Category Archives: Uncategorized

Education shouldn’t be taken lightly

 

In Ontario, Section 21 of the Education Act requires that a family send its children to school until the age of 18 (Grade 12). The world prefers at least 4 more years (university).

Even though the price of a degree keeps going up, parents accept it as a fact of life because they’re convinced that their children will find work that pays enough to retire outstanding student loans, if applicable, and set out on their own. But (a) $40,000 for a basic, in town bachelor’s degree (tuition, fees, expenses) isn’t pocket change; (b) six million Canadians are working at precarious jobs; and (c) management continues to use technology to reduce its dependence on headcount.

The net result is that young people with incomes are moving back home to live with their parents so that they can save money or turn to The Bank of Mom and Pop for down payments on the 21st century equivalent of a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence. The new normal is changing, but to what we don’t know because the process is still ongoing.

We have to think very carefully about how to reconcile the kind of education our children want with what employers want. This has the potential to place the kids between a rock and a hard place when it comes to finding work in their chosen field. There are 26,368 universities in business in the world today. By 2025, 262 million students will be studying there. That makes many of today’s degrees commodities. Employers are as particular about whom they hire as they are because they can afford to be.

Post-secondary education is now as much about strategy and income as it is about academics. By their actions, employers are telling us to educate our children to be relevant to the times in which we live. They aren’t as willing to accommodate applicants with less than ideal credentials as they used to be. It’s a buyer’s market for graduates, but not all university education guarantees financial security or stability.

Personal Due Diligence (PDD) is based on understanding the labour market and developing post-secondary strategies to deal with it. In 2012 we learned that 300,000 graduates were working as unpaid interns. They said that they “couldn’t find work in their chosen field.” Did they not know where or how to look for it? Were they outmanoeuvred by people who did? Did they assume that a job with their name on it would be waiting for them once they returned their caps and gowns? Or that there would even be one? Now comes word that unpaid internships may still be with us. To wit, this recent headline in the Toronto Star: “Legal advocacy group under fire for unpaid internship scheme.

The traditional one job/one employee/one employer model has been disrupted. Deloitte and the Human Resources Professionals Association describe these times as the Intelligence Revolution and the gig economy, and the phenomenon isn’t unique to Canada. A child born in 2017 who attends their first lecture in 2035 can expect to pay $86,000 for a basic, at-home bachelor’s degree that today costs $40,000. That number will rise to over $152,000 if they study away from home.

Personal Due Diligence (PDD) helps families vet their assumptions about the connection between advanced education and financial security. We start two years before high school graduation to give them the time to identify and evaluate options. Here are some examples of what they’ll want to consider:

  1. Automate This! The future of work in an artificially intelligent world — CBC Radio One    
  2. What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages — McKinsey & Company
  3. Tech Giants Are Paying Huge Salaries for Scarce A.I. Talent — The New York Times
  4. The coming of the ‘gig economy’: a threat to European workers? — EU-Logos Athéna
  5. The Intelligence Revolution: Future-proofing Canada’s workforce — Deloitte/HRPA
  6. Are graduates good value for money? — Times Higher Education
  7. Number of Universities — CSIC
  8. A Rare Joint Interview with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Bill Gates — Wall Street Journal
  9. Prepare for the Digital Health Revolution — FORTUNE
  10. Global Economy’s Stubborn Reality: Plenty of Work, Not Enough Pay — The New York Times
  11. Temp work growth is ‘alarming’ and changes are coming — Toronto Star
  12. Are we up to the job of rescuing work? — Toronto Star
  13. This Company’s Robots Are Making Everything—and Reshaping the World — Bloomberg
  14. Subsidising coal production is a really bad idea — The Economist
  15. Quarterly Report on Household Debt And CreditFederal Reserve Bank of New York

Families will want to understand the lay of the land before they commit non-refundable after-tax dollars to post-secondary education. Our public education systems don’t explain the need for that. Nor do they teach what to do when 75% of employers use résumé screening software that eliminates 90% of all applicants. PDD does.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said recently, “Technological displacement is a real issue. There will be new kinds of jobs. Without the technological breakthroughs, we’re not going to have enough growth, and that’s not going to be good for anybody.” Those jobs will be filled by graduates with the latest, most relevant credentials. Some may not even exist today. To be among the 10% of applicants whose résumés will make it through screening, those graduates will need to know how to build a résumé that works with that software, not against it.

During 25 years as an executive recruiter I participated in 25 annual interview skills workshops at a university in the Greater Toronto Area. I saw nothing to suggest that their students understood the priorities that drive managers and how they deal with them. One of those priorities is fine-tuning their respective organizations. In 15 years as a transition counselling consultant, I led job search workshops and group sessions in how to carry out dignified, compassionate and respectful 5-minute severance notification meetings as part of that fine-tuning. In each of 2100 such meetings I was told why the employee was being let go. Half of them claimed that they “never saw it coming.” They’d been told that it could happen: they just didn’t think it would happen to them.

Job loss is an outcome best avoided.

“Control over change would seem to consist in moving not with it but ahead of it. Anticipation gives the power to deflect and control force.” Marshall McLuhan

Due diligence is behaviour designed to ensure before we put our money down that what we intend to buy and what the seller ultimately delivers are one and the same. Some would call that protecting an investment. Others would call it common sense. Personal Due Diligence calls it both.

Decisions about post-secondary education have consequences that involve life, career, family and financial stability. Too many parents believe that graduating from any institution of higher learning, university in particular, is a guarantee of well-paid, secure, predictable work. There are no such guarantees: only enhanced likelihoods. What we do know for sure is that we’re living in a post-industrial economy: yesterday’s manufacturing jobs and the ones that supported them are gone. What happened to blue-collar workers is now happening to white-collar workers. As Wikipedia puts it, “Information, knowledge, and creativity are the new raw materials of such an economy.”

According to the Conference Board of Canada: “The distinction between college and university is less important than the relevance of the discipline to the workplace, since it is relevance—along with supply and demand—that sets the market price for skilled talent.” Degrees in some disciplines are more likely to lead to work than others.

Research done in Alberta in 2005 showed that young people consult their parents in these matters more often than any other group and by a wide margin. But outdated ways of thinking, like old habits, die hard. Decisions based on wishful thinking rather than fact-based understanding of labour market and technological trends are some of the greatest risks our children face. The evidence has been accumulating since 2012 and the trend shows no sign of abating.

For now, the best defense against unemployment, underemployment and precarious employment for our children is due diligence. To quote The Economist, “[the] rise of the on-demand economy poses difficult questions for workers, companies and politicians,” and it comes with a considerable risk of displacement to which very few of us are immune. Due diligence is about minimizing the negative consequences of that risk. Or at the very least, knowing what the risks are and factoring them into the final decision to proceed with a university education. We should be making these decisions more with our eyes wide open and less with our fingers crossed.

In What is the Meaning of The Medium is the Message? Mark Federman, Chief Strategist, McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology wrote:

“Marshall McLuhan was concerned with the observation that we tend to focus on the obvious. In doing so, we largely miss the structural changes in our affairs that are introduced subtly, or over long periods of time. Whenever we create a new innovation—be it an invention or a new idea—many of its properties are fairly obvious to us. We generally know what it will nominally do, or at least what it is intended to do, and what it might replace. We often know what its advantages and disadvantages might be. But it is also often the case that, after a long period of time and experience with the new innovation, we look backward and realize that there were some effects of which we were entirely unaware at the outset. We sometimes call these effects “unintended consequences,” although “unanticipated consequences” might be a more accurate description.

“Many of the unanticipated consequences stem from the fact that there are conditions in our society and culture that we just don’t take into consideration in our planning. These range from cultural or religious issues and historical precedents, through interplay with existing conditions, to the secondary or tertiary effects in a cascade of interactions. All of these dynamic processes that are entirely non-obvious comprise our ground or context. They all work silently to influence the way in which we interact with one another, and with our society at large. In a word (or four), ground comprises everything we don’t notice.

“If one thinks about it, there are far more dynamic processes occurring in the ground than comprise the actions of the figures, or things that we do notice. But when something changes, it often becomes noticeable. And noticing change is the key.

“As McLuhan reminds us, ‘Control over change would seem to consist in moving not with it but ahead of it. Anticipation gives the power to deflect and control force.’”

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,800 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Technoliteracy is the New Black.

At this point, all public U.S. Corporate Boards have (or can explain why they don’t have) oneblackJPG.jpg or more qualified financial experts on board. This, of course, has been mandated for some time. The logic for having such talent has long predated the SEC and other requirements. Though by now, most boards see the logic for making sure that all their directors are financially literate, whether they sit on the Audit Committee or not. On occasion, we’ve seen this competency ignored. But how can anyone be engaged in and contribute to a board discussion on financial matters, if they are nearly clueless about what’s being discussed or presented? How can a meeting move forward if each financial matter, term, or implication has to be exhaustively explained to someone?  Or even worse, if the director sits quietly and lets the conversation work around him or her, contributing nothing, learning nothing.

Fortunately, basic financial literacy has now pretty much become more than just a standard for a board’s audit committee service. It is now expected of all corporate directors. This is evident in many candidate specs and defining corporate governance documents today. It is a sign of being up-to-date as a director in today’s business environment. And so, it ends there.

Or does it? After all, the times they are (always) achanging. It might be high time to look at another new type of literacy for board service ― technology literacy. For the sake of argument, let’s call it techno-literacy. What do I mean by “techno-literacy?” I like to refer to a popular definition that says to be technology literate one needs to be conversant (well-informed, versed, not expert) in the subject matter.

Now, not all of today’s directors are in the dark when it comes to understanding modern technologies and their real or potential impacts on corporations’ strategies. But in general, what would you estimate the average director’s knowledge to be in this area? I and many others doubt the “average” person of any age understands what is coming, where it will take us, and what it portends.

The point is that boards are NOT comprised of “average” people, and I’ve never met an “average-intelligence” corporate director. As a whole, public company directors represent and are drawn from the best and brightest of the corporate world. A number do, in fact, have a deep understanding or at least a considerable appreciation of how today’s technology can boost a company and industry, or more importantly, destroy it. Sadly, many more directors do not. Despite their “above average” intellects, they run the risk of becoming “out-of date.” So what’s the upshot? Well, it is only a short step away from being “out-of date,” to becoming irrelevant.

Some boards recognizing this, have quickly moved to “plug the dike” by adding one or two experts — some call them “digital directors”, “tech gurus,” what have you. This has come about because of all the buzz around the very real risks of cyber attacks on corporations’ finances, intellectual capital, and in many cases, infrastructure itself. The rise of social media, hyper-fast communications channels that can boost or trash a corporation’s sales, brands, and reputation, demands that boards ramp up quickly, or risk missing precious opportunities, or worse, face other dire consequences.

Having a top notch CIO and tech staff at the company and a tech expert on the board may work well in the short term. But, just like the financially illiterate director, what happens to the technologically-challenged director when more and more board discussions turn towards making key decisions such as adopting or investing in new technologies, and he or she can’t even follow the discussion? Even worse, how do they contribute to or deliberate on whether to make wholesale changes to operations, marketing, and other business strategies, because the entire industry may be going in another direction?

CEOs and board members of large and mid-cap companies shared how they agree about the need for all board members to ramp up their basic understanding of technology.

Brigadier General Dr. Dana Born, former Dean of the U.S. Air Force Academy, and an airforceJPG.jpgIndependent Director at Apollo Education Group told us: “Technology is a key component of conducting board business for the organization I serve. I believe that having a baseline of technology literacy is paramount for directors to support and guide all industries today. Whereas hard copy binders may have been the preferred format in the past, I believe the timeliness, comprehensiveness and portability of information offered by today’s automated tools (laptops, tablets, iPads, etc.) improves board governance and enables directors to better support the organization they serve. Specifically, having access to accurate, real-time information in a business environment of exponentially increasing complexity enables board members and boards to operate more efficiently and effectively.”

Steven Nerayoff, the CEO of Maple Ventures, a venture capital firm, and leader of a sophisticated technology consortium, is addressing the impacts of technology that go well beyond the average corporate directors’ knowledge of social media and cyber intrusions on business. He stated “fear of cyber crime, and the technological risks they can create, can paralyze the mindset of a board. History has shown that public and private corporate directors must learn how to leverage not just the risks, but the opportunities that are and will become available through advancing technology. Just look at the computer, Internet, and now the Bitcoin revolutions and the disruptive effects on the businesses of these companies and the opportunities that were there for the taking if someone on the board had understood them. The ability to think this way takes the board’s role to a new level where, at the very least, a base technology literacy will be an imperative for all directors in the near future. If not now, when?”

Knowing that you don’t know is always a good start, but accepting it as so is not. That said, how does the average director become “techno-literate?” Good question. Let’s start with, “How did you become financially literate?” You worked on it, you built your knowledge up through study and experience over time, until you got there.  It worked.

It won’t work the same way to get you to become “conversant” in modern technologies. Why? Because, even as you’ve been reading this, even newer technologies have come on the scene, and others have gone extinct. To get to where you can intelligently discuss or even just digital-darwin.jpgappreciate those technologies that will affect your company(ies), you need to catch up and stay up on what’s out there and what is realistically on the horizon.

I’m not just talking about cyber-security, cloud computing, customer relations software, and social media (to name only a few). You also need to know how the company is using various systems and technologies, and importantly, those technologies that have built the industries your company(ies) operates within. And whether you enjoy an innovative edge over your competitors, or lag behind then.

You also need to know – and should be asking this of management – how long these technologies will last or take to overcome you. You also need to embrace today’s tools enthusiastically. It’s fascinating to listen to many in the executive management ranks when they talk about their board’s lack of understanding of technology in general. Many, if not most, have given iPads or similar tools to their board members to receive board related information and materials. But getting their directors up to speed on their newly acquired “cool tools” has quite often been slow and somewhat painful. Many directors still report asking their grandchildren for help with their iPads or tablets.  My own father, a Good Photo.jpgwell-known CEO in the Optical Industry and one of the most fearless users of the technology of his time, will not touch a simple PC for fear he’ll break it. My position has always been: You break it? You can always get another! Even better, there are more “techno-geeks” than you can count who are willing – no – anxious to help you learn and overcome your fears. For many, just being able to demonstrate what they know is reward enough for them.

Having started my career in the technology field during the pre dot-com era, I’ve watched, with fascination how easily many executives are attracted to technology like a moth to a flame, and grasp how it can have an impact on their business strategy. On the other hand, I’ve also seen how many people, of various ages, can’t grasp how subtly complex the implications can be to a company’s existence.

If you’re familiar with women’s fashion, you should understand the importance of black. Black is reliable. Black is always up-to-date: It goes and works with everything. In the boardroom, financial literacy means being relevant and up-to-date. It is today’s director’s black. Being technologically literate is THE NEW BLACK.

Nancy May

Customers First, Investors Last: What were they thinking?

For years now, my colleagues and I here at BoardBench, have been saying that Wall Street has it backwards.  In the boardroom, directors have been fed, with a very large spoon, the mantra that they are beholden to the shareholder, that their purpose is to “maximize shareholder value.”  If you asked a large group of directors if this is true, you’d see a lot of bobbleheads in the room.  Many believe this is a legal requirement and in line with good business sense and good corporate governance.  Unfortunately, the concept of “shareholder primacy” is a relatively recent phenomenon.  It is also simplistic (shareholders’ wants are not homogeneous), has no legal basis anywhere (go ahead, try to prove me wrong), and, as many are now pointing out, usually damaging to companies, and the economy as a whole.

