How will American tourism affect Cuba?

Now that America is back in bed with Cuba, it’s a good time to reflect on my trip there earlier this year and just how 100 flights a days from the U.S. will affect this interesting little country just south of Florida.


After more than 20 years of crippling poverty and over 60 years of exclusion for the United States, Cuba and the U.S. have reopened diplomatic relations. To understand how Cuba came to be and just why it’s relationship with the United States crumbled in the 1950’s*, it’s important to understand a little about Cuba’s history. In short, Cuba has long been controlled by various countries throughout the last six hundred years**. Spanish conquistadors were the first to enter Cuba, enslaving much of the indigenous population and killing off the rest. Following the Spanish American War, Cuba was declared an independent republic in 1899. American influence took over as a series of revolutions within the country saw power chop and change over the next fifty years.

In the 1950s, Cuba was seized by Fidel Castro along with his brother Raul and Che Guevara. Fidel wasn’t a fan of America and proceeded to buddy up with Russia. The missile crisis occured amongst a number of other politically divisive events. For a full historically accurate summary of this period, listen to Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire. Eventually, America cut off all diplomatic ties with communist Cuba.

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia pulled support from Cuba, plunging Cuba into a period of extended economic austerity aptly named “The Special Period.” Fast forward twenty years, and there I was on a plane to Havana.

Starting in September, over 100 commerical flights a day will head directly to Cuba from a number of locations in the U.S. This is a big deal. Though the U.S. has already loosened laws on how Americans can travel to Cuba, namely through education visas and guided tours, the changes this year will represent the first real opportunity for Americans to explore Cuba freely without having to dodge passport stamps or spend a night in a weird hostel in Panama.

The question on everyones lips is how will a sudden influx of Uncle Sam affect the fragile economy of a still-very-much communist Cuba. The tourism dollars will help, but it’s not like there hasn’t been any tourism in Cuba. There’s hundreds of flights a day in and out of Havana airport from the U.K., Europe, and South America. Cuba has plenty of tourism already. The issue isn’t revenue, or economic stimulus in the form of tourism.

Cuba’s economic problems stem from two key issues that, regardless of American influence, will continue to see Cuba experience third world poverty only miles away from the biggest economy in the world.

Issue #1 – Earning Inequality

Cuba’s employment opportunities are divided up in to two distinct industries: those who work for the government – which in a communist country includes jobs like builders, nurses, teachers and the like; and those who work in tourism – such as taxi drivers, people who rent their homes and tour guides. Though there’s plenty of work in Cuba (apparently they have 0% unemployment), the earning potential is night and day between these two industries. Cuba is unique in that it has two functioning currencies: the Cuban Peso and the Cuban Convertible. The Peso is an inflated currency that the locals use. The Convertible is pinned to the U.S. dollar and is the currency that tourists use. Those who work in tourism are paid in Cuban Convertibles. The exchange rate between the two currencies is about 25 Pesos = 1 Convertible

To highlight why this is such a huge issue, let’s compare the lives of two Cubans; one that works for the government and the other that works in tourism; and how their line of work affects their quality of life in Cuba:

  1. Works for the government – our first worker is a skilled builder who works on restoring old buildings in Havana and is paid 375 Pesos a month, or about 15 Convertibles. That’s right, $15 USD a month. This is pretty standard.
  2. Works in tourism – Our second Cuban has a small home she rents Airbnb style to tourists. Her home has been passed down through her family for generations. She is paid 25 Convertibles A NIGHT.

Assuming our second Cuban friend rents out her room to sunburnt Germans 25 times a month, she is making a whopping 42 times what our first Cuban friend made working for the government.

Those who work in tourism make a shitload more than their counterparts who work for the government. If anything, American tourism will further inflate this disparity between these two industries.

Issue #2 – Lack of Competition

Since we’re Making America Great Again, let’s highlight how we were made great the first time. America’s economic policy throughout the industrial revolution lended itself to rapid growth. Build more, build faster, build better. Companies like Coca-Cola would never be the international conglomerates they are today without Pepsi, Apple wouldn’t have built better products if it didn’t have Microsoft to compete with as a benchmark. Competition is key. It’s what drives improvement in products and services. If what you offer isn’t as good as the competition, then you won’t be around long.

The issue with Cuba, and communism in general, is that there’s no competition. There’s one government owned entity for each industry that produces one product. There’s no incentive for R&D, so nothing gets better.

The same argument can be made for the government. Since there’s no political competition, there’s no incentive for progressive policy or investment into things that the public care about most.

Unfortunately, American reintroduction doesn’t really mean this will change. It’s possible that down the road, Raul Castro (who took over from Fidel in 2009***) will slowly start to move Cuba towards a free market.

Conclusion

America’s return to Cuba will certainly have some positive effects. But it’s hard to see why more white people in flip flops will change Cuba in any meaningful way. Raul Castro is known to be far more open to reforming Cuba for the 21st century, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.


*Possibly the 1960’s. I’m writing this on a plane and can’t fact check.
**Possibly five hundred years. Same reason.
***Or thereabouts. ^.

4 Ways To Be More Personal At Work – Without Being Unprofessional.

As much as I love working in business, many of the norms associated with business life are painfully annoying. Suits. Powerpoint presentations. Signing emails with best. Shoes.

I don’t play into it. I’m an informal person; the same person wherever I go. I treat people I barely know as mate, speaking openly with friends and clients alike. Personal stories to start a conference call? Always. Hugs at work? You betcha. They go down a treat.

When all is said and done, we’re working with people. People who are also hungover after heading out for a couple quiet ones the night before. People who share similar passions like Emma Watson and a good caesar salad. We’re not machines. At least not yet.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have given us unprecedented access into our colleagues personal lives. We’re only a few clicks away from seeing what a someone likes or how they spend their time. Take a cheeky look at what you’re colleagues have been up to and use that to cut through the monotony of business.

Done properly, an informal approach to business relationships is great for building stronger partnerships with colleagues and clients, fostering a more enjoyable team culture, and helping to achieve more where formality won’t. Done poorly, informal behavior in the workplace is a fast track to adding looking for my next challenge as your LinkedIn headline.

There’s a fine line between informal interactions in the workplace and getting that call from HR. Here are my hot tips, proudly brought to you by my own trial (and frequent) error:

  1. Personal stories are great, within reason.

    Starting your meeting with a story about that one time you {outcome} with {accomplice} in {country} for wearing {outfit} is fine. Most people will have had a similar experience. A good story will make you relatable. Be sure it’sactually funny, legal, and respectful.

  2. Hugs are great, but broach the idea first. 

    The goal is to build relationships, not earn a restraining order. Most people like hugs, but not everyone. A personalized handshake is an excellent alternative. Here’s a video to get you started (please, please watch this video).

  3. Be the VP of Staff Morale.

    Be the person who greets new staff and new clients into your business. Welcome emails don’t count. In fact, don’t send a welcome email. Do drinks. Do Tipsy Bowling. Play Settlers of Catan. Shape the culture you’ll enjoy. Make people feel comfortable to express themselves in the workplace.

  4. Swearing is okay. Used sparingly, and never first.

    Despite what seems common sense, there is a place for cussing in the work place. A recent study highlights that people who swear are more trustworthy and reliable. We all know how good it feels to drop the F-bomb from time to time. Never be the first to swear. Let whoever goes first test the water. If they go down in flames, adjust from there.

There are more glaringly obvious things to avoid that I’m sure most of you can surmise on your own. Stick to the basics, and challenge situations that are too formal by offering spurts of personal inspiration. People that enjoy their time together naturally work better together. Cut the shit, cut the formality, and start interacting with people like you know you can.

