What Do You Know That Others Can Use?

By Shlomo Maital

    In an era when the key resource is knowledge (wisdom, skill, insight, creativity) – much of it is being wasted. I’m talking about pensioners, those over 65, who are warehoused, marginalized, the day after turning 65.  I know someone who was a key assistant to a bank CEO – his phone never stopped ringing, until the day after he retired, and then it fell silent. 

     In an era when life expectancy is in the mid-80’s, we are wasting 20 productive years, on average, in which those with wisdom can help solve the world’s pressing problems.  And problems?  Climate crisis, inequality, assault on democracy, violence, poor schools, wars, fascism, ..and that’s just a start.

     I have a friend who is sharing his insights through…poetry, weekly poems, that each has deep meaning regarding how we live.  There are myriad ways to do this. 

     What do you know about life, that you have learned the hard way at times, that others can use and learn from?  And how can you share it?  There are so many ways.  It need not  be ‘at scale’ – one friend at a time. 

     I have a friend who has self-published wonderful poetry books and a superb book about management and business.  And others, who are building a great startup.  

     We used to say, life begins at 40.  Today, make it begin at 65.  Use the adage “the adjacent possible” – what can you do that is a bit different than what you have done in the past, but not so different it is unfeasible.    

Economic Forecast: Thick Fog

By Shlomo Maital

   Few economists can see as far and as clearly as Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, a longtime New York Times columnist.  His latest column is headed “The Humbug Economy”.  His key point:  He cannot recall a time when the economic fog surrounding the data was thicker or more pea-soup.  Recession? Sure.  No recession?  Of course. 

   Why the thick fog?  And why can economists not reach a conclusion (even if, as G.B. Shaw once said, you lined them up all up, they still would not reach a conclusion).  

    Here is Krugman’s reasoning.  There is a long lag with GDP data. When we do get 2nd quarter data, it may show another decline –the 2nd.  Technically, that’s a recession?  But no – that call is made by an independent committee, and they are unlikely to announce a recession despite two quarterly declines.

    GDP is measured on two sides:  output and income.  And Krugman notes, the two measures differ more than they ever have.  GDP production?  Weak.  GDP income:  strong.  Hmmm.  

    Wage price spiral?  No.  wage increases have slowed. Job creation:  Strong.  Not a signal at all of recession. 

    The global pandemic has thrown a monkey wrench into the global and US economies.  The US dollar, for instance, is now at virtual parity with the Euro…first time in two decades.  Strong dollar does not indicate recession.

   But the stock market does.  It is officially a bear market, with some 20% plus decline. 

    So what does an ordinary person do?

    Set aside some saving for a rainy day.  Fasten your seat belt.  And prepare for heavy fog for some time to come.

Radical-Right US Supreme Coart and Oakland A’s

By Shlomo Maital   

   How can we understand the recent 6-3 radical-right rulings of the US Supreme Coourt, overturning Roe v. Wade, environment, gun restrictions, and more?

    Here is my take.  Consider Justice Samuel Alito who wrote the abortion opinion.  He was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Bush on October 31, 2005, and served since January 31, 2006.   So for over a decade, Alito, a Roman Catholic, has been on the losing side of the Supreme Court, which had a liberal majority – until Trump’s three anti-abortion radical-right appointees.

     Humiliation.  Anger.  Decision after decision, Alito loses.   But not any more.

    Consider baseball.  The worst team in Major League Baseball is he Oakland Athletics, who play in a rundown crummy stadium, with mediocre or worse players, and average crowds of 8,000 – lower than their minor league AAA team gets.  Now imagine, impossibly, that Oakland acquires ace pitcher Max Scherzer and Yankee home run ace Aaron Judge!   They humiliate teams they used to lose to, and win the World Series. 

   As they do – do they behave with grace and gentlemanly courtesy to other teams?  No way.  They drub them, humiliate them, get even for the years of scorn they absorbed, and leading 10-2 in the ninth inning, they go for six more runs. 

    That’s Alito and the Supreme Court.  It’s payback time.  Revenge.  Against common sense?  Against the majority of reasonable Americans?  Who cares.  This is payback for all the years of humiliation.

