Observe. Assess. Adapt.

Connect the dots

In adult discourse the phrase “connect the dots” can be used as a metaphor to illustrate an ability (or inability) to associate one idea with another, to find the “big picture”, or salient feature, in a mass of data.


Putting money down to buy education with the intention of leveraging it for income purposes is an investment and a business decision. Risk included at no extra cost. Investigate before you invest.

“Self-evident truths” about life-long employment in one industry and the place of postsecondary education in securing that employment are being turned on their heads. We already know about businesses that have transplanted manufacturing jobs to low cost geographies for the benefit of shareholders, and about how employees dismissed here and their communities have suffered. We also know about how employees in those low cost geographies (Bangladesh and elsewhere)—continue to draw starvation wages while putting their lives at risk working in unsafe facilities. That shows no signs of stopping—yet.

Parents who considered a university degree for their children a foregone conclusion because people with degrees were supposed to have a bye into the good life barely paid attention to blue-collar and semi-skilled workers. They are now because the same thing is happening to the white-collar jobs their children were planning to fill. They’re being reclassified as unpaid internships or fixed duration contract positions or simply being shipped offshore. These are high quality jobs that call for locally available university education employers have deemed adequate, if not more than adequate, for the task at hand.

Now that the problem is coming into sharper focus, what happens next? The answer might lie in IBM’s recent past and can be summed up in three words: observe, assess, adapt.

On October 1, 1993, IBM shares opened at $43.13. This at a time when shareholders and others were accustomed to a share price in the early triple digits. It’s worth mentioning that multiple stock splits made more than a few employees of the early IBM millionaires. But the IT world was changing and IBM wasn’t. Rumours were circulating that the company was flirting with bankruptcy. The stock wouldn’t find itself in triple-digit territory again until August 1, 1995, when it opened at $109.12. On March 13, 2013, the stock closed at $212.06.

Analysts credit the arrival of Lou Gerstner (ex-Nabisco) with IBM’s turnaround. Some people would call it IBM’s return from a near-death experience. He was the first outsider in the company’s history to hold IBM’s top job. Landing Gerstner was no mean feat: many of the so-called “logical choices” declined to be considered for the position. Most were computer industry veterans and they were intimidated by the scope of the problem they would have been expected to solve.

Gerstner was neither an industry veteran nor cowed. Because of that, he saw IBM for what it was. He connected the dots in ways that others couldn’t about its internal workings and the workings of the competitive environment in which it was operating, and in which it had stumbled. He rejected the idea of breaking up the company, choosing instead to make the whole stronger and more responsive. Then he executed. History shows just how well he succeeded. (To compare Dell’s recent history, please click here. HP’s recent history is worth a look, too.)

The task facing soon-to-be high school graduates and their parents as they contemplate life after high school is similar to what greeted Gerstner when he took over the reins in Armonk: see the company in stark reality, not shades of Blue. For parents and their children, that may mean re-examining their expectations in light of what the economy and labour markets need now, not 30 years ago. The same applies to the street value of education.

The job is harder than it looks, not because the information to chart a course for their children is scarce, but because it’s too plentiful and it’s coming too fast. On its Big Data at the Speed of Business web page, IBM estimates that we generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day about everything. Gerstner’s data universe was considerably smaller. The data he massaged were specific to one company in one industry and his margin of error was zero. But we should also remember that Gerstner was up to the task.

The 2.4 billion Internet users Internet World Stats estimates were active as of June 30, 2012, are exchanging information and ideas that have already been game changers. There will be more. The numbers you just read are real. They speak to the reality of a world we woke up to this morning that wasn’t the same as the one we fell asleep in last night. The cycle will repeat itself tomorrow and the day after and the day after and… you get the idea.

Most of that information will have no immediate or appreciable impact on you and your children. But some will. PDD asks 10 questions on behalf of its clients every day:

      1. What information do they need to consider?
      2. Do they know where to find it?
      3. Do they know how to interpret it?
      4. How will they test its reliability?
      5. How will they confirm its accuracy?
      6. How current is it?
      7. Where did it come from?
      8. Why is it here?
      9. What are its consequences likely to be?
      10. How do we make it relevant?

Substituting your name or your soon-to-be high school graduate’s name for “its clients” will make this exercise very personal.

Bloomberg Businessweek’s story in its May 6 – May 12 issue predicts the disappearance of 176,000 legal jobs in the US. The Toronto Star’s May 13th issue reported that Canadian law firms are outsourcing lower level jobs to India. Another profession that isn’t as sacrosanct as we thought.

The Toronto Star recently quoted Scott Pelley, anchor of the CBS Evening News, about news organizations in the wake of Cleveland, Boston and Newtown: “ ‘We’re getting the big stories wrong over and over again … Twitter, Facebook and Reddit are not journalism. That’s gossip. Journalism was invented as an antidote to gossip … It’s ‘a world where everybody is a publisher, no one is an editor, and we’ve arrived at that point today.’ ”

Education, youth unemployment and youth underemployment are three of today’s biggest stories. The media cover them: they don’t provide solutions. Thirty-somethings returning home because they can’t find work that pays enough to cover the rent and expenses is another big story. Pelley’s point was that, left to its own devices, the public tends to accept a lot of what it sees or hears or reads in the media without question or corroboration, and to base potentially life-altering decisions on it.

PDD believes that your child’s education has to be the right education or training at the right time in the right place and for the right reason. Failing that, all you’ll have to show for it is a diploma and a statement telling you how much you owe on your student loan. You and your children deserve more and better than that.

You also deserve to know that the times we’re living in haven’t been conducive to managerial creativity and imagination in selecting new employees, much less developing them. Finding key words in a résumé using screening software is about as black-and-white as it gets, and these days, things are very black-and-white. Non-technical résumés are being especially hard hit by these techniques which means that job search skills for non-technical positions will continue to be at a premium.

IBM made gut-wrenching decisions at critical moments so that it would still be with us today. That included doing away with the practice of employment for life. Until the world economy stabilizes, parents and children may have to hold their noses and adjust their expectations.

It’s a tall order, but PDD is more than equipped to handle it. Call or drop us a line and we’ll  explain how.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s