Tom Friedman has an interesting post in today’s New York Times, Can’t Keep A Bad Idea Down
It begins by reciting all the thoroughly bad ideas (mainly Republican) that seem to be gaining ground in the upcoming elections. So far, so good.
But then, what does Friedman propose as the right way to deal with today’s problems?
Basically, his answer is: fix our education system. Citing a panel of scientists and engineers, he quotes:
“Here is a little dose of reality about where we actually rank today,” says Vest: sixth in global innovation-based competitiveness, but 40th in rate of change over the last decade; 11th among industrialized nations in the fraction of 25- to 34-year-olds who have graduated from high school; 16th in college completion rate; 22nd in broadband Internet access; 24th in life expectancy at birth; 27th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving degrees in science or engineering; 48th in quality of K-12 math and science education; and 29th in the number of mobile phones per 100 people.
In effect, we need to “to increase America’s talent pool by vastly improving K-12 science and mathematics education, to reinforce long-term basic research, and to create the right tax and policy incentives so we can develop, recruit and retain the best and brightest students, scientists and engineers in the world. The goal is to make America the premier place to innovate and invest in innovation to create high-paying jobs.”
Problem: how long is that going to take? At best, decades. More realistically, not even then.
That’s because even If we educate our children better, will be they be used effectively in the organizations we have today?
Studies show that established organizations using traditional management don’t know how to use good people. The rate of return on assets of US firms is one quarter of what it was in 1965. Only one in five workers is fully engaged in their work. Executive turnover is accelerating. Customers are frustrated. Innovation is stunted. The life expectancy of Fortune 500 companies has fallen to 15 years and is heading towards 5 years, unless something changes.
That’s the elephant in the room that Tom Friedman has missed. Our organizations, particularly our private sector organizations, have become unproductive.
It’s not that we shouldn’t fix the education system. We should.
But a far more urgent problem is to start managing our organizations in a way that generates simultaneously high creativity and continuous innovation and disciplined execution and deep job satisfaction and client delight.
The irony is that we now know how to manage in a radically different way to accomplish this. Some organizations are already doing it. When many organizations do it, then the economy will start growing and innovating and creating jobs so as to create the genuine prosperity that has eluded the country for the past couple of decades.
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