Thursday, January 28, 2010

In Defense of Liberal Arts...A Must Read

Jon Meacham's latest article in Newsweek.

In Defense of the Liberal Arts
Published Jan 9, 2010

From the magazine issue dated Jan 18, 2010

At noon last Wednesday in Sewanee, Tenn., in a 19th-century Gothic hall dominated by a sandstone fireplace and decorated with portraits of somber bishops, the University of the South—my alma mater—elected a new leader, John M. McCardell Jr., the former president of Middlebury College. (We refer to our president as vice chancellor, in the English tradition. If the fates had ever brought Anthony Trollope and Tennessee Williams together to collaborate, Sewanee might have been the result.) Those of you who share an affinity for small institutions know the power of sentiment at such moments—how the old rooftops remind us of when we were young, and all of that. Arguing the interests of Dartmouth before the Supreme Court, Daniel Webster captured this feeling well: "It is, sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it."

I love Sewanee, an Episcopal university tucked away on 13,000 rural acres of the Cumberland Plateau. It is a place where students and faculty wear academic gowns to class, where the vice chancellor also serves as mayor, and where I spent four years without having a key to my room, much less locking it. Modernity intrudes with a single full-time traffic light on campus, but for years that incursion was ameliorated by the sight of a professor of religion's cat taking a daily nap on the street directly beneath the light. People knew to steer clear.

Belief in liberal-arts colleges like Sewanee, however, is about more than sentiment. As I sat listening to McCardell accept his election, I thought, not for the first time, about the difficulty of making the case for something so expensive and so seemingly archaic—an undergraduate liberal education—in an economic and cultural climate that favors efficiency and tangibility. It is inarguably hard to monetize a familiarity with Homer or an intimacy with Shakespeare.

It is just possible, though, that the traditional understanding of the liberal arts may help us in our search for new innovation and new competitiveness. The next chapter of the nation's economic life could well be written not only by engineers but by entrepreneurs who, as products of an apparently disparate education, have formed a habit of mind that enables them to connect ideas that might otherwise have gone unconnected. As Alan Brinkley, the historian and former provost of Columbia, has argued in our pages, liberal education is a crucial element in the creation of wealth, jobs, and, one hopes, a fairer and more just nation.

Barack Obama started out at such a school (Occidental in Los Angeles) before moving to Columbia, where the core curriculum requires undergraduates to be grounded in canonical literature, philosophy, and history. Steve Jobs, who dropped out of Oregon's Reed College, nevertheless credits a calligraphy class he attended there with providing part of the inspiration for the Macintosh. Employers say all the time that they value clarity of writing and verbal expression, and that they often find liberal-arts graduates expert in both.

We need to make sure that the liberal arts prepare people for a good life, not just the good life. For too long private colleges like mine have been seen, with more than a little justice, as provinces of the already affluent. Such institutions devote a lot of resources to remedying this, but educations at the more elite private schools are prohibitively expensive, and always will be.

Which is why the state universities that underwrite liberal-arts programs, including newish public honors colleges within large research institutions (Michigan and Georgia are two examples), should continue that good work. There is never enough money—or at least it seems as though there is never enough—but cutting the liberal arts is a false economy.

The other emerging market is the world of online education, which is one of the great democratizing stories of recent years. Like NEWSWEEK, Kaplan Inc. is a part of The Washington Post Company, so I am unapologetically prejudiced. Yet the fact remains that digital educational enterprises are to the 21st century what public universities were in previous generations: accessible and more affordable means for people to better their minds and their lives.

For some the future will be shaped by a Sewanee, for others by a business course taught online. The unifying theme that connected my own musings among the bishops (living and dead) was straightforward: if the country is to prosper—economically, culturally, morally—we have to trust in the institutions, old and new, that nurture creativity, and then hope for the best.

Jon Meacham is editor of NEWSWEEK and author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House and American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation.

Friday, January 8, 2010

He's Just What I Expected...A First-Time CEO

It must be because I was, and continue to be, open about my political views and the switch I made from being a person who always voted with the Republicans, to becoming a person who votes for who I believe will be the best at the job at the time and that being now a Democratic President, that I get asked a lot openly, and privately; "What do you think of the job President Obama is doing?" From my Republican friends they are looking for ways for me to defend what they disagree with and trying to get a few, "I told you so's in". I am cool with that and I totally get where they are coming from. From the staunch Democrats, they don't ask the question. But, mostly,the question comes from people like me who made the switch and are now wondering if they made the right decision. They see the popular opinion moving away from the President, they see an aggressive and overwhelming agenda, they see worse than ever partisanship and arrogance from those on the winning and losing side of an argument, they see retiring Senators and Congressmen switching parties causing a loss in the power seats necessary to make change, they see unprecedented levels of spending and debt. And, they wonder, did I make the right choice? Let me be honest and open about it, "I wonder too".