Best,
Tom

That time I was interviewed* by Esquire Magazine

Have you ever read an Esquire magazine feature interview? They always read a little like this. “He glides into the bar. A black jacket falls from his shoulders like the waters of Niagra Falls. He shuffles in his seat. Uncomfortable. There’s wonder in his eye. Is he keeping the world’s secrets to himself?”

No. He’s not. He’s an actor who doesn’t have a fucking clue about what’s going on in the world. But the interview makes you feel that way. Surely if Esquire were to interview anyone, the end result would be the same. So, to test out my theory I contacted Esquire to interview me. Their responses were all really positive.

“Who are you?”… “How did you get my home number?”… “Was that you outside our office again?”

With Esquire busy trying to find a time to fit me in. I couldn’t wait. I wanted the world to see how mysterious and intriguing I was. So, I took matters into my own hands.


Tom Davies on his six years in America, and why he’s just getting started.

Our latest cover star is more Hugh Jackman than Steve Irwin, but hey, that’s alright with us.

Tom wears a suit his parents bought him for his birthday last year.
For the last few months at Esquire, we’ve had one burning question on our lips. Well, two questions. How the hell do we stay logged into both our work and personal emails at the same time, and – who is the real Tom Davies? We hired a guy to solve question one, and sat down with the man himself to tackle question two.

We met at a dive bar in downtown San Francisco. It was the kind of bar that is too small for a pool table but has one anyway. The lighting was like something you’d expect at a 1920’s Speakeasy. Hell, this might even be one. He wore a pair of tapered jeans with white Havaianas and a simple t-shirt. Straight from the beaches of Sydney, I’d have guessed. You get the impression that if we hadn’t scheduled this interview, he’d have been here anyway.

His bright smile and Australian accent lit up the room immediately. He’s the loudest in the room, right where he wants to be. He hands me a Tecate to go with the one I’d already ordered. Something tells me we’ll have a few more before we’re done. He sits cross-legged opposite from me, staring me down with his green, wait, no, hazel eyes. He’s reading me. Not cynically. Inquisitively. He breaks the silence.

“G’day mate.” I reach for a handshake, but he goes in for a hug. Not just a ‘Nice to meet you hug’ but a ‘You make me feel like home’ kind of hug. We’re already mates. “Let’s get this started. I’ve got a couple errands to run later and I hate being late.”

It’s true. He’s always on time. “When I was younger, I played all my sport in the surrounding cities.” He’s an athlete, you can tell. His broad shoulders are part design, part hard work, and he looks like he could run a marathon tomorrow. “If training finished early, my parents would be late. The coach hated having to wait with me until they arrived, so I developed this strong value for being on time.”

He continues to chatter on about his parents. How they would drive him to and from Canberra, Australia’s capital city, an hour and a half from their hometown. All for his dream of becoming a professional soccer player. He whips out his iPhone and begins swiping through photos of the Davies family. “That’s my Dad, Floyd. I got my nose from him. They say that if we were to follow our noses, we’d go in circles. There’s Mum. She was my teacher and was always so full of energy and excited to teach.” He continues on to point out his siblings. His brother, Jack, lives in England. His sister, Claerwen, is a nursing student in Australia.

The waitress lowered two Tecates onto our table. Tom looked up and caught her eye. With a cheeky smile and a “Thanks, mate”, she walked away. He’s been in the United States for six years, his accent as strong as the day he left. “I need it. I’d never get girls without it.” He says it with a smile. I can’t read him. We move on.

I decided to press him on current affairs. “I’m not sure where it came from, my interest in human rights. It seems to have popped up a few years ago and is something I’m conscious of every day.” He doesn’t just talk the talk. Tom spent two years working for Not For Sale, an NGO supporting victims of human trafficking. “There was a moment when I realized, ‘Wait a second. Why shouldn’t we have marriage equality? Or a greater willingness to open borders to migrants and refugees in Australia? How is that fair?'”

Tom wears the same suit from the picture above.
I want to go deeper. And we do. “What are my dreams?” He feeds back to me. “I want to live a life full of great stories. Whenever I’m faced with a tough decision, I’ll ask myself ‘what will make the best story?’ and go with that. I adopted that from my Dad, and it serves me well every day. My parents worked hard to take us overseas as kids. We travelled throughout North America, Europe and Africa. It left a lasting impression on me. I want to build a life that lets me do the same for my family.”

Tom’s journey that led him to this barstool from Australia is certainly one of those great stories. Leaving Australia before finishing high school, Tom took up a soccer scholarship in Kentucky (you read that right, Kentucky). After winning a national championship, he moved to San Francisco. “I loved Kentucky. But I was living in a small university town and I wanted to see more of America. One day my friend Chris Williams called me up and said ‘Tommy, you want to go to California? Say the word and I’ll sort it out.’ I told him to look into it for me and within minutes calls me back ‘Mate, you’re all set’. So, I moved to San Francisco.”

It seems that Tom and I have far more in common that I had first imagined. He, too, is a writer with a steady following online at a blog he built himself, aptly named Tom’s Blogs. “I’ve been writing on and off for the last few years.” His eyes brighten and he sits forward in his chair. “I once wrote an Esquire magazine interview of myself. It was what really launched all of my success.” How creative.

He finishes another Tecate, like its water. Compared to Australian beer, it probably is. There’s more to him. I can tell. And I think he wants to tell me.

“Do you believe in God?” Before I can answer, he goes on. “Religion fascinates me. I love what it means to different people.” I did my homework before arriving today, and religion is a common theme in the family. Tom’s grandparents were missionaries in Tanzania, where his Mum was born. His sister, Claerwen, has been involved in the Anglican church for many years. “I consider myself a humanist. I love people. I love how we interact. Relationships with friends and family are important to me.”

esquire 4-01

It seems odd that someone so close to his family would spend most of his time so far away. “Australia will always be there. My family will always be there. So I’m in no hurry to go home.” Of all the cities and countries, why here? “My Dad is a businessman. My brother is in business. I’ve wanted to learn all I can about how companies grow and develop. San Francisco is ten years ahead of Australia.”

So, with that, it seems we’ll have Tom here a little longer. With his charismatic smile and youthful exuberance, I think I speak for most Americans in saying that that is quite alright with us.

Photographs by Kevin Meynell. Styling by Tom’s Mum.

A Week At Burning Man

“You’re driving nine hours into the middle of the desert?!” This call wasn’t going well. “Where there are violent sandstorms and no food or water aside from what you pack yourself?!” Mum was a little skeptical. “I’ll be fine,” reassuring myself as much as I was her. We’d come a long way in a short period of time, but I was a virgin burner and was bracing for a rough first time.

I’d always known about Burning Man. And by ‘known’ I mean I knew it existed, in some shape or another. It was that music festival in the middle of nowhere, no, wait, it was some kind of rave in the desert. Then it was an art exhibition or something. Whatever it was, it was an insignificant blip on my radar of things to do. I’d say somewhere between running the bulls and trying that new burrito place down the street. I knew plenty of people who had been, and who wouldn’t shut up about how life changing it was.

How life changing can a festival or event like Burning Man really be? I mean, I’ve seen a couple good shows here and there, and I’ve done my fair share of camping, the two things I imagined made up most of what is Burning Man, but for it to have such a drastic impact on your life so much so that you’re willing to spend the next two hours annoying the shit out of me with all your stories seems a little much. I smell bullshit. Or maybe LSD.

