• Is Watson, the Machine that I.B.M. Hails as Its Latest and Greatest Super Computer, Truly “Smarter Than You Think”?

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    What Is I.B.M.’s Watson? by Clive Thompson is the first in a new NY Times Magazine series called “Smarter Than You Think.” The articles are designed to examine the recent advances in artificial intelligence and robotics and their potential impact on society.

    My first quibble is just who does the NY Times “You” represent? Many of us are aware of the advances – and lack thereof – in AI (Artificial Intelligence), so I do not accept the “you” sui generis but we should not waste valuable blog time on semantics. Of course, we could argue that “Watson” is all about semantics, but we won’ let that impede our discussion here.

    First, we should make clear that Watson is not a super computer. Watson is actually a super program housed in a computer named Watson.  And, lest you think I.B.M. has crossed into the realm of clever fiction to name this computer after Sherlock Holme’s able assistant, Watson, as in, “It’s elementary my dear Watson!” I.B.M. has not. Watson is the last name of father and son Thomas Sr. and Jr., who led I.B.M. for more than 50 years.

    Thompson writes that, “For the last three years, I.B.M. scientists have been developing what they expect will be the world’s most advanced “question answering” machine, able to understand a question posed in everyday human elocution — “natural language,” as computer scientists call it — and respond with a precise, factual answer. In other words, it must do more than what search engines like Google and Bing do, which is merely point to a document where you might find the answer. It has to pluck out the correct answer itself. Technologists have long regarded this sort of artificial intelligence as a holy grail, because it would allow machines to converse more naturally with people, letting us ask questions instead of typing keywords. Software firms and university scientists have produced question-answering systems for years, but these have mostly been limited to simply phrased questions. Nobody ever tackled “Jeopardy!” because experts assumed that even for the latest artificial intelligence, the game was simply too hard: the clues are too puzzling and allusive, and the breadth of trivia is too wide.”

    Ahhh, clearly I have missed a beat here. I never realized that “Jeopardy!” was the sine qua non of intelligence.

    Thompson reports, David Ferrucci’s, I.B.M.’s senior manager for its Semantic Analysis and Integration department, and head of the Watson project, main breakthrough [my note: in creating a program aka super computer which could compete on "Jeopardy!"] “was not the design of any single, brilliant new technique for analyzing language. Indeed, many of the statistical techniques Watson employs were already well known by computer scientists. One important thing that makes Watson so different is its enormous speed and memory. Taking advantage of I.B.M.’s supercomputing heft, Ferrucci’s team input millions of documents into Watson to build up its knowledge base — including, he says, “books, reference material, any sort of dictionary, thesauri, folksonomies, taxonomies, encyclopedias, any kind of reference material you can imagine getting your hands on or licensing. Novels, bibles, plays.”

    Watson’s speed allows it to try thousands of ways of simultaneously tackling a “Jeopardy!” clue. Most question-answering systems rely on a handful of algorithms, but Ferrucci decided this was why those systems do not work very well: no single algorithm can simulate the human ability to parse language and facts. Instead, Watson uses more than a hundred algorithms at the same time to analyze a question in different ways, generating hundreds of possible solutions. Another set of algorithms ranks these answers according to plausibility; for example, if dozens of algorithms working in different directions all arrive at the same answer, it’s more likely to be the right one. In essence, Watson thinks in probabilities. It produces not one single “right” answer, but an enormous number of possibilities, then ranks them by assessing how likely each one is to answer the question.”

    Read the article in its entirety for it is fascinating in unexpected ways. And you, too, can pit your mettle against Watson’s in your own personal game of “Jeopardy!”: Watson Trivia Challenge. Above all, do not miss the readers’ rich, intelligent and reasoned comments on this article. I have included a few (anonymously) below:

    Comment # 4.  “…But it’s been a long time since we’ve been toying with this idea of a computer competing with a human for intelligent answers to questions. Take a look at the 1957 movie “Desk Set” with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.”

    Comment # 6. “While I am certainly impressed by it, Watson is not truly artificial intelligence or the holy grail that represents. AI requires abstraction, creativity, situational awareness and so forth. This is a speech recognition to keyword database search to speech synthesis machine on steroids. Impressive gimmick, but no HAL9000.”

    Comment #14. (Speaking of purchasing stocks) “Predicting the illogical or ‘gut’ feelings of a given investor is not possible since the investor has no idea what they will do until they do it. It would be difficult to write an algorithm that can predict the random behavior involved with such choices.”