    Is it really possible that emotions play a role in the highest US court?   You bet.  Read Alito’s Roe v Wade decision, leaked months earlier.  Do you not read “you rubbed my face in it,  now I will do it to yours”?  

    I wrote in an earlier blog that America is broken.  The legislative branch has been broken for years. Now, the judicial branch is broken too.  Two out of three.  And the Executive?  2024 will be crucial.  3 out of 3 will be too much.

Russian Resilience

By Shlomo Maital    

   It physically pains me to write anything positive about Russia, the nation spilling blood, killing civilians, starving people by withholding wheat, ripping off the world by spiking gas and oil prices, and lying daily.  But – truth is truth.

    Russians are resilient.  They suffered 20 million casualties in World War II and starvation.  When the USSR collapsed, there was privation, hunger, hyper-inflation…   Russians have learned to be resilient.

     The ruble was 67 to the dollar on Feb. 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine.  It spiked to nearly double that, 133 to the dollar – and today is 54 rubles per dollar, stronger than pre-war.     

     Kudos to Russian Central Bank’s governor, the brilliant Elvira Sakhipzadovna Nabiullina. 

      Russia’s inflation rate in May was 17%.  High, true – but the US has 8% inflation, and Europe is not far behind.

      McDonald’s closed all its 850 restaurants in Russia with the outbreak of war.  They are now re-opening, under a different name,  same stuff.

       Russia faced oil and gas embargos – but the higher price of oil gave Russia a windfall of $100 b. in oil sales since the outbreak of war, and it is finding customers in China and India. 

       This Ukraine war will be very long and protracted.  Russia’s economy is hurt by sanctions, but its people are resilient and have known privation before.  It is part of being Russian.

    So do not expect the sanctions to alter Russia’s course.  Do not expect the people of Russia to whine about how hard their lives have become. 

    Long-term, the energy sector in Russia is the most important, it contributes 20-25 percent of GDP, 65 percent of total exports and 30 percent of government budget revenue.  Western countries are shifting away from buying Russian energy.  And the economy is reliant on it.  Let us see how Russia deals with this in the long run.

 YOU CAN be more Creative

By Shlomo Maital    

   I have taught innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship for decades. Often I found my main task was persuading students that they ARE creative, despite their years of doing more or less the same thing in their jobs.   Our brains are like muscles, I claimed;  exercise them, and your creativity muscles get much stronger.  A few, perhaps, bought the idea.

    In the latest issue of the APA Monitor, April-May 2022,  Kirsten Weir offers five simple, practical steps toward being more creative.  Worth a try?  Here they are:

  1.  Put in the work.  My recent book adds “perspiration” to “aspiration” and “inspiration”.  We all know idea-people, who never can muster the persistence and hard work to implement their creativity.  Work at ideation, work at implementation. 
  2. Let Your Mind Wander:   Daydream. But with a purpose.  Define a problem you care about.  Think about it.  Store it.  Let it rest, become dormant. Revisit it from time to time.  Dream.  Let your subconscious work on it.
  3. Practice Remote Associations.  So many great ideas involve X+Y – linking things that nobody else has.  Like, the Japanese engineer atop Mt. Fuji who thought of linking cell phones and cameras – now standard. 
  4. Go Outside.  Open the iwndows. Travel.  Get out into nature.  Talk to people.  Leave your comfort zone, explore unfamiliar things.  You can harvest ideas in remote places.  As in my case study of how a UK hospital children’s emergency room became more efficient by studying Formula 1 pit stop crews.
  5. Revisit Your Creative Ideas:   Keep tweaking, improving, working on your ideas. Make them better.  Revisit them again and again. NEVER fall in love with the idea as it is… only with its ideal form that you strive for.

Gutenberg vs. Zuckerberg

By Shlomo Maital   

   In the 15th C.,  Jacob Gutenberg invented printing – and the world changed forever.  Ideas could be preserved on paper and disseminated widely.  A kind of new marketplace was created – a market for ideas.  Some ideas, in some books, were short-lived. Others became immortal.  The test was the people who consumed and invested in those ideas.   