Putting aside my cynicism and general lack of understanding for what the hell it was, I’d made the call early in the year that I would go. As is custom when I commit to something I have absolutely no contextual information on, I started to do my research and very quickly learned that there are a thousand logistical nightmares between my flimsy commitment to attending and what would be my first burn. I started by applying for a low-income ticket, a special offer for people who work for non-profits and those who can’t afford general admission tickets. To my surprise, I’d been granted entry. Fuck. Now I have to go. But with who? How would I get there? Where is the Nevadan desert? Where the fuck is Nevada?

With only weeks left until the event, I’d pretty much given up hope. Since getting my ticket, I’d torn my ACL, been back to Australia for surgery, and returned to a mountain of work. Then I got this text, “Mate, just got my ticket. We’re doing this, yeah?” I couldn’t reply quick enough. “Why yes, that sounds wonderful, friend,” is the safe-for-work version of my response. Text sent. Panic ensued. We were weeks out from the opening of Black Rock City, the city built solely by burners in the middle of the Nevadan desert for Burning Man, with no idea what to do next.

We launched ourselves into the planning process, with another mate picking up a ticket along the way. Now we pack. ‘This should be easy,’ I remember thinking. A tent, something to wear, enough water, and food. I’ve camped before. I travel. Then a friend sent me this list of essentials. More panic. Maybe I don’t need to go.

Against all odds, we got our shit together. Even at this stage, we were still unsure of what to expect. “Oh you’re going to Burning Man,” people would say when I told them my plans for Labor Day weekend, “what is that exactly?”

Good question.

Friends told us to be wary of seasoned burners who sometimes harbored a great deal of cynicism for idiots like us – three kids from the city who got lucky and planned their trip at the eleventh hour. Great. We haven’t even arrived yet and already everyone hates us. I bumped into an old friend who eased my worries with one piece of advice, “Say yes to it all. Check your ego at the door and open your mind to everything that comes your way. Burning Man is all about what you make it.” And with that, we left.

Black Rock City

We arrived Wednesday afternoon, a few days after Burning Man had begun, to one of the biggest sandstorms the city had experienced in years. Great start. They weren’t lying about the dust. It had already found it’s way into holes in my body I didn’t know existed. We drove around looking for a place to set up camp. The city was big. I mean, half the size of San Francisco big. To help people navigate, it’s divided up by letters, and hours, separated by fifteen-minute intervals. We were located at 6:15 and J, where that red dot is below.

Black Rock City
Black Rock City

We set up camp and hopped on our bikes to explore. ‘We’ll just ride through all the streets and get our bearings before dark’. No, Tom, you won’t. The city is home to over 70,000 people and can take half an hour to ride from one side to the other. There are hundreds of streets, with thousands of camps. Holy shit. What have I got myself into?

Acts of Giving

It’s true that there is no place for money at Burning Man. But often it’s misconceived that in lieu of cash, burners barter with each other for the things they need – I give you eggs, you give me water. I give you a back rub, and you give me dinner. It’s not. Burning Man is devoted to acts of giving. That is, giving without expecting anything in return. Sound suspicious? I thought so, too. But it works. And it’s not just someone here or there offering you a peanut as you roll by, it’s everyone, giving, all the time.

And it makes you want to give, too. I couldn’t give enough. We couldn’t cook enough for our friends, we couldn’t spray enough sunscreen on those who needed it, we couldn’t share our drinks with as many strangers as we wanted. Every time we gave something, we were adding some form of value, however small, to the community we were part of. Maybe you’re sitting at home wondering whether it’s actually that rewarding. I’m not an idiot. I’ve studied economics enough to know that this won’t work in the real world, but it doesn’t even matter. For this moment in time, we were giving everything we could to our new friends in Black Rock City. We had no money, and the world kept turning.

The People

There’s something about my week at Burning Man that I couldn’t quite put my finger on while I was there. Something that made the city so magical. Yes, the art is unbelievable. Yes, the majesty of the desert is something that no amount of adjectives could ever adequately convey, but it was more than that. It was the secret pinch of sugar in the tomato paste that makes the pasta so good. And the more I thought about it, the more I parsed through each individual experience, analyzing what it is that made each moment so special, the clearer it became.

Burning Man is what it is, because of the people. Aside from the fashion bloggers who posed on everything and the one clown who was there to STEAL MY BIKE, the people of Burning Man are nothing short of breathtaking. The energy and excitement and compassion that seemingly everyone felt for one another was electric. I didn’t meet a single person there who wasn’t absolutely over the moon to have met me. We weren’t greeted with handshakes, but with big, long and warmhearted hugs. From everyone. All the time. I never felt the animosity I had been warned about. Burners, old and young, welcomed me ‘home’ with open arms. They shared with me their stories, their food, and their homes. Strangers waved frantically as you rode by. Everyone was my best mate. And I was theirs.

The Art

The days were long. Sleep was an afterthought. There was just too much to see and do. You haven’t experienced FOMO until you’ve had a half hour nap at Burning Man. Exploring the city and the open playa, the portion of the desert that is within the pentagonal event space used exclusively for art installations rather than camping, was absolutely the highlight for me. The city is huge, with hundreds of art installations scattered across the city. The playa is literally a living and breathing piece of art. And we were all part of it.

I won’t even bother trying to describe some of the artwork on display in the city. It’s pointless, so I’d recommend checking out this feature on the Burning Man website, and a couple of my photos below. Even then, the images do very little justice to the true scale and magnitude of some of these works. Maybe you’re like me, someone who struggles to think inside the box let alone outside of it, but that doesn’t matter. It’s impossible to not appreciate the level of creativity and effort that goes into each and every piece of art. Imagine a full-scale pirate ship, on wheels, zipping around the playa. Or a 5oft dragon fish that lights up with a million colors at night. Or an octopus that shoots fire out of it’s tentacles. IT’S TENTACLES.

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 4.16.30 PM

So how do I go from ‘Oh that looks fun’ to packing my shit and going?

I asked someone while I was there how I could ever explain what it is that I was seeing to average non-burners that would surround me when I was home. “Imagine a week-long summer camp for adults, then mix in the biggest party you’ve ever been to, then times it by a thousand.” And if that doesn’t sound like fun, or maybe you think you’re too old for Burning Man, here’s Susan Sarandon absolutely killing it on the playa. Oh, now you’re interested. Good. Here are a few things to consider when you’re planning to burn in 2016:

  1. Buy your ticket – this one sounds a little obvious, but with ticket sales scattered throughout the year, it’s very easy to back out if you don’t have a ticket yet. Buy a ticket as soon as you can, and commit to it early.
  2. Speak to as many burners as possible – when I finally committed, I reached out to everyone I knew who had been or might know someone who had attended. I wanted to know all the hacks, tips, and shortcuts. Grab drinks and take a pen and paper.
  3. Take a couple of close mates – I went with two mates who were both up for whatever came at us. We all shared a similar open mindset in approaching our week at Burning Man. It made trying new things, like showering naked with fifty people in a foam container, much easier.
  4. Don’t stress too much about the gifting economy your first time – I took a few bottles of sunscreen and rode around spraying naked people in the sunshine. When you compare that with camps who cook for hundreds of people, or those who build extravagant stages for live shows, it doesn’t really compare. Just make a conscious effort to contribute and be involved in the community.
  5. When you’re there, expect everything to get ruined – don’t bother taking valuable or sentimental items that will ruin in the dust or heat. Sandstorms are no joke there, and everything in your tent and car will get lathered with a thick coat of gray dirt. Accept that you will be picking it out of your nose, sleeping in a tent full of dust, and unable to brush your hair for the week.