    Comment # 36. “Watson reminds me of the computer in the old I.B.M. building on 57th and Madison that had a computer and printer/typewriter in the window. You could ask it questions and it would come up with answers. So what’s new? It’s still all about the programming, and still all about how much information can be crammed into Watson’s very limited — compared to a human being’s — memory.”

    One of my particular favorites is # 32. “The real question is whether Watson, not being human, can ever ‘learn’ from its mistakes?”

  • Neuroplasticity: Brain Boosting Lessons from Two Scientists and a London Taxi Driver!

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    Neuroplasticity has fascinated me for a long time, and two posts I found recently at SharpBrains.com provide not just fodder but hope for our and, of course, Hercule’s “little gray cells.”

    The first post, Brain Plasticity: How Learning Changes Your Brain by Dr. Pascale Michelon defines neuroplasticity for the unititiated:

    “Neuroplasticity or brain plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to CHANGE throughout life. The brain has the amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells (neurons).”

    “Neuroplasticity,” she elaborates, “occurs in the brain: 1. At the beginning of life: when the immature brain organizes itself; 2. In case of brain injury: to compensate for lost functions or maximize remaining functions; and 3. Through adulthood: whenever something new is learned and memorized”

    The good news is that as, Dr Michelon notes,  For a long time it was believed that as we aged, the connections in the brain became fixed. Research has shown that in fact the brain never stops changing through learning. Plasticity IS the capacity of the brain to change with learning. Changes associated with learning occur mostly at the level of the connections between neurons. New connections can form and the internal structure of the existing synapses can change.”

    And, here’s where the London cabbie comes in…

    Dr.Michelon says, “when you become an expert in a specific domain, the areas in your brain that deal with this type of skill grow. For example, London taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus (in the posterior region) than London bus drivers (Maguire, Woollett, & Spiers, 2006)…. Why is that? It is because this region of the hippocampus is specialized in acquiring and using complex spatial information in order to navigate efficiently. Taxi drivers have to navigate around London whereas bus drivers follow a limited set of routes.”

    In the second, SharpBrains.com post, The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Brains, Alvaro Fernandez gives us 10 specific strategies for boosting brainpower.

    1. Learn what is the “It” in “Use It or Lose It”. A basic understanding will serve you well to appreciate your brain’s beauty as a living and constantly-developing dense forest with billions of neurons and synapses.
    2. Take care of your nutrition. Did you know that the brain only weighs 2% of body mass but consumes over 20% of the oxygen and nutrients we intake? As a general rule, you don’t need expensive ultra-sophisticated nutritional supplements, just make sure you don’t stuff yourself with the “bad stuff”.
    3. Remember that the brain is part of the body. Things that exercise your body can also help sharpen your brain: physical exercise enhances neurogenesis.
    4. Practice positive, future-oriented thoughts until they become your default mindset and you look forward to every new day in a constructive way. Stress and anxiety, no matter whether induced by external events or by your own thoughts, actually kills neurons and prevent the creation of new ones. You can think of chronic stress as the opposite of exercise: it prevents the creation of new neurons.
    5. Thrive on Learning and Mental Challenges. The point of having a brain is precisely to learn and to adapt to challenging new environments. Once new neurons appear in your brain, where they stay in your brain and how long they survive depends on how you use them. “Use It or Lose It” does not mean “do crossword puzzle number 1,234,567″. It means, “challenge your brain often with fundamentally new activities”.
    6. We are (as far as we know) the only self-directed organisms in this planet. Aim high. Once you graduate from college, keep learning. The brain keeps developing, no matter your age, and it reflects what you do with it.
    7. Explore, travel. Adapting to new locations forces you to pay more attention to your environment. Make new decisions, use your brain.
    8. Don’t Outsource Your Brain. Not to media personalities, not to politicians, not to your smart neighbour… Make your own decisions, and mistakes. And learn from them. That way, you are training your brain, not your neighbour’s.
    9. Develop and maintain stimulating friendships. We are “social animals”, and need social interaction. Which, by the way, is why ‘Baby Einstein’ has been shown not to be the panacea for children development.
    10. Laugh. Often. Especially to cognitively complex humor, full of twists and surprises.

    Illustration, Courtesy of Medi Belortaja

    You do not have to implement all ten strategies at once. You can begin with just one or two at a time and boost slowly. Speed does not always count; remember – slow and steady wins the race!