However, I also believe that we are seeing the results of exactly what I expected President Obama to be. We are seeing the actions and results of a first time CEO. Long ago I wrote that a Senator becoming President is like asking the General Counsel to be CEO. They have a sense of what the job could be and they have been around CEOs a long time, but they have never sat in the chair and when they do, as a first time CEO, they will make first time CEO mistakes. That doesn't make them bad and it doesn't mean that they won't become great CEOs, but they need time to learn. The same is true of President Obama. The man I voted for to be President I knew did not have the experience to do the job. Instead I voted for him because I believed he had the vision, the conviction, the work-ethic and the potential to be great and I still believe that. However, the rookie CEO moves are evident:

Taking on to many things at once: The hardest thing to do as a CEO is to say no to an idea or an objective. You have to be willing to let somethings go to focus on the most important. The President said his agenda would be the economy, education, alternative energy and the war. He needs to get back to doing one significant thing in each area and let the rest go by the wayside.

Not knowing who the right people are on your team: This happens to first time CEO's...every time. The people you put on your team the first go around are not as good as they need to be and you default into what you know and don't know how to hire those who can do things that you don't know. There are different people for different stages of a company and the people who got your there are seldom the people who can get you to the next level. That is why first time CEOs need a great board or venture capitalist who can fill in around them. It feels like the President has not surrounded himself with the right people for the job and he is depending on the people who got him there, not the people who can take him to the next level.

Getting ahead of yourself: A little success and momentum is a dangerous things for a first-time CEO because you tend to get up on that wave and ride it like there is no tomorrow and if there are some accolades that come with it, you lean into that wave to try and go even faster. Unfortunately, waves ridden too long end up on the beach. Using the 60 vote power in the Senate as the leverage versus finding real consensus among the parties is not a good thing and I think the President may be riding that wave too long because the wave is going to go away next year and he will need then to have a different way of getting things done. If he doesn't start that now, then nothing will get done after the 60 votes are gone. This goes back to needing change in leadership around him. He needs to think long and hard about whether the speaker of the house and the Senate leader can lead in a way that gets things done without having all the leverage.

Hanging on to the wrong people too long: If you were the one that hired 'em, it's really hard to get rid of them and first time CEOs hang on too long to people who need to go. We can see this in the President's cabinet. It's time for some to go. Mistakes are mistakes but lack of results can't be ignored and in his case with only four years to govern, he can't afford to hesitate. Great CEOs are always upgrading their teams. I have ideas on who should be replaced, if anyone is interested.

You spend too much money: It's predictable like the sun coming up; first time CEOs when given a pot of money, spend it and because it is there, it gets gobbled up quickly. I like to tell first time CEOs who are raising money that the smartest thing they can do is only take the money they need, not the money they want. I remind them that we are Americans. We eat all the food that is put on the plate in front of us. First time, and lots of other CEOs, do the same with their budgets. The President is eating all of the food and more right now and needs to show that he can also enforce fiscal discipline. If he doesn't do this, I think this will be the Achilles heel for him in 2012.

All this said, I believe we have a leader who is doing the good things that you want a first-time CEO to do as well;

He is visionary.

He is working extremely hard.

He is great with his case other leaders around the world.

He takes accountability.

He is learning.

He is smart. I am impressed by the way that he allows things to start to the left and then through time and conversation they come back more to the middle. I'm not sure how he does this, or if it is really him, but this continues to happen and that is good for him and the country.

So, we have three more years to find out just how good of a CEO he can be. For all of the people who would throw him out now, I only ask you to think about the first time you were in a new job that was above you and you were learning your way...aren't you glad that someone else helped you along and saw your potential, versus just getting rid of you immediately?