Summary

Go. Just go. Yes, it’s hot and cold and windy and dry and a multitude of other climatic extremes. Yes, the toilets are a cocktailed-mountain of feces and other bodily excretions. But a week at Burning Man will change your life. I’ve become the very thing I promised I wouldn’t: a burner who won’t shut up about Burning Man. And now I know why. Now I know why old burners draw tears when they tell stories of the playa, why tickets are sold out within minutes of going on sale, why people put thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into building camps for reasons none other than creative expression in a city in the desert. Burning Man is a social experiment that pisses on capitalism, cynicism, and status. And, you know what, it works. It works because deep down people yearn for unlimited creative freedom. Deep down people want to give everything they can to help other people. And for one crazy, hot, windy, dusty, dry week out in the middle of the Nevadan desert, these ideals thrive.

It’s not a festival, or a show, or anything remotely like anything you’ve seen before. It’s a city in the desert, made up of people just like us who want to share, create, learn, dance, party, give, ride and build in the middle of nowhere. A fully functioning oasis of people and ideas and creativity all co-existing in one community.

Now enjoy a short video I put together of all our shenanigans over the week. You’ll get a good idea of what it’s like to cruise around and explore the city, and just what craziness to expect if you ever make your way over there. Only have fifteen seconds left to see more? Try this instead.

What to look for in your first job, from someone who knows.

I remember back to my university graduation – it was a sunny day in the middle of May and I was standing at the podium in front of a sea of faces. I’d been chosen to deliver the commencement speech on behalf of my graduating class. By chosenI mean, I may have begged. Whatever. Anyone who knows me, knows that I don’t often pass up an opportunity to speak in public. My Australian accent had been turned up to a ‘9’ for good measure.

DSC_0021_1024 2
Was meant to iron robe, didn’t.

Despite how comfortable I may appear above, I was petrified. Not because I was standing in front of thousands of people I didn’t know, not because I wasn’t prepared. But because, as soon as my speech was over, I was out on my own. No longer protected by my still studying status that had sheltered me from being an adult a little while longer. I was ten minutes away from being unemployed.

It’s not that I didn’t think I’d find a job, I was just petrified that I wouldn’t find the right job. The perfect job. I wanted my first job to be challenging, rewarding, and exciting in equal parts. I wanted to make truckloads of money and for others to gasp when I told them what I did everyday. I wanted it all. The reality is that perfect jobs don’t exist for new graduates (in fact, hardly any jobs exist). They don’t. And don’t pretend you have one. You’re lying.

Part of the problem for people my age is that we want it all – right now. Regardless of whatever metrics we choose to measure our own happiness, we’ll never get them all in the same room. And this can be a little stressful. We’re perfectionists, wired to recognize what we don’t have before acknowledging what we do. For the most part, I’d say we’re pretty happy as we are. That’s never enough though, we always want more.

Though this applies to all aspects of our lives – family, social, relational, etc. – it’s our work lives where we’re constantly reminded of what we don’t have. So to help out all the new graduates stuck somewhere between picking a new LinkedIn profile picture and googling ‘how to find a work’, I’ve created the perfect shortlist of characteristics to look for in a first job:

  1. Learning – you’re fresh out of college, so shutup, you don’t know anything (and if you think you do…). The best way to improve at work is to learn from people who have already mastered whatever skill you’re hoping to develop. Surround yourself with a team of people who are smarter and more experienced that you. Look for a manager who will include you in high level discussions, trust you with meaningful tasks, and give you license to learn through trial and error. I’d guess that this one doesn’t really change as you advance through your career.
  2. Mentorship – this may be a sub-category of learning, but it’s important and needs special mention. Identify someone who you respect in your industry, and mold yourself on them. Pay particular attention to the way they treat colleagues, the way they address issues and how they empower those around them. No mentor will be perfect, so focus on a couple very specific traits that you respect, and mimic them. They don’t have to work with you, but make it someone you can access easily. You can also learn a lot from someone who is a horrible role model. Find someone who has very little respect for those around them, is incompetent and volatile at work, and do the opposite. I call this anti-mentorship.
  3. Financial reward – focussing on making money has this taboo attached to it that makes you appear evil or shortsighted. Forget the haters, making money is important. And if you’ve graduated from an American university recently, your uncomfortably large student loan debt should be a great reason as to why. I didn’t have financial stability at my first job – working for free is about as financially unrewarding as it gets – so I know how important it is. We are a generation of people who are becoming more and more irresponsible around our financial health. Getting paid well should never be the most important part of taking on a new role, but it needs to be more than an afterthought. Set financial goals – to travel, to buy your first home, to pay off student loans – and find a job that can help make these goals achievable.

What should you look for in your second, third and fourth jobs? Unlike our parents who grew up without globalization and the internets, it’s very likely you will have more than one job before you retire. As you develop professionally and personally, be sure to identify what is most important to you at the time, and seek our a career move that fits the mold. Remember, you’ll never get everything you’re looking for, so pick the top few and go from there.

Want to see my graduation speech? Click here, it’s funny

Death to Jack… of All Trades

This post should serve as a warning to all the liberal arts students, management majors and weekend warriors of the world. Prepare to question your identity, remove words like ‘versatile’ from your resume, and hastily sign up for as many Learn to Code courses you can find in a single Google search.

Growing up, I was your classic ‘jack of all trades’. It was something I had inherited from my parents. They were sportsmen and women, businesspeople, teachers, performers – lifetime subscribers to the ‘try everything once’ school of thought. As a result, my siblings and I acted, danced, sung, kicked, and played our way through our childhood. As we got older, we added computer programming, filming, editing and musical expression to the mix. We ticked all the boxes. It was all we knew.

It was the same story when I left Australia to attend college in the U.S. I took classes from the majors of biology, nutrition, mathematics, programming and business. I was trying everything once, as I’d always done. Eventually I elected to focus on majoring in business, but half of my time was spent studying history, science, English and the arts. I was becoming a broadly educated B.A. major. The kind of guy who could hold a conversation with anyone about almost anything, unless we went too deep. Depth is where it starts to get a little hairy for any generalist.

When I first joined Not For Sale as an intern, my strategy for earning full-time employment was to be the yes-man. I figured having my fingers in as many pies as possible would make it difficult not to hire me. Need a report written? I’ll do it. Someone needs to speak at an event on a Saturday? Happy to. Can anyone help integrate our new CRM? Pick me. As the organization grew, I found my role becoming increasingly concentrated. I was learning more every day about business development, engaging companies around the world, and building out a greater product for partnerships. I’m glad to have found a niche that works for me, but I’m one of the lucky ones.

The change I experienced at Not For Sale is telling of a greater trend in today’s workplace. An oversupply of new graduates and an undersupply of meaningful employment is creating a classic Darwinian scenario – adapt or die (or in the case of budding employees, specialize or continue living in your parent’s spare bedroom). New graduates that studied targeted and specific degrees are walking into jobs. Those who went for a more well-rounded degree are left clutching at internships to get their foot in the door. It’s not as if there are no jobs available, it’s that the positions available are so specific you begin to wonder who in the world would qualify. I imagine the interview would go something like: “Tell me a little more about how you began to specialize in Analytics & Biddable Marketing? Or how you came to be a thought leader as an Interactive Content Program Manager in Visa Performance Solutions for Global Advanced Solutions.” I mean, what did this guy even study?

All this is not to say the handyman or woman has no place in the workplace. It’s just to say that they are on borrowed time. Generalists play an incredibly important role in the early stages of an organization’s growth, but it doesn’t stay that way forever. The life cycle of an organization looks a little like this:

Organization is born – resources, staff and time are limited. Founder brings in people who can do a little of a lot of things. Organization survives early growth period.

Organization begins to grow – resources and capital flow into the organization. Users, consumers, or whatever fuels revenue, is up. Organization hires more staff.

