Scenes From a Marriage

January 17th, 2017

1280_obamas_october_cover-essence.jpgAmidst all the noise of politics, especially on the national stage, we forget that it's still made of up of real people with real lives; complex relationships and evolving marriages

Someone once said that the key to political success was learning how to fake authenticity. One thing we came to learn over the past eight years, is that the Obamas were very real. They were authentic, even if the nature of their lives and yes, even their authenticity changed over the first four years and perhaps even more so during the full eight years.

NY Times correspondent Jodi Kantor in her book The Obamas takes a look inside the Obama family, the Obama marriage and the complexity of a modern professional marriage inside the crucible of the White House. The book has just been updated and is now out in paperback.

My conversation with Jodi Kantor:

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It Did Happen Here

January 12th, 2017
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Fear is a funny thing. In our personal life, it often holds us back from things we know we should do. In our nation's collective life, fear often makes us do crazy things...to have a kind of national emotional and moral breakdown that feeds on the sum total and power of individual fears.

Such has been the case lately in our election and in our discussions of immigrants and our fear of the other, amidst a rapidly changing world. To better understand where we are, we need only look back to the spring of 1942. A time under FDR, when we rounded up over one-hundred thousand residents of Japanese ancestry, living along the West Coast and sent them to detention centers for the duration of the war. Each lost part of their lives and some would argue that our nation lost a part of its soul.

Richard Cahan captures the sadness of that moment in Un-American: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II: Images by Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and Other Government Photographers.

My conversation with Richard Cahan:

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Jane Jacobs Understood that Cities Have Always Reflected The Best of Us

January 8th, 2017

kanigel-compositejpg.jpg.size.custom.croMore and more of us are moving to cities. Look at any demographic map and it’s clear we are becoming a more urban nation. Cities are the vital link in our cultural, social and economic well being. And no one knew more, or understood cities better than Jane Jacobs.

100 years after her birth, her work, her insights and her chronicle of cities is the gold standard by which we judge both the good and bad policy and planning decisions we make.

Robert Kanigel gives Jacobs the biography she has needed in, Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs.

My conversation with Robert Kanigel

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Why Cities Matter…Today More Than Ever

January 4th, 2017

774cf_Urban_61n70ynS2tL.jpgWhile Rural America may have made its voice heard in our recent election, the numbers show that more and more Americans, as well as citizen around the world, are moving to cities. Look at any demographic map of the US and it’s clear that we are becoming a more urban nation. As such, cities are the vital link in our cultural, social and economic well being.

But they also are, by virtue of their density, laboratories for so many of the larger problems that face the society. Problems of inequality, education, race, class and creative disruption are all playing out in our cities.

Cornell professor William Goldsmith thinks they are also target rich in opportunities. He lays out his ideas in Saving Our Cities: A Progressive Plan to Transform Urban America.

My conversation with William Goldsmith:

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We could use her comedy perspective today!

January 1st, 2017

author-leslie-bennetts-on-new-joan-riverIt would be very easy these days to have contempt for where celebrity culture has taken us. Nonetheless, sometimes celebrities just by virtue of their talent, their fame and their own ambition are able to make change in the world. 

Whether it's making cracks in the glass ceiling, having us look at things we might not have seen or simply modeling a very public life with lessons for us all...celebrities do sometime provide us a window into ourselves.

Such was the case with Joan Rivers. Whether in business, in comedy, or in life she was a trailblazer. And now journalist Leslie Bennetts gives her the biography she deserves in Last Girl Before Freeway: The Life, Loves, Losses, and Liberation of Joan Rivers

My conversation with Leslie Bennetts:

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Why So Many Homeless Families in America?

December 29th, 2016

51perpKcmML._SX331_BO1%252C204%252C203%2When we talk about the homeless, especially in our major cities, we imagine those that are visible on the streets and sidewalks. We don’t see the two million plus children who are homeless. The children and families living in cars, or motel rooms, or emergency shelters. They constitute an Invisible Nation: Homeless Families in America

How did this happen in a country and in cities as rich as San Francisco, or New York or Washington? Journalist Richard Schweid takes us deep into the bottom of a homeless economy that should shame us all.

My conversation with Ricahrd Schweid:

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Without The Rocket Girls, There Would Be No Hidden Figures

December 28th, 2016

maxresdefault.jpgLong before NAPA's Hidden Figures of the 1960’s space program, there were the The Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars.

When Sally Ride blasted off as the first American woman into space back in 1983, she may not have know it at the time, but she stood on the shoulders of dozens of woman who, beginning in the 1940's, helped America compete in the space race and the Cold War.

Based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, these woman essentially provided the computational power that made rocketry viable. They shattered not only glass ceilings, but helped free us from what poet John Magee call the “surly bonds of earth.”

Nathalia Holt, trained at Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT and Harvard, takes us back to a seminal time for woman and America in space.

