Public Policy

Through a Tunnel, Darkly

Finally, through the gloom of our economic circumstances we can see a beacon. Thing is, it’s attached to an oncoming locomotive called the China Express.

The People’s Republic has left behind Japan, Germany, the UK, France and Italy. Already the world’s biggest exporter and energy consumer, it has its sights on soon overcoming longtime number one America.

But outside of bragging rights, why should we care? Why get our delicates in a twist? Nationality matters far less today than skill sets. Whatever your citizenry you can prosper — if you stay ahead of the train. (Indeed, some argue that countries are passé anyway. It’s the key global cities that matter:

Determination to avoid irrelevance propels us to adopt new gadgets and adapt to new lifestyles. That’s why we’re all learning to communicate through social media, right? We were all going about our business just fine before its advent. And now you hardly engage the world without it.

Social media is increasingly where the jobs are — for instance in tourism, the world’s largest industry by some measures:

No profession has changed more than journalism. Some newbies despair of entering a field in such economic upheaval ( while institutions like Columbia University scramble to keep up by offering a new degree in journalism combined with computer science.

Some things will stay the same, though – change for change’s sake be damned. You can’t afford to lose your authenticity as you continually refresh and refashion your skills. Your character is still and ever will be your greatest asset. That’s what customers, like friends, truly value. Don’t lose sight of that, for instance by focusing more on what you aspire to do than what you can realistically provide today. And then deliver.

Necessarily Blind, Not Deaf

If history and our own lives teach us anything it’s that our species is remarkably inept at doing the things we KNOW we should do that involve short-term pain for long-term gain: dieting, quitting smoking, reducing carbon emissions, saving money. Individuals, families … entire countries can drown in debt, for instance, and go down the tubes because of a refusal to make this short term/long term tradeoff.

And then, shades of Don Rumsfeld, there are all the unknown pitfalls lying in wait because we don’t see what’s coming. Consider the plight of companies tripped up by their own success. Dominant players of the past such Digital Equipment Corp., General Motors, Sony, and virtually every newspaper company sat on their leads and didn’t innovate because they felt confident their successful business models that would carry forward into the future.

Lesson: Technology is disruptive, and it’s paradoxically necessary to depart from successful business plan before you’re left behind. Nimble transitions are necessary, like a clothing retailer responding to fashion changes. The saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has become “Break it before your competition does.”

Even if we don’t know exactly what changes are in store, we should know that there WILL be changes – and we should be prepared to adapt (quickly) to survive. For individuals, continual, life-long education is a must. For companies, finding, listening to, and learning from customers through social media are key. We can’t see the future, but we can keep our ear to the ground.

The Unfortunates

There was a great photo in yesterday’s New York Times of Fabrice P. Tourre, the Goldman Sachs bond trader who helped devise the mortgage instruments his bank sold to investors – and then shorted, thus piling up enormous profits as the country plunged into financial chaos and massive loss.

Monsieur Tourre, who hails from France and likes to call himself “Fabulous Fab,” is looking over his shoulder at a non-too-sympathetic mob of Bastille-stormers while seated before a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating the role of investment banks in the financial crisis, with a particular focus on Goldman’s mortgage machinations. The S.E.C. also accuses the firm and Tourre himself of fraud for selling an investment package created with an outside hedge fund, which then made billions by betting against the success of the booby-trapped vehicle.

It won’t help Goldman’s case — whether legal or in the court of public opinion — that private memos between its executives describe at least some the deals they were selling to unwitting investors as “shitty.”

When Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) asked about the email’s fragrant (and, as it turned out, accurate) choice of words, Goldman CFO David Viniar said, “I think that’s very unfortunate to have on email.”

Unfortunate? … Snickers rose from the crowd who thought perhaps they were witnessing a historic “let them eat merde” moment of tone-deaf response. But aside from word choice, do the various Goldman executives who testified for 11 hours feel any remorse, or even responsibility for the financial meltdown or exacerbating its effects? No, not at all. “I don’t have any regrets about doing things that I think were improper,” said former Goldman mortgage chief Dan Sparks, who did allow that his bank had “made some poor decisions in hindsight.”

Sen, John McCain (R-AZ) said that he did not know if the world’s largest and most profitable investment bank did anything illegal but there was “no doubt” the firm behaved unethically. It remains to be seen if that judgment hurts the bank, which ironically tells its employees they should do nothing that would embarrass the firm if printed on the front page of a business newspaper.

However you feel about the matter at hand, at least one objective lesson is clear from a communications standpoint – be very careful what you say in emails. They live on past your delete button — and the really juicy ones, the ones that make you look foolish or dishonest, are bound to make it into business publications. … Maybe even Senate hearings. Rocks! — National Public Radio’s website — just won the Peabody award for distinguished broadcast journalism.

Not what you’d expect from a website. But then, isn’t just any website, just as its parent isn’t just any radio network. Both give customers what they want and need, how and when they want it. Classic, yet current in every way. offers news, music, concerts, NPR shows, interviews, widgets on your desktop, features about culture, and more. Just no commercials.  The Peabody folks praised the “topically boundless” nature of the site: “A whole lot of things considered, from ‘South Park’ to North Korea, make this one of the great one-stop websites.”

“This award reflects more than the appeal and usefulness of NPR’s website,” writes Matthew Lasar in Ars Technica (4/2/10). “It’s recognition that NPR represents one of broadcast radio’s few success stories over the last decade.”

NPR has avoided the bankruptcy fate of thousands of stations struggling to stay relevant in the Internet age, and in fact is growing. Due in part to interest in the 2008 election, it now boasts a weekly audience of 27.5 million, an increase of 7%. According to Ars Techica, more than 900 FM radio stations are either NPR affiliates or run NPR programming.

NPR stays current by such moves as developing the Public Radio Player for the iPhone – which 2.5 million subscribers use to select the shows they want to listen to (and when) at hundreds of public radio stations. Pretty nifty.

There’s also a mobile ( and a news app for Google’s new Android. Last week, NPR debuted a way for other media services to post content to NPR as well as receive it. Most recently: content and tools for the iPad.

What a great website, company, and service to the nation and our intensely interesting, and interested, world. Tune in today!