Organization begins to thrive – capital is no longer an issue. Organization invests in nice things like ergonomic tables, bikes racks, and specialized staff who can tailor aspects of the organization to optimize operations.

Organization gets biiiiiiig – Organization now has roles with ludicrous titles like VP of Happiness. Staff begin to voice frustrations that VP of Happiness is making them attend team building days when they just want to eat free yoghurt and do their work. Staff become less happy. VP of Happiness is fired. Finally, the generalist staff, who built the organization, struggle for belonging. They can do a little about a lot, but the organization needs specialists who can understand products and components inside and out. Generalist staff leave, alongside VP of Happiness.

It’s not just changing conditions within an organization that have the generalists shuffling awkwardly in their seats. Growing automation taking place across all industries is replacing lower skilled jobs. Customer service is largely managed by artificial intelligence, production lines are increasingly automated through robotics, and I recently hit on an executive assistant who turned out to be a computer. NPR’s Planet Money highlighted Ellie, a robot developed by the University of Southern California’s Institute of Creative Studies, who (who? that) is conducting psychological interviews with trauma victims. Using an array of sensors, Ellie draws conclusions from how patients speak and react. Regardless of the industry you’re in, there’s a growing realization that only the most highly skilled employees are likely to survive.

I guess the lesson of this post (less than three years experience and I’m dishing out life lessons to seasoned professionals), is to never stop learning. Always prioritize your professional development when setting goals for yourself at work. Exercise self-awareness as to where you stand within your organization or team, and adjust. Find something that is of interest to you, something you have a natural ability in, and do your research. Learn how it works, why it’s important, and make it a crucial piece of what your organization needs to be successful.

Save your Jack Of All Trades behavior for that all-inclusive wedding photography and cake making business you run on the weekends.

500+ LinkedIn Followers Means Nothing

My hands were numb. It seemed they always were. Maybe it’s because I was going through puberty and bad circulation was just another side effect they didn’t warn me about. Or maybe it was the -5 degree, frosty mornings that Crookwell was famous for. Either way, it made holding a handful of newspapers virtually impossible.

It was 2004 and, at the not-so-legal working age of 13, I’d finally been put to work by my old man. Years prior, he had bought the local newsagency off of his parents and, though he spent most of his time managing other businesses, he always loved working there. For years I’d lay in bed and hear his Holden station wagon tearing up the driveway at the crack of dawn. Now, I was sitting alongside him.

So my hands were numb. It’s 6:30am and I’m running up and down the main street delivering newspapers before school. When school finished up for the day, I’d race down the hill and work the afternoon shift – selling school supplies, sorting newspapers and talking about how much rain we were or were not having at the time (never enough, unless it rained, then too much). It was here, somewhere between reading obscure magazines and selling lottery tickets to old people, that I learned one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learnt – a profound, and ever useful, lesson in the importance of being good with people.

I was always flirty and colourful in conversations growing up. But there’s a big difference between flirting and having meaningful conversation. Through my work at my old man’s newsagency, I learned first-hand, the difference. I’d see my Dad greeting old friends, colleagues, and strangers all the same way – with a big smile and a genuine excitement to see them. He showed me that taking a genuine interest in everyone you meet opens up a world of opportunities and friendship. But do the lessons learned through some small town, country charm have any place in the working lives of people around the real world?

This doesn’t apply to me reason #1 – I work in big business, it’s different.

These people say: “I work for a company in a city. And in the city we don’t wave frantically out of our car windows at strangers.”

Why you’re wrong:
Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence Peoplefirst published in 1936, still sells tens of thousands of copies a year. It keeps selling because Carnegie absolutely nails the core principles of building meaningful relationships with people. And people haven’t changed. They still want to be respected, they still want to feel appreciated and they still want to feel as though their lives have meaning. These desires are the same regardless of where in the world you are and what generation you belong to. The industry you’re in, the size and focus of your work, or the role you hold within your company, are irrelevant. Being good with people is absolutely paramount.

This doesn’t apply to me reason #2 – In my role, I don’t work with people.

These people say: “I’m an engineer, I just write code. Sometimes I go days without seeing people and the only interaction I have is between me and the dog in my desktop background.”

Why they’re wrong: Even an engineer, days without sunlight and a good shower, can benefit from working on their people skills. Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team and the reason inappropriate pop-ups don’t appear as you’re showing your mum that new cat video, breaks the mold to fine tune his work. How? He’s compassionate, is funny, and loves learning and sharing what he’s learnt with the world. Matt’s such a nice bloke the he even has his own supporter group, Matt’s Cutlets. True story. Matt’s attention to detail and willingness to learn from those around him has seen him grow to become one of the world’s leading search experts. Matt proves that being an attentive listener and learning about what people’s pain points are will help you understand the nuances that will make a product more effective. A better understanding of what people want will translate into better code, and better code makes a better product.

This doesn’t apply to me reason #3 – I have a big network. I don’t have time for the little people.

These people say: “This blog is obviously not for me. I network in my sleep. I’m everyone’s connection to Kevin Bacon.”

Why they’re wrong: Don’t mistake being a good networker with being good with people. Take Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick for instance – huge network, huge portfolio, huge asshole (see: here, here and here). It seems that for people like Travis, if you’re not important, you’re not relevant. Compare that mindset with Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff. Benioff and his wife have invested over $200million into the UCSF Children’s Hospital and pioneered Salesforce’s 1/1/1 model of supporting charitable organizations. It’s no wonder Salesforce is regularly voted one of the best companies in the world to work for. Benioff is the definition of a people person – both a lover of people and a naturally gifted networker, Benioff enjoys a conversation with the caterer just as much as he does with the special guest. He listens because he’s interested, and he’s interested because he cares.

Taking a leaf out of Benioff’s book, and just quietly shuffling Kalanick’s to the side, the key to building genuine relationships with people is to approach everyone as though they could be your next best friend. Speak with interest, listen keenly and always try be the person who’s eyes light up as they tell you that story about their dog.

Do your best to remember people’s names, their favourite colour and where they come from. Whether your goal is to make new friends, advance your career or just be a little more effective within your team at work, taking a genuine interest in the people around you will create more opportunities for networking and professional growth than any number of Linkedin connections. Now stop making excuses and call your mother.

4 Free Websites That Run My Financial Life

Surprise, surprise, I went and got myself employed. It’s nice to have a job, but life was much easier without a salary. I never had to balance expenses against income – there was only ever expenses, and only ever Dad’s income. You might be in the same position – gainfully employed and for the first time in your life, you can buy things when you want them. But do you know where your paycheck is going? Are you even saving, bro?

“I just kinda use my card whenever I want something. As long as it’s approved, I’m fine.” It’s not fine. You’re doing it wrong. It’s impossible to know that you’re keeping your expenses within what you’re earning. Lucky for you, there’s a handful of tools you’ll love that are 1) not Microsoft Excel and 2) not your dad, designed specifically to help you get your shit together.

1. Your online bank

Yes, you can haz online banking. And if you have as little as a dial-up internet connection and don’t live in 1993, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. Every bank in the U.S. has an online banking service, and if they don’t, they won’t be a bank much longer. At a bare minimum, use your online banking service to check that you have money in the accounts you use to buy food and pay rent. If you’re slightly more adventurous, you can use it to pay bills, send money to friends, family and Princes’ in Nigeria, and monitor your spending habits. Online banking credentials also give you access to a host of third party services that you can use to make the most of the interwebs – like online shopping, identity verification and paying for dank memes. If you don’t have online banking setup, stop reading and click this link. In order to use services 2, 3 and 4 – you need to have this one down.