My conversation with Nathalia Holt:

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How Parents Must Raise A Generation That Will Save Us

December 27th, 2016

RaisingHumanBeings_DrRossGreene.jpgParenting has gone from something natural to something that has become a job with many specific rules, fears and requirements. In fact it’s both more than than and less than sum total of all those rules.

It should be a partnership with our kids, a kind of collaboration that makes both parent and child stronger. That a large part of the approach of Dr. Ross Greene lays out in Raising Human Beings: Creating a Collaborative Partnership with Your Child. It’s an approach that will be critical as we rely more on future generations to rescue us from our current folly.

My conversation with Dr. Ross Greene:

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Spy vs. Spy…Then and Now

December 19th, 2016

SH_Kati-Marton.jpgListening to our political discourse today, vis a vis Russia, it brings back powerful reminders of the Cold War. A time when spies and covert action existed in what Le Carre called “a moral twilight.”

And yet when we think about people like Kim Philby or Alger Hiss or Aldrich Ames, is the way that they turned on their country any different than what we are seeing today?

We look at one of these instructive Cold War stories, True Believer: Stalin's Last American Spywith best selling author, and award winning journalist Kati Marton.

My conversation with Kati Marton:

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What We Can Learn from War, Peace and Conquest in the Roman World

December 18th, 2016

51ZhcGacfeL._SX325_BO1%252C204%252C203%2In these troubled and uncertain times, it seems that the only thing we can take comfort from is history. Civilizations, empires and nations come and go. But how it happens and why is where we find lessons that may comfort us and maybe save us.

Few periods are as instructive as Pax Romana (Latin for "Roman peace.") It was the long period of relative peacefulness and minimal expansion by the Roman military force after the end of the Final War of the Roman Republic and before the beginning of the Crisis of the Third Century.

This is the story that famed historian Adrian Goldsworthy tells in in Pax Romana: War, Peace and Conquest in the Roman World.  It’s a story particularly instructive today.

My conversation with Adrian Goldsworthy:

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Understanding The Forces That Are Shaping the World

December 12th, 2016

Ruchir-sharma-hero.jpgJust as the existential question of why individuals succeed and fail, vexes every aspect of both public policy and personal debate, so to with nations. History tells us of the rise and fall of nations. In so doing it gives us clues about economics, demographics, planning and even how the individual drive for success scales up to impact whole nations.

But of course, like everything else, we seek clear and precise metrics to try and make business decisions, geopolitical policy decisions, and simply anticipate the future in order to make a better world.

Ruchir Sharma, the Head of Emerging Markets and Chief Global Strategist at Morgan Stanley, tries to do this in The Rise and Fall of Nations: Forces of Change in the Post-Crisis World.

My conversation with Ruchir Sharma:

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The Nordic Model and Why It Works

December 8th, 2016
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Whenever political discussion, particularly on the left, turns to what policies will really work to improve the lives of the middle class, invariably there is talk about the Scandinavian model.

Countries like Norway, Denmark, Iceland Sweden and Finland are constantly in the top tier of education, abundance of jobs, healthcare and a social safety net that is woven in the nation's DNA.

But this was not always so. Many of these countries had to work hard to achieve this and in some cases that did it from polarization as bad, if not worse than the current state of America. George Lakey takes us through this history in Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got It Right-and How We Can, Too.

My conversation with George Lakey:

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We’ll always have sex?

December 2nd, 2016

futuresex_witt.jpgIt seems as if creative destruction and technology are changing everything ...even sex.

This may be problematic given the degree to which sex is connected to everything else; marketing, relationships, essentially all forms of human interaction. As Emily Witt says, “we organize our society around the way we define our sexual relationships.”

The inflection point at which all these forces are coming together, is in part what Emily Witt writes about in her new book Future Sex: A New Kind of Free Love. Yet even in that future, as Woody Allen so aptly said..."we all need the eggs."

My conversation with Emily Witt:

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Imagine If Wonder Could Replace Fear

December 1st, 2016

9780399184482.jpeg“Children's playthings are not sports and should be deemed their most serious actions," Montaigne wrote.

Freud regarded play as the means by which the child accomplishes his first great cultural and psychological achievements; through play he expresses himself. This is true, Freud thought, even for an infant whose play consists of nothing more than smiling at his mother, as she smiles at him. He noted how much and how well children express their thoughts and feelings through play.

Why then should we assume that we outgrow the value of play? The wonder of seeing the world through joy, rather than fear. Think about all that you’ve read about the creativity of silicon valley...the atmosphere of fun that entrepreneurs try to create.

Today even education is being built around the idea of projects, of teams, of fun and of wonder.

This is the world that best selling author Steven Johnson explores in Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World.