What we believe is real, and will eventually be proven again as real to the Street, is that customers, and employees are the two key drivers of corporate success.  When I say “again” I’m referring to Peter Drucker’s famous quote from decades ago: “the purpose of a business is to create and keep customers.”  So many seem to have forgotten this, or have never even heard of it.

But the basic premise is this: if you take care of your customers, and have great employees who are well supported and appreciated for being curious and excited about what they do such that they will ensure that customers love the products and services that the company offers, the company and shareholders will reap the rewards, too.  Of course other things come into play, like managing R&D investments (with the customer in mind), operations, and supporting a corporate culture that has strong values and morals.  The basic premise may be slightly oversimplified, but it applies, and should resonate with the board.

It appears that I’m finally not standing alone on this either.  In a recent interview, Jack Ma, the world’s newest CEO darling, made two bold public statements.  He basically shunned the current thinking of the Street by stating, on national TV, that “our customers come first, ouJack.jpgr employees second, and our shareholders third.”   He continued: “We aim to be larger than Wal-Mart by 2016, or sooner.”  If – no, when – Jack succeeds, and executes flawlessly on his statement, that customers and employees take a front seat over shareholders/investors, then he’s got an excellent chance of passing Wal-Mart as the world’s largest retailer.  Note, Wal-Mart just slapped some of its employees, who have the most direct relationship with their customers, by cutting their insurance benefits. This was probably done to cut costs, but it will probably also have a long-term impact on their customer relationships, too. But, I digress.

It seems that too many directors, CEOs, and business leaders, have become obsessed with what Wall Street, its analysts, and shareholders think.  Many have learned to play these groups exceptionally well, too. Countless analysts and shareholders have been taken in by companies’ projections, quarterly earnings estimates, and highly creative financial management and reporting.  Don’t get me wrong, the importance of the exchanges and the markets cannot be downplayed, but a balance is needed.  Focusing on Main Street is just as important, if not more so.

If you follow Main Street, you know about big box discount stores. Costco Wholesale Club, founded by Jim Sinegal and Jeffrey Brotman, believe in serving the customer first, and that if employees are treated properly, they will work with, and treat the customer well too.  Jim, the public face, is a “hands on guy” who is known for visiting each individual Costco store.  Jim is also outspoken about his views on Wall Street.  He’s been known to say that he puts his customers and employee needs above “pleasing shareholders.”  This philosophy must be working: Costco’s five year return is +116.73%.  If you bought the stock earlier, your return would be closer to 354%.

American Express is another company known for taking good care of its customer/members.  Personally I’ve been a fan of the company’s customer service representatives over the years, and tell them that every time I’ve called for help.  Don’t get me wrong, working at this company must be tough: when I was younger, AmEx employees were nicknamed The Dragons.  Perhaps because they were seehat2.jpgn as willing to fight for the company and their customers nearly to the end.  By the way, if you invested in American Express five years ago, your return on investment would be up 149.46%.

If you’ve worked with the general retail public, as I did during my college years, then you know just how tough this can be.  Sadly, not everyone who enters a store, calls a helpline, or dines in a restaurant is a kind and thoughtful customer.  Amazon deals with all sorts of customers from nearly every continent in the world, and I’m sure they have some interesting stories to share.  However, the company is noted for being one of the best customer service organizations in the world.  Amazon has more than one customer base, as many do: retail members, and consumers.  Jeff Bezos clearly divided the customer’s connection to Amazon into two categories: the experience and the service.  At this level, he notes that customer service is part of the full customer experience.  If it’s unpleasant, it’s a negative customer experience.  He supports the idea that a positive customer experience creates greater loyalty with Amazon.  If you’ve ever dealt with an Amazon Customer Service rep, you know that they work quickly to resolve your issue, they get the job done for you, and you are nearly always satisfied and left feeling good about your relationship with Amazon.  And, if you invested in Amazon five year ago, your return on investment is now up 236.64%.

While it’s much more pleasant to focus on the “good guys,” there are dark clouds.  Some companies are noted for their poor customer service.  Some survive because there are few alternatives: think of phone companies and cable providers, and some you can name on your own (take a look at their five-year ROIs).  However, when it comes to poor customer experience these days, I think sadly of that American icon Sears.  Whenever I bring them up these days, all I hear is: “Oh my gosh, I could tell you about the time when…”  Sears is a sad story101.jpg about the decline of a once great and loved retail giant.  Many years ago, the Sears catalog used to be called a “wish book.”  Families would anxiously wait for it to arrive in the mail.  It was nearly 5 inches thick. Moms, dads, sisters, and brothers would argue over whose turn it was to browse through and select from among the items they wanted for birthdays, holidays, special occasions and more.  Some people even bought their homes out of the Sears catalog.  But, it has lost its way, and it’s touch with its customers and has already begun its drop down that magical slide once pictured in its own catalog.  The entire company and its hopes for the future look pretty dismal: sell off of units and real estate, store closings, etc.  Sadly, if you invested in Sear’s five years ago, your return on investment would be -58.50% and it’s still falling today.

To sum up and put things into even sharper perspective, I recently spoke with the General Counsel of one of the largest, most recognized corporations in the world.  He told me, succinctly, that the biggest problem with their board is that not one director had any understanding of who their customers were and are or what they want.  I can also assume that they don’t understand their employees either.  So I will watch how this company slides in the next few years (Note: their record has been negative for some time), and report back with an update, unless, that is, they somehow figure it out and turn it around.

Do you need to focus on board improvement: composition, strategy, direction, execution, oversight?  Boards are our specialty. Give us a call.

Nancy May

Kevin O’Leary’s Best Advice

 

On July 5, 2013, I wrote “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or objects.” — Albert Einstein

What follows is what Kevin O’Leary, Shark on ABC’s Shark Tank and late of CBC’s Dragon’s Den, had to say on the subject in a LinkedIn Influencer post dated February 3, 2015.

Neil Morris

 


 

Best Advice: What You Want to Do Isn’t Always What You Want to Be

Feb 3, 2015

I was raised in a household that deeply valued education. When I was a teenager, my brother Shane, was making a beeline for engineering — an aspiration he had held since he was a kid. My parents were thrilled. Me, on the other hand, they were worried about.

Success was not a given for me. I liked music, taking pictures, and hanging out with my friends.

In my last year of high school, my stepdad George sat me down for the Talk About My Future. I was fidgeting, reluctant to pay attention, worried about telling him of my photography dreams. George was adamant. His singular question: What do you want to do with your life?

I told him that I didn’t want to go to university. That I was going to be a photographer.

“That’s not what I asked you. What do you want to do with your life?”

I repeated my answer with greater conviction.

“OK. That’s all well and good, Kevin, but do you have any idea what you have to do in order to be a photographer?” he asked.

I didn’t know how to answer that. Be? Do? There’s a difference? I crossed my arms and mumbled something about taking night classes, getting an agent, opening a gallery. I had no idea what I was talking about, but it sounded good.

Then he asked another crucial question.

“How much money do you think you’d need to make, every year, to be happy?”

I told him $20,000 which in the early 1970s was a lot of money.

He shrugged.

“Most photographers don’t make that much money,” he said. “They’d be lucky to pull in a few thousand a year. On the side.” He explained that the majority of my income would have to come from a job of some kind, a job I wouldn’t necessarily like doing, but one that wouldn’t interfere with what I love doing. That was the “do” part of George’s question.”

“Are you able to do that Kevin — to work at a job in order to support yourself as you try to be a photographer? That’s how it’s done, Kevin. Actors wait tables between auditions, and writers hold down steady jobs, writing in their spare time.”

What was I willing to do to make money while I honed my craft? Lay bricks? Work in retail? Clean garbage trucks? Plant trees? I’d done all those jobs. The idea of spending the rest of my life subsidizing a passion felt impossible, and because I had no postsecondary education, those were about the only jobs for which I was qualified. George wasn’t discouraging me. He was being brutally honest with me about my chances at making it. Without the drive to work at other jobs to support that passion, I had no chance of becoming a wealthy photographer.

So “to be or not to be?” isn’t the question. The question is: What are you willing to do in order to be what you want to be? It’s not enough to say you want to be a photographer, or an actress, or a writer. You have to want to do all the necessary difficult things that are required to support that goal.

Lots of people are willing to do just that. Some of them make it, both at the doing and the being… but George’s advice was that most don’t.

I simply wasn’t willing to take that risk, to perform all the tasks and jobs required to support my dream of becoming a full-time photographer. I wasn’t willing to work days as a bricklayer or at a mall, shooting and developing photos on weekends. I didn’t want to inch toward my twenties — maybe even my thirties — accumulating debt and rejection, just to build a portfolio of work or a string of shows where most or all of my photos would go unsold.

There was no shame in understanding that about myself. It was an important, life-changing discovery. It meant that I had to stay on the scholarly path, because getting off the path altogether wouldn’t take me anywhere good. I wasn’t willing to make artistic pursuits my full-time priority, and I really wouldn’t have fared well as a punk. I love money too much.

Today, thanks to George’s advice, my decision to pursue academics, and a few other fortunate events and right turns along the way, I’ve built a successful career that allows me ample time and resources for my real passion — photography.

In October 2013, I held an exhibit of my photography in Toronto, titled Kevin O’Leary: 40 Years of Photography. I sold framed prints for $6,000 each, and raised $97,000 for teen entrepreneurs. There’s no doubt in my mind that this never would have been possible if George didn’t teach me the importance of knowing that you need to know what you want to do with your life, before you decide what you want to be.

James T. Kirk and the Kobayashi Maru

 

On his third attempt, Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise passed the Kobayashi Maru holodeck “no-win” training exercise by reprogramming it. He was subsequently commended for original thinking. Whether or not this was Starfleet’s way of saying that reprogramming was an option because it was not expressly forbidden, only the film’s writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman know for sure.

Fiction or no, that part of Star Trek lore resonates in 2015, especially the part about original thinking. The 6 crew members onboard the International Space Station may be excused if they haven’t had time to contemplate how sub-US$50 crude oil will impact on them and their families. But the rest of the people on planet Earth won’t have that luxury.

For Canadians, the world started to change on July 1, 2014. On that day, the Loonie closed at 94 cents. It started changing a lot faster when the Bank of Canada lowered its interest rate to 0.75% on January 21, 2015. We’ll soon be paying a lot more for our morning orange juice, and a lot of other things, courtesy of a 78.5-cent dollar as of February 1, 2015. The interest rate could fall to 0.5% as early as March. Barclays Bank has downgraded its stock ratings for the Bank of Montreal, Royal Bank and TD Bank, noting that “consumer borrowing, the main profit driver for Canada’s banks, will likely slow even more than previously expected”.

Much of the reason will be stories like Target Canada’s abrupt closing of its 133 retail outlets and the 17,600 Canadians who were let go as a result. That doesn’t include Target’s suppliers. SONY Canada is closing its retail stores. Alberta now faces the prospect of recession. Oil companies are cutting back on capital expenditures and hiring. CIBC will be laying off 500 employees because of slower than expected profit growth.

The Kobayashi Maru scenario left little room for “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. For the moment, Canada looks like an oil-based, one-trick pony. Canadians will have their say about whom they blame and what should be done about it on October 19th—or sooner.

We keep hearing that a lower dollar will be good for Canadian manufacturers and exporters. But in the meantime, we have to play the cards we’ve been dealt. That will call for out-of-the box thinking by Canadians looking to become re-employed and those hoping to land that first job.

What is broken and needs to be fixed is the notion that we can or should rely on governments at any level to do our thinking and planning for us. Most have shown that they can barely think for themselves. We’re going to have to develop our own versions of Kirk’s Kobayashi Maru, because without them, not all choices having to do with postsecondary education will be the right choices. There is nothing on the horizon to suggest that conventional thinking will mean that there will be more than enough good, secure, full-time work to go around.

As Jean-Luc Picard, captain of a later Enterprise, would have put it: “Make it so.”