David Brooks Is Brilliant (and Prescient)

| April 23, 2009

New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks knows of what he speaks. Last month he wrote an elegiac piece called “The Commercial Republic.” In it, he posits that historically America has unabashedly pursued success and the byproduct of hard work and risk-taking, wealth—that, in fact, it is part of our national genetic code.
He points out that sadly we are in what he calls a noncommercial moment, when the media are full of downbeat stories exploring the downfall of the American economy, with more than a little schadenfreude for the wealthy figures who have been brought low. But, he says, “the cultural DNA of the past 400 years will not be erased. The pendulum will swing hard. The gospel of success will recapture the imagination.” I couldn’t agree more.

Diploma Depression

| April 21, 2009

It’s almost graduation time, and you can feel the anxiety in the air. Very soon, 1.5 million college graduates will be flooding into the worst job market in 25 years, with unemployment at 8.5 percent and rising. According to Nouriel Roubini (also known as “Dr. Doom”), the New York University economist who accurately predicted the current economic meltdown, we can expect the unemployment rate to go into the double digits before we begin to feel the effects of a recovery. To make matters worse, the class of 2009 is competing with 1.8 million degree holders who are already on the street looking for the same jobs. The supply and demand curve is simply not in their favor. Understandably, the fear among this year’s graduates is palpable—but it’s nothing compared to that of their parents.

The Biggest Lie We Tell Our Kids

| April 18, 2009

Have you ever said to your child or to a loved one, “You can be anything you want to be, anything you dream of being”? If you have, you are not alone, but I’m sorry to tell you that you lied. Not deliberately, of course, but it is a blatant falsehood. Shocked? Don’t be. Instead, it’s time to stop the madness and get real. That’s hard to do, because our culture has inculcated this belief in our unlimited potential in most every one of us, just as we have all been taught to believe that money doesn’t bring happiness—which is also untrue.
W. Clement Stone, the insurance man and author of numerous books on success, who in the last century was the richest man in Chicago, was famous for saying, “Anything the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” This ultimate optimist had the best of intentions, I’m sure. And it’s a message that we all want to hear: Sure, I want to be Warren Buffet, or at least have his billions. I wouldn’t mind looking like Brad Pitt while I’m at it, and I would love to play tennis like Roger Federer, but those qualities are simply not in my genetic code.

Personal Branding and the Rich

| April 17, 2009

Yesterday, I was in interviewed by Dan Schwabel, a self-proclaimed personal-branding expert, for his blog, personalbrandingblog.com. I was intrigued by his interest in The Richest Man in Town and in how RMITs think about their personal brands, and our conversation reminded me of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous quote, “The rich are different from you and me.” Dan’s questions about the wealthy and personal branding—a concept that Fast Company magazine made popular during the height of the Internet bubble with a 1997 cover story, “The Brand Called You”—led me to consider whether millionaires, multimillionaires and billionaires approach branding differently than we mere mortals.