Archive for the 'America' Category

The KEY – The Regeneration of America

Hope about the future was always the central character of the American story. America was shaped by the “aspiration business” and the “future business.” But many in the US and around the world question now the future of America. In this KEY I propose the three propulsions that will regenerate America and shape the powers that will gain ascendency and leadership in the coming decades. Click here to read about the future that is being written in Bangalore, Beijing, Berlin and Boston.

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© Aviv Shahar

Jeff Immelt’s Top Lessons

The top lessons Jeff Immelt says he learned over the last year are:
1. Be incredibly open
2. Be an aggressive listener
3. Develop a business model that works in the worst case scenario

Immelt’s top goals for America in the next decade:
1. Energy security by 2020
2. Be net exporter within a decade
3. Renewal of American leadership

Watch the conversation with Charlie Rose here

© Aviv Shahar

Yellowstone Fire On Wall Street?

The three Ds—the three legged stool of the prosperity economics since WWII—were: the Dollar, the Debt economy and the Drive of entrepreneurialism.

1. The Dollar offered a stable monitory framework. Its universal reserve currency status based on the Bretton Woods agreement and the belief that “the dollar was as good as gold” made for monetary stability.
2. The Debt driven economy produced a framework in which everyone could profit. It was designed in two layers. Any person or business taking a loan (going into debt) could find creative ways to turn this leverage into profit by producing goods and services that returned more than the cost of the debt. The banks were at the top to manage this leverage of borrowing money. They, of course, made the greatest profit. The banking system utilized the fractional system and monetary inflation controlled by the Federal Reserve to create opportunity for all and made profit in the process.
3. The third leg of the prosperity was the eternal Drive of ingenuity and optimism embodied in the entrepreneurial spirit. Drive was unleashed in the market of opportunities and ideas, supported by a stable dollar, debt and property rights.

Suddenly, it appears that the first two legs are breaking down. The dollar status has been shaken. The debt derivatives economy has been stretched to the point where it had no choice but to snap. It snapped like the Yellowstone Fire of 1988. This is the meaning of the Fannie and Freddy government takeover this weekend. All of a sudden everyone is deleveraging – trying to exit debt and replace it with cash and the system crumbles.

Why did it take 60-80 years for the big stock market cycle to suddenly change? Active earning and investing life spans usually average some 40 years. One and a half to twice this duration is enough to eradicate institutional memory. That’s when the system snaps and the rules of the game shift.

What can the Yellowstone Fires of 1988 teach us?
On August 20, 1988, a day now referred to as “Black Saturday”, gigantic firestorms in Yellowstone sent flames as high as 200 feet into the air. These fires grew so large that they created their own wind. Smoke plumes pushed up to 30,000 feet. Many people, including leading ecologists thought that Yellowstone would never recover or that it would take hundreds of years for its fauna and flora to populate the park again. Here is what scientists learned and what it can teach us about the deleveraging fire storm on Wall Street.

1. Expect a lot more pain as a result of the great deleveraging of Wall Street – The Yellowstone fire burned more than half the total acreage of the park. 793,000 acres were affected by fire and bout 300 large mammals perished.

2. The Treasury efforts to contain the crisis will help some come out better but it’s overall impact will be limited – The 1988 firefighting efforts included 25,000 people, the largest in U.S. history. 120 million dollars were spent. This huge effort saved human life and property, but had little impact on the fire itself.

3. The natural cycle of deleveraging will run its natural course – The advance of the 1988 fire was finally stopped in September by rain and snow.

4. An amazing new cycle of innovation and opportunities will be unleashed – The Yellowstone fires created a mosaic of burned and unburned areas that provided new habitats for plants and animals and new realms for research.

5. When the deleveraging cycle has finally run its course and everybody is exhausted and depressed, recovery will be faster and stronger than anyone imagines – In Yellowstone Park, seeds released from pinecones took root almost immediately. Lodgepole pine seedlings began to grow at the rate of an inch or two per year. Wildflowers were abundant by the following spring, and the grasses and shrubs were green and flourishing.

6. Certain sectors and businesses will benefit from the deleveraging cycle and will come out on top – In Yellowstone some of the grasses that the elk needs were more nutritious after the fire. Bears grazed more frequently in burned sites than they did in unburned sites. The fires have had no observable impact on the number of grizzly bears in greater Yellowstone. Cavity-nesting birds, such as bluebirds, had more dead trees for their nests. Nutrients from the ash caused the vegetation to prosper and grasslands returned to pre-fire appearance within a few years. Aspen reproduction has increased because fire stimulated the growth of suckers from the aspen’s underground root system and left behind bare mineral soil that provided good conditions for aspen seedlings.