  • How Technology – Like This Recently Unearthed 5,500 Year-Old Pampootie – Can Be Tailored To Fit Seniors’ Needs

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    I love this NY Times article by Pam Belluck about the discovery of a 5,500 year-old shoe buried in a cave in Armenia.

    Boris Gasparian/Institute of Archaeology and Enthography

    It reveals that not all Armenians were as hungry as my grandmother thought. As a child, when I failed to eat every morsel on my plate, my grandmother’s most guilt-inducing admonition was, “How could you be so wasteful? Think of all the starving Armenians!” I never did understand the source of her compassion. We were not Armenians, we did not have any long lost relatives or even friends in Armenia and altruism was generally not one of her strengths.

    Then, I saw this ancient Armenian shoe and everything fell into place. My grandmother adored fanciful hats, gorgeous leather handbags and soft suede gloves. But – above all – she loved shoes and, like this Armenian’s, hers were hand made. The Devil might wear Prada, but my grandmother wore everything else.

    Though not much to look at (no doubt being buried in sheep dung for 5,500 years takes away some of the original luster), Belluck notes “the shoe, made of cowhide and tanned with oil from a plant or vegetable, is old, older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids… ”

    “While the shoe more closely resembles an L. L.Bean-type soft-soled walking shoe than anything by Jimmy Choo, ‘these were probably quite expensive shoes, made of leather, very high quality,’ said one of the lead scientists, Gregory Areshian, of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles.”

    Another scientist, Ron Pinhasi, an archaeologist at University College Cork in Ireland, said the shoe “resembled old Irish pampooties, or rawhide slippers.”

    The tremendous importance of this discovery, Belluck adds, “is that the shoe, discovered by scientists excavating in a huge cave in Armenia, is part of a treasure trove of artifacts found that experts say provide unprecedented information about an important and sparsely documented era: the Chalcolithic period or Copper Age, when humans are believed to have invented the wheel, domesticated horses and produced other innovations.”

    Ahh, “innovations!” Finally we get to the technology I mentioned earlier.

    Philip Moeller’s US News article, 5 Ways to Join the Personal Technology Party, reveals the depressing statistic that: “Fewer than 40 percent of people aged 65 and older used the Internet last year. Adoption rates for more sophisticated communications tools are correspondingly smaller.”

    To address this need, “The Center for Technology and Aging, with funding from the SCAN Foundation, recently brought together a panel of technology experts. They discussed ways in which social media and other emerging communications tools might be used by seniors themselves to make sure their voices are heard on key public policy issues affecting them.”

    The challenge, Moeller notes, is to educate seniors about both the value of technology and how to use it.

    Moeller, then, describes “five things that communications providers and senior-service advocates should consider [tailor] to help older consumers take fuller advantage of powerful communications tools and devices.”

    1) KISS — Keep It Simple Stupid! To many younger technology users, there is no such thing as “too complicated” when it comes to the latest hand-held mobile device. Not so with older consumers, especially people who have never used online and wireless gadgets. It is daunting to confront something new when you don’t understand what it can do or why you might benefit from using its capabilities. Oh, and you don’t have a clue how to turn it on and use it. The iPad was cited in the panel’s report as an example of the kind of intuitive, easy-to-use tool that can be a real technology icebreaker for older consumers.

    2) Make It Personal. The “I get it” light bulb that seems embedded in younger technology users needs cultivating in people who like their clocks with hands and not read-outs. Bringing communications technology down to the personal level is essential to engage older consumers. All too often, that step is bypassed or covered up by the cloud of coolness that surrounds new technologies. Also, making it personal also needs to include product features designed with older users, older fingers, and older eyes in mind.

    3) Make It Relevant.
    Creating very practical pathways between a gizmo and a genuine benefit is a key to success. Technology is rarely an end in itself for older users but a means to achieving a desired goal. Explaining these linkages can spur more seniors to adopt new technologies.

    4) Enhance Independence and Control. The field of telemedicine is exploding. This includes health-monitoring devices that can literally be lifesavers. However, they need to be explained and marketed to seniors as tools to extend their independence and control over their surroundings. Too often, it can appear that monitoring devices are digital tethers that track movements and behaviors, and are designed more to help caregivers than the older consumer.

    5) Build a Team of Helpers.
    Caregivers, family members, social-service agencies, and other champions are needed to explain, reassure, and help older consumers.

