Why I Will Never Live With My Children

There was an article in Tuesday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal about “helicopter” children: children who are overly worried about their aging parents, who hover, and who take control of their parents’ affairs (to varying degrees). Or, as I see it, children who treat their parents like adolescents or perhaps even grade-school kids.

I’ve seen it in action. And I hate it. That said, I understand intervention is sometimes necessary and appropriate. Sometimes the mind is too far gone. Or the body has given out. But a child’s response to such situations isn’t helicoptering; it’s necessity.

Helicoptering isn’t a necessity; it’s a choice. Usually if not always, it’s the product of sincere concern about a parent’s physical welfare. “You might fall.” “You might leave the stove on.” Etc. Etc. Implicit in many of the comments is this question: What might happen if you’re left to your own devices? Continue reading

What Is It About Kids?

It’s not uncommon for people in the area to ask me why we moved to Carmel (Indianapolis). Especially when they learn we had lived in Colorado. Most people think Colorado is a great place to live. And it is. It’s then I tell them we moved here because of you, Vera. I add that I never thought we’d be trailing grandparents but that, despite your small statute (you’re only 2-3/4 years old), it turned out you had tremendous power. Enough power to cause me to move 1,100 miles.

Your parents came to pick you up at our house Sunday upon their return from a European vacation. You had been staying with us for nine days. It was wonderful having you here. It was so wonderful that when it came time to leave, I could have cried. (I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that. It’s kind of sappy I suppose.)

Children have that effect on some of us. I’m not sure why.

Perhaps it’s because you’re a free comedy show. You make me laugh. When I mentioned to you that you were funny, you replied, “Yes, I’m funny.” But I doubt you understand. Really. I doubt you appreciate just how precious it is having someone in your life who makes you laugh. Who brings a smile to your face just by being. Who makes your heart dance.

Of course, it’s more than that. It has to be. It’s the love, too. The unconditionality of it. The purity.

You actually don’t know much about me. What I’ve done in my life. How much stuff or money I have. You can’t judge me on any basis other than whether I treat you well. Whether I love you. Whether you want to be with me.

And the same goes for me. You’re not old enough to have done anything other than to play and live. You’ve earned no degrees or medals. Landed no prestigious job. Earned nothing. You just are.

And so we play. You test us, and we provide some parameters (lovingly, of course). Self-discipline is part of living well. It’s fun to watch you grow up and learn how to live well.

Curiosity is key, too. It’s fun to watch yours in action and to nurture it. It’s gratifying to help you discover new things. To experience new things. It’s exhilarating to witness your enthusiasm. The wonder.

You remind me that curiosity, discovery, and wonder are not the sole province of small children. You make me want to spend more of my time following my curiosity and discovering new things.

That’s the beauty of relationships with small children: it’s mutual. Each can learn from the other.

I’m glad you stayed with us while your parents were away. It gave us the chance to become even closer. The hugs are firmer. The kisses more frequent. The smiles more revealing.

I look forward to helping you discover new things in the world. And to being reminded by you to do the same in my life.

Everything is new and exciting in your life. Thanks for sharing your excitement and innocence. Thank you for being you.

Certain Lessons Are Hard to Learn

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a story about retirees of General Electric who have lost a sizable chunk of their retirement savings. Over the past 12 months GE has lost $140 billion in market value. It was a blue chip stock that most people thought was safe. They were wrong.

It’s happened before — major losses incurred by employees and retirees stemming from their decision to hold all or most of their personal savings in their company’s stock. Enron, Valiant, GM, Lehman, and Bear Stearns were mentioned in the WSJ article. But the list is much longer than that.

On the one hand, it’s easy to see how it happens. Confidence in one’s company builds up over a career. Loyalty. You become part of the family. It’s hard to be objective about the risks you’re taking. Why sell the stock that has treated you so well over the years?

On the other hand, there is the matter of history. And history tells us why we should sell. It highlights the risks of concentrated stock portfolios. And the benefits of diversification. Yet history is often ignored.

And so it’s happened again. As a result, some retirees with depleted retirement savings are returning to the workforce. Lives are being turned upside down.

You hate to see it happen. But it’s not that the risks were kept secret. To the contrary, they were in plain sight.

It makes me wonder what risks I might be taking that are in plain sight. What lessons from history am I ignoring?

There’s probably something.

Wanting to Believe in Heartfelt and Authentic

Last week an engine on a Southwest Airlines’ flight threw off a blade, resulting in serious damage to the engine casing and fuselage of the plan. A window was blown out, and one of the passengers lost her life, while seven others sustained injuries. For the next 20 minutes, until the plane was able to land safety in Philadelphia, over 100 passengers lived in fear that the plane would either fall from the sky or crash on the runway. Fortunately, the pilot pulled off a safe landing.