7. A major economical shift takes place every 60 to 80 years. This is part of the cycle of life – In Yellowstone, the fires turned out to be a necessary and beneficial part of the natural cycle of life, death, and re-birth.

© Aviv Shahar

Presidential Reptilian Shock

You are much more than your reptilian brain! In the course of evolution, the human brain developed the limbic and then the cerebral cortex to support the complex functions of analysis, appreciative evaluation and feelings, and all that the human mind can reach for and understand from art to science, from relationship to religion and more.

Why do the candidates insist on talking to our reptilian brain? Why are most messages on TV designed to trigger a reptilian reaction?

You guessed it – it sells! Scare them. Shock them. Frighten them. Stimulate the reptilian fear and sex instincts or it won’t sell!

Why are the political campaigns and their pundits reduced to reptilian sound bites on both sides? Do they think that we are so stupid to not see and understand we are being manipulated? Do they believe that electing a president is a reptilian choice? Do they think “We The People” will use reptilian reflexes to pull a lever or mark a ballot box?

If the presidential test is reduced to crowd control, mobilizing mob hysteria and inciting an “us versus them” herd reflex, which is what the campaigns on both sides can be seen to be promoting, then the biggest loser is the American public and the possibility of a dialogue – an open limbic and cerebral conversation.

What do you do if you are not a Democrat and not a Republican? We have yet to find a good replacement for this bipartisan placeholder. Democracy merits better solutions – so why is the political discourse insisting on insulting our intelligence and turning what could be invigorating and inspiring into a sequel to beach volleyball at the Summer Olympics?

What’s the 21st century challenge? How do we exercise democracy that is more advanced than a gladiator fight in the coliseum?

© Aviv Shahar

Olympics Moments

The first two Olympic Moments I remember were Bob Beamon’s long jump at the Mexico City Olympics and Lasse Viren’s 10K run at the Munich Olympics. Beamon excelled so far beyond the world record (8.90 M) that it seemed unbelievable, as though, for a moment, he had defied gravity. It would take 23 years before his record was matched. Viren had fallen earlier in the race and lost touch with the lead group. He quickly picked himself up, rejoined the group at the front led by Bedford and went ahead to win the race with a sensational time. His win seemed to defy the rules of plausibility.

The Beijing Olympic Moment was the 4X100 relay with Jason Lezak, who came from behind the French, Alain Bernad, the World and Olympic champion to win the race for the American team and give Michael Phelps that Gold as one of his eight.

What makes an Olympic moment? Why was Viren’s 10K a source of inspiration for so many? What is it about Lezak’s finish of the 4X100 freestyle, and about Phelps’ finish of the Men’s 100M Butterfly and his Eight Gold medals in Beijing that will inspire youngsters for generations?

Olympic moments are about much more than victory. More than a peak performance. Olympic Moments redefine our perception of reality and of what is possible. They instruct us about the human capacity to transcend limitations. To defy the rules. To even defy the laws of gravity.

Why are these moments formative into the collective human story? We love the drama. We love heroes. But there is something else. Olympic Moments of physical and athletic greatness let us intuit that which is beyond – the greater, transcended nature of life. They offer us a glimpse into a ‘perfect’ and ‘supreme’ realm. They confirm a latent knowing that beyond our physicality there is something unbeatable, eternal. Olympic Moments show us that at the edge of the human capacity, where the improbable and the impossible are suspended for a short moment, life can be touched by the miraculous. That on a special occasion, with hard work, training, sweat and tears you may be helped by something greater. That you may also be sustained and delivered beyond, to reach the unattainable and unimaginable, and touch the immortal essence of life.

Once you find this moment in the Olympics, you may find it again nearby, in simple things. Perhaps even inside you.
© Aviv Shahar

“Celebrit(y)-ocracy” Or Celebrating Life That Is The Question

A central theme in the American experiment was striving for liberty and freedom. A vital component of this was the departure from the Monarchy and the Aristocratic society in favor of a Meritocracy. The deeper dimension of this new aspiration was the promise of discovering the royal aspect of human life inside each person’s pursuit of higher expression and opportunity. This journey was in large part abandoned or left incomplete, and the societal vacuum created by doing away with aristocracy was filled with “Celebritocracy”.

Too many people give up living their lives and celebrating its meaning and significance. Instead they obsess over the soap opera dramas of celebrity madness, which is fed by media frenzy. Why are we surrounded by a culture of celebrity obsession and voyeurism? What is this insatiable hysteria? Why do people feel so distanced from themselves that they substitute focusing on what they want to change in their own life with a voyeuristic attachment to the quasi details of the lives of celebrities?

