Month: December 2014

Advice to Students on Future Careers

I read an interesting article on advising students on future careers. Read it here.

I liked this bit of advice the best: David Nordfors, CEO and Co-Founder of IIIJ advices “Think of how to make a profit on raising the value of people (ordinary people, not the superstars).” Everyone wants to focus on the superstars. I think Nodfors is right: focus on adding value to ordinary people who need it!

This tip from Art Mellor, CEO of Zero Locus is also valuable: Technical capability is necessary, but not sufficient. It is far more important to be good at framing a question to solve. Learn how (and why) to:

– extract a precise definition of what needs to be answered
– understand how the answer will allow someone to take a beneficial action
– define how success will be determined when you think you have an answer

Self-Employment Reflects the Changing Face of Work Across the World

According to Gallup, the world’s leading source of population polls, eighteen percent of all adults worldwide — or 29% of the global workforce — reported being self-employed in 2013. But rather than a positive sign of proactive entrepreneurial energy, high rates of self-employment can often signal poor economic performance. The worldwide self-employed are three times as likely as those who are employed full time for an employer to be living on less than $2 per day.

The 2014 Gallup study finds that most self-employed live in some of the poorest places in the world, where self-employment may be born more out of necessity than opportunity. One in four or more adults in Southeast Asia (28%), East Asia (28%), and sub-Saharan Africa (25%) are self-employed and make up large segments of the region’s workforce. The self-employed account for much smaller percentages of the population and workforces in the former Soviet Union (7%), European Union (6%), and Northern America (5%).

This is interesting. Although the common perception is that self-employment in the U.S. is concentrated in a few service sector industries, like real estate sales people and insurance agents, research by the Small Business Administration has shown that self-employment occurs across a wide segment of the U.S. economy. Furthermore, industries that are not commonly associated as a natural fit for self-employment, such as manufacturing, have in fact been shown to have a large proportion of self-employed individuals and home-based businesses. And an increasing number of Americans belong to what is called the contingent workforce, where they work for personnel supply or temporary employment agencies. In the United States, any person is considered self-employed for tax purposes if that person is running a business as a sole proprietorship, independent contractor, as a member of a partnership, or as a member of a limited liability company that does not elect to be treated as a corporation.

The work of self-employed workers has changed over time, as this Harvard Business Review article points out: “For the first century of its existence, the United States economy was dominated by independent workers. Most of them were farmers. Others were tradespeople, professionals, hands-on service providers, and such. Other long-established varieties of independent work have been declining, or at least not growing much. Mom & pop stores, definitely, but also some other very large categories that may not immediately spring to mind. Doctors, for example, who have been reacting to the increasing complexity of their business by grouping together or joining hospital staffs. Sole-practitioner lawyers who are getting out of a field that seems to be in long-term decline. And real estate agents, contractors, and others who are dependent on a boom-bust housing sector which has been mostly a bust in recent years. Today we see a jump in the number of musicians, management analysts, landscapers, financial advisors, fitness trainers, and maids and housekeepers.”

According to the AFL-CIO, which tracks the “contingent workforce” on a regular basis, in September 2013, there were just over 15.5 million workers in the U.S. who reported being self-employed in their main job; 46 percent of them worked in management, professional, and related occupations (7.2 million self-employed professional workers). Overall, 12 percent of the management, professional, and related U.S. workforce was self-employed in September 2013.

Self-employment has its pluses and minuses, and it continues to take new forms both in the U.S. and other nations. These self-employment developments, coupled with changes in the employed working for others’ world, point to the ever-changing face of work in America and elsewhere across the world. Self-employment is a complex issue as it morphs daily into new occupations and industries.

These are important issues for Ashtabula County as all of us work to position the county for greater economic prosperity in the future.  The key is securing future employment and self-employment opportunities for our residents that provide greater earnings and improved benefits. This is no easy task since competition for these opportunities is fierce. Workers seeking these opportunities must possess the education, work experience and skills required to compete for these job and self-employment opportunities. We must work constantly at honing the quality and competitiveness of our workforce supply to attract and create these opportunities in Ashtabula County.

