Friday, November 25, 2016

Constructing the Future.

Image from Skanska USA - Planned LaGuardia Airport
Construction is an industry bound to see sustained solid growth in the both the near and distant future. Of course, as a New Yorker working on a $3 Billion public works construction program, you might say my view is skewed. However, sitting inside the industry, and being cognizant of upcoming trends, allow me to elucidate.

A vision of the New New York Bridge,
We are somewhat lucky in New York, and not least of which, the City of New York, where mega projects happen concurrently in a variety of locations. The major LaGuardia Airport renovation recently began spinning up to the tune of $4 Billion. Large swaths of that money is dedicated to be spent on subcontractors and firms capable of taking on smaller pieces of the larger project. At the same time as the LaGuardia project announced its commencement, Governor Cuomo additionally announced $3 Billion dollars for the refurbishment and renovation of New York Penn Station as a world class transportation hub through a public private partnership.

Lastly, another $1 Billion has been announced for added transportation construction of a third rail line on the LIRR. All of this, of course, is aside from the significant housing construction set to start up as developers activated projects before expiration of the 421-a tax credit, and separate from the New Tappan Zee Bridge (also known as The New New York Bridge) already underway with a total project budget of $3.98 Billion.

But that is just New York. The rest of the country is similarly seeing either the need for, or the current stimulation of the construction industry. The World Economic Forum issued a report in May of this year saying: “ The construction industry serves almost all other industries, as all economic value creation occurs within or by means of buildings or other “constructed assets”. As an industry, moreover, it accounts for 6% of global GDP. It is also the largest global consumer of raw materials,...” That total is significant, making “constructed assets” all the more important.

By way of example of projects soon to come through the construction pipeline: The United States New England region - Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts - began leveraging their collective bargaining power as a triumvirate of entities for the purchase of clean energy megaprojects. The largest offshore wind farm recently concluded its construction just off the shore of
The Deepwater Wind project off
Rhode Island's shore in the Long
Island Sound.
Rhode Island and is producing 30 MW of electricity. Not megalithic on any scale, but
Rhode Island is not in need of, for example, the 120 MW necessary for running New York State. Other projects are sure to follow as multistate reforms to our power grids and energy distribution occur. Beyond energy industry refurbishment, nationwide transportation infrastructure currently ranks exceedingly low. An October, 2015 Fortune article cites the Economic Policy Institute finding that roads, bridges, rail, and air transport systems are in direct danger of critical collapse without upgrades and improvements. One plan to utilize $275 Billion in infrastructure banks for seed money to spur infrastructure spending is an idea that promises to grow and sustain the heavy construction industry around the country for years to come. Driving on those upgraded and refurbished roads will be the vehicles of the future, and highly skilled, futuretech constructors will be necessary for either out-of-the-ground development, or wholesale repurposing of existing locations for their production.

These totals and projects are all public institution related and funded. The amounts and directions of projects from the private industry will demonstrate a yawning chasm of difference in their price tags and style. However, the variety and viability of private industry megaprojects will similarly be dependent on transportation, energy distribution, and supply infrastructure meaning that the completion of both have interdependencies. The two things in combination are bound to create a growth opportunity for constructors for years to come.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Millennial Management in a Baby Boomer world.

This is the second in a series on management styles as they pertain to Millennials.

“Change agent” and “work-life blend” have become nomenclature de rigeur regarding a generation of current employees percolating up through the bases of organizational structures in public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Their hallmarks: overabundant utilization of new technologies, a desire for purpose driven work, and breaking down the entrenched hierarchies of business culture.

If you read that opening statement and considered this not the first time you’ve heard a generation fantasize about reforming their work environment to find a higher purpose, improving office protocols and efficiency through space-aged technology, congratulations! These are modalities inherited from their parents. The flower children and Volkswagen van touring generation birthed a new generation just the same. There is even a movement of 20 - 30 somethings to travel in tricked out, wifi enabled late model vans living the digital nomad lifestyle. The new American Dream includes a life of liberty on the open road according to a new Vice article by David Jagneaux.

However, where the whole of writing on the topic has gone completely awry is in the estimation of Generation Y’s taste for hierarchical work structures. Millennials are quite comfortable and entirely amenable to working inside of these sorts of structures - as long as they were the ones who imputed the structure. Such is the idea behind so much of the post-classroom work in which TFA is involved, as well as NLC, StudentsFirstNY, and a variety of other parallel organizations whose prime objectives are fundraising, and pipe-lining their alumni into key positions in the current political and business structures.

This is the hidden curriculum of the next generation 'leadership training' forums presently in vogue. The ideals behind flattening existing organizational structures and eliminating traditional pathways to leadership positions is to leapfrog trained, experienced, well-rounded - and, admittedly, a bit more seasoned, - individuals already in the leadership pipeline, displacing them entirely. But we have seen this insidiousness in prior versions of both world history, and popular fiction: Joffrey Baratheon, Jiao Long; in myths and legends - Phaeton, Patroclus, and in current business arenas.