2. Mint.com

Mint.com is your all-you-can-eat budgeting, expense tracking, portfolio hub for all things finance. Mint swipes right with your online banking, credit cards and investment portfolio to give you a complete picture of where you stand in terms of your financial health. Managing your Mint account is as easy as signing up, setting a budget ($1000 for rent etc.) and checking back a couple of times a month to make sure you’re on track. It also has some cool features that remind you to pay bills, track your student loans and set savings goals.

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Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 1.40.57 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-06 at 1.44.20 PM 3. Credit Karma

You never really know why you see photos from that one kid you met at summer camp ten years ago on Facebook. You’ve un-liked, hidden and un-subscribed, but he still pops up from time to time with a rant about how everyone uses public transport when it’s raining. Facebook has it’s own rules and regardless of how badly we want to understand it, we won’t. The same goes for your credit score. We know that not defaulting on a loan is a good thing and that a third Amazon credit card is probably one too many, but for the most part, we don’t have a clue. This, however, is no reason to ignore it. There are plenty of sites out there that you can use to check in on your score and take steps to keep it healthy. Most of these sites are advertised as “free” but require a payment down the road, which is quite un-free (looking at you freecreditreport.com). Credit Karma is the best free service for checking in on your credit score. Not free-this-month-then-$9.99 but free, like America.

The beauty of Credit Karma is that it doesn’t just spit a number out and then send you on your way. It breaks your score down into very easy to swallow bits of information. Credit Karma is easy to sign up and will send you a monthly report to your email.

PS – if you’re as skeptical as I was about how they make money, you’ll notice their Recommendations section – a place for them to push you towards one credit card or another. If you have what it takes to not apply for every credit card you see, you’ll be fine.

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 12.35.38 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-06 at 2.09.09 PM 4. Betterment (kinda free – first 30 days free then 0.35%)

In addition to hoarding cash under your bed, or you know, in a bank, you should be putting it to work as well. Though the word ‘invest’ is synonymous with huge amounts of capital, the biggest financial institutions and silver-haired billionaires worldwide, micro investing platforms like Betterment have changed the game for millennials, giving almost anyone with an internet connection and online banking the opportunity to invest without a whole lot of capital.

Betterment sets itself apart from your traditional financial institutions by focussing on “a great stock basket, an incredibly easy user experience that makes it easy to understand your money and control your exposure to risk, and automatic rebalancing of your portfolio.” Stock what? Doesn’t matter. Just sign up and set auto-deposits once a month from your nominated bank account and they’ll do all the leg work.

betterment-overviewScreen Shot 2015-07-06 at 2.54.29 PMKeeping up with your finances doesn’t have to be as stressful as scrolling back for context in a group chat. Once you see you’re spending habits on screen, you’ll naturally start to curb your spending to fit in with the budgets you set yourself.

Now if I can just find a website that will ship glitter to my enemies

Empowering the Poor out of Poverty

In a time when almost 70% of Sub-Saharan Africa is living on less than $2 a day, there has been a collective realization that outdated charity methods are doing little to alleviate the suffering. So it’s refreshing to see that NGOs and nonprofits have finally made a shift in the way they provide aid to those suffering from extreme poverty. By capitalizing on a growing western population and an increased awareness of the realities of worldwide poverty, the microfinance movement has finally earned some plaudits for it’s role in mitigating global poverty.

If your financial know-how is not up to scratch and that opening paragraph has left you feeling a little lost, let me explain what microfinance is and why it is such an effective way of alleviating poverty around the world.

Microfinance is a form of financing that brings relatively free capital to people around the world who have fallen below the poverty line and out of sight of traditional financing institutions. Still lost? Basically, microfinance allows for people all around the world to borrow money when banks, credit unions, and other forms of financial institutions, are out of reach or don’t exist at all.

Although a term largely applied to loan financing, microfinance is a broader finance definition that includes services for savings, insurance and money transferring. Basically, microfinance provides people with any financial service they may need. To better understand how it works, let’s take a look at the fictional-yet-applicable story of Francis and his chickens…

Francis lives in the rural grasslands of Uganda and is well known for his ability to build chicken cages. His cages aren’t just run of the mill, no sir; they are top of the line. Everyday, Francis wakes up to hoards of people outside his home, all desperate to accommodate their chickens in one of his cages. However, he can’t meet the demand for his products because he doesn’t have enough cash to build the cages. He would like to employ a local farmer to help build with him part-time, but can’t afford to pay him. Francis estimates that he would need $1000 to help him expand his business. If he lived in a developed country, he would walk down to the nearest Bank of America and have access to financial services that were ready and willing to fund his expansion plans. Unfortunately, he doesn’t. He lives in the rural grasslands of Uganda. The chicken caging industry is booming and he’s about to miss the boat.

Francis is in need of a loan. The problem is, why would anyone loan Francis the $1000 he needs to get his business off the ground? All it takes for the loaner to lose their investment is for the economy to stumble, an outbreak of disease, or shortage in raw materials, and Francis’s business will fall through, taking with it the $1000 loan. Regardless of how reliable Francis’s chicken cages are, he’s just too risky of an investment. This is one of the main issues facing many entrepreneurs in developing countries. Because the risk is too great for a bank to loan them the money, they ignore these risky demographics and finance more reliable borrowers.

Francis is in desperate need of financing, and without any access to the simple financial services that most of us take for granted, his chicken cage business is clucked. Luckily for Francis, microfinancing is a great alternative. And the good news is, there are many organizations around the world who are geared to providing these services. San Francisco based nonprofit, Kiva, have constructed a financing model that provides people like Francis with small loans to help them to recognize their entrepreneurial potential. By drawing on the power of close to a million lenders worldwide, Kiva asks for $25 loans and pools them into larger loans that are then sent to where they are needed most. The key to Kiva’s microfinance model is the way the total risk is distributed among the various loaners. Rather than one person bearing the total risk of the investment, the risk is dispersed amongst all those who donated. Losing $25 is far easier to accept than losing $1000. That’s why Kiva have a million loaners who will happily lend $25 to people like Francis, knowing all too well that they might end up losing their money. It’s easier to borrow a dollar from a thousand people than a thousand dollars from one person.

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Microfinance is still developing as a financial service and faces many challenges around the world today. One of the main problems facing microfinancing institutions in developing countries is the contrasting business cultures in which those in need have functioned their whole lives. Interestingly enough, many of those in need of microfinancing have conducted their businesses in a non-monetized fashion. That is, money is not used in their daily business transactions. Instead, these local businessmen and women use an effective a system of trade that bases value on what they need, and what they have to offer, rather than a complex financial system. So, when rural entrepreneurs are given a virtually free loan to expand their business, there are several learning curves that must be faced before a loanee can fully understand the nature of their loan.

Microfinance has certainly grown in popularity around the world since the turn of the century. The internet has catalyzed a rapid growth of globalization and increased the awareness of developed nations for those in desperate need of help. Organizations such as Kiva have recognized the ripe conditions for global scale microfinancing and have begun to spread the word that twenty five dollars can go a long way to changing someone’s life.

Plain old charity is no longer going to cut it when providing aid to those in need. Organizations that facilitate microfinancing have the power to empower these people out of poverty and into sustainable income homes. Those living below the poverty line are just as innovative and motivated as those anywhere around the world. All they need is a little help from you, and me, and fifty of our closest friends.

The Changing Nature of Charity

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In light of The Nonprofit Times’ annual ‘Best Nonprofits to work for 2013’, I figured it best to dust the cobwebs off of this blog and reflect on the changing nature of charity. Charity has always been a pretty boring aspect of our lives. We all know we should give generously to charity so that nonprofit organizations can put our money to good use and help the less fortunate. But that doesn’t make parting ways with our hard earned cash any easier. Why? Because blindly giving away money is about as satisfying as pouring off milk into the last of your cheerios.

