“Eve of destruction, tax deduction, city inspectors, bill collectors,
Evolution, revolution, gun control, the sound of soul,
Round and round and around we go, where the world’s headed nobody knows.
Great googa mooga, can’t you hear me talkin’ to you, just a Ball of Confusion that’s what the world is today.”
– Ball of Confusion, The Temptations, 1971
The words of Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield are as relevant today as they were in 1971, when the reverberations of the violent, near-apocalyptic year of 1968 were still rumbling under our feet and through our gray matter.
And that was before we had a 24-hour news cycle and fear-mongering news was considered de rigueur. “It’s 10 p.m., do you know where your kids are smoking crack?”
Watching, listening and reading the national news can be a real downer these days, fake or real.
It’s hard to know how to feel about that. Is it that the news is worse or just that there’s more of it? A little mud on your shoe is not so bad, but when you’re slogging through it, that’s a different story.
As editor of the Fort Worth Business Press, I get to see a lot of local news and – by and large – the news locally is a lot more positive than the blaring “The End is Near!” headlines trumpeted by the national news media or fringe news purveyors (I’m talking to you, Alex Jones).
But I still have had a hard time putting my finger on the difference between what I see from Fort Worth and what is seen from Washington, D.C.
Then I heard Thomas Friedman speak and he made it a little clear.
To me, a little Friedman goes a long way. I have to slog through his books because somewhere – among all the verbiage – I find some shafts of light and insight. Say what you will about the guy, he’s diligent about what he does. He’s not one of those commentators who shows up on a program and you can predict what he’ll say. I’m talking about you, Fox and CNN commentators.
Friedman is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who writes about foreign affairs, globalization and technology for the New York Times. He’s the author of several best-selling books including The World Is Flat, which nicely synthesized our sometimes too-connected world. His new book is called Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. The title comes from a meeting Friedman had where his breakfast companion was late. That down time allowed Friedman to stop and think. He got more done untethered from all his devices than he did the rest of the day.
Since you’re all busy folk, I’ll boil Friedman’s message down for you. Relax, you’ll get a lot more done.
Waiting for his meeting to start spurred Friedman to look at how to thrive in our fast-moving, ever-changing world. Thus, the book. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve watched Friedman speak about the book and read a couple of interviews.
One example he gives involves a local company, Dallas-based AT&T. AT&T is working to empower employees with training for the new skills needed in the workplace today. These quotes are taken from a transcript of an interview with Friedman in Recode, an online magazine.
“So what they basically do, in a nutshell, is their CEO, Randall Stephenson, now begins every year with a company-wide speech, radically transparent. ‘Here’s where we’re going, folks, this is the business we’re going to be in, these are the skills you’re going to need to work at AT&T.’ Let’s say he divides those into 10 different skills now. Then they put every employee at AT&T on their own in-house LinkedIn system. ‘Kara Swisher, you have seven of the 10 skills you’re going to need to thrive in the AT&T of the future, but you’re missing three.’”
AT&T has partnered with a company called Udacity to create nano degrees for those skills and will pay for employees to develop those new skills, helping empower these workers, helping both the workers and the company.
Not a bad idea. If you don’t work for AT&T, you should probably do this sort of thing for yourself. Basically a skills self-assessment.
But the insight from Friedman that I liked was about how he can look at what’s going on in America and be so optimistic. Here’s his quote from the Recode interview:
“[T]he source of my optimism is that I go around our country – if you want to be an optimist about America today, stand on your head, because the country looks so much better from the bottom up than the top down.”
That’s sort of the way I see it. Local journalism has taken a lot of hits, but I know from what our readers say, that they’re reading us, whether they like what they read or not. I’d rather be reporting and writing about what goes on at our local technology and small business incubators any day than yelling questions at the White House press secretary and waiting for some canned answer.
So instead of watching your choice of idiot on the morning talk show, head out and have breakfast or better yet, head down to the local 1 Million Cups meeting of local entrepreneurs. You’ll feel better about the world, I can guarantee that.
Robert Francis is editor of Fort Worth Business Press