Icy (Unpaid) Internships

By | Creativity, Features, Ideas | No Comments

Back in my youth, I was a precocious and ambitious achiever who parsed the NY Times and political blogs with the enthusiasm of a child scrutinizing the back of a Fruit Loops cereal box. Maybe it was genetics, maybe it was circumstance but probably it was my poor athletic skills and the futility of a career in ping-pong that motivated my interest in politics.

Fortunately, I fell into Cornell’s School of Industrial & Labor Relations (ILR) like an icicle falls into an Ithaca gorge after it outgrows its elevated perch. I was absorbed by a Career Services department that trumpeted “Resumaniacs Resume Critiques” and “Mock Interview Madness” before it even knew my name. They say ILR is a fiercely pre-professional labor school and while I didn’t sleep with my CV under my pillow while waiting for a Recruiter Fairy to deliver me a job, I was indoctrinated into this occupation-obsessed bubble.

So during summer 2009 I did what any spoiled, ambitious achiever would; I capitalized on the generous support of my family and plunged into the icy waters of unpaid internships. Armed with an inflated resume and naïveté, I pounced on job postings and began selling myself to political organizations in Washington D.C.

With the lascivious constituent outreach that has come to define dodgy politicos, I won’t make too many explicit metaphors linking my internships to prostitution. The metaphor doesn’t hold anyway because I was selling my services for free, far below escort market value.

Ultimately, I settled into the swanky offices of the Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE) housed in an abandoned nook of the World Wildlife Fund headquarters. For purposes of brevity and loyalty to the (now defunct) SAVE organization, let me explain just one section of my internship.

SAVE, a non-profit advocacy group, frequently lobbied legislators to support Gen Y economic health. By the end of the summer, I was leading hill action meetings where I would present gloomy data about youth employment and fiscal security. One of my main talking points was an impassioned critique of one of our country’s greatest acts of economic exploitation: the unpaid internship.

The irony dripped down my shoulders alongside the sweat from a swampy D.C. summer and anxiety-inducing Capitol Hill meetings.  I was an ambitious icicle swimming in a pre-professional gorge but suddenly I was melting. The system demanded proactive prostitution complete with cover letter and ironed collar but it reeked of inequity and exploitation. I reeked of privilege as I padded my resume with internships and my stomach with Pinkberry all on my parents’ dime. It was not good.

Now I sit in a job that is partly facilitated by my unpaid internships. I somehow prevented myself from melting long enough to send a polished resume and cover letter to the Governor of Illinois. I ironed the shirt and I spit out my mock interview honed answers. My brother’s an actor but it runs in our blood; I got the job.

So now I’m in a position of (slight) power and it’s time to sound the alarm from within. Unpaid internships and the terrifying thrills of “Mock Interview Madness” are not available to everyone. The new data shows the rich and poor sprinting in opposite directions. New icicles keep forming and falling into pre-professional waters. Meanwhile the unlucky icicles shatter onto neglected ground. It’s a self-propagating system that needs to be put to bed and the antidote must come from inside.

Oh and to finish my D.C. summer 2010 story, I figured if I was already sweating profusely in Capital City I might as well make a buck. I applied to be the McGruff the Crime Dog® mascot for the National Museum of Crime and Punishment. It was great and at least they gave me ice packs.

Editor’s note: While the Institute for Workplace Studies & Smithers Institute has interns, these interns are compensated with credit through ILR’s Credit Internship Program

Easy Ratatouille

By | Creativity, Ideas | No Comments

Two months ago, I received a rude awakening when I discovered my Cornell meal plan card no longer delivers an all-I-care-to-eat playground of delicious delicacies. In cafés, restaurants, bodegas, bistros, and nosheries across the world, the Cornell card nourishes me with nothing but spoiled stares. Outside of the culinary orb of campus, the card is then rendered useless and inedible (even marinated, spiced, and flambéed, the plastic card provides a poor meal replacement).

Cut off from my meal ticket, I stumble around the grocery store collecting rice cakes, cereal, peanut butter, and canned hominy. Occasionally I read the NY Times while munching on my hominy and today I stumbled upon a link to “The Minimalist: Easy Ratatouille”.