The problem with charities is that there is rarely anything to show for your donation. This is why traditional nonprofits struggle to compete with for-profit companies who offer their customers tangible value through a good or service. Look at it this way; if you pay twenty dollars for a haircut, you get a haircut. On the flipside, if you give that twenty dollars to charity, you get a pat on the back and you’re out twenty dollars. You have no idea where your money goes and your hair still looks like a dead cat. This is why charity is in dire need of a change.

At the end of the day, people will always have that underlying desire for some kind of value. For nonprofits to believe that their donors subscribe to some higher moral standard will only hurt them in the long run. Therefore, it is in the best interest of these nonprofits to start thinking like for-profit companies and start to create some genuine value for their donors. This can be done by creating a strong brand identity, targeting niche markets, and producing an end product. Charity has been missing some much needed inspiration. And inspiration can only been achieved by making donors feel as if they have made a real difference. For years, World Vision has been teetering on inspiration by allowing donors to sponsor a child and have regular updates on how they are progressing. In this case, the end product comes as you see the change you’re making in a person’s life.

New York based charity, charity: water, is on the forefront of a new movement in the nonprofit sector that focuses on two main ideals; transparency and a donor model they call the ‘100% model’. charity: water was founded in 2006 by former New York nightclub promoter Scott Harrison and has revamped an aged charity model into one that is inspirational, effective, and transparent. The ‘100% model’ guarantees that all public donations go directly to water projects in developing countries while private donors cover operational costs. This empowers donors as they know even the smallest donation will ultimately go where it is needed most. charity: water inspire their donors by tracking their donations around the world and providing them with a report full of GPS locations and images of the water projects that their donations helped create (See an example here). Since their foundation, charity: water have completed over eight thousand projects and provided over three million people with sustainable access to clean water.

This focus on entrepreneurial innovation in the nonprofit sector has seen organizations grow using new, imaginative ways of generating revenue. Not For Sale, a nonprofit out of Half Moon Bay in California, is doing just that. In order to help end human trafficking and slavery around the world, Not For Sale have recently incubated and launched REBBL, a socially responsible beverage company that will employ freed slaves in the Amazon, and reinvest proceeds into projects that combat human trafficking. Founded by University of San Francisco’s Dave Batstone, Not For Sale are demonstrating that there is in fact a grey line between the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. By ethically generating revenue in accordance with their mission, Not For Sale have paved the way forward for other nonprofits to follow suit. Although Not For Sale’s revenue from REBBL may only account for a fraction of their operating budget, it shows that there are unique avenues for nonprofits to explore in order to secure more revenue. Coupled with an interactive infographic donor reporting model, Not For Sale are pioneering positive change to end human trafficking and also to improve the way nonprofits are operating around the world.

The Nonprofit Times’ annual report shows that not only are charities changing the way they present themselves, they are changing the way they work from within. Organizations such as the Wounded Warrior Project have recognized the importance of a mission driven workforce and work hard to inspire their staff to share the goals and ambitions of the organization. The WWP have been voted the best nonprofit to work for in the United States for three years in a row as a result of their awesome company culture. Establishing an organizational culture that mirrors that of a Silicon Valley startup will encourage employees to work harder, leaner, and with a stronger underlying mission.

At the end of the day, people will always want to donate to charity. The good news is that donating to a charity can now be a fulfilling and rewarding experience that keeps us coming back. Whether it be by showing you where your money goes with satellite imagery, or creating a desirable brand name that donors are proud to support, the new age of charity is surely here to stay. So get out there and give away all your money. God knows your hair will look horrible anyway.

Degree Inflation

graduation-caps-in-the-air

Oh, I’m about to graduate. Time to dust the cobwebs off of my resume and throw it at any employer that bats their eyelids at me. I’m easy, I know it. I’ll take an interview on the first date, I’m naughty like that. Strong knowledge of Microsoft office; check. Excited and ready to learn, check. Character flaws? I care too much. Perfect. I’m coming and I’m bringing my knowledge of powerpoint presentations and time management with me. Who wouldn’t hire me?

It has begun to dawn on me that my business degree is simply not going to get me a job at Google. Unfortunately for you, fair reader, it is likely your business degree won’t get you a penthouse and that fancy watch you like either. Want to get a job with above average wage? Go and get your master’s, son! Thirty years ago my parents earned their bachelor’s degrees and were subsequently employed as a result. A degree was sufficient for employment. Today, a degree is no longer sufficient for guaranteed work. It has, however; become necessary. It is necessary to have a degree in order to get a j*b, but not necessarily sufficient. Geddit?

Have you ever sat down and asked yourself; what have I really learnt during my degree? Yeh, you may think you know how to write a business plan or recite the core leadership values, but do you know how to start a business? What forms do you need to fill out? How do you place orders for new products? If you are feeling a little dejected that your degree has given you little useful knowledge, take solace in the fact that you’re in the same position as many other graduates.

After reading some of Sir Ken Robinson’s work and studying the success of many entrepreneurs around the world, I am ready to point the finger at the college education system and the institutions that ‘educate’ us. In the words of Sir Ken, “The whole purpose of public education throughout the world is to produce university professors.” I can’t speak for other institutions, but I can certainly speak for Holy Names University. Every year, this school adds another two hundred business degrees to the already overloaded j*b market. There are 1.8 million new graduates every year in the United States. That is 1.8 million people who all all think the same conventional way. A business degree is limiting our ability to create new value and innovate ideas that change the world. We are taught to write business models and create marketing plans without any real encouragement for us to make mistakes. Our G.P.A is pivotal to our j*b prospects. “I can’t take risks! If I screw up, I’ll lose my 4.0 and I’ll never get to work on the moon.” Instead of being innovative and taking risks, we perfect the art of finals week to preserve this bloody grade point average. Without screwing up, no-one will ever create anything original. In reality, business is not about knowing, it is about doing. The education system in the U.S. focusses a helluva lot on knowing with very little focus on doing. Holy Names has taught me about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but I don’t have a bloody clue about how to take an idea and start a business.

Sir Ken Robinson’s amazing speech on education at a TED conference in 2006

In essence, a business degree doesn’t prepare you to follow your dreams and change the world. It prepares you for an entry-level position at a company doing shit work so that you can help someone else to follow their dreams and change the world. All for minimum wage, mind you. Who are these illustrious minds that we work for? They are generally the people who tried something special. Blasphemy, I say.

“Oh no, Tom. I have just read your blog and have realized that I don’t know how to do anything in business! What is my alternative?” Changing to the education system is wishful thinking, because change is scary and expensive. The way the college system works is based on a model of society that no longer applies today. In the past, when our Mums (Americans, see: Mom) and Dads went to college, their investment was worth it. They graduated and boom; sweet, sweet employment. Such was the nature of the rapidly expanding post-war economy. Today, it’s not so easy. We throw a huge chunk of change at a bachelor’s degree, then when we can’t find work, we go home and watch repeats of Scrubs until we cry. An average degree in the U.S. costs between $130k-140k. Try spend that money elsewhere. Yes, that figure is largely made up of student loans, but the point remains the same. Travel the world a hundred times for the same amount. Start a business that you are passionate about. If you screw up, so what? More than likely you will learn from your mistake and do it better next time. Thomas Edison once said, ‘I have never failed, I’ve just found 10,000 things that didn’t work.’ At the end of the day you might have spent the same amount of money, but you will surely know how to do a great deal more. Even if you don’t start a business, travelling the world or volunteering in Guatemala is the kind of experience that is priceless in the eyes of a potential employer.