    In February 2004, Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook at Harvard, as an on-line class yearbook.  And the world changed, again.  For the better?  Probably not.  We now have a new digital social media market for ideas… and truth has taken a vacation.  You can put any idea up on social media, and find those who will believe it, because they choose to.  The Gutenberg market for value-creating ideas has been in large part replace by the Zuckerberg market for false fake harmful destructive ideas (like, vaccines have microchips in them). 

     I don’t know if there is any way to fix a world, in which fewer people read books, while more and more people rely on their information on digital sites, many of which are doubtful.  And in fewer than two years, we will mark two decades of social media.  It took Gutenberg’s printing press decades, centuries, to impact the world for good, and just mere moments for social media to pollute truth.

     Just an old guy complaining  about the ‘good old days’?   Probably. 

Words..and Guns

By Shlomo Maital

Original illustration of old western cowboy

   Words matter.  Words inspire, console, inform, motivate.  And yes, words kill.  

    The Second Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified on December 15, 1791, just a few years after the US became independent.  Here are the words of this Amendment, in full,  every word:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

    That’s it.  That’s the whole thing.  This is what gun-crazy people use to justify enabling a whacko 18-year-old acquire a semi-automatic weapon with 30 bullets in a clip, to wipe out a class of innocent beautiful children.

    A well regulated militia.  Meaning, in the context of 1791,  police and army,  necessary for a nation still threatened and still in its infancy.  A well-regulated militia, needed to defend the country.

    The late Justice Scolia twisted those sparkingly clear words, to tell us to ignore “militia”.  Even though he espoused ‘textism’…literally following the text of the Constitution. But, I guess, only when politically convenient.

     So the gun crazy people use the ‘right of the people to keep and bear arms”, giving America far more guns than it has people – and ignore the ‘well regulated militia’ part.

     Words kill.  Those words, unintended, kill.  And will continue to kill. 

    As New York Times columnist John McWhorter says:  America is broken.  And it may not be fixable.

Why Did US GDP Fall in Q1  2022?

By Shlomo Maital

    Warning!  Boring Economics stuff follows.

    So —  in the first three months of 2022,  ‘experts’ expected the US GDP to grow by 1%.

    Instead it fell!!  By 1.4%.   Yikes. 

    Recession?  Time to worry?

    Not really.  If you can stand 283 words on economics,  here is the explanation. 

    People kept spending money, with consumer spending growing by 2.7%.  That was good.

     But three things dragged the GDP growth figure down.

     One:  the “trade deficit” (that is, the difference between imports and exports).  The US ran a huge import surplus, importing stuff like crazy, catching up on the import slowdown because of clogged ports.  And remember, imports subtract from GDP, because Gross Domestic Product is only stuff made IN THE US!   So, a larger import surplus means slower GDP growth.

    Two:  inventory.  (Bo-o-o-o-oring!).  Inventory is the stock of stuff produced in previous periods.  When inventory falls (as it did),  because businesses are selling stuff they made earlier,  then the component of GDP known as ‘gross capital formation’  falls.  That is – businesses sold stuff they produced in earlier periods, rather than make new stuff.  So this too cuts GDP growth.

    Three:  Defense spending.  US defense spending declined,  temporarily, probably due to COVID and supply chain issues.  This is also temporary.  It will accelerate a lot in the coming quarters, because the US is shipping a major portion of its arsenal to Ukraine (fully a third of US’s Javelin anti-tank missiles were shipped there).  That inventory will be replenished, and GDP will grow as a result. The House of Representative just approved $40 billion in new aid to Ukraine.

    Bottom line:  (if you’ve made it this far):   This is a one-quarter drop in GDP, probably not repeated in Q2.   It is not a signal of recession (which requires two quarters of negative GDP growth).

    However —  a recession could STILL occur.  If the FED tightens credit too rapidly, and this spreads abroad, we will get stagnation plus inflation – the stagflation of the 1970’s. The inflation is supply-side, cost based. Tighter credit cuts demand. A double whammy, both reducing GDP.

    So – Q1 negative growth was noise – but just because people cry ‘wolf!’ doesn’t mean there isn’t a pack of them waiting around the corner.

by Shlomo Maital

How to Change the World – In 4-5 Steps

By Shlomo Maital  

   In my previous blog entry, I argued that to be truly creative – to have ideas that are BOTH novel and useful,  meaning, ideas that you actually implement and get people to use – you need some structure or method.

