sounds like a pull, not a push.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Now More Than Ever: When Women Vote, Democrats Win

When women vote, Democrats win. My favorite corollary: when women run, women vote. According to exit polls on November 4th, 56% of women gave Obama their vote, compared to 49% of men. The last election with as large a gender gap was 1992, the Year of the Woman, when anger surrounding the Anita Hill hearings drove a gender gap of 8% for Clinton and women's representation in Congress rose from 6% to 10%. This year, women's Congressional representation rose from 16% to 17%.

Another opportunity to drive women's devotion to the Democratic ticket is upon us: senior hires in the executive branch. Will President Obama do better than past Presidents in his appointments? Keep your eye on

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama Victory

Tyranny Cuts off the Singers Head
But the Voice
from the Bottom of the Well
Returns to the Secret Springs of the Earth
And Rises
Out of Nowhere
Through the Mouths of the People!

- Pablo Neruda

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sophie Hahn for Berkeley City Council

In the weeks since I wrote my orignal post about Sophie Hahn's race for City Council, I've had the pleasure of meeting and talking to many District 5 voters about Sophie's candidacy. I have known Sophie Hahn since 1983 and she has been a close advisor and mentor to me for 25 years. While campaigning with Sophie at the Spice of Life fair, I talked with many voters. I was particularly struck when I and another voter listenend to Sophie speak about the scaling of the proposed Safeway in ways that mezmerised us with her keen intellect, passion and historic understanding of the area. If Sophie can stop people in their tracks with a discussion of square footage, imagine how the community will want to listen to her on the full range of issues facing Berkeley. She changed the mind of every voter that I saw her speak to that day. Those that have heard Sophie in public forums and endorsement meetings say "Sophie blew me away". I would encourage any voter in District 5 to call Sophie and see for yourself what I am talking about.

As a co-founder and Founding Executive Director of Emerge America, the premier training program for Democratic women, I have met with many wonderful candidates for
public office across the country. Sophie Hahn is special among them. She has inspired my work at Emerge over the last seven years and I have often thought (out loud with my board of directors) "How would this program help women like Sophie Hahn represent us?" This election represents a unique opportunity to elect someone who sees every aspect of Berkeley within a broad long-range vision for the city. There are few people who have Sophie's unique combination of gifts: her top caliber education and work experience, her passion, vision and leadership, and her deeply felt caring for her community. People like Sophie don't step up often enough. This is a unique opportunity for Berkeley.