Innovation!

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You don’t need to work in Silicon Valley or be an MIT grad to know that innovation is the primary source of competitive advantage for individuals, for companies and even for countries. For those of us in the United States, innovation seems to have been part of our DNA for a long time – a fact recognized even by those who don’t admire us.

Many people write about innovation – some well and some not-so-well. One of my favorites is Walter Isaacson. Three years ago he penned the best-seller Steve Jobs, which gave us a never-seen-before window into the life and work of man who many consider the most innovative genius of the last half-century – and perhaps longer.

Now, Isaacson has delivered another gem, simply titled The Innovators. I enjoyed it immensely and it has also achieved best-seller status. Here is some of what the New York Times review of The Innovators had to say:

As the book gallops forward, Mr. Isaacson must combine the good, the great and the ugly. They all figure in the story of the transistor, which featured William Shockley, the scientist who first saw the potential in silicon and became a Silicon Valley pioneer — but is now remembered for the racist theories that clouded his legacy. His work on the semiconductor, with two powerful collaborators, would never have led to such household popularity had there not been a Steve Jobs-like figure (Pat Haggerty at Texas Instruments, who shared Jobs’ ability to sell products people had no idea they wanted) to put these brand-new devices, now called transistors, into radios, and truly rock the American teenager’s world.

Read the entire review here…and read the book…it may inspire you to be your most innovative self!

Tom Clancy’s Op-Center

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The enormous success of Tom Clancy’s mainline books spurred several series that became part of the Clancy “brand,” among them, Tom Clancy’s Net Force and Tom Clancy’s Op-Center. The Op-Center series included twelve books, all written between 1995 and 2005. For a number of reasons, the series stopped in the mid-2000s.

A decade later we have revived the series. We are dedicated to following the fine Clancy tradition of making these books prescient. Yes, a good plot, compelling characters and all the things a reader must demand from a novel are there. But so is a view of a future. What threats will dominate U.S. security thinking in the future. What will the intelligence communities need to do to uncover threats to American security and prosperity? How will the military and other agencies organize to take on these threats – both internationally and within our borders?

Our first new Op-Center book, Out of the Ashes, has now been out for almost eight months. The first major review of the book, from Publisher’s Weekly, was also prescient. Issued two months before Out of the Ashes release date, suggested the book would do well – and it did – rising quickly on the Publisher’s Weekly and USA Today best-seller lists. Here is the PW review.

Fans of the original Op-Center series created by Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik that ended with Jeff Rovin’s War of Eagles (2005) will welcome this solid continuation from Couch (SEAL Team One) and Galdorisi (Coronado Conspiracy). The original Op-Center, “an information clearinghouse with SWAT capabilities,” fell under the budget ax and was disbanded, but after a horrific series of bombings at four NFL stadiums, U.S. president Wyatt Midkiff decides to dust off the Op-Center file and bring the group back to life. Chase Williams, a retired four-star Navy admiral, agrees to head the new center and hunt down the terrorists responsible for the devastating attack. The trail takes the men and women of the revitalized agency into the Middle East, where they find a new plot aimed at the American homeland. This thriller procedural packs plenty of pulse-raising action. The open ending promises more to come.

See an excerpt here

The World in 2015 – and Beyond

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As Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” But isn’t that what we all want to know? What the future comports impacts our personal lives, our families and even our fortunes.

In the national security realm, we all wonder what the future will hold for the security and prosperity of the United States. There are an overwhelming number of sources inside and outside of government who “hold forth” on what they think the future will hold.

Often the art of all this is picking and choosing among those multiple pundits and focusing on the source – or sources – that hold the most promise of getting it right. For me – and for many my professional circle, that source is The National Intelligence Council (NIC). The NIC is the parent agency for the 16 components (CIA, DIA, NSA etc.) United States intelligence enterprise.

A vast amount of what these agencies do is highly classified and not releasable to the rest of us. But some of it is and the NIC packages the collected analysis of the eighty billion dollar a year United States intelligence enterprise and publishes it in its Global Trends series.

The National Intelligence Council has released their comprehensive quadrennial report forecasting global trends that have a major impact on our world, “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds.”  In shorthand – GT2030. Global Trends 2030 helps us have an informed and well-nuanced view of the future. This is not as easy as it sounds, for, as John Maynard Keynes famously said in 1937: “The idea of the future being different from the present is so repugnant to our conventional modes of thought and behavior that we, most of us, offer a great resistance to acting on it in practice.”