My hope and daily prayer for our President is that he matures, learns and wises faster than humanly possible to become the great leader and CEO of our country that we need. And by the way, that will be my same hope and prayer for the next President, whoever he/she may be.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

My Decade of Reading

Keeping a list of what you read (I have been doing it since 1993) and then being able to go back and review it is very interesting. Here is what I learned from my 10 year review of the 206 books I read in one decade:

*Most read Authors:

1. James Patterson (16)
2. John Grisham (11)
3. Nelson DeMille (10)
4. Michael Crichton (8)
5. Ken Follett (7)
6. JK Rowling (7)
7. Ann Rice (7)
8. Patricia Cornwall (6)
9. Tom Clancy (5)

*Book that I have no clue today what it was about: Winter’s Tale (Helprin)

*Book that I read twice but didn’t realize it until now: 1776

*Book that I told more people about than any other: Celestine Prophecy

*Book that stayed with me more than any other other than The Bible: Chasing Daylight

*Author that I fell in love with in the 2000’s: Michael Chabon

*Book that was the most wasted time: Charlotte Simmons (Tom Wolfe)

*Best Running Book: Once a Runner (John Parker)

*Heath Book that made a difference: The Antioxident Revolution (Kenneth Cooper)

*Page Turner of the Decade: The Day After Tomorrow (Hammer)

*Best New Authors for me: (tie) Jonathan Krakauer and Jodi Piccoult

*Best Business Book: (tie) The Living Company (De Geus) and The Tipping Point (Gladwell)

*Most eye opening Book: The World is Flat (Freidman)

*Book that had the least measurable impact for me: Triathlon Swimming Made Easy (Laughlin)

Top Books of the decade for me:

* Bridges of Madison County (Waller)
* Celestine Prophecy (Redfield)
* A World Lit Only By Fire (Mancehster)
* The Horse Whisperer (Evans)
* All the Pretty Horses (McCarthy)
* Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Berendt)
* Into Thin Air (Krakauer)
* Cold Mountain (Frazier)
* God of Small Things (Roy)
* She’s Come Undone (Lamb)
* A Perfect Storm (Jager)
* Snowcrash (Stephenson)
* House of Sand and Fog (Dubus)
* Seabiscuit (Hillenbrand)
* The Pact (Piccoult)
* The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Chabon)
* John Adams (McCullogh)
* The Corrections (Franzen)
* Summerland (Chabon)
* Life of Pi (Martel)
* The Kite Runner (Hosseini)
* Devin in the White City (Larson)
* The World is Flat (Friedman)
* Chasing Daylight (O’Kelley)
* Audacity of Hope (Obama)
* Talk Talk (Boyle)
* Team of Rivals (Goodwin)
* Water for Elephants (Gruen)
* The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Diaz)
* Old Men at Midnight (Potok)
* Once a Runner (Parker)
* People of the Book (Brooks)
* Change by Design (Brown)

Here is what I read over the first decade of the ‘oo’s:

2000 (24):

Black Notice: Cornwall

Saving Faith: Baldacci

Harry Potter and the Scorcer’s Stone: Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets: Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner Azbakan: Rowling

Above Black: Sherman

Timeline: Crichton

The Lion’s Game: Demille

Pop Goes the Weasel: Patterson

When the Wind Blows: Patterson

The Brethren: Grisham

Horse Heavenv Smiley

The Barbarians are Coming: Louie

Cradle and All: Patterson

Harry Potter and the Goblet Of Fire: Rowling

Memoirs of a Geisha: Golden

October Sky: Hickam, Jr.

It’s Not About the Bike: Armstrong

Beowulf: Harvey

The Bear and the Dragon: Clancy

Ender’s Game: Card

Snowcrash: Stephenson

On Ice: Ramus

2001 (22):

The Invisible Continent: Ohmae

King of the World: Remnick

Roses Are Red: Patterson

Code to Zero: Follett

Net Gain: Hagel

Orvis Guide to Saltwater Fishing: Curcione

House of Sand and Fog: Dubus

Waiting: Jin

Tuscan Childhood: Beevor

The Tipping Point: Gladwell

1st to Die: Patterson

Seabiscuit: Hillenbrand

The Pact: Picoult

Race Horse Training: Collins

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay: Chabon

Derby Dreams: Bolus

The Hobbit: Tolkien

Fade: Cormier

P is for Peril: Grafton

The Fellowship of the Ring: Tolkien

Proof: Francis

John Adams:McCullough

2002 (27)

Indiana Gothic: Brock

Violets are Blue: Patterson

The Prometheus Deception: Ludlum

Half Time: Buford

The Fourth Hand: Irving

Investing in Thoroughbreds: Kirkpatrick

Last Man Standing: Baldacci

Stud: Conley

Good to Great: Collins

The Summons: Grisham

2nd Chance: Patterson

The Holy Grail: The Derby: Haskins

The Corrections: Franzen

Whistle While You Work: Leider/Shapiro

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh: Chabon

Connecting: Crabb

Mabel Dodge Luhan: Rudnick

Red Rabbit: Clancy

Runner’s Blood: Fischer

Clear Body…Clear Mind: Hubbard

Carter Beats the Devil: Gold

Difficult Conversations: Stone, Patton, Heen

Nights in Rodanthe: Sparks

A New Brand World: Bedbury

Summerland: Chabon

The Lovely Bones: Seybold

Doing Well when Doing Good: Guinness

2003 (16)

