Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Stunted Tree Analogy: Nurturing, Neglect and Entrepreneurial Success

Nurturing or neglect: the outcome is strikingly different.

Two magnolia trees provide a visual analogy for the difference between nurturing and neglect. Some years ago, the city cut squares out of the concrete sidewalk near our home and planted magnolia trees about 10 meters (33 feet) apart.

The soil conditions are unlikely to vary much in that distance, and the city used the same materials in planting the trees and provided the same watering schedule after planting.

The city stopped watering the trees within a few months, and it fell to the residents to care for the trees. The vast majority of residents are renters rather than homeowners. (This is in very high-cost urban Northern California, where homeownership is unaffordable to the majority of residents.)

No direct benefit accrued to those residents who cared for the trees; they received no money or public recognition. As a result, we can assume they did so for generalized reasons such as civic pride, preference for shade trees rather then hot concrete, or perhaps a sense of obligation or duty to living things that need help in their early stages of life.

A few trees received sustained care in the form of watering and occasional compost. One tree received very little care or water; the people living a few feet away had no interest in the tree or in exerting themselves on its behalf. This is that tree:

This is one of the trees that received modest watering/care over the years:

The outcome is strikingly different, isn't it? The neglected tree is stunted and struggling, and will remain so for its entire life. The tree that received modest, sustained nurturing is thriving.

The analogy is apt not just for all of life, but for society and the economy. A child who grows up in a household of caring adults focused on learning and preparing the child for life is nurtured; the child who grows up in a household without any sustained adult interest and no focus on learning is neglected.

Consider the difference between the child who grows up in a household with musical instruments and adults who make music for fun and expression, a household that is filled with things to read, a house rich in homemade art and and materials to make art, a household where the adults are constantly adding to their own knowledge, a household of home-cooked meals shared by everyone in the house, a household with a few inexpensive tools that adults use to repair and construct things, and a household lacking in all these nurturing conditions.

These nurturing conditions are a form of capital that is more important than money capital. None of these conditions require much money; used books and magazines are inexpensive, as are used guitars, hand tools and leftover art supplies. Homemade art and music are free, and homemade food is much cheaper than fast food or packaged food.

The water given to the trees was nearly free, and the compost made from household waste was also nearly free. In a similar (and scale-invariant) way, nurturing people is also a matter of sustained care, not money. A household that is poor in financial income and wealth can be wealthy in the human and social capital that results from nurturing.

This analogy is scale-invariant, meaning that it applies equally to individual, households, communities, states, enterprises and nations. We in America lavish media attention on entrepreneurs who have "made it big," but where is the sustained effort to nurture the entrepreneurial skills and values in our young people? How much of of what passes for entrepreneurial training is hype, empty rah-rah and programs designed for public relations rather than actually fostering the eight essential skills of entrepreneurial success?

A society that rewards entrepreneurial success but neglects to nurture the skills and values needed to achieve entrepreneurial success is a stunted, struggling society with a stunted, struggling economy. Throwing money around is not the same as providing nurturing.

I discuss human and social capital and the eight essential skills of professionalism and entrepreneurism in my book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy. In a very real way, what I am talking about is nurturing the human and social capital that is increasingly vital to individuals and the economy.

You can read a sample of the book here.

Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy(Kindle, $9.95)(print, $20)
go to Kindle editionAre you like me? Ever since my first summer job decades ago, I've been chasing financial security. Not win-the-lottery, Bill Gates riches (although it would be nice!), but simply a feeling of financial control. I want my financial worries to if not disappear at least be manageable and comprehensible.

And like most of you, the way I've moved toward my goal has always hinged not just on having a job but a career.

You don't have to be a financial blogger to know that "having a job" and "having a career" do not mean the same thing today as they did when I first started swinging a hammer for a paycheck.

Even the basic concept "getting a job" has changed so radically that jobs--getting and keeping them, and the perceived lack of them--is the number one financial topic among friends, family and for that matter, complete strangers.

So I sat down and wrote this book: Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.

It details everything I've verified about employment and the economy, and lays out an action plan to get you employed.

I am proud of this book. It is the culmination of both my practical work experiences and my financial analysis, and it is a useful, practical, and clarifying read.

Test drive the first section and see for yourself.     Kindle, $9.95     print, $20

"I want to thank you for creating your book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy. It is rare to find a person with a mind like yours, who can take a holistic systems view of things without being captured by specific perspectives or agendas. Your contribution to humanity is much appreciated."
Laura Y.

Gordon Long and I discuss The New Nature of Work: Jobs, Occupations & Careers (25 minutes, YouTube) 

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