2015 Northeast Ohio Economic Outlook

Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland economist Dr. Joel Elvery provided an overview of current economic conditions Northeast Ohio and a forecast for 2015 at the Greater Cleveland Partnership’s Middle-Market Forum in early December.

Key observations about the Northeast Ohio economy include:

  • Cleveland’s per capita output continued to rise in 2013 and was higher than that of Ohio, nearby metropolitan areas and the U.S. as a whole.
  • Cleveland’s per capita income was, in 2013, again above that of the U.S. and Ohio averages.
  • In both Cleveland and Ohio, household debt is down to levels not seen since 2001.
  • Unemployment declined sharply in 2014, but Cleveland’s rate is still above the nation’s.
  • Employment growth has been weaker in Cleveland than the state and nation across many industry segments.
  • Home prices rose more in 2014 than 2013 in the region but less than the state and national averages
  • Measures that adjust for population (per capita and rates) show Northeast Ohio recovering about on par with U.S.
  • Because population in the region declined from 1997 to 2012, measures that do not adjust for population show Northeast Ohio having a weaker recovery than U.S. The decline has tapered off and is now flat.

Looking ahead to 2015, Elvery said to expect:

  • U.S. GDP to grow in range of 2.6 percent to 2.9 percent.
  • U.S. unemployment rate to fall to around 5.5 percent.
  • Inflation to remain below 2 percent.
  • Federal Funds Rate to rise but remain historically low.
  • Another takeaway from the the forum is that now is a good time to invest. Interest rates should rise in the coming years and the economy is expected to continue to grow.

Is Entrepreneurship Always a Force for Good?

When discussing entrepreneurship – particularly with other entrepreneurs – there tends to be a general assumption that it is a force for good. And one that is extremely powerful – with the potential to transform and grow economies. But this may not necessarily be the case. Experts at the ‘Entrepreneurs are born, not made’ debate, hosted by Barclays discussed entrepreneurship’s powers, whether it should be encouraged and, if so, how.

“There’s an assumption that entrepreneurship is a unilateral force for good,” said Greg Davies, head of behavioural and quantitative finance at Barclays Bank. “And yes that’s true to an extent at society level where we want people to be proactive about things and take chances. But we also need to realise that on an individual level, it can be incredibly dangerous to essentially put it all out on the 17 and roll the roulette wheel.”

Read the rest of the article here.

My quick reaction to this article is that entrepreneurship has played a huge role in American business history and it will continue to do so in the future. Is it always a force for good? No. Nothing is always good. Too much of anything, including entrepreneurial expansion can be overly disruptive to economies. And too much financial, human and technological capital can be thrown into the entrepreneurial engine, drawing resources away from growing existing businesses. We do need to grow the next generation of growth companies in Ashtabula County. The entrepreneurial path will be an important one to create this next generation of growth companies. Stay tuned.

Sav(our)ing Ashtabula County

The following quote by E.B. White carried me down an interesting thought path this morning: “I awake each morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savour the world. This makes it hard to plan my day.” I experience the same struggle many days as I go about my economic development job in Ashtabula County. Perhaps you do as well.

Does Ashtabula County need saving? And what does it even mean to save Ashtabula County? My economic development gut instinct says helping businesses, jobs and prosperity grow in beneficial ways in the county is a way of saving the county. How do we do that? One way is to be a “gardener”; that is an economic gardener. I can do my part, and encourage and help others to do their part in economic gardening. But what are we trying to “save” through our gardening efforts? All businesses, jobs, and other economic assets eventually die. At best, the economic developer can tend the garden, ensuring its soil remains rich for new things to grow, replacing what dies and returns to the earth.