Up Country: DeMille

Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Twain

The Key to Rebecca: Follett

How Firm a Foundation: Grodi

Four Blind Mice: Patterson

Life of Pi: Martel

Prey: Crichton

Catch Me If You Can: Abergnale

The Greatest Generation: Brokaw

Harry Potter,Order of the Phoenix: Rowling

King of Torts: Grisham

The DaVinci Code: Brown

Dark Horse: Hoag

The Bible: Inspired by God

Oracle Night: Austere

Mere Christianity: Lewis

Moneyball: Lewis

2004 (8)

Ruthless Trust: Manning

Purpose Driven Life: Warren

Under the Banner of Heaven: Krakauer

Big Bad Wolf: Patterson

Endurance: Alexander

Prayer: Foster

Ordering Your Private World: MacDonald

Kite Runner: Hosseini

2005 (13)

Angels & Demons: Brown

Night Fall: DeMille

The White City: Larson

Chi Running: Dreyer

Wild at Heart: Eldridge

Life Together: Bonhoeffer

Trace: Cornwell

Heaven: Alcorn

The World is Flat: Friedman

The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe: Lewis

The Magician’s Nephew: Lewis

The Spirit of the Disciplines: Willard

Code to Zero: Follett

2006 (9)

Our Endangered Values: Carter

Freakonomics: Levitt/Dubner

Ultramarathon Man: Karnarez

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Rowling

1776: McCollough

Adventure Capitalist: Rogers

Search: Battelle

Christ in the Feast of Tabernacles: Brickner

The Bible:

2007 (19)

The Kitchen Boy: Alexander

Pope Joan: Cross

Chasing Daylight: O’Kelley

Growing Wise Slowly: Roper

The Tenth Circle: Piccoult

Making Your Childrens Ministry The Best Hour Of The Week: Miller/Stahl

Triathlon Swimming Made Easy: Laughlin

The Gospel According To John: Campbell

Audacity of Hope: Obama

A Year at the Races: Smiley

Winter’s Tale: Helprin

Harry Potter: Rowling

The Soul of Money: Twist

A Thousand Splendid Suns: Hosseini

The Bourne Betrayal: Van Bluster

The Life God Blesses: MacDonald

A World Without End: Follett

Cat's Cradle: Vonnegut

The Lost: Mendelsohn

2008 (30)

Talk Talk: Boyle

Cane River: Tademy

Red River: Tademy

Why Pray?: Wilhite

Thunderstruck: Larson

Thirteen Moons: Frazier

1776: McCullough

Ship of Gold: Kinder

Jesus, CEO: Jones

What is the What?: Egger

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union: Chabon

The Dante Club: Pearl

I am Charlotte Simmons: Wolfe

Pioneers: Cooper

Christian Spirituality: McGrath

Team of Rivals: Goodwin

Twilight: Meyer

The Shack: Young

New Moon: Meyer

Water for Elephants: Gruen

Eclipse: Meyer

New Dawn: Meyer

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: Diaz

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Wroblewski

Stone Cold: Baldacci

House of Mondavi: Siler

The Hour That Changes The World: Eastman

The Bible: (New Living Testament)

Experiencing God: Blackaby

The Historian: Kostova

2009 (38)

Three Cups of Tea: Mortenson

All Things Are Possible Through Prayer: Allen

American Lion: Andrew Jackson In the White House Meachem

The Power of Positive Praying: Bisagno

Not For Sale: Batstone

Revolution: Barna

The Screwtape Letters: Lewis

Run for your life: Patterson/Ledwidge

The subtle power of spiritual Abuse: Johnson/Vonderen

Old Men at Midnight: Potok

Celebration of the Disciplines: Foster

The Art of the Turnaround: Kaiser

Wild Fire: DeMille

Slaughterhouse 5: Vonnegut

Once A Runner: Parker

Searching for Dad: Ricks

American Pastoral: Roth

Born to Run: McDougall

The Janson Directive: Ludlum

People of the Book: Brooks

Olive Kittredge: Stout

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling: Crouch

The Machievelli Covenant: Follsom

The Help: Stockett

Master and Commander: O’Brian

Artemis Fowl: Golfer

Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident: Colfer

Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code: Colfer

The Way: Escriva

Change By Design: Brown

A Gate At The Stairs: Moore

Brave New World: Huxley

Thomas Jefferson: Hitchens

Outliers: Gladwell

Underworld DeDillo

Gilead: Robinson

The Lost Symbol: Brown

The Power of Half: Salwen

Monday, January 4, 2010

Fast Forgiveness For Failure...