    Certainly all of these ideas can help to bring more seniors to the “technology party” and my grandmother and her dancing shoes did love parties!

  • The Halo or Stepford Effect: Are Your Valuable Skills and Experience Really Being Trumped By Your Appearance?

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    To begin, let’s put this highly over-used concept, the “Halo Effect,” in context. The phenomenon was first studied in the early 1900s by psychologist E.L.Thorndike, who noticed that when an individual is found to possess one desirable trait, that individual is assumed to have many other desirable traits too.

    The matter achieved further prominence in 2007 with the publication of The Halo Effect, a book by business academic Phil Rosenzweig, in which he criticizes “pseudoscientific tendencies in the explanation of business performance.”

    Excellent though Rosenzweig’s critique is, it does not seem to have tamped down the corruption of the concept – rhetorically or scientifically.

    The “Halo Effect” was alive and thriving in Laura Sinberg’s  Forbes article, “Dress for Interview Success” where she asks us to:

    “Remember that Tide-to-Go commercial, the one where an interview candidate tries to explain why he’s the best choice for the job. But the interviewer is so distracted by a stain on the man’s shirt that he imagines the stain talking to him? The message is obvious: One tiny detail can have a big impact when it comes to getting the job. And what you wear has a lot to do with it.

    Although job-related skills an experience rank high in importance in whether or not you land the position, during the initial hiring process they have less power than most of us think. That’s because the first thing we notice about someone is their appearance, and more specifically, the way they are dressed.

    According to a study by Frank Bernieri, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Oregon State University, within the first 10 seconds of meeting your interviewer – otherwise known as the meet-and-greet – that person has decided whether or not you’re right for the job. Those who come across as polished and pulled together are quite simply more likely to be hired than those who are seen as putting in less effort.”

    Sinberg goes on to delineate just what an individual should and should not wear, adding it’s not just sartorial style but those flashy cuff links or run in your hose that can tarnish your halo.

    The article also notes how one woman, Kim Zoller, created a business, Image Dynamics, to advise companies like Moet Hennessy and Louis Vuitton on image and communication skills. Zoller, who used to work at a staffing agency, started her business because “I saw women coming in to this agency, and they had great résumés, but they weren’t getting jobs because they didn’t know how to dress.”

    “If you’re not dressed well, you can say all the right things … but you won’t get the job when you’re being compared with a lot of other capable people who are dressed better,” explains Zoller.

    Sounds a little like Frank Oz’s “Stepford” to me… and isn’t that sci-fi?

    You must decide, but I tend to side with Rosenzweig and his critique of pseudo-scientific theories. To me, dressing well means dressing appropriately – in a manner that befits the organization where you’d like to work and in a manner that reflects the authenticity of your persona. Would you really want to work in an office that “required” suits and ties and conservative shoes when you’re truly a peacock? Do you think you could perform well under those sartorial restraints?

    Wouldn’t it be better to take one of your splendid feathers, dust off your halo and walk out in your own (unreflected) light?

  • Newsweek Magazine Metaphors and Gladiators in Northern England!

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    This morning, as I read David Carr’s article, “How to Save Newsweek,” in the New York Times, I realized that Carr’s 8 steps to salvation are equally applicable to anyone striving to achieve a unique brand and strategically position themselves in today’s job market – which is in just as much trouble as the legacy, print-on-paper media world.

    I highly recommend you read the entire article, but three of Carr’s steps which I find especially relevant are:

    “1. IT’S A MAGAZINE

    Yes, it’s a brand. But mainly, it’s a magazine.

    Whatever revenue Newsweek attracts comes overwhelmingly from the printed product. So while many savants have suggested it is as easy as dumping the print brand and its associated costs, the Web footprint of something called “Newsweek” is small and represents a tiny fraction of the revenue. The name may become more meaningful on the Web, but to make Newsweek work, someone has to figure out how to put out a magazine.

    4. DO THE SMALL STUFF WELL

    When editorial types rave about Adam Moss’s version of New York magazine, part of what they are reacting to is not the big booming features, but what the magazine does at either end — the provocative small display type, playful infographics, and bits of service journalism smartly and elegantly delivered.

    By comparison, Newsweek’s vocabulary draws on a previous century, reflecting none of the Web’s influence on print design. There is no texture: no big and little on the same page, no funny bits mixed with issues of civic moment, no jewel boxes of unexpected finds, nothing that doesn’t fit on a grid. Weeklies are murder to produce, but ragged and risky is better than rote.

    8. THROW A HAIL MARY

    …In magazines, time is both your enemy and your friend. Yes, the 24/7 cycle will run you over, but the opportunity to take a breath can sometimes provide a much needed respite. A section of look-backs could be called “Wait a Minute,” and could aggressively use the second look to deconstruct events we thought we already knew. (Was the blown call in Detroit a huge pratfall for Major League Baseball, or perhaps one of its crowning moments?)”

    Carr has mixed his metaphors here but we’ll let that slide…

    Meanwhile, the three parallel job-hunting related strategies I mentioned would be:

    RE # 1, “You’re a Magazine” – Focus on what you are and promote those assets. Don’t try to be a Chief Financial Officer or even an accountant, if you cannot balance your checkbook without the aid of three calculators. It’s up to you to identify your authentic strengths and sell them; don’t leave it up to hoping the hiring manager “will see” the strengths you bring to the table. They do not have the time for second guessing, nor do they want to take the risk. Show them what you can do!

    RE # 4, “Do the Small Stuff Well” – Details, details, details. Do the small things well and they will hold the big picture together. All good storytellers know that the heart of a story is in the details: each and every word, image, every character counts. It’s your story, your brand, your career and your life. No one is better equipped to capture the essential details than you.

    RE # 8, “Throw a Hail Mary” – Don’t be afraid to step back and take a well-calculated risk. If you think strategically, have researched the top challenges facing the organization for which you’d like to work, and have identified what you think are a few good solutions – don’t be afraid to speak up. If they are way off the mark, the worse that could happen is that you may not get the job. But is that so bad? Perhaps it is not a good fit and better to find out before you’ve been in the position a month or two. On the other hand, your ideas may be perceived as brilliant and you land the job. Now you have to be sure you can deliver on what you’ve promised. It’s those blasted details again!

    Last but not least I mentioned Gladiators. I had one of those “park in my driveway moments” today as I listed to an NPR story about the possible discovery in northern England, of  ”the world’s only well-preserved Roman gladiator cemetery.” A key clue was that the teeth marks found on some of the remains could only have been made by a lion or tiger (in northern England?). Now that’s what I call a telling detail!

  • “Head to Head: iPhone and iPad Square Off”

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    Just a short snippet to share a great example of the value of infographics which we waxed on about in yesterday’s post: “A Picture: How Logos and Information Graphics Tell Your Story or Convey Your Brand in Much Less Than a Thousand Words.”

    This morning’s infographic by Henry D’Andrea aimed at those trying to decide which device – an iPhone or an iPad – is the best all-around deal for them will find this “Head to Head: iPhone and iPad Square Off” post from thetechupdate.com illuminating.

    Courtesy of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk

    The Bard continues to be in awe…

  • Picture It: How Logos and Information Graphics Tell Your Story or Convey Your Brand in Much Less Than a Thousand Words?

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    Courtesy of: http://www.how-to-draw-funny-cartoons.com

    In our digital world where vital “Tweets” can be no longer than 140 characters – not words but characters – visual information is even more critical than it is in traditional storytelling.

    Budding entrepreneurs will find some great tips and – of course – pictures in today’s “Quack” (aka Post) by Rebecca Hume at Duck Call, that zippy, smart, brandraising blog.

    Bulletin from the Duck Pond is:

    “Good infographics can illustrate ideas that might take pages to explain in writing. They function as a visual shorthand, clarifying relationships with a degree of immediacy and impact text just can’t offer. Effective graphics can be created for many types of information, but they are best suited for showing comparisons, structures, and processes.

    Figuring out what type of infographic is right for a project typically requires three steps:

    1. Know the story you want to tell.
    2. Find the information that best tells the story.
    3. Determine the form that most clearly displays that information.

    Just as with writing, information design must have a thesis statement…”

    Continue reading until you reach the other side of this duck pond because there’s lots of good data here.

    Meanwhile, should you wish to pare those words down further, perhaps even eliminate them altogether and create a successful brand logo, check out this one-page snapshot of all the elements to consider. It was “Tweeted” to you today from the SE Toolbelt, that fabulous and free open-content community resource center, created to help social entrepreneurs plan, start, manage, and grow successful social enterprises.

    Shakespeare would have been proud of your literary gambols…

    Courtesy of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk

  • Senior Entrepreneurs: Innovative, Foolhardy or Desperate?

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    As more and more research details that older Americans are starting businesses at a higher-than-average rate, it’s important to study the why and how of this phenomena.

    Anita Campbell, Editor and Founder of Small Business Trends, LLC, posits the question, StartUps Are Graying, But Is It a Good Financial Move?

    Campbell writes, “The face of the typical startup entrepreneur these days is a bit wrinkly, sporting some gray hair, and having the wisdom that comes with age.”

    She refers to a Business Week article by Scott Shane where he says, “according to recent research, these days those 55 and over are more likely than young people to be starting businesses.” And Shane, in turn, cites research by Dane Stangler of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation that showed in every year from 1996 to 2007, Americans aged 55 to 64 had a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than those aged 20 to 34.

    In the name of realistic scrutiny, I just Tweeted an Op-Ed piece in today’s New York Times, Entrepreneur or Unemployed?, by Robert B. Reich, former secretary of labor, now professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley,

    Reich captures the under-reported truth behind this entrepreneurial joy, saying, too often the catalyst for this entrepreneurial surge is, “In a word, unemployment. Booted off company payrolls, millions of Americans had no choice but to try selling themselves. Another term for ‘entrepreneur’ is ‘self-employed.’”

    Reich continues:

    “According to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics by an outplacement firm, Challenger Gray & Christmas, the number of self-employed Americans rose to 8.9 million last December, up from 8.7 million a year earlier. Self-employment among those 55 to 64 rose to nearly two million, 5 percent higher than in 2008. Among people over 65, the ranks of the self-employed swelled 29 percent. Many older people who had expected to retire discovered their 401(k)’s had shrunk and their homes were worthless. So they became ‘entrepreneurs,’ too.

    Maybe this is a good thing. A deep recession can be the mother of invention. These Americans are now liberated from the bureaucratic straitjackets they thought they had to wear. They can now fulfill their creative dreams and find their inner entrepreneurs. All they needed was a good kick in the pants.

    But this upbeat interpretation doesn’t include lots of people who don’t particularly relish becoming their own employers, like an acquaintance whom I’ll call George. George was an associate partner at one of the world’s largest technology and consulting firms until he lost his job last year in a wave of layoffs. For months, George knocked on doors but got nowhere because of the deep recession.

    But this upbeat interpretation doesn’t include lots of people who don’t particularly relish becoming their own employers, like an acquaintance whom I’ll call George. George was an associate partner at one of the world’s largest technology and consulting firms until he lost his job last year in a wave of layoffs. For months, George knocked on doors but got nowhere because of the deep recession.

    Finally, his old firm got some new projects that required George’s skills. But it didn’t hire George back. Instead, it brought him back through a “contingent workforce company,” essentially a temp agency, that’s now contracting with George to do the work. In return, the agency is taking a chunk of George’s hourly rate.

    Technically, George is his own boss. But he’s doing exactly what he did before for less money, and he gets no benefits — no health care, no 401(k) match, no sick leave, no paid vacation. Worse still, his income and hours are unpredictable even though his monthly bills still arrive with frightening regularity.

    The nation’s official rate of unemployment does not include George, nor anyone in this new wave of involuntary entrepreneurship. Yet to think of them as the innovative owners of startup businesses misses one of the most significant changes to have occurred in the American work force in many decades.”

    In addition to more realistic depictions of this frequently “involuntary entrepreneurship,” I’d like to see more research on how seniors’ are underwriting their start-ups. Are they, for example,  throwing all their savings and what crumbs might remain in their 401-K retirement accounts into these ventures? Is this, as Anita Campbell pointed out, a wise move? Young entrepreneurs have many more years to recoup those funds should the new enterprise fail.

    In that regard, it would also be valuable to see some data on Senior “Entrepreneurs” success rates. How do Seniors compete with the more tech savvy, viral-marketing-driven young entrepreneurs? Robert Jones, asks in his SmartBrief on Entrepreneurs nugget, “Are older entrepreneurs at a competitive disadvantage in a world of social media and digital communication?”

    Jeff Wuorio, makes a start at answering some of these questions with his four tips in The Older Entrepreneur’s Guide to Success, but clearly – there are a lot more questions to be answered before we revel in the “Senior Entrepreneur” phenomena.

  • “Bold But Not Brash:” Still Working and Blogging Full Time At Seventy

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    This morning I found “The 70-Something Blog” by June Kugel – thanks to Paula Span’s post in the the New York Times, The New Old Age: “A Blog About the Road Ahead.”