There are many explanations and theories but underneath it all there is an epidemic of loneliness, insecurity and confusion. Yes, I know, celebrity is what sells. Celebrity romances, breakups, scandals and sex intrigues get ratings. Especially when it is supported by a bi-polar swing from the Emmy awards to what Hollywood actress lost her custody battle this week. Is this really what society is about?

There is a great fear in many people of discovering that they might be empty on the inside, that there is no core certainty and strength. The fear is that perhaps who they are – is not who they want to be, and the celebrity craziness provides the needed distraction of thinking about someone else. If our talk around the water cooler is about the latest star gossip than it isn’t about our own discoveries or insights and therefore involves no risk and also no gain.

The social experiment of doing away with royalty and aristocracy in favor of meritocracy is only half done. The next leg up toward the maturation of the societal organism is to liberate itself from the need for a culture of idol worship. This doesn’t appear to be an exclusively American obsession but rather a growing global desire to passively ‘live’ through those who appear larger than life on the big screen and on the internet. Society’s next developmental threshold is to transcend the mental and emotional age of 12-14, when perhaps the stage of hero worship was an open ended exploration of the options and opportunities that were ahead of us. The next cultural evolution is to help people take their lives back, to discover the royal nature of human life in the qualities of courage, beauty, honor, goodness and stewardship and to embark on their own exploration into what it means to be alive and participating in the greatest adventure of all, their own story.

© Aviv Shahar

The 3-Legged Stool Of American Supremacy And The Dollar Crisis

The Roman Empire ruled the world by conquering land. It came undone not by an external enemy but because it crumbled from the inside, at its core. The British Empire did not need to conquer land to rule the world. It controlled the sea with its navy and thereby controlled commerce and the world at that time. The beginning of the end of the British Empire was the innovation of aviation. Aviation made naval power less important and helped unleash America’s power.
How did America gain an empire-like hegemony in the 20th century? The answer is a 3-legged stool.

  1. American high moral ground originated by the constitution, progressed by American idealism and demonstrated by America’s role in WWII and the rebuilding of Europe.
  2. American innovation and entrepreneurial edge, demonstrated by its productive drive and a series of scientific, medical, and technological breakthroughs.
  3. The unique, never before in history, universal reserve currency status of the Dollar.

This third leg has been the more invisible instrument of American dominance. It did not need to control the land, nor the sea. America controlled the universal currency. Three things allowed the Dollar to become the universal currency.

  1. The Dollar was good as gold and was backed by gold as the ultimate currency that has never been tarnished. The gold window was closed in 1971 by Nixon.
  2. The great engine of American industrial and technological development became the fountain of wealth creation that backed up and gave deep support to the unique Dollar status.
  3. America’s role in WWII created tremendous trust in both its strength and in the benevolent ideal demonstrated by America in not reducing Europe and other parts of the world to conquered states. In essence this was a second George Washington moment in not assuming the kingship role that was available. Instead America did something smarter. It made the Dollar the King.

The machination of the dollar’s crowning is found in the Bretton Woods Agreements .

On September 20, 2007 the Dollar broke down a critical technical resistance by cutting through it’s all time low. A few days later the Canadian Dollar achieved and surpassed parity. The deterioration continues further. The third leg of the American stool is being challenged very seriously. The strength of an economy is in the soundness of its currency. The last five years have seen the first leg of the stool – the American high moral ground – being criticized and tarnished in the world. Thomas Freedman tells us that the second leg of entrepreneurial and innovative edge is also being challenged by a flattening world. Some would claim that the 3-legged American Hegemony stool is no more because of the triple deficit coupled with many trillions of Dollars in what is called by some a nuclear derivative cloud.
I propose that it is too early to conduct an American Requiem. That instead this can be a moment for America to transcend its crisis to discover and unleash the even greater potential waiting in this land. This potential is in the form of a new release of brilliance. Brilliance not aimed at preserving old hegemony but toward leading the family of nations on the path of true world and planetary citizenship.
Great nationhood in the 21st century is offering leadership of a global planet-wide nature. The task for young and bright minds of America and of China, India, Latin America, Russia, and Africa – the task and challenge for the young people of the Earth is to discover the ingredients of such global, local and personal leadership. This is bigger than climate change or any one issue and includes societal, cultural and spiritual maturation. The task is to identify, build and lead the three or seven legs of world citizenship and leadership wherein individuals, families, groups and sovereign nations can choose their destiny and thrive without bringing this planet back to some dinosaur age. Any ideas?

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