NIC has been in existence for over three decades and represents the primary way the U.S. intelligence community (IC) communicates in the unclassified realm.  Initially a “wholly-owned subsidiary” of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the NIC now works directly for the director of national intelligence and presents the collective research and analysis of the entire IC, an enterprise comprising 16 agencies with a combined budget of well over $80 billion.  In a sentence: There is no more comprehensive analysis of future trends available anywhere, at any price. It’s not an overstatement to say this 160-page document represents the most definitive analytical look at the future security environment.

Stay tuned to this blog for more on the future….

Balancing “Being” and “Doing”

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Recently, the CBS news show, “60 Minutes” featured a segment where reporter Anderson Cooper joined mindfulness practitioner Jon Kabat-Zin on a Northern California mindfulness retreat. Anderson reported that initially he was extremely skeptical – especially when he had to surrender his cell phone – but came to appreciate Kabat-Zin’s approach. You can read about this segment see the video clip here.

But the larger issue for all of us remains; will 2015 be a year of “doing” – often at a frenetic pace – or of being in the moment? I’ve written about mindfulness previously on this blog (see previous posts under This Week) and I invite you to visit those posts. The reach for most of us is to understand mindfulness isn’t just something for people in funny robes or in new age communities in Northern California.

Boiled down to its essentials, mindfulness captures what Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested in a previous century. “What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters to what lies within us.” Or as Jon Kabat-Zin put it in the Foreword of Search Inside Yourself, “This is the practice of non-dong, of openhearted presencing, of pure awareness, coexistent with and inseparable from compassion.”

At a time when many of us are still making – or already breaking – New Year’s resolutions, ask yourself, is this the year to stop and just “be” for a moment?

Attention! Attention?

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Ever have anyone say to you: “Pay attention?” Is it you – or is it them?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is now the most prevalent psychiatric illness of young people in America, affecting 11 percent of them at some point between the ages of 4 and 17. The rates of both diagnosis and treatment have increased so much in the past decade that you may wonder whether something that affects so many people can really be a disease.

And for a good reason. Recent neuroscience research shows that people with A.D.H.D. are actually hard-wired for novelty-seeking — a trait that had, until relatively recently, a distinct evolutionary advantage. Compared with the rest of us, they have sluggish and underfed brain reward circuits, so much of everyday life feels routine and understimulating.

To compensate, they are drawn to new and exciting experiences and get famously impatient and restless with the regimented structure that characterizes our modern world. In short, people with A.D.H.D. may not have a disease, so much as a set of behavioral traits that don’t match the expectations of our contemporary culture.

From the standpoint of teachers, parents and the world at large, the problem with people with A.D.H.D. looks like a lack of focus and attention and impulsive behavior. But if you have the “illness,” the real problem is that, to your brain, the world that you live in essentially feels not very interesting.

Read more here

Silicon Valley Meets Washington

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Are Silicon Valley at Odds – or have they found common ground. The chief technology officer of the United States and former Google executive talks with Susan Dominus about why more techies should consider Washington — in spite of the BlackBerrys.

Read more here

Women at War

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It is beyond argument that American woman are increasingly important to our military services and are increasingly finding themselves in combat roles. And in our recent and current conflicts that are becoming combat casualties – either dead or wounded, often grievously. But why does American literature ignore women in combat roles? Consider this from Cara Hoffman’s insightful article:

Women have served in the American military in some capacity for 400 years. They’ve deployed alongside men as soldiers in three wars, and since the 1990s, a significant number of them are training, fighting and returning from combat.

But stories about female veterans are nearly absent from our culture. It’s not that their stories are poorly told. It’s that their stories are simply not told in our literature, film and popular culture.

I can’t help but think women soldiers would be afforded the respect they deserve if their experiences were reflected in literature, film and art, if people could see their struggles, their resilience, their grief represented.

Female veterans’ stories clearly have the power to change and enrich our understanding of war. But their unsung epics might also have the power to change our culture, our art, our nation and our lives.

Read more here

Fitness – or Craziness?

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Are you fit, extremely fit, or a couch potato? We all have to find our level of dedication to fitness, but not to put too fine a point on it…many of us may be taking it too far. Consider this from Heather Havrilesky:

A blond woman in a hot pink spandex tank hoists a sledgehammer over her shoulders, then slams it down with a dull thud onto the big tire in front of her. Beside her, another woman swings her sledgehammer even higher, grimacing and groaning with the effort. Their faces are bright red and dripping with sweat. It’s 9:45 a.m. and 85 degrees, and the sun is glinting off the asphalt of the strip-mall parking lot where the women are laboring. “Swing it higher, above your shoulder!” a woman bellows at them, even as they gasp each time they raise their hammers, each time they let them fall.

As one woman pauses to wipe the sweat from her eyes, she spots me studying her. I’ve been trying not to stare, but it’s a strange spectacle, this John Henry workout of theirs, hammering away in front of a women’s fitness center, just a few doors down from a smoke shop and a hair salon. It looks exhausting, and more than a little dangerous. (What if a sledgehammer slips and flies from one woman’s hands, braining her companion?) It also looks fruitless. Why not join a roofing crew for a few hours instead? Surely, there’s a tunnel somewhere that needs digging, or at least some hot tar that needs pouring.

It makes sense that for those segments of humanity who aren’t fighting for survival every day of their lives, the new definition of fulfillment is feeling as if you’re about to die. Maybe that’s the point. If we aren’t lugging five gallons of water back from a well 10 miles away or slamming a hammer into a mountainside, something feels as if it’s missing. Who wants to sit alone at a desk all day, then work out alone on a machine? Why can’t we suffer and sweat together, as a group, in a way that feels meaningful? Why can’t someone yell at us while we do it? For the privileged, maybe the most grueling path seems the most likely to lead to divinity. When I run on Sunday mornings, I pass seven packed, bustling fitness boutiques, and five nearly empty churches.

 

Read more here

Writing a Blockbuster!

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Want to write a blockbuster that will get optioned and made into a blockbuster movie. Consider this bit of wisdom:

Imagine “Jaws,” if it were released in 2014.
We open on a rock star (played by Shia LaBeouf) and his supermodel wife (played by a supermodel) snorkeling in the crystal blue waters off Bora Bora, when a fin the size of a house emerges from the water. They swim away frantically as the rock star yells: “I just wanted to go to Italy, but noooo! Bora Bora, you said. It had to be Bora freakin’ Bora!” We zoom in for a super-close-up of the shark’s enormous computer-generated teeth, in 3-D, chomping them both in half. As the rock star screams, the camera races into his mouth, down his throat, to his pumping red heart, which stops as his screams die out.

Cut to: Coast of South Africa. A world-renowned shark expert, Chloe Fabrice, 23, brisk and no-nonsense in her clinician’s white bikini, observes terrifying great whites from a shark-proof cage. “Gettin’ choppy!” a man’s voice says to her through her wristwatch walkie-talkie. As the cage lifts out of the water, we see an enormous shadow in the ocean behind it. We pull up for an aerial C.G.I. shot of a monstrous shark, bigger than a battleship, creating a giant wake that tosses Chloe’s tiny boat aside.

The original “Jaws,” released in 1975, was the first movie to make more than $100 million at the box office, and it has been blamed for every insipid summer blockbuster to hit the theaters ever since. For example: “ ‘Jaws’ whet corporate appetites for big profits quickly, which is to say studios wanted every film to be ‘Jaws,’ ” writes Peter Biskind in his 1998 book, “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.” The movie’s success “single-handedly [drove] serious movies off the summertime calendar,” Walter Shapiro wrote in Slate in 2002. “Hollywood had been happy to hit for average,” John Podhoretz wrote in 2010 in The Weekly Standard. “After ‘Jaws,’ it began swinging for grand slams.”

If nothing else, though, we should once and for all stop blaming “Jaws” for all the terrible summer movies and start crediting it for the few, rare good ones instead….

Read more here

Stalled Engines

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In the previous blog post on Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds we looked at the four possible future models of the world out to 2030 – the alternative worlds portion of the study. As the title of the National Intelligence Council’s (NIC) capstone publication suggests, this look at possible alternative worlds is the essence of the study. The NIC’s companion report to Global Trends 2030, entitled Le Menu, provides the Cliff’s Notes description of this first alternative world; Stalled Engines:

“The United States and Europe are no longer capable or interested in sustained global leadership. Corruption, social unrest, a weak financial system, and chronically poor infrastructures slow growth rates in the developing world. The global governance system is unable to cope with a widespread pandemic: rich countries wall themselves off from many poor countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. By disrupting international travel and trade, the severe pandemic helps to stall out, but does not kill globalization.”

Stalled Engines is the most plausible worst-case scenario presented in the GT2030 study and, in a sentence, is one in which “all boats sink.” However, this all-too-brief description doesn’t tell us enough about the details of this alternative worlds scenario, and we need to peel the onion a bit more to understand its potential implications more fully.

Read more here