In the post, Mark Bittman explains that the intricate name translates to a simple, “tossed vegetable dish”. Unfortunately, easy ratatouille requires more than a spoon and frozen vegetables and involves a delicately choreographed sauté ballet of vegetables. Eggplant, “must be cooked until it’s very soft”; zucchini, “takes less time to cook”; tomatoes, “break apart so quickly that you have to be careful” (Bittman, 2011).

Call me old-fashioned (or malnourished), but my frozen vegetables, without stirring, occupy a stable place in my food pyramid (or Food Yin-Yang). In the 30-60 minute prep time required for the Easy Ratatouille, I could probably stage a compressed adaptation of War and Peace starring raw vegetables. Clearly, Bittman and I disagree on the culinary definition of “easy”.

While the recipe failed to produce its promised yield of 4 to 6 servings of ratatouille, it did in fact yield about 4 to 6 servings of philosophical food for thought. We toss around words like “easy” without considering their essential relativity. In conversations ranging from disability accommodations to environmental conservation, “easy” does not yield a universal translation. This challenge is acutely apparent as I work in public administration and attempt to create standardized language that can communicate to all constituencies.

Here, Bittman deserves a pass. For the culinary connoisseurs perusing his post, this recipe probably reads like a Ratatouille-for-Dummies guide. Yet for the average Cocoa Pebbles connoisseur like me, it looks like a federal grant proposal accidentally translated to Esperanto. Let’s at least agree this is an easy, or convenient, opportunity to reevaluate our approach to language and audience. And if someone wants to cook me ratatouille that would be nice too.

Chat & Cut

By | Creativity, Ideas | No Comments

Last month on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David dissected the sly social exercise, the Chat & Cut. Clearly a Machiavellian maneuver in line dynamics, David describes the Chat & Cut as, “feigning familiarity with someone [you] vaguely know for the sole purpose of cutting in line” (Curb, 8/7/11). Whether you are seeking entrance into an Indian Buffet or a Leonard Cohen concert, the Chat & Cut means you can end up in the front of the line while potentially forging a new friendship.

In full disclosure, I come from a frantic family with an allergy to gluten and waiting. From my 5-week premature birth to my parents’ entrance onto various domestic  and international flights, we find innovative ways to bypass lines. As this queue queasiness springs from my short statured maternal lineage, we usually opt for the low road to the front rather than the more perilous Chat & Cut. Even when we fail in our pursuit, it always delivers fodder for sociological and therapeutic analysis.

On Sunday, I had the privilege of witnessing an amateur Chat & Cut performed in broad daylight during Chicago’s What’s Happening!! Outdoor Dance Party & Pig Roast featuring The Windy City Soul Club. The C&C unfolded after my own line-cutting efforts were stymied by the critical gaze of my companions and the soulful sounds emanating from the DJ booth.

A woman wobbled up to me as I was about to receive my smorgasbord and gaped inquisitively at the display.

“I don’t understand–is this where you order your food and drink?”

I replied in the affirmative.

“So you order food here but you also can get drinks? That’s very interesting.”

As I started moving forward and the woman casually tucked into the line behind me, I realized what was happening. Like Larry David, I accused her of a C&C but then encouraged her to stay in line.

I think it is important to recognize these micro social maneuvers. We are quick to discuss those macro manipulations when a president spars with a speaker over speech timing or a company uses a beta label to boost interest and “appeal to digerati”. Yet these high profile maneuvers are often slight adaptations of schoolyard counterparts. A playground quarrel can lead to classroom snub just as a cafeteria may offer Turbo vegetables to appeal to finicky children.

So who knows? Maybe Larry David provides the tools we need to analyze meaty global politics; at minimum, he helps expose a Chat & Cut at a pig roast.

Anticipation Creep: “Renovation Creep” Pre-Review

By | Creativity, Ideas | No Comments

As a card carrying member of Generation Y, I have no need to enter an art gallery. My card, by the way, is a coffee card as my generation saturates bottomless mugs with über-caffeinated espresso beans and inhales the joe like sweet ambrosia from the sweat of Zeus. Even if someone in my cohort did enter an art gallery, it would likely be to refill their coffee or, at best, would be a virtual art gallery accessed from the safety of their Google portal.

Tomorrow night I am going where only the most ironic hipsters of my generation have ventured before: a bona fide art gallery. And before you raise objections, I am not going for extra credit, for money, or to impress a significant other. No, instead I am going on an appointment-only tour of Chicago’s Antena project space to see their current installation Renovation Creep (search archives when link goes out of date).

A collaboration of three artists, Daniel Bruttig, Joe Cassan, and Erin Thurlow, Renovation Creep is described as, “simultaneously material and ephemeral,” while illustrating the, “haunted, transitory nature of urban apartment dwelling” (AntenaPilsen.com). With sections devoted to “History,” “Palimpsest,” “Patina,” and “Labyrinth,” (I think) the installation intervenes into our notions of urban consciousness and architectural anthropology.

Now two things about this post are problematic. One, I haven’t yet been to this art gallery so I am not experientially equipped to offer an evaluation. Second, my vocabulary does not include half the words in the description of the installation and leaves me running to the dictionary to decode terms like “Palimpsest” and “Patina”. So why am I assuming this pretentions hipster pretense with a pre-review? It’s because I want to animate that moment of anticipation that we too often neglect.

As I anticipate my gallery experience tomorrow, I conjure images of choreographed urban decay and fabricated apartment furnishings. I imagine the intimidating literacy of my tour guide and the transparency of my artistic ignorance. I imagine how the installation will surprise me with its intricacy while disappointing me with its artifice. Finally, I imagine going home and entering my urban home with a new recognition of the apartment as a historical labyrinth.

All these predictions may prove pathetically off. I may completely misunderstand the exhibit and walk through like a lost child desperately searching for familiarity in a foreign shopping mall. Maybe my tour guide will be a frat brother with a keen interest in art. Or maybe I’ll never even make it to the art gallery and instead rush home to my Google. At minimum I hope this last outcome does not pan out.

My point is that we need to collectively spend more time in an anticipatory paradigm. Let’s make assumptions and recognize them. Let’s write them down. Then let’s enter an experience and allow ourselves to be challenged and to see where the chips fall. Let’s ultimately learn to test ourselves. It’s an exercise that will shift our assumptions and inspire our ultimate assessments.

Of course, you can write this off as the misguided ramblings of a fledgling blogger. Maybe that’s what I anticipate. But at least I did. We’ll see in your comments and in my review in the coming days.

Sweet LEAF

By | Features, Ideas | No Comments

Ozzy Osbourne famously croons in his Black Sabbath anthem, “Sweet Leaf” that “[Sweet leaf] gave to me a new belief and soon the world will love you sweet leaf.” While Black Sabbath faithful will scoff at this exercise, let’s divorce this song from any implicit or embedded connotation, both provocative and innocuous and shift to an environmental conversation.

While it may surprise some readers to read, I do not live within a BacharachBlog vault where I spend my days churning out blog posts while saving the world from destruction (à la Source Code). In fact, while this blog and our Blog Editor, William J. Briggs, are both based in the Big Apple, I actually hail these days from Chicago where I work on sustainability and energy policy for the Governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn. When I’m not busy juggling environmental bureaucracy in the Windy City, I compose a blog and send it through a series of intricate networks before it ends up on this page. Confidential and exciting I suppose.

Occasionally, though, I find a serendipitous overlap between my policy job and my blogging work and, more infrequently, I am fortunate enough to have Black Sabbath provide the soundtrack for this linkage. Last week, as Governor Quinn presented the new electric Nissan LEAF to Chicago and Illinois, I found a blue moon, (green) linkage roll into my life.

The Nissan leaf is a 100% electric, no gas, zero emission electric vehicle (EV) that runs purely on efficient electric charge and is scheduled to appear on Illinois roads and driveways this fall. I work for the Governor and am in no way a representative for Nissan, but due to a productive private-public sector partnership, we are celebrating the Nissan LEAF and encouraging healthy market competition down the road.  From my experience attending the Governor’s event and later test driving the LEAF, I think the response will be positively charged.

After the Governor’s event Nissan staged three days of test drives so anyone who was interested in trying the electric car would have an opportunity. Attending these test drives, I watched as bleary eyed families and citizens from all contexts and walks of life walked away in reverent awe from the electric car.

So, as Ozzy explains as he sings to his own LEAF, “you gave me a new belief.” My new belief is that comprehensive and productive environmental reform can begin by engaging the public in thrilling sustainability efforts. Even if only 2% of attendees purchase a LEAF, I watched crowds leave (pun intended) inspired to reengage with environmental efforts because of pure, re-ignited interest. This is the future of sustainability efforts and exactly where we must lead sustainability policy.

Especially if we lead these efforts in EV cars, the response will be electrifying with zero emissions.

17 Mark Twain Quotes for Leaders

By | BLG Leadership Insights, Features, Ideas | No Comments

The quotes in the below presentation aren’t Mark Twain’s most famous. You can find those anywhere.

There’s a lot of business blogs that quote the conventional Twain. To give you an example, they’ll usually dig up this Twain pearl:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

It’s a fine quote, but it’s not the kind that will make you march into your bosses office and ask for a raise. It’ll probably just make your eyes roll.

These business blogs also give the reader a few paragraphs of analysis. For the above quote they’ll write: “Truly, Twain believed we should try new things!”

I’m guilty of writing lines like that myself. It’s hard to avoid them.

But the thing with good quotes is they don’t need to be categorized or explained. They’re good because they’re short, clear, and powerful.

I think you’ll be able to see how the below quotes can help any leader, manager, or coach look at their organizational problems and agendas in a new light.

Decision Making & Muscles

By | BLG Leadership Insights, Ideas | No Comments

According to new research people experience decision fatigue. After a whole day of deciding what to wear, where to eat, and what work can be put off until tomorrow you get tired—so tired that you may end up making increasingly poor decisions as the day progresses.

Turns out our decision making ability is a muscle and it gets exhausted—just like our legs do after walking up the stairs when the elevator is down.

This is a scary especially when you realize that our world leaders, officers of the law, and our favorite baseball players might not do a good job because their decision making muscle is exhausted after they had trouble deciding how they wanted their eggs that morning.

But there’s always a bright side. You might be able to take advantage of people’s decision fatigue to get your way around the office.

According to the research on decision fatigue presented in the New York Times, parole boards were more inclined to issue pardons early in the morning. By the time 4PM rolled around—board members were tired and were more inclined to take the easy road—maintain the status quo (prison time) and deal with less paper work.

With this logic, it might be best to ask your boss for a raise, promotion, or a corner office early in the morning—when your bosses decision making muscle is just getting warmed up and it feels up for a day of challenges.

Leaders should benefit from this knowledge. Knowing that decision making is a muscle prone to exhaustion rather than a constant presence can help leaders analyze their choices.

Whether you’re debating buying an extra doughnut or asking for a transfer—it would be wise to make sure you’re not exhausted.

Instead of diving in head first—this research should make all leaders pause before they make decisions or make non-decisions and maintain the status quo.

Pic credit: Ciccio Pizzettaro

Retire Your Resume…Please

By | BLG Leadership Insights, Ideas, Social Media | One Comment

If you are looking for a job it’s probably best to throw your resume away. Everyone has one and thanks to resume workshops, websites, and books they all look the same. If your resume is professional it is no doubt typed up with something very close to Times New Roman and it’s in 12 point font. I bet you even use bullet points. Way to stick out.

But if you don’t believe me–maybe you’ll trust the Wall Street Journal. According to a recent article more and more recruiters are finding job candidates on Facebook.

So much for resumes. It’s the age of the ‘cool’ looking social media profile. The resume is dead.

Half of me is grateful. I hated formatting resumes on Word or any other text editor. It took forever. The second you indented one job another one would disappear.

But the other half of me is scared. Resumes are boring–but they have established rules to follow and set guidelines. I know that if my resume has a purple cover page, I’m making a mistake. With social media profiles we’re still in gray territory. Is it OK to tell future employers about the minutia of your day? Do you want them to see pictures from your vacations and your nights out?

Maybe. The trick is figuring out how to do these things with a little class and an ounce of humor. But before we iron out the details there will be a lot of mistakes.

So if you want to stick out and be on the cutting edge–take a deep breath and drag your resume to your recycle bin. After that figure out a way to show the world what you can do without putting people to sleep.