Augmented reality. Photo courtesy of Design Boom
With the advent of the all-seeing, all-knowing interweb, IoT, Augmented Reality, and literally the power of the universe in the palm of their hands, now more than ever the generation needs guidance on why it is that they are performing the mechanical operations they’ve learned for their junior roles via YouTube channels.

Upending hierarchies
Photo by @dorania_luo
Fast-tracking untrained, inexperienced individuals into leadership positions is not a successful, long term sustainability plan for any of the three sectors. Thoughtful, reflective, purposeful leadership requires experience, learning, training, certification and degrees. It requires having had mentors so that as a leader they can in turn mentor the next generation. It requires a philosophical basis upon which the leader's daily actions and interactions are founded, and not one that is regurgitated in sound bites that make excellent five second Vines or catchy t-shirts devoid of historical context. We have seen this movie before and it always has a bad ending, always requiring the appropriately trained, highly experienced, and usually, a previously selected leadership figure to arrive and rid the kingdom of its ills (Game of Thrones has not yet arrived at this juncture.)

To quote Ryan and Robert Quinn from Harvard Business Review: Change Management and Leadership Development have to Mesh. This is a crucial concept for, as the saying goes amongst Navy SEALS: "Under don't rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. That's why we train so hard." Millennials, in order to be effective, will have to get the very thing that they lack - experience. Here I should echo the sentiments of a recent Forbes article: “Trying To Manage Millennials? Give Up And Lead Them Instead.” They will need leadership in terms of purpose, leadership in terms of habits of mind, leadership in terms of succession planning, and leadership in terms of critical thought. America will have to come to terms with the idea that the mentoring, instruction, and planning will have to be done by a generation older and more trained than the Millenials. The alternative is that while inexperienced, untrained 'leaders' are busy sinking to their level of training, the whole of the organizations around them will sink as well.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Critical Millennial Thinking

This will be the first in a series of articles on leadership, the Millennial generation, and how it relates to business.

I have been spending quite a bit of time recently reading HR articles. Not that I ever haven't, ever since before participating in the National Urban Fellows program, and especially after successfully obtaining the PMP, I read across the curriculum so to speak in order to get a taste of how potential opportunities might view my particular batch of skills. I read a recent one from The Ladders President Marc Cendella about ageism and the American business community, a few things struck me. To begin, Cendella's article stressed strategies to prove the viability of the more seasoned,
more senior employee's mindset in the face of a fanaticism for hiring youth. To quote "it’s important for you to realize that youth is the symptom, not the cause, of age discrimination."

This is faulty in my view for a variety of reasons. While it is true that the business community hires youth more frequently in the current paradigm than seasoned professionals, it is not solely representative of an underlying, hidden mentality in the plans for an increased profit margin of each organization that employs an age gap in it hiring practices. It is inherently flawed because it has been the experience of more seasoned workers that youth carries with it the entitlement of pre-eminence in the office. Indeed, the generation presents a belief that Snapchats inserted into Prezis, the Uberization of everything, and happiness engineering will answer previously unaswered questions. Additionally, there is a steadfast credence in the idea that they will solve problems better simply because it is the new technology.

This too is faulty because for all of the technological literacy that the Millennial generation carries at its fingertips in the latest and greatest Samsung Edge 7 or iPhone 7 or pick your favorite model...none of that literacy represents actual creativity, but rather the current year's reiteration of processes that already existed. Creative optimization of business processes, innovation of future engineering methodologies, and even communication methodologies or pathways are concepts that have to be trained and experienced before they can be evolved. Moreover, in order to properly create some sort of advanced evolution of the process or pathway, a defined period of critical thinking has to be undertaken. The critical thinking deficiency has been the most salient complaint of employers, post-secondary educators, and large swaths of society coming into direct contact with Millennials far and wide, as evidenced by the quotes below:

"A 2012 report on the metro St. Louis workforce cited a Boeing official as saying, "New hires and younger workers certainly have a positive work ethic; however they often have an immature or impatient approach toward career development/progression. They have an expectation that their career development will somehow be on the fast track, without a full understanding of the commitment it takes beyond the 9-to-5 world. At times they seem to lack an understanding that you need to work until the work is done.""(1)

But the fallacy of being able to create a wholesale correction of the entirety of an organization's problems simply by throwing new technology at it was born out in evidence and scientific measurement presented in Jim Collins' seminal work From Good to Great. Those very same sentiments are echoed in a late 2015 'Entrepeneur' article:

" a digital-first world, where millennials obtain all their answers to problems at the click of a mouse or swipe of a finger, the reliance on technology to solve every question confuses people's perception of their own knowledge and intelligence. And that reliance may well lead to overconfidence and poor decision-making."(2)

Effectively, if your answer to social, procedural, human resources, time management, document control, or loss prevention issues (to name a few) is the introduction of technology to which the organization is largely unaccustomed and untrained without the root cause analysis of why the problems exist in the first place, the problems will persist, they will just persist in the digital space. This is not a problem resolution methodology. It is also not creativity. Creative solutions to problems happen because creativity has to be taught. Raw talent only accounts for so much until verifiable, accountable technique is required.