   Here are a couple.  But each person really needs to design their own.

    A.  From a highly successful global innovation consultant:

     1.  Define the existing situation.

     2.  Define a ‘virtual’ situation (goal, ideal).

     3.  Define clearly WHY?   Why create the virtual ideal situation?  Why will it create value?    Cultivate wild ideas in this stage.    Use some basic arithmetic tools:  add, subtract, multiply, divide.  Especially subtract

     4.  Now,  State HOW!  How will you implement the virtual (ideal)?  State the practical steps for this to happen.

     E.g.  Take a bicycle.  Remove its wheels. (subtraction).  Now – what can you do with a wheel-less bicycle?  Answer:  Exercise bike.  A huge industry.


    B.  My own yin-yang method.  Which is  very similar to A. above.

    1.  Define the Yang (the ‘light’):  The IDEAL innovation that you seek to create.

      2.  Define the Yin (the ‘actual’, existing; the ‘dark’).  The product or process as it is now. 

      3.  State clearly what are all the constraints, or obstacles, that prevent attaining the Yang – ideal innovation.

      4.  Show how to use one or more of the basic creativity tools, to close the gap between the yang and the yin – between the actual, existing,   and the ideal, desired innovation.  (Look up TRIZ, a method devised by a Russian engineer named Genrich Altschuler, who built a taxonomy of all the ways people have come up with creative ideas).   

      5.  State clearly a feasible action plan to implement the innovation.

      Carpenters need tools.  Plumbers need tools.  So do creative people.  Build yourself a creativity toolbox, containing proven tools that you can apply to crack ‘what if’ challenges.  One common mistake:  Developers use ‘addition’ and keep adding new features on to existing products, often destroying them.  Go the other way.  Try subtraction. Take away things, especially ‘essential’ features, and see what you come up with to create new value.

The Million Faces of Creativity

By Shlomo Maital

 The New York Times has a regular‘style’ magazine, called “T”  (https://www.nytimes.com/international/section/t-magazine)  — which I generally dislike.  It usually features fashion models wearing expensive clothes that look, well, super-pretentious and usually ugly. 

   But the April 23, 2022, issue is very special.  Edited by Hanya Yanagihara, it features short pieces by 32 or so creative artists – designers, musicians, artists, writers – who distill their creative process and describe it.  And give advice.

   As a lifelong student of creativity, I have peddled the idea that brainstorming (defined as random chaotic ideation) is ineffective.  You need some sort of structure to control the wild tiger of creativity.  I have helped students build their own “personal creativity machine”, which sounds like an oxymoron…. Creativity machine????    But the idea was simply, build your own process for having ideas, one that is usited to your tastes, personality, skills, and goals.  And each Personal Creativity Machine must be unique and it must fit you, like an expensive jacket or pair of jeans. 

    In this “T” magazine issue, we have 32 such personal creativity machines.  They are each fascinating and each is unique and different.  I especially liked the “Letters to an Artist” segment – 40 creative people, many senior citizens, who share wisdom about “how to be and what to do at the beginning, middle and end of an artistic career”. 

   A few samples:  Bernadette Peters, 74 (Broadway star! Sondheim interpreter!  Remember  Mack and Mabel (1974), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), Song and Dance (1985), Into the Woods (1987), The Goodbye Girl (1993), Annie Get Your Gun (1999), Gypsy (2003), A Little Night Music (2010), Follies (2011), and Hello, Dolly!).   “Never try to copy or sound like anyone else!  But you can admire their work…”.   YoY o Ma 66,  cellist: “”We live in a very hierarchical musical world.  This is the moment not to get paralyzed. Use all your senses and exercise them.  And forge your values!”.   Annette Bening, 83, actor.  “(mother of four)     ….  When you have responsibilities that are outside of yourself, it makes your work better.  And your desire to continue to excavate and express the inexpressible doesn’t leave you.  It might wane, but then it comes back.”

    And the lovely segment (to me, as a senior senior), about later-life creativity…   YoYo Ma again:  “As an older person, you can see what is coming down the pike better…. There’s a sense of clarity.  You know your time is limited. You can differentiate and maybe occasionally have some choice in saying, “I don’t need to do that!  Let me tell you what I really care about.”

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital