Lauren Mayer: Career Goals For The Real World

For generations, we’ve illustrated ‘the American Dream’ as being a place “where anyone can grow up to be President.”  But these days, one look at President Obama’s weary face& gray hair, not to mention the merciless way people can attack any public figure anonymously, is enough to scare off impressionable kids.  (Can you imagine the field day internet trolls would have had with William Howard Taft breaking the White House bathtub because he was too heavy for it?)

Interestingly enough, however, poor approval ratings don’t seem to have dampened enthusiasm for Congressional candidates.  (The lucrative revolving door between public & private jobs, as illustrated by Eric Cantor’s recent windfall, may help . . . )

When I was a kid, “Schoolhouse Rock” taught us about the 3 branches of government via catchy songs – so maybe it’s time for an update, about the joys of serving in Congress.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Inspiration

jyb_musingsAs we get older our ideals of what we can one day become changes too.

When we are younger we imagine ourseleves as one day becoming an astronaut, firefighter, pro athlete, Phd, movie star, CEO, President and the like. 

We line our bookshelves with stories about such people and line our walls with inspirational images and quotes from our idols.

And then one day we realize we have begun to ratchet down rather than ratchet up our hopes and dreams for oursleves —and have moved on to a new ideal of one day, with luck and effort, maybe becoming merely a wise and humorous companion.

And realize it is hard to find an inspirational book or motivational poster of Jiminy Cricket.


Inspirational thought for the day

“If you can’t ‘Just Do It,’ look bored and indifferent like ‘Just Doing It’ is beneath you.”

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: My advice to young people entering the workforce

jyb_musingsMy advice to young people entering the workforce.

Don’t be intimidated. The competition is long on resume and first impression but short on practical usefulness and follow through.

If you can write and speak in complete sentences, respond to emails and phone calls within 24 hours, be courteous and appropriate, show up for work on time and don’t leave until you are supposed to and do all these things for three consecutive weeks and then keep doing them daily after that, you will be in the 98th% percentile and have a long and promising future in the work world.

Be patient with yourself –and with your colleagues. You have what it takes. Just do what is in front of you consistently and conscientiously and you’ll be fine. In fact, you will be extraordinary.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Foreign Languages

jyb_musingsWhy learning foreign languages is important. 

Just now I was emailing a friend and colleague back home who knows I am in the Netherlands and I wanted to say “Thank you very much” at the end of the email and be clever about it by saying it in Dutch. But I don’t know how to say “Thank you very much” in Dutch. Or German (which is close to Dutch). I only know how to say “You’re welcome” in German. 

So I did the only thing that made sense to me at the moment and added at the end of the email “Muchos gracios!” I explained that Spanish was the only foreign language I had ever studied and was determined to say “Thank you very much” in some foreign language since I was traveling overseas now.

Of course, after my first email I had to write back and correct my spelling and note it is “gracias” not “gracios.” (I Googled it).

I also Googled the phrase again just now and realized I was supposed to use “Muchas” not “Muchos” But I already explained in the prior email that I had to take Spanish I twice in high school and, besides, a third email correcting my hip use of a foreign language phrase would start to undermine the cleverness of the effect I was going for.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Early Intervention

jyb_musingsEarly intervention for children who may have a developmental issue is important and can be extremely helpful.

But, in my opinion, too often the teachers or counselors are too quick to pounce on a diagnosis and to “treat” something as a problem that isn’t a problem at all and will work itself out in time. 

We are all on our own individual timetables and much of childhood development can’t –and shouldn’t–be forced. Vigilence is constructive as long as it doesn’t become hyper-vigilance and over-diagnosis.

One of my favorite stories that led me to this attitude involved my son Johnny who while in Kindergarten had awful handwriting (which he got honest from his mom and me).

A meddlesome counselor spent 30 min “assessing” Johnny when he was in class and playing with toy dinosaurs. She asked Johnny a bunch of personal questions while pretending to talk to him about dinosaurs.

Johnny came home that day and told us about the conversation and said he was concerned about the counselor because she “Didn’t seem very smart” and “didn’t know much of anything about dinosaurs or history.”

Johnny’s penmanship is now only slightly better than his mom’s and mine. And that’s fine. He made all A’s last semester in college. But I bet that counselor still hasn’t learned a thing about dinosaurs or history since Johnny assessed her.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Building Blocks

Building BlocksYou know, maybe…. learning to play with building blocks is the most important activity we learn as children.

Because we continue– metaphorically speaking–to play this game our entire lives.

Everytime we experience something new or learn some new piece of information or glean some new insight about life it is like we collect a new block we can play with–to help build something with.

So, I guess we should ask ourselves each day, “What are we building today with our building blocks?” And, “Which building blocks are we choosing to build with?”


Success milemarkers for a new business.

The day you replace the two chairs in the entrance you purchased from Wal-Mart six years ago and assembled yourself with two chairs you purchased on clearance from Z Gallerie. That come pre-assembled.

Saul Kaplan: Education Rant

photo-saul“Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire” W.B. Yeats

Excuse the rant but I am outraged by the state of the U.S. education system.  We have let the pilot light go out and we are failing our youth. It is time to move beyond public policy debates and institutional rugby scrums to try new solutions. What we are doing now isn’t working and far too much of the federal stimulus investment is being spent to sustain the current system.

A report last year from the nonprofit network America’s Promise Alliance showed that 1.2 million students drop out of high school each year. Only about half of the students served by school systems in the nation’s 50 largest cities graduate from high school. The U.S. public education system, especially in the country’s urban centers, must be transformed.

Only about 40% of the U.S. adult population earns a college degree. That may have been fine in the 20th century when an industrial economy supplied good jobs to those without post-secondary education. It is not fine today when a post-secondary credential is a necessity for a good job.

Our education system was built for the 20th century.

Everyone loves to point fingers at the other players in the system as the cause of the problem.  Observing our education system today is like watching an intense rugby scrum that is moving in slow motion hoping the ball will pop out.  Finger pointing and incessant public policy debates galore.  We love to admire the problems: It’s the unions that are getting in the way.  Teachers are resisting change in the classroom.  Administrators don’t understand what is going on in the classroom.  Parents are not engaged.  Public policy makers can’t make up their minds.  If only private sector companies were more engaged.  Students are unruly, undisciplined, and disrespectful.  Everyone is blamed and nothing changes.

The simple idea of “lighting a fire” expressed in Yeat’s quote says it all for me. Teaching is an important means to an end. Creating passionate life long learners is the objective of education. Content, subjects, jobs and requirements, will all change over time. The pace of change is accelerating and the half-life for assumptions and usable knowledge is decreasing. It has become a life long challenge to stay relevant. The only thing that is sustainable is a fire inside to keep learning

The objective of education is to light a fire for learning in every single youth. When the pilot light is on, everything else is possible. For starters, lets recognize that individuals have different learning styles. One-size industrial education models are not working and must be transformed. We have the enabling technology available to us today to create and scale an education system that provides access to killer content and experiential learning opportunities tailored to individual learning styles for every student. It is time to demonstrate that we can and will change our education system. Our country’s youth is waiting.

I am excited to be part of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) community focused on real world experimentation for new education systems and solutions. In BIF’s Student Experience Lab we are bringing the voice of the student into the education innovation conversation and creating a network of innovators motivated to explore new system solutions.  Join the conversation.  The water is fine.

Lets reignite the pilot light and demonstrate that there is a better way to light a fire for learning in every youth.


John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Thoughts of the Day

jyb_musingsIf you think about it there are a lot more “Thoughts for the day” offered than “Actions for the day.” 

Probably because thoughts are easier than actions.

And you probably think I am going to propose an “Action for the day.” But I am not. I am just going to let this observation count as my “Thought for the day” –and not rock the boat.


When did teenaged kids get so together?

At high school graduation awards ceremony and some of these kids have already accomplished more than most the parents in the audience. 

And look like it! All the male award recipients look like they carry business cards and one looked like he had to leave the office this morning to pick up his academic award.

I remember when I was in high school the administration was just hoping we could all sit still long enough to get through the graduation ceremony successfully.

My biggest disappointment today is that I forgot to bring my business cards to give out. Not to parents. But to the students!


My new theory about aging.

As I close in on my 51st birthday (or 2 score years and 11, as I am calling it), I am theorizing that as humans age into the second half of life, we don’t progess from “young” to “old,” but rather develop from mammals into some form of reptile. 

In other words, we don’t get “old,” just “lizardy” and “turtle-like.”

Lauren Mayer: The Music of Science

Music & science may seem to be strange bedfellows – the only songs I could think of were Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science” from the ’80s (and if you’re not old enough to remember that era and its fabulous goofy technopop, check out Devo while you’re at it), and “I Sing The Body Electric” from Fame (from the ’70s, which is making me feel really old . . . but I digress)

Generally they would seem to be polar opposites – science is about concrete data and provable facts, where music is emotional and subjective. Sure, you can give a scientific description of sound waves, but that doesn’t explain why some pieces of music affect us so emotionally. (For example, I get goosebumps when I hear the french horn entrance toward the end of the 4th movement of Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony; I also start giggling every time I hear the intro to Spike Jones’ version of Hawaiian War Chant . . . ) Besides, trying to analyze the beauty of music reminds me of E. B. White’s comment about why analyzing humor was like dissecting a frog – “Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”

However, there is concrete scientific data on music’s value in aiding retention of information – it connects with the brain on multiple levels, which is why we teach kids the ABC song, or why anyone who ever learned the “50 Nifty” tune has no trouble remembering all 50 states in alphabetical order. (This multi-layer connection also explains “ear worms,” which is a disgustingly appropriate term for a tune that you can’t get out of your head. Often a TV theme or a commercial jingle . . . anyone old enough to remember “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is?”)

Science is getting a bad rap these days from people who deny climate change – an affliction common among right wing politicians and media pundits. Cosmos host Neil DeGrasse Tyson is doing his best to combat this willful ignorance, including his wonderful quote, “The good thing about science is that it’s true, whether or not you believe in it.” I don’t have Tyson’s scientific expertise (or a TV show), but I can do my part by using music to help make the same point. (And to tie this all together, I’ve borrowed an ear-worm-ish ’80s TV theme . . . )

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: The Smartest People I Know

I’m not talking about highest IQ-smart, most knowledge, the most deeply insightful or profoundly creative.

I am talking about useful, practical, everyday smarts that arguably is the most important kind of smart we can seek to be.

Those people. Those are the ones I am talking about.

And their intelligence is hard to define, pigeonhole or quantify.

In many cases they aren’t even described by friends as “smart” and may not think of themselves as overly bright or well educated.

It is more than street smarts, too. Although that is a big part of it.

They are the people you go to when you have an important life or work or personal problem to solve and you need help.

jyb_musingsMaybe the best test for these kind of people is this. You know when you hear someone say–even yourself— “Well, when you think about it that way, it does make sense?” I know I say that a lot.

My theory is that the kind of smart people I am trying to describe are the ones who we never hear say that. Because they are always thinking in “that way” –the seemingly odd and unconventional way about a problem that may make little logical sense but just seems to work.

Those are the smartest people I know.

And the advice I have received from them has meant everything to me. And they probably don’t even know it because I rarely tell them how smart their suggestion is. I usually just say, “Well, when you think about it that way it does make sense.”

The Recovering Politician Bookstore


The RP on The Daily Show

Sign Up For The RP's Email List!