Category Archives: Books

Staying Hungry with Becky Blanton

becky-blanton-ted-main

Becky Blanton Speaking at TED

Writing is hard. Among all the things I attempt to do well, with varying degrees of success, I find writing to be the most challenging. I really admire people who do it well, consistently and with passion.

Becky Blanton is one of those people. She was also a homeless person. Still is by definition of the Federal Government. Becky Blanton, through her writing and her lifestyle choices, raises some interesting questions about how we “see” people. Literally.

I discovered Blanton’s story at TED, a non-profit organization that brings together great minds from the fields of Technology, Entertainment and Design and challenges them to deliver the “talk of their lives”. The results are funny, shocking, tragic, revealing, entertaining and always inspirational. Blanton’s talk is about the year she spent living out of her van with the Rottweiler and her cat. What began as a great American road trip adventure ended in frustration, homelessness and depression. As Blanton states in her talk, she was amazed at how quickly she went from being a talented, hard working journalist to an invisible woman.

Becky Blanton: The Year I Was Homeless

What I found especially compelling about Blanton’s experience was her assertion that society equates living in a permanent structure with having value as a person. Think about it. Someone living in  a rundown little house on the edge of town is, by American standards, “better off” than someone living in clean, well maintained vehicle. My boyfriend’s parents love to regale us with stories of a couple they know who decided to live in their RV and travel the country. Breakdowns in the desert and noxious plumbing problems play out like another painful installment of National Lampoon’s “Vacation”. But at least for them it’s a lifestyle choice.

Recent unemployment statistics and housing foreclosures, however, are no laughing matter. The number of homeless in New York has risen 45% since 2002. Apparently one of Mayor Bloomberg’s solutions is to charge the working homeless who live in public shelters rent. In one case, a single mother making $8.40 an hour as a cashier at Sbarro was charged $360 in rent for her space at the shelter. Here’s what sticks out for me…

1) How the hell do businesses get away with paying someone $8.40 an hour? Oh, well it is above the Federally mandated minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. (Meanwhile members of Congress has awarded themselves 31,600 in pay raises over the last nine years.) In fact, 44% of Congress are millionaires.

2) How is this woman supposed to get herself out of the shelter and into a home of her own? I have no idea how anyone survives in New York on less than 60,000 a year.

3) Bloomberg just spent 100 million of his own money in his mayoral campaign. So, basically a multi-billionaire has decided it makes good sense to charge a homeless woman rent for her shelter. Mighty white of you, Mr. Bloomberg.

In a country as wealthy and resourceful as ours, there shouldn’t be any “working homeless”. We can do better than this. We can change this. Change starts with fresh perspective and Becky Blanton has some great ideas on how to change yours…check out her blog and maybe even find a place to feed the homeless (some of who may be working) this Thanksgiving.

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Elinor Who?

Elinor Ostrom, 2009 Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics

Elinor Ostrom, 2009 Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics

Elinor Ostrom is the first woman to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences which she shares with Oliver E. Williamson.

I listened to a brief interview with Mrs. Ostrom on NPR in which she stated that in high school she took algebra and geometry but was denied the opportunity to take trigonometry because of her sex.

Now, I might not see that as such a golden opportunity given that I failed algebra, twice. In all seriousness, however, imagine how many bright young women were steered away from potentially brilliant careers in economics and science.

Elinor Ostrom was not to be deterred. She graduated with a BA from UCLA and then used a position in the personnel office as a spring board to enter the graduate program in public administration “at a time when women didn’t go to graduate school”. She met her future husband, Vincent Ostrom, at UCLA and the two remain together today. In fact, before Elinor’s Nobel win the couple were best known for founding the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at the University of Indiana, where they both teach, in 1973. The Workshop brings together students and scholars from disciplines as varied as business, anthropology and political science to conduct research in a supportive cross-disciplinary environment. The goal, “to promote the interdisciplinary study of institutions, incentives, and behavior as they relate to policy-relevant applications.”

The philosophy behind the Workshop is that “from the beginning, the Workshop’s founders, Elinor and Vincent Ostrom, have believed that ideas and theories must be considered through the lens of experience—that the critical connection is between ideas and what gets done.

This practical approach to solving big, big problems lies at the core of Ostrom’s ground breaking work \”Governing the Commons\” for which she won the Nobel Prize. It’s all about finding ways to better manage our resources as a community for the betterment of mankind.

Ivanka Trump may offer valuable lessons for young, ambitious business women and she’s certainly a style maven. And to be fair, she also has plenty of time to contribute much more than that. Elinor Ostrom went against conventional wisdom and blazed a trail for women. She might just have given us a path to change the world. What the hell, read both books!

Governing the Commons, the Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action

The Trump Card, Playing to Win in Work and Life

Ivanka’s Trump Card

Ivanka Trump, 27 year old Executive Vice President of Development and Acquisitions, Trump Organization

Ivanka Trump, 27 year old Executive Vice President of Development and Acquisitions, Trump Organization

“Whatever it is you’re looking to do or make or sell, you build your business on the assumption that you can do it better, smarter, and more efficiently than the competition. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ivanka-trump/going-it-alone-an-excerpt_b_319579.html

Let me begin with the admission that I have not read Ivanka Trump\’s new book, “Trump Card” recently published by Touchstone Books/Simon and Schuster. I chanced upon an excerpt from the book on the Huffington Post website soon after listening to an interview with Elinor Ostrom, 2009 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics on NPR.

I was struck by how different these two successful women are in the circumstances of their upbringing and how that has effected their contributions, (or in Ivanka’s case might effect future contributions) to society.

I read a few more online articles on Ivanka Trump and by consensus she’s an accomplished, hard working and savvy businesswoman in her own right. I found an article on MSN.com touting her level headed handling of her celebrity and lack of a sense of entitlement. Psychotherapist and rich kid himself, Richard Clark had this to say about wealthy children, “The moment that a child begins to believe that they deserve their wealth is the moment where things will begin to go downhill. . . . The unhealthy, unproductive progeny of the wealthy are the ones who begin to believe their own press.”

By all accounts Ivanka hasn’t fallen into that trap. She’s the first to admit that she’s a child of great privilege, born with opportunities others were not. Still, she prefaces her book excerpt with the affirmation,

“We’ve all been dealt a winning hand and it is up to each of us to play it right and smart.’ This is the philosophy with which I operate in my day to day, and I hope that every reader walks away from my book with the feeling that life is a series of roads to success.”

While I applaud Ivanka’s desire to establish her own identity and means of success, (Paris Hilton was raised in similar circumstances and she’s a cautionary tabloid tale) we’re not all dealt such a winning hand. In a sense, I think, while the philosophy behind the book is well intentioned, it’s also incognizant. The fact is, there are many kids born with the same innate potential as Ms. Trump, intelligence, desire, talent, curiosity but for whatever reason are denied the tools with which to cultivate those innate gifts.

Malcolm Gladwell studies this conundrum at length in his recent book \”Outliers\” published by Little, Brown. Outliers is a term Gladwell uses to describe the uber successful members of our society. Bill Gates is the most obvious example but there are many others. He refutes the long held, cultural belief that successful people are just that much smarter, more talented, etc. On the contrary, he provides thoughtful and compelling evidence that success depends on a myriad of variables not the least of which is, who your parents are. Success is a product not only of the innate gifts with which one is born but also, and perhaps more so, of “history, community, opportunity and legacy”. All of which Ms. Trump has been gifted in spades.

So, is it really that special that Ivanka Trump is an author and successful executive (at her Father’s firm) with her own jewelry business? What can we really learn from her rise to success? Quite honestly, with all the advantages of being Ivanka Trump and a degree from Wharton School of Business shouldn’t she be expected to “do it better, smarter, and more efficiently than the competition”? If she couldn’t, who could?