Passengers reported that, within a short time, Southwest had sent them a $1,000 voucher for future travel and a $5,000 check. My initial reaction was that Southwest was smart: treat people well and they’re less likely to sue you. But when Southwest was approached by the media to confirm the story about the payments that passengers had relayed, here is what the airlines said:

Ours is a company and culture built on relationships. Many of the Customers on that flight have flown with us before. We can confirm the communication and gesture are authentic and heartfelt.

So was it? Was it authentic and heartfelt? Continue reading

The Protestations of a Man Who Seems to be Concerned His Lawyer Will Turn on Him

Mr. Twitterfingers is busy this morning.

The thing about our president is that you can always tell what he’s thinking. And today’s he’s laying the groundwork to contend Mr. Cohen is lying if and when Cohen ever implicates Mr. Trump in wrongdoing.

I have no idea if Mr. Trump committed any crimes. That said, I’ve never seen anyone make himself look so guilty.

I sure hope your generation has more sense than mine, Vera. And is never tempted to elect a man such as this to the highest office in the land.

(P.S. Here’s the NYT’s story that seems to have set the pres off this morning.)

Is Your Connectivity Making Your Life Better?

A memo written by Facebook VP Andrew “Boz” Bosworth in the summer of 2016 contained the following controversial passage:

“[Connecting people] can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.

And still we connect people.

The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good.”

Continue reading

Daniels Is Proving Just How Bad Colleges (and People) Are at Controlling Costs

Mitch Daniels took over the presidency of Purdue University in 2013. They have yet to have a tuition increase on his watch. That, quite frankly, is remarkable in the world of higher ed and, perhaps, even unimaginable in a world in which annual tuition increases are a given. For more details, I refer you to this Inside Higher Ed story.

I’m particularly fond of the Daniels story because he’s proving me right. And everyone likes to be proved right.

Since becoming intimately familiar with the world of higher ed, when preparing for and then occupying the presidency of a college, I’ve contended that annual increases in the cost of a college education were not inevitable, as many claim, but were, in part, the product of gross mismanagement, namely, the pathetic inability of college trustees, administrators, and faculty to control their costs. Stated differently, higher ed is smothering in waste, inefficiencies, and extravagant spending.

They get away with it because students and their parents are willing to pay the ever-rising prices, in tuition, fees, and room and board, and are willing to go into debt to finance these purchases. Moreover, thanks in part to the cartel called the accreditation system, the competition isn’t there to constrain price increases, as it is in many other industries. But that doesn’t make it right or without consequences.

One of the consequences is student-loan debt, which is now in the neighborhood of $4 trillion. Not that most college trustees, administrators, and faculty care. They don’t. If they did, Daniels would have more company in his campaign against out-of-control spending. And Purdue wouldn’t be alone in holding the line on tuition increases for seven straight years.

Colleges and universities mismanage resources on so many levels. But, of course, they’re not alone. Their bad habits are shared by other nonprofits and governmental agencies — organizations that are not accountable to investors. But it’s not that all for-profit organizations excel in this regard. They don’t. Many of them do a poor job of controlling expenses, too. But, overall, they do a far superior job than their nonprofit relatives.

It will be harder for other colleges and universities to peddle their excuses now that Daniels and Purdue have shined the spotlight on them. Yet I don’t expect much to change for most institutions. They’ll continue to increase prices every year.

There’s only one thing that will bring about change, and that’s competition and consumer awareness. If and when students stop enrolling because there are better values to be had elsewhere, then and only then will boards of trustees hire administrators with the skills and guts to act in the best interests of the students.

But there’s a bigger lesson to be learned here, Vera, for what we see in the world of higher ed and organizations generally, we also see play out in the world of household finances. Continue reading

What Would a Great Country Look Like?

Part of my problem (and I have come to the conclusion, belatedly, that it is a problem) is that I think about how things could be, whether the “things” are a firm, company, city, or country. I’m not a particularly imaginative person, but when it comes to organizations and social structures, my mind is imaginative (beyond what’s good for me). And my level of contentment with the status quo is low.

It’s a problem, I’ve come to believe, because it leads nowhere except to frustration and disappointment. On a national scale, the country I envision cannot possibly come about given humans’ desires and traits. This focus on the could leads to disappointment on a micro scale, too — that is, with respect to individual firms, companies, and other organizations (such as colleges) — because of the ironclad grip of inertia and status quo. The could simply cannot garner critical support. In other words, I’m out of step and always will be. I get it. Finally.

That said, Vera, I thought I might share with you a glimpse of what a great country looks like in my mind. It’s an appropriate time, I suppose, because we have a president who says he’s making America “great again.” Yet it’s clear to me that his concept of greatness is vastly different from mine. But my intent is not to debate who’s right or wrong. Each person can decide for him or herself.

In any case, here’s what our country would look like if we decided to make it great as guided by my imagination — my hopes and dreams and the public policies I would like to see implemented: Continue reading