As I search for wisdom on economic development in Ashtabula County, I am reminded of a conversation with my Dad six years ago. Dad was full of practical wisdom that was often rooted in deeper truth. I always felt Dad had an “Indian spirit” in the sense that he saw how ordinary things have their place in the larger scheme of life. He even saw death in those terms, including his own eventual death in 2008. During the final weeks of his life, Dad had several powerful dreams, including dreams about people from his past, including his Dad and Mom and even a German Shepherd dog he had as a young boy, which he named Rin, after the original Rin Tin Tin. He said to me one morning as he shared a dream about his mother that it wasn’t a good idea to waste money and time trying to prevent the inevitable. He threw out an interesting hypothesis about life and death. He said maybe life visits us much like his mother visited him in his dream the night before, and then we awaken (or rewaken) and the dream is gone. He ended with a question and follow-on observation: “Which is more real: the dream or waking reality? Maybe they are both parts of the same thing. And maybe death and life are both parts of the same thing. I think it’s easier to accept death when we see it in these terms as opposed to imagining we go off to some heaven or hell fairy tale land.” I think Dad spent more of his 86-year life savouring the world instead of trying to save it.

As I reflect upon Dad’s wisdom in the context of saving or savouring Ashtabula County, I think the best any of us can do is to savour Ashtabula County, and do what we can to keep its soil rich for future growth by constantly replenishing its resource base. Also, I think it’s important for us to dream, learn from our dreams, and allow our dreams to grow in the county.

Harvard Business Review on Mindfulness, No Longer a Flaky Idea in Business

For at least a couple thousand years, Eastern spiritual teachers have encouraged mindfulness by their students and followers in their search for truth. Western university researchers have now made the link between mindfulness and peace, health, and well-being. Even the Cleveland Clinic has endorsed mindfulness meditation as a therapy for patient healing. Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan says we need to become a more “mindful nation.” Now Harvard Business Review is advocating the value of leading and managing in a mindful manner. From a recent Harvard Business Review blog article: “Researchers can’t seem to get enough of mindfulness. Studies have linked it to heightened creativity, improved concentration, lower stress, better working memory, and increased compassion. Now, new research also shows that it helps us overcome biases we’re not even aware we have. The study, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, suggests that mindfulness meditation can reduce implicit bias—and the negative behaviors that it causes.

Read the whole HBR story here.

Why Before What in Setting 2015 Economic and Community Development Goals for Ashtabula County

In one way or another, we set goals to guide our economic and community development work efforts. One of my favorite gurus, Jim Ware at Future of Work, says leaders and managers should ask the why” questions before the “what” questions related to our work in the coming year. Jim’s right.

Ware offers a few questions that might help us with our 2015 reflections:

  1. Why are you focused on what you are focused on?
  2. What are you most proud of that you accomplished this year?
  3. What opportunities did you let slip away?
  4. What do you want to stop doing next year?
  5. What do you want to start doing?
  6. Deep down, what do you care about? Why?

As I think about my role as CEO of Growth Partnership (GP) and the need to set 2015 goals, here are some quick answers to Ware’s questions:

Why are you focused on what you are focused on?

In part, I have an inherited agenda that needs to be carried forward because it’s important to the board and others. For the most part, GP needs a new agenda–a shared agenda with its public and private sector partners, because alone we can do little, and together we can do more.

What are you most proud of that you accomplished this year?

I am most proud of the board’s efforts to remold the organization through its determination to serve the county and its businesses and communities better in the future. I am proud of the board’s courage to brave the “road less travelled.”

What opportunities did you let slip away?

Credibility and trust are foundations to everything in life. GP’s credibility declined over the past several years; that is it’s perceived and experienced value slipped away. We are rebuilding these foundations now. I am confident if GP works in a “smart” way with its partners, we will grow more opportunities together.

What do you want to stop doing next year?

As a strategy consultant to many organizations for many years, the answer to that questions is easy: Stop doing things that don’t align with GP’s new mission and priorities. Stop working in a piecemeal way and start working in a strategic and leveraged way to whittle away at our biggest opportunities and problems.

What do you want to start doing?

I want everybody on the Ashtabula County “development team” to get on base and score runs by becoming consistent hitters (lots of bunts, singles, doubles, and even a walk or two) to get someone on base and score when we have someone on base. Yes, a home run or two would be great, but swinging for the fence is not sustainable. Ashtabula County needs a team that gets hits when they’re needed and scores runs when we have the opportunity.

Deep down, what do you care about? Why?

That’s easy. I care about people and the human spirit, and how we get the flame of the human spirit burning stronger and stronger to bring “light” to the world. I care most that we see Ashtabula County’s economic base and its communities in “living” terms; for the economy and community are living systems.