My conversation with Steven Johnson:

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In The Cloud, No One Can Hear You Think

November 28th, 2016

head-in-the-clouds-william-poundstone-boNot a day goes by that you don’t pick up your smartphone to access a piece of information. Every dinner party or get together has the scene where everyone races to their phones to look up a fact or prove a point.

It’s so easy….so easy in fact that we often think, certainly our kids think, that they don’t need a large basic body of knowledge. Why memorize anything when you can just look it up..it’s all there in the cloud...right?

Well it is. But fundamental knowledge does matter. What we know, not what Siri knows, can truly impact and shape the lives we lead, the work we do, the friends we have and really defines our place in the world. We have just witnessed what happens when large groups of people don’t have that basic knowledge.

This is the reality that William Poundstone examines in Head in the Cloud: Why Knowing Things Still Matters When Facts Are So Easy to Look Up.

My conversation with William Poundstone:

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Can Entrepreneurship Save the World?

November 27th, 2016

cover-small.jpgA not terribly successful American President was right when he said that “the business of America is business.” In fact, today it would be safer to say that the business of the world is business.

Whether through globalization, or just through the individual entrepreneurship of citizen in the developing world, business is the one force that seems to counter unrest, instability, joblessness, and even extremism.

Wisdom and experience tells us we will not stop extremism in the Middle East, or other violent regions, with just guns, drones and military force. But it just may be that fostering entrepreneurship and job creation may be one answer.

Leading this school of thought is former State Department official Steven Koltai.  Koltai is also the author of Peace Through Entrepreneurship: Investing in a Startup Culture for Security and Development.

My conversation with Steven Koltai:

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Some of Us Want To Go To Canada…Elon Musk Wants To Go To Mars

November 27th, 2016

dOHiW3I.jpgFifty four years ago JFK, at the height of the Cold War, set us on a path to the moon.

Today, absent the Cold War and in a world where a new photo or dating app becomes a billion dollar effort, it’s hard to think in terms of such massive, global and societal undertaking.

Yet one man does. Be it electric cars, solar powering the nation, or going to Mars, Elon Musk thinks differently than everyone else...but he does want all of us to join him in that effort. The Washington Post's Joel Achenbach has written the cover story for National Geographic's special Mars Issue

My conversation with Joel Achenbach:

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Why Presidential Appointees Matter

November 25th, 2016

9781408855775.jpgBack in 1992 the mantra of the Bill Clinton campaign was that “it's the economy stupid.” Surprising, since the majority of American campaigns for President have always been about the economy.

However since the 1970’s that economy has been changing dramatically and rapidly. It was only as far back as the Nixon administration that we were still on the gold standard. Things like derivatives didn’t exist. Subprime lending, globalization of money and creative destruction in the economy had not yet set up a paradigm for collapse.

Presiding over so much of this change, watching all of it and directing some of it, was Alan Greenspan.  Towering over the Federal Reserve for 18 years and serving five Presidents, no one knew more about the inner and outer working of the American economy than Greenspan.

Now we get the first full scale economic and person biography of Greenspan in Sebastian Mallaby's The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan.

My conversation with Sebastian Mallaby:

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Using Design Thinking for Life

November 22nd, 2016

maxresdefault.jpgLook around your home or office, or even your car. Everything there was designed. Albeit not always well. Sometimes with an eye towards function, sometimes looking at form and sometimes with thought into the human interface. Wouldn't it be great if everything was designed with equal parts engineering, aesthetics and a real understand of how human beings will interface with whatever it is?

That methodology, that combination of humanity and art and engineering is what’s now called Design Thinking. It’s an important part of Silicon Valley’s disruption and progress

But imagine if the same concepts could apply not just to computers or to a mouse or a phone, but to your entire life?

In many schools today these idea of Design Thinking are combining with project based curriculum and human centered collaborating and producing the future leaders of the 21st Century.

Two of the leader in all of this are Stanford’s Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. They are the authors of Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life.

My conversation with Bill Burnett and Dave Evans:

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Why the Growing Gap Between Business and the Public Hurts Both

November 17th, 2016

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Herbert Hoover said that “the business of America is business.” If he were around today, in the age of globalization, he might have referred to the business of the world.

Yet as our current election shows, as the recent Brexit votes showed, the connection between people and business has never been more tattered and frayed.

Globalization itself, disruption, dislocation, the obsession with short term profits and shareholder value, coupled with the free flow of goods and money and jobs around the world, has created a chasm between the world’s businesses and ordinary citizens.

At a time when technology has made it easier for citizens to actually come together and be engaged, business has too often retreated to its C Suites in the hopes that the storm would pass.

But the clouds are getting darker. With more automation and AI, now reaching virtually every sector of work.

With worker and public anger reaching toxic levels, business can no longer hide, it must be, in the words of former BP Chief Executive John Browne, more willing to Connect.

My conversation with Lord John Browne:

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