    Span writes, “Ms. Kugel believes in recording and reflecting on big transitions. In her 59th year, she had kept a journal in a loose-leaf binder, which she still rereads on occasion. On her next milestone birthday, updating her technology, she launched “The 70-Something Blog” and committed to posting twice a week. ‘I’ll let you know my triumphs and my low points,’ she promised her readers.”

    “I don’t write the blog for a million people to read,” she told Span. “I write it for me, to document this particular decade.”

    June Kugel is associate dean of students at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and she still bikes the two miles to and from her office everyday.

    Two of my favorite excerpts from her blog posts provide a flavor of her writing and her zest for her work and her life.

    This first is related to a bathroom refurbishing project she and her husband undertook:

    “We were efficient about choosing and ordering everything, and had the contractor all set. True, our project started four weeks later than scheduled, but that’s to be expected. Once the work started, it was just five days of disruption until the bathroom looked beautiful. A new shower curtain would be the final touch. That was a bit complicated, however, involving six visits to the Marimekko store. But on Thursday night we hung it and everything came together.

    When we went on our usual Saturday walk, Peter [her husband] and I commented on what a difference the shower curtain made, how it was worth all the trouble to get it. Peter called the shower curtain “bold (fearless and daring), but not brash (impudent or saucy).” I walked a few steps thinking about how he characterized the shower curtain and how I wished I could be described that way…. Maybe it’s not too late.”

    My second favorite is about her work at Harvard:

    “My new boss has been on board for eight weeks. I had mixed emotions about giving up ‘his’ position after being the interim boss even though, as I have written before, I did not want the job. I knew I could be helpful to him since I know the ropes, and I wanted him to succeed because I care deeply about the mission of our organization. But I could not predict how it would feel to have a boss who is the age of my children.

    “We’ve spent a lot of time together since he arrived. He’s smart. He gets it. He has a lot of good ideas. He is moving in measured steps, and he is very consultative with me (and others). He considers me a partner. We are developing trust for one another. All that is good.

    “But what is even better is that I feel like I have renewed energy, that it’s a whole new job, a whole new challenge. I’m seeing things through his eyes at the same time that I am giving him a lot of context and experience. I’m working as hard or harder than ever before, but I feel like I have a new purpose and a new challenge, even while staying at a place I’ve loved working at for almost thirty years.  Am I lucky or what?

    Yes she is lucky and so are we – her readers!

  • Your Originality: How to Capture and Market It

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    We are – each and everyone of us – original. No two people are exactly alike. That originality is our brand and our selling point. The author, CS Lewis, once said,  ”No man [or woman] who bothers about originality will be original: simply tell the truth and you’ll become original without noticing it.”

    Ahhh, but the challenge for many is how to capture and communicate what makes us unique and then how to position that as value to the person with whom we would like to work.

    I found two blog posts this week to help overcome the challenges of defining and marketing originality.

    Joanna Maxwell’s workincolour.com blog  post, What Are Your Talents? is a gem of a working tool. Maxwell says, “It’s not currently fashionable to talk about talents: we focus on skills and experience, or describe someone as ‘gifted’ without getting too specific. But talents are part of our essential make-up – the gifts, passions, interests and natural aptitudes we are born with.”

    These talents are an inherent part of our original make-up, and Maxwell takes readers through an exercise, based on Howard Gardner’s “Eight Core Intelligences” to help us identify those talents we have and those we do not. She then goes on to suggest we investigate our other non-Gardner talents and work the whole batch up into a profile (sample provided) that we and others can understand.

    Now for an original way to market your originality, read Take the Employer’s-Eye View by Liz Ryan on the Glassdoor.com Blog.

    Ryan says, “We are trained (badly!) to talk about ourselves in our job search overtures to employers. We are taught to say that we’ve done this and that and worked in X, Y and Z industries. We are schooled in telling employers what we think of our own skills: ‘I’m strategic and savvy and a good communicator.’ This old-school job search approach is dangerous garbage, because it keeps us from focusing on the one thing an employer cares about: namely, him- or herself, and his or her own problems.”

    Lots of information in each of these blogs to help make you clear, relevant and valuable.

    And speaking of relevant, this weekend we should try to remember the real meaning of Memorial Day and that it is not – as most holidays have become – a car, mattress, coat or cashmere mega sale day.

    Happy Holiday and thank you to all of those who gave their lives so that we might enjoy it!

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