Josh Kaufman, author of the Personal MBA, once described the three currencies of our world; money, time, and flexibility. Money let’s us buy things, time let’s us do things, and flexibility gives us the freedom to decide what to buy and what to do. A degree is starving us of all three. We spend a shitload of money so that we can spend four years of our time taking classes that inherently reduce our flexibility to do what we want. The world’s coolest person ever, Sir Richard Branson, started Virgin when he was only seventeen with no business knowledge whatsoever. He didn’t know the four criteria of being a leader, he just lead. He didn’t have to take a class in human resource, he was just nice to people. He may have screwed up a few times, but now he has a private island in the Caribbean and you don’t. Screw Maslow and his needs, everyone loves Richard Branson. There’s a bucket load of people just like Branson who recognized the best way to learn is to do. Let’s revolutionize our degree and get right amongst the meaty part that is necessary for when we graduate.

When translated into j*b readiness, a degree is probably a crock of shit. Good news is that after all is said and done, a college degree still offers plenty of value outside the classroom. Four years away from home is a great way to grow up and certainly teaches you a great deal about how you want to live your life. It gives you access to people from all over the world in your own backyard. Different people have different thoughts and opinions. Skip class once in awhile and get creative. Maslow will understand.

Don’t forget to leave a comment if you have anything to say. Disagree? Let me know in that little space below.

Til next week.

The End of Cash as We Know It

(Updated: July 2015)

Today I was chosen to live amongst the enlightened economic drivers of our time. Blessed by the financial gods of Capital One, I’ve joined the swiping elite. I have no plans, however, to join the increasing number of consumers who willingly go through their lives tearing through their paycheck and relying on their plastic. No sir, I am prepared. Strategically positioned on the front of my card is a lovely picture of my mother. A woman of virtue, an anchor that will serve to keep my inner consumer in check. Next time PacSun throw a summer sale, her beautiful voice of reason will resonate in my head and invoke clarity and better judgement. Something like that anyway.

Alarmingly, my mother’s virtuousness might be called upon more and more over the coming years. Daddy’s money is, for some reason, no longer making its way into my bank account, and more importantly, the way in which we use our cash is changing.

Yes, cash is nice to hold and it makes me appear infinitely more attractive, but before long, cash will be obsolete. History has shown that currency changes over time. From barter trade to shiny metals, salt and most recently, cash, it’s inevitable that the electronic age will bring with it a new electronic currency. Mastercard have recently held a campaign promoting cash-free living, inviting potential interns to develop their ideas that will help integrate us into a cash-free world. A quick look around and it is difficult to see where cash might be a necessity for anything. In the eyes of Mastercard, Visa and American Express, it would be ideal if we burned all the green stuff and went plastic. Owe a friend some money? There’s an app for that. Need to tip a stripper? There’s an app for that, too. Paper money is there to be stolen, lost, or ruined in the washing machine after leaving it in the pocket of your favourite pants.

This transition is exciting for western folk – those with bank accounts, credit cards and smartphones, but what about half of the world adults today who don’t have access to electronic forms of money. According to the Economist, more than 60% of adults in the developing world have no access to a bank. So before burning all your Benjamins and parade around the fire, spare a thought for those in the world today who still rely on cash to function.

We become attached to the cash in our wallets which often makes it difficult to part with. Money we don’t see is easy to dispose of. That’s why casinos deal in chips and not cash. Throwing a piece of plastic at the dealer is far easier than splitting ties with your $20. Be conscious of all your swiping. If you’re in America, sign up for Mint.com. Check your online banking and be sure to maintain smart swiping habits. It may be difficult when Macy’s slash the price on One Direction t-shirts. Just do your best.

Elevator Economics

You’re standing in an elevator. The doors begin to close, a man and his mop sneak through the opening and settle in the corner. Minding his business in his blue jumpsuit, the janitor fidgets with his mop; seemingly searching for some small talk. There’s fifteen floors to the top and you feel as though you should probably say something. As you’re trawling through your mind for looking for some idle chit chat, Janitor breaks the silence.

“How ’bout the economy, eh.”

Janitor probably feels as though the government is doing a lousy job of managing the economy. They’re making the wrong decisions, focusing on the wrong things and don’t understand Janitor’s needs. But you know the way the economy works. Because you have planned for this situation by reading this blog. You are prepared.

“Yes Janitor, I agree. The economy is a mess. But while we have this short time together, allow me to explain the complex nature of the economy and why it is difficult for those in charge to get it right. The economy consists of thousands of different components that all act and react differently as policies and external factors change. There are many arguments that the economy should be left to its own devices without government involvement. However, it is important for policy makers and market drivers to find a happy medium in order for our economy to grow. Take for instance, big business taxation. When the government goes hard on big businesses and tax large amounts of their revenue; eventually, we all feel the pain. Do you like that mop of yours, Janitor? Imagine if the company that manufactured that mop was taxed at double their current rate. They now have to contribute more of their revenue to taxes, taking away valuable capital from their research and development department that brought that very mop into existence.

You and I don’t have the resources, capital, or infrastructure available to invest in creating cool stuff that everyone likes. That is where we rely on big firms to do this work for us. Companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft offer useful products and services, but also contribute to the economy in a handful of other ways. Now, I know you’re just a hard working Janitor, but all of this has some relevance to you. Essentially, a country’s main channel for measuring economic growth is their gross domestic product. By adding up America’s private consumption, gross investments, government spending and net exports, we get a number that should be getting bigger every year. If it’s not, then things aren’t going so well and we might find ourselves in recession. Policy makers juggle all of these components to ensure our GDP continues to rise, much in the same way as this unusually long elevator ride.

Lowering interest rates promotes spending and investment and therefore creates a higher GDP. On the flipside, lowering interest rates devalues the dollar and causes inflation. Inflation is bad. It decreases the interest rate that pensioners would receive on long-term investments on fixed income. Does Janitor Jr want you living with him when you hang up your mop?”

The point you’re trying to make is that the economy is complicated. Now, go forth and ride elevators, confident in the knowledge of your new economic rhetoric.

Family Finance – The U.S. Debt Problem

The U.S. National Debt, prior to the Fiscal Cliff late last year, was something like $14,271,000,000,000. There was plenty of talk surrounding what should be done, who should pay and what governmental programs should be cut so that President Obama could shave some zeros off the end of that number. Unfortunately, cutting programs and making budget adjustments won’t do enough to ease pressure on the total national debt.

The numbers being thrown around are beyond comprehension for most of us. Luckily for you and me, I stumbled upon a great way to help make sense of all this fiscal nonsense.

U.S. Tax Revenue $2,170,000,000,000
Federal Budget $3,820,000,000,000
New Debt $1,650,000,000,000
Cumulative Debt $14,271,000,000,000
Budget Cuts $38,500,000,000

All very exciting. By taking eight zeros off the end of each figure, imagine that the U.S. Government is your average American household. All of a sudden, the impact of the changes being made by the government becomes clear.

Family Income $21,700
Money spent $38,200
New credit debt $16,500
Outstanding debt $142,710
Budget cuts $38.50

So, the U.S. Government is an average American family that is over $140,000 in debt. In order to alleviate the debt, they are reducing their spending by $38 a year. At this rate, it will only take the U.S. Government 3,706 years to get out of debt.

When politicians throw around astronomical numbers we become desensitized to what they really mean. At a quick glance, this average family is in real financial trouble. They will struggle to obtain any form of financing with their debt ratio and will likely be forced into bankruptcy.