Technology, especially technology employed by a generation untrained and inexperienced in critical thinking exercises is not a poultice, or a cure all, or a silver bullet (there are no silver bullets.) It is, to use a forward thinking, visioning exercise, benefits mindset analysis - a strategy guaranteeing business non-continuity. American business has to begin understanding the value of paying for training and/or trained individuals. In a head-to-head matchup, the more highly trained, analytical, experienced problem solver [those with the initials PMP or MPA after their name, for example] is the one who will inevitably carry the strategy and benefit of each and every organization farther forward towards greater results or profitability (while figuring out where to most effectively deploy tech-savvy newcomers.) All three sectors are focused implicitly on benefits realization, and recognizing and monetizing opportunity. These are not intrinsic, genetically inherited traits, they are studied and learned capabilities that are the result of hard won knowledge skills.

In the end, Cendella's claim: " appears to me that age discrimination is mindset discrimination first
and foremost..." is indeed true. But if what the American business community seeks is an Agile mindest, there is training, dare I say - a certification for that.

1.) What millennials don't know about the job market, Kelley Holland, 2 May 2014,

2.) Why Technology Is Affecting Critical Thought in the Workplace and How to Fix It, Rony Zarom, September 21, 2015

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Je suis sick of it.

"'Liberte, egalite, fraternite' worked in a country 
with a cultural unity, but with cultural diversity, 
is this triangle still effective?" - Lucy Williamson
(Photo by Getty Images)
Horror, terror, carnage, loss of life, nonsensical. These are adjectives too frequently emblazoned in stark lettering across headlines throughout the plethora of written language media outlets in the plurality of the planet's languages. Long have we wondered aloud have to follow that age old adage: "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," in relation to a multiplicity of violence inducing themes. France, reeling from a series of bloody attacks: Charlie Hebdo, the Bataclan, and now Nice during one of their most cherished holidays, wondered collectively if the Enlightenment Era social experiment of "Liberte, egalite, fraternite" was still a culturally identifiable belief system, or if the country had wandered so far from its Revolutionary principles as to be unrecognizable to the phrase framers' ideals.

But this problem is not unique to France, and encompasses a wide range of cultures and societies whose populations traversed the global empirical expansionism, enlightenment, and industrial/post-industrial mechanization, especially of war and its instruments. Where we have arrive is a notable undeniable regression to a period of bellicose tribalism wherein each major archetypical clan battles each other for financial, military and political dominance. This terrifying finality was engineered a priori by practice and golden fleeced country reconstructionists taking cues from some of history's most ill-reputed social architects.

The resounding questions incessantly repeated is: how do stop this now that it has started? The research thesis itself is erroneous because it's very precept is false. False because the premise whereby our current globally overmilitarized, surveillance saturated, brother-turning-in-brother thought matrix was originated in falsehood. A regime that utilized an inordinate amount of manipulative chicanery to fix and election forced the wholesale invasion of of an entire geographic region based on falsified, inaccurate evidence with no cohesive attack strategy, no exit strategy, and no appropriate estimation of the consequences.

The appropriate thesis for the time, is not how do we prevent a certain ethnicity, or nationality, or religion, or sect from creating large scale slaughter and mayhem. The question is not how do we recognize mentally ill individuals who are more prone to perpetrating unconscionable acts against fellow citizens? The question we must be asking as a collective is what is so endemic to our collective societies that creates radicalization within our associated populations? Given the armed insurgency that has recently erupted throughout the United States, ought not we reassess our preference for hyperbole and the proliferation of small arms?

In the United States right now, the leading box office movie features a roving band of criminal psychotics released from prison and employed by the government to resolve a dispute between the country and a larger enemy. At the same time as the Dallas police massacre was occurring, preview posters for the upcoming release of the purported last installment of the Bourne Identity: Matt Damon's head roughly matching the size of the automatic pistol pointing out to the crowd, blanketed New York City declaring "You know his name." An insinuation that a secretly trained super-weapon to counteract terrorism that evolved into its own terrorist element: an anti-heroic, former sin-eating, now terror inspiring ghost assassin could be a career objective for the young and yet impressionable has psychological consequences.

A popular meme across social media currently.

In the same way that the American Psychological Association irrevocably linked violent video games to violent behavior, so too does our everyday speech: hard-lining against terrorist states, xenophobia, homophobia, economic disparity, racism, sexism, lack of treatment for the mentally ill - all of it funnels down to build a mentality prone to perpetrate abhorrent acts. Therefore we find ourselves at a crossroads: we can continue to grow our arsenals, to become increasingly polarized, to ignore damages to our environment in lieu of 'security', and deepen our fright. We can absolutely abdicate all manner of democratic viability to egregious militarization. Or, as the, video says, if you believe "that fairness, justice, and freedom are more than words, they are perspectives..." then we ought to start immediately to make alternative choices. For the cause of all this carnage, 'you need only look into a mirror.'