A Christmas Blessing for Ashtabula County

Christmas reminds us of what’s most important in life. When we boil it all down, we find that love is most important. With that in mind, my Christmas blessing for Ashtabula County is that the people, communities, and businesses of Ashtabula County deepen their love of life. Everyone likes giving and receiving gifts at Christmas. What’s the biggest gift each of us has and can give? It’s the gift of life imbued with love. Ashtabula County needs our love to prosper and grow stronger in the coming year. Let 2015 be a year to deepen our love affair with Ashtabula County.

Wishing everyone a Happy Holiday Season, and for those who celebrate Christmas, here’s wishing you a very Merry Christmas.

As a poet and photographer, it’s common for me to give poems and pictures as gifts. This one is about my hometown, Martins Ferry, Ohio.

childhood christmas memories
by don iannone

a part of me will forever live in martins ferry
that bombastic town clinging to the shores of the mighty ohio

and the dwindling memories of childhood remain
rolled into persistent images frequenting my mind late at night
when all resistances to reality give way
to what is etched deeply in my soul

and as another christmas approaches
i know deep inside
that never will the snow seem more beautiful
then when a group of carollers sang well past midnight
at our doorstep
barely ducking out of sight
before the bells of st. nicholas’ sleigh could be heard
assuring us the magic one more night


Want Good Survey Data? Tips from Facebook

Economic development organizations (EDOs) are notorious for their surveys; always asking lots of questions of businesses to learn what they need. My experience is that surveys are falling on deaf ears. What’s the alternative? For one, engagement!

Here is some evidence adding to my observation. According to a recent Kauffman Foundation article, response rates to traditional surveys are declining. Polls relying on calling landline phones are becoming less and less representative. And even though this type of data is great for research, it is getting harder to collect it the traditional way. On the other hand, data generated online is becoming more ubiquitous and easier to access. Most of us leave a long data trail every day in our online activities, from professional trajectories on LinkedIn, to political preference on Twitter. Yet, researchers do not yet know how to interpret these data, and it is still unclear how reliable or insightful it can actually be.To help bridge the gap between web data ubiquity and actual use in research, Facebook hosted a data science conference in August for researchers at its headquarters in Silicon Valley.

Read the Kauffman article here.

Self-Forming Teams in the Post-Job Economy

The Holidays afford us time to read things we might not otherwise.  Harold Jarche’s blog is one for me. Harold’s article on teamwork in the “post-job economy” is thought-provoking. Harold reminds us first of all that the economy is rapidly moving “beyond jobs.” I think many of us have been sensing this for some time, but we haven’t put our feeling to words.

Read about the post-job economy here for starters:

Now here is what Jarche has to say about teams and hierarchies in the “post-jobs economy”: “I have said many times that teamwork is overrated. It can be a smoke screen for office bullies to coerce fellow workers. The economic stick often hangs over the team: be a team player or lose your job, is the implication in many workplaces. One of my main concerns with teams is that people are placed on them by those holding hierarchical power and are then told to work together (or else). However, there are usually power plays internal to the team so that being a team player really means doing what the leader says. For example, I know many people who work in call centres and I have heard how their teams are often quite dysfunctional. Teamwork too often just means towing the party line.”

I love his last line: “Teamwork too often just means towing the party line.” So true in economic development in my experience where local leaders proclaim we need to get everyone on the same page and work as a team. It’s true that teamwork and a shared vision and plan are needed. But often it’s just code for “get with the power brokers’ party line!”

The point of Jarche’s article is that often teams are rooted in power hierarchies in organizations (and I would add in communities). He goes on to say that there is an alternative to hierarchy-based teams, which is the self-forming team. He says self-forming teams are based upon distributed power and not centralized power. Jarche concludes that we need to get used to the idea of distributed power in self-forming teams because that is the new work model for the future and not jobs as we’ve known them for the past 100 years! He’s right.

Bottom line: Economic development must evolve its concept of jobs, work, power, and organization. We need to learn to work within self-forming teams and give birth to self-forming work teams in businesses and industry sectors.

Maybe an idea to noodle for Ashtabula County…

Read Jarche’s self-forming teams here: