Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - October 4, 2015
Please note: These show notes may be in various stages of completion -- ranging from brainstormed notes through to well-polished monologues. Please excuse anything that may seem rough around the edges, as it may only be a first draft of a thought and not be fully representative of what was said on the air.
A 21st Century communications requirement
Give me a magic wand and I'll make every college student go through a minor in communications. But not a conventional "communications" minor -- one constructed from scratch around modern needs. They'll leave literate *and* numerate, and that will include technical, legal, and scientific literacy, as well as accounting, economic, and statistical numeracy. They'll know how to write -- not fluffy poetry and "creative" writing. They'll learn how to write an effective business e-mail, letter of complaint, 500-word opinion essay, and technical manual. If you can't pass that minor, you aren't college-educated...you just parked your butt in a classroom for a few hours a week and drank the rest.
Metaphors and mental frameworks
Most people have heard Lord Acton's dictum: Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.
I read a great context on that comment in the book "Giants of Enterprise" by Richard Tedlow: "Every day, every man or woman with power should ask not, 'Am I being corrupted by power?' but rather 'In what ways am I being corrupted by power?' [...] Power does more than corrupt. It does something more subtle and insidious. The word I choose to describe the impact of power is that it 'deranges.' [...] Corrupt people often know they are corrupt. But deranged people are denied that self-knowlege."
Even to those of us who wouldn't think that we have "power", per se, it's an enormously valuable lesson. We see the world through filters and formulas, and we're often unaware of it.
Learning to see the same things through a different filter is perhaps one of the most valuable skills to have in the modern world.
It's said that one of the signs of an agile mind is the ability to frame things in metaphors. I would propose that the most agile minds of all can see things not only in metaphors, but also through more than one metaphor (or at least, more than one filter). That is an especially valuable skill in any context related to money or other resources -- especially because the person who knowingly has something to gain in an exchange has lots of incentive to frame things in the fashion that is most valuable to him- or herself.
- Plenty of people are quite happy to manage your money on your behalf. They'll often say they're doing so on a fee-only basis -- say, for instance, 1% of assets per year. Sounds reasonable, right? 1% is a very small number. But the agile mind will re-frame that in a couple of different ways: How much is that 1% in real dollars and cents, and how does that compare to all of your other expenses? If you have a large nest egg, that "1%" could be the single biggest line item in your household budget. Or here's another way to frame it: That 1% is paid whether the portfolio grows, shrinks, or stays flat in a year. But if your portfolio grows by 1%, the difference to the manager is just 1% of that 1%. So what incentive does the manager have to make it grow? Virtually none. Their incentive is strictly to hold steady and keep taking that 1% cut year after year.
- Lots of people drink bottled water, thinking that it's superior in quality to tap water. But the price paid for that perceived quality is huge -- in West Des Moines, for instance, I pay $4.55 per thousand gallons of drinking water. So when you buy a 12-ounce bottle of water from a vending machine for $1.00, you're paying roughly $10.00 per gallon -- or $10,000 per thousand gallons. Sometimes, you just need the bottle itself, and I understand that. But if you're drinking it because you think there's a difference in "quality", can you possibly conjure up enough reasons to pay a premium price 2,200 times higher than your standard tap rate? A one-carat cubic zirconium costs about $100, versus maybe $5,000 for a one-carat diamond. That's only a gap of 50 times the price.
- The city of Omaha is reeling from a plan to move the headquarters for ConAgra from the Big "O" out to Chicago. The company says it'll save lots of money on promoting their products to the industry by being in the middle of the action in Chicago. But let's frame it in a different way: Aside from the obvious differences in cost of living between the two towns, living in a much larger city comes with a mental cost. Simply being around that many people all the time requires the individual to make lots more decisions every day, often at higher stakes and under stress. (Ever driven on the Eisenhower Expressway during rush hour? I did this past week, and the two hours it took to get out of downtown probably took two weeks off my life expectancy.) If all a company is gaining from a big-city environment is access to customers, then why not just open a sales office and leave the rest of the staff in the smaller metro? What is the cost of the mental "tax" imposed by big-city living?
I can't think of many skills that would do more to put your kids in a better position than training them to re-frame questions in more than one way. That's not to make them insubordinate or ornery, but to train them not to simply accept the context pushed by someone who has something to sell. It's a form of mental agility that applies to all walks of life and all kinds of activity. Breaking loose from the mental frameworks picked by others can make anyone better off.