David Brook's article on New Year's Day titled "The God That Fails" felt like one of the more "practical" ways of looking at our government's successes and failures. The gist of the article was that our government does a lot of good things, but it is not a perfect system and it is filled with human beings so there will be times where the system fails. But, then most importantly is that Brooks says that when this happens we, as the citizens of the government, should not expect perfection each time, but instead, go with the flow and understand that it is impossible for government to be infallible. Those of you who know me, know that I fervently believe that there is only One that is infallible so I carry with me maybe a more tolerant attitude towards failures of others than I should. My wife Patti has always said that I forget and forgive too quickly. She considers it constructive criticism. I consider it a compliment. I know too many people who look for the hole in the doughnut. These are the same people who don't think the glass is half-empty, they think the glass is out to kill them. They take hard stances to the left or the right when it comes to the government and they are quick to criticize when something doesn't go perfectly. This happened this last week with the Nigerian who tried to blow up the flight in Detroit. When I read about what happened, I didn't like it either. I could see why someone should be held accountable and I don't have any issue with someone losing their job over not doing their job to the standards set for them. But, what I can't accept is those that say the whole system is wrong and failing because of one mistake. As I have pointed out before, the TSA has lots and lots of problems and Janet Napiltano has not done anything that I can see to make any improvements, but the entire system is not a failure and nor would it be right to think that we won't have other issues in the future. Government can't be perfect. As long as there are people involved, it is impossible for it to be perfect. Let's try this year to be a little more forgiving and understanding as a country. Maybe if we did, we would find common solutions versus staying so opposed to each other.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Where Does The Buck Stop in California?

I read with great interest the ruling of Judge Frank Roesch regarding Governor Schwarzenegger's decision to furlough state employees to try and get control of the states over running expenses. Judge Roesch's decision overruled the Governor on multiple grounds including that the Governor "overstepped his authority by claiming the furloughs were necessary to deal with the budget emergency". As I read this, the newsprint nearly slipped from my hands, which as we all know is hard to have happen. Here is what I don't understand; there is no place in California for the buck to stop. When I elect a Governor, I do so on the basis of who I believe will be the best chief executive officer. I look at the skill set to establish a vision, determine how to establish, maintain and where necessary to raise revenue, and most importantly how to manage the business of the state so that our expenses don't outstrip our revenue. I vote for the person who I believe is the best at having the buck stop with them. But, in California it seems that the buck doesn't stop anywhere. Each time a decision is made that others don't agree with we get a judge to rule on it, we get proposition on the next ballet, or we get a special election to more quickly overturn the decision. And then we wonder why this state doesn't work. What California is missing is a lack of practical thinking. If there was practical thinking then there wouldn't be a lawsuit filed on the behalf of the service employee unions that they should be treated differently from all other employees. If the Governor has decided that furloughs are the best way to deal with our issues, then everyone needs to participate. It is not right for one group to be treated differently than others. I fear that if California doesn't reshape how it governs so that the buck has someplace to stop, there won't be any bucks to be stopped.

Friday, January 1, 2010

TSA - Please Rethink or Think!

I flew through the new T5 terminal at JFK this morning and as we started a new decade I was quickly reminded at how little distance we have covered in our ability to manage the security lines in our airports. Yes, the government is up in arms this day because of the Nigerian flier who made it to Detroit and nearly set off his explosives on that Northwestern flight, but the TSA that we experienced today was no different, or any better than they were when established in 2001. In fact, I would say because there has not been any systemic learning or standardization across airports and we have not shared and gotten better collectively, it proves that that in fact we have not gotten any better at all. Long airport security lines are a constant reminder that our government fails to figure out how to become more productive and more efficient. Why is it that this so visible symbol of a government administration isn’t given the attention necessary to improve? What holds this back? Our airports are unfriendly and have added hours to inefficiencies to our business community. The wasted productivity alone should be enough to warrant the attention of other arms of the administration. Maybe the Secretary of Commerce should weigh in and get involved! We should be embarrassed that we have minimum wage employees, who act and work like they have been salvaged from the streets, standing around, doing nothing and not adding anything to the security of the airports. Had you been with me this morning, you would have seen x-ray screeners who weren’t looking at the screens, employees standing around chatting and filing their nails while the lines were backed up for nearly an hour wait. Department of Homeland Security, please start improving something so that we can understand the value of you as overhead expense to our country, who doesn't need more expenses!