The 21st Century Company – And You — Iteration / Innovation / Progress! And the Now Very Familiar… Disruption!

Theme-setting Comments at the Skytop Strategies’ “21st Century Company” conference, early-November 2017 in New York City. This was my third time opening the conference to set the theme of the day…

By Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

There are three words that I think define the concept of these 21st Century Company gatherings. The approach was conceived more than three years ago over lunch with Chris Skroupa, my partner Lou Coppola and I. And the words keep ringing true ever since.

The first word is Iteration — from the ancient Latin: again…and again…and again. Science and Discovery is about iteration — it is the basis of our scientific theory and practical application of scientific advances. We hear these days about “science-based” and “evidence-based” progress being made. At least from most of us.

The second word is Innovation — also from the Old Latin — the new. Something, everything — new. Most of us are interested in the new; some are anxious, others enthusiastic.

The third word is Progress — also from the Latin roots and with us with the same meaning for many centuries — it is the story of humanity — forward! Moving forward.

Interation / Innovation / Progress. Think of the great inventions of the later years of the late 18th and 19th Centuries that made the 20th Century so very different in so many ways in our personal and business lives. In finance — in public and private governance — and other aspects of our lives.

Our lives in Century 20 were very different from the experiences of generations before us. And will be in Century 21 thanks to the great progress of prior decades.

We can see all of this at work in these Inventions.

First, Electricity – the “Dynamo” (as it was called) that harnessed the power and changed nighttime dark to daylight at any time!

Telegraphy, the Wireless and Telephony….over time leading to the broad-bands of our internet and our cell phone. Everything is powered by electricity.

And the internal combustion engine – providing reliable, portable, movable power — today, cars & trucks and airplanes on the move dominate our lives, don’t they? Speaking of the last….

In the early 20th Century, The Great Tinkerer, Henry Ford brought together many scientific advances in glass, metallurgy and development of materials such as plastics, instrumentation, rubber for tires, the internal combustion engine…and more… to mass produce cars & trucks.

Henry Ford invented the efficient modern factory with his idea of bringing the work to the worker. His advances in the innovations related to motor cars brought about great progress. He was also a…farmboy at heart.

And thanks to the farmboy in him — Ford Motor Company has been making certain parts out of soybeans. This is both a 20th Century and 21st Century story.

Founder Henry Ford planted 6,000 acres of soy on the company farms. In the 1930’s he worked with soybeans to develop early versions of plastics, paints, and other products familiar to us today.

He actually made very sturdy car fenders out of soybeans and was photographed banging on such a fender with a sledgehammer — more than 70 years ago. Those old, collectible brown Ford stick gearshift knobs? Oh, yes — they are a soybean extraction!

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Henry-the-Tinkerer pounding away at a fender made of soy — he wanted to make a whole vehicle out of the wondrous plant!

One thing he invented in his laboratory for us to use every summer — the charcoal briquette. This came out of his “Industrialized Barn Concept,” his idea that future farmers might use their barn for production in the cold winter months!

And now to 2017 — in mid-October, Ford Motor Company celebrated the 10-year anniversary of using soybean-based-foam in its car seats. That practice saved 228 million pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere — equivalent to CO2 consumed by 4 million trees in sequestering carbon emissions.

You can see the soybean seats in Ford Mustangs of the last 10 model years. More than 18 million vehicles produced in North America have soy-derived foam seats, proudly notes Great-Grandson / Ford Chair William Ford – an MIT grad. And he is Great-Grandson as well of Harvey Firestone, the rubber tire innovator. And he drives a Mustang with soy seats. And Firestone tires!

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Photo:  William Ford, Chair of the Ford Motor Company with a Mustang — with soybean seats!  20th Century meet the 21st in technology!
Tinkerin’ away: The Ford Company’s lab tinkers today with such materials as wheat straw; rice hulls; trees; coconut; kenaf; tomato peels; chopped up US dollars; dandelions; algae; agave…you know, the stuff of tequila! The derived materials may be going into tires and gaskets.

That is truly 21st Century Corporate Sustainability in action!

The Spirit of Old Henry-the-Tinkerer & Innovator lives on. As does the Spirit of Thomas Edison. And Alexander Graham Bell. And many other tinkerers.

This is for us clear demonstration of the spirit at the heart of science, of scientific discovery…and of Innovation. And the outcome: the Progress we make!

Another great 19th Century invention I mentioned was the harnessing of Electricity: This new power source drove wired transmissions; think of the telegraph as electrons whizzing through wires to carry dots & dashes. Then telephony evolved with voice-over-wire; then came electrons driving radio waves, then television waves, then wireless telephones. What comes next?

Think about the little and very powerful cell phone, our wire-less telephone that we take for granted — we carry the device around and depend on it for many things every day. The amount of processing power far exceed the capacities available to “tinkerers” like the early space astronauts in their space-borne vehicles.

Speaking of Innovation and Interation…remember Radio Shack? Kids-in-the-garage of Silicon Valley invention fame shopped at Radio Shack for parts — the Steves, Jobs and Wozniak of Apple fame. Radio Shack is gone. Apple thrives. There is great irony here for us…

The fourth word for us to keep in mind for the 21st Century is very important: Disruption.

Iteration, Innovation, Progress…leads to Disruption.

Economist Joseph Schumpeter described the concept of creative destruction almost 80 years ago.

This is the process in our Capitalistic society of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, destroying the old / creating a new structure.

Applying this to Radio Shack: Technology writer Steve Cichon in Huffington Post in March 2014 mused about the February 1991 Radio Shack ad that highlighted electronic items from the ubiquitous storefront – well-known for several generations as “America’s Technology Store.”

This was before the debut of the World Wide Web (in 1994, by tinkerer Tim Berners-Lee), tiny cellular phones and other goodies in our lives that we take for granted today.

To explore the pace of innovation / and the resulting disruption – and the impact on our everyday lives, please do think about right now:

• The pioneering Tandy 1000 personal computer in the 1980s;
• the little “microthin” calculator;
• home telephones (copper wires!);
• stereo player;
• tape recorder;
• CD player;
• phone answering machine;
• earphones;
• microphone;
• speakers;
• photo camera,
• camcorder/video camera;
• weather station;
• AM-FM clock radio.

All that was listed in an ad at about $3,000 in 1991 dollars. That is $5,400 in 2017 dollars.

And all of those electronic miracles of 26 years ago are right here in the 4-oz Apple iPhone! At in one hand, at a fraction of the price, all portable, all in your pocket.

Think about the progress that is made, step-by-step, an iteration or discovery (one at a time), that lead us to miracles in our lifetime. There is such an exciting future ahead for the Millennial Generation, isn’t there.

I’ll leave it here for now. We will be exploring all through our day together the marvels and miracles — and hard work — that leads us to ….

Iteration / Innovation / Progress! And the now very familiar… Disruption!

This is what the 21st Century will be all about.

Jan 2017 – As We Await the Arrival of the New President…

by Hank Boerner

As we await the arrival of our new president and vice president, cabinet members, and  welcome the new members of House and Senate in the 115th Congress …

All eyes will on this nation’s capital on Friday, January 20th as a new President of the United States is sworn into office in the peaceful transfer of power that marks one of remarkable and unique qualities of this great nation. #46 in the long line of Chief Executives and Commander-in-Chiefs will be Donald J. Trump of New York.

We’ll say our (temporary) goodbye’s to President Barack H. Obama and depending on our point-of-view, this will be in the spirit of “thank you and well done” with tears in our eyes — or something quite different!

There was great excitement and expectation when Barack Obama was sworn in on January 20, 2009. His was expected to be a transformative presidency for many reasons. The nation was reeling from a series of interconnected critical issues that seriously impact many, many of our citizens. Some of those issues remain to be addressed and resolved (if at all possible).

And so back in November 2008, soon after the election results were clear and we could think about what was ahead under the new administration, and a new (Democrat-controlled) U.S. Congress, I thought about the promise of an earlier age, with a new president at the helm, and the progressive movement that was coming into full flower. At that time, a Republican was in the White House.

With discussions about our country being left/right, liberal/conservative, a 50/50 divide in America and so on, it’s worth looking again here in January 2017 at the past for lessons for the future — looking again at the Progressive Movement and the many benefits that we all derived from that era.

Here (below) is my original commentary back in 2008 just after that November election and the results were known: A “transformational” chief executive officer was coming to the White House in January 2009.

Ah, I’m thinking today, and so here we are again, with another tumultuous presidential election behind us and another transformational head-of-state coming in January 2017.

What kind of chief executive officer will President-elect Donald J. Trump be? What kind of transformation might he bring about? What can we expect from the 115th Congress, now convened and announcing bold moves? Will we move left or right — progressive or regressive? Backward, forward, in progress terms?

What lessons should we take forward from the past, in the Progressive Era for application in this 21st Century — if not to be taking literally, then as wonderful inspiration for doing the right thing for all Americans!

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WHO WERE THE PROGRESSIVES – WHAT CAUSES DID THEY ADVOCATE? AND, ABOUT THEIR ENDURING, POSITIVE IMPACT ON THE AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE…
originally posted November 14, 2008 by Hank Boerner

During the 2008 primary campaign season at one point U.S. Senator Hillary Clintonwas asked about her political leanings — wasn’t she a true liberal as charged by the Right?. Her reply resonated with a number of people: I am a Modern Progressive, she told the interviewer.

That got me thinking – so what’s wrong with being a progressive…isn’t it the fundamental drive of the American Dream to make “progress” and be all that we can be, to borrow from the great US Army marketing slogan…as a society…and as individuals?

As we consider how (liberal) or (left-leaning) or (middle-of the road) the incoming [Obama Administration] and factions of the new (114th) Congress might be, I’d like to put the question in the context of my belief that we are likely at the moment of dramatic societal change.

This is shaping up to be one of the fundamental, once-in-a-generation shift of American politics and culture – from the dominance of right-leaning (more conservative) politics of the 1980s (and things cultural) to the center-left … and maybe even more left than that.

The perilous state of the economy has a lot to with this – consider the several millions of manufacturing and related industrial jobs lost in the US in recent years; the ongoing chaos in the capital markets.

The seizing up of banking and business, government and commercial credit markets; the consequences of our military affairs (wars in Iraq and Afghanistan going on longer than the years this nation fought in all of WW II).

The erosion of all-white dominance of institutions; the increase in the nation’s non-white populations; the foreclosures that are mounting month-over-month in too many neighborhoods (10,000 US homes-per-day are now being foreclosed!).

The growing wealth and income gaps as the middle and lower economic rungs become ever more slippery for American families …as the wealthy get wealthier-still…and more issues than that to address!

Where does Modern Progressivism fit into these issues?

The era’s “Robber Barons” — wealthy interests and strong men who monopolized and controlled the railroads, Wall Street institutions, banking, large corporate enterprises, and numerous monopolies, a/k/a the “Trusts” — were under fire for their practices and ways of doing business.

At many levels of society there was growing displeasure about business monopolies, price-fixing and other practices of the big businesses of the era.
Common factory workplace conditions for many Americans were about the same as [those] social investors today criticize certain US companies for condoning far off in their overseas supply chain.

When one of the era’s Robber Barons’ companies took a strike in Homestead, Pennsylvania, owner Andrew Carnegie took a trip to the British Isles while his hired strikebreakers, the Pinkertons — who with the looking away of local and state officials, savagely attacked the workers, injuring many and killing nine.

Union leaders were charged with murder and treason. The company broke the back of the movement workers to organize and the early concept of collective bargaining. Such was the state of labor-management (or “owner”) relations as the new Progressive Movement began.

This was the ending of the “Gilded Age” (described by author Mark Twain in his book of that name), delightful times for the elites and the wealthy and super-wealthy. (And as he penned this, Mark Twain was living an era full of business and political corruption. For many in big business firms, working conditions were more like those in Charles Dickens’ novels, such as Ebenezer Scrooge (the owner) and Bob Cratchit (his employee), in the scene from that Christmas Eve in “A Christmas Carol.”

TR: Enter the President as Chief Crusader

As the progressive thinkers in the American society reacted to conditions that they believed had to be changed for the nation to fulfill its promise of social and economic equality, in the White House, an [seemingly] unlikely champion took center stage to dramatically change the way things were: Ambitious, young, action-oriented, and very bright, Teddy Roosevelt had been governor of New York, and was elected William McKinley’s VP in 1900, mostly to get him out of the way of the Republican big bosses.

He had too many radical thoughts about upsetting the system that benefit the wealthy ownership class. Upon the assassination of President McKinley, “TR” became President of the United States (September 14, 1901). Throughout most of his presidency he was a dogged, committed crusader — especially against corruption in both the public sector and the private sector.

In the era of giant corporate enterprises rapidly (and rapaciously) consolidating power and influence on a scale never seen before, President Roosevelt and the Progressive Movement provided a very effective counterbalance.

Seeing threats to the American Democracy and the unique capitalistic system of the USA if things weren’t changed, TR took action and the progressive movement grew to support the concepts advanced.

He was an unlikely leader of reform of the system because Teddy was born into the wealthy class and easily could have been an elitist leader. He used what he called “the Bully Pulpit” of his presidency to rally support for change. (“Bully” in those days was a cheering call — bully for you!)

Through the pressure building – especially from the population below, and broadening media coverage – eventually blew the lid off the American Society, and the reforms flowed forth over two decades:

Consumer Protection – advocates drove adoption of the landmark Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 (resulting in today’s FDA protections; many of today’s food supply protections; regulation of medicines, and more).

Protection of Workers – workers got the right to organize; the 8-hour workday became the norm; there was protection of worker health (such as in the coal industry where many suffered from black lung disease); unsafe factory conditions began to be eliminated.

Child Labor was controlled – eliminating tiny children working alongside adults in industrial facilities.

Urban Residents began to be protected – reforms of the day began eliminating crowded tenement housing, which often led to sickness, including widespread tuberculosis; water supplies were regulated and protected, probably the greatest single factor in health advances in the early 20th Century.

Education – Progressives encouraged wider access to education for children, especially in the cities, to eliminate crime and the cycle of poverty, and to begin to build a larger, more educated middle class. Citizens were to be broadly educated in public school systems.

Political Corruption Battles – included direct election of member of the US Senate; encouraging closed (secret) ballot elections; addressing the power of political bosses in the big cities; addressing voter fraud.

Progressives addressed the root causes of poverty – especially urban poverty, with millions of immigrants flowing to port cities, and then crowding in to work in the steadily expanding universe of factories. The plight of immigrants were top-of-mind for progressives, including encouraging immigrants to move out of over-crowded cities, and address their health, job, education, and other social needs.

The Progressives’ work protected your parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents!

Protecting the Nation’s Natural Resources – President Teddy Roosevelt was in the lead here, setting aside about 100,000 acres a day for the future generations throughout his two terms! He created sanctuaries and reserves of various kinds by executive order. (The National Park System would come about a few years after he left office, in one of the Progressive Movement’s finest moments.)

Treatment of the Nation’s Veterans – encouraging health care for veterans, and pensions for military retirees

Encouraging Fair TaxationSpreading the Burden – the adoption of a progressive / fair tax system (the personal income tax came during the Progressive Era; before that, the primary means of support the federal government included tariffs on goods.)

Encouraging Social and Economic Justice – addressing the situations of Native Americans, and tens of millions of immigrants pouring into the USA – your ancestors and mine!

Regulating Industry – curbing the runaway power of large corporations; curbing large business monopolies in key sectors; first President Roosevelt and then successor William Howard Taft led the battle to break up large industrial trusts, such as the Sugar Trust, Steel Trust, Beef Trust, and the Oil Trust (the Rockefellers’ sprawling Standard Oil Empire was broken into individual operating companies — today’s Exxon, Mobil etc..)

Progressivism – A Broad Societal Movement

Note that what we’re describing here was in ways a political movement, yes, but the progressives were not necessarily organized only as a political party movement (such as “the Democratic Platform”).

This was a society-wide, mostly national social movement at many levels of the culture working to make America a better place…a kinder and more caring society…and more inclusive society…yes, a society which encouraged the spreading of wealth beyond the handful of powerful elites who commanded the apportioning of capital, the means of industrial production, and the transport and distribution systems necessary for truly national commerce.

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A combination of forces brought progressivism to the center of American life: as author A.J. Scopino, Jr. writes:
“…Historians agree that in the first two decades of the 20th Century [reformers] employed a scientific approach when addressing social problems, No longer content to accept and explain the miseries of life through fatalism or sheer luck, progressives were eager to utilize new tools, strategies, methods, and discoveries of new academic disciplines (especially sociology), to correct social maladjustment.

“Examining workers’ wages, living expenses, housing conditions, family size, working conditions, diets, and other data, progressive reformers studied, analyzed, and then offered measures to correct inequity and insure social justice…

“As firm believers in the American democratic process and in American institutions, reformers called on the government to legislate against political, social and economic wrong doing…”

* * * * * * * *
And the Progressives wielded mighty clubs – the era’s hot new media such as mass circulation magazines, as well as daily newspapers (New York City had a half dozen or more dailies) were their communication outlets.

This was the time of the muckrakers – whose words were eagerly awaited as the uncovered corruption in business and government. Today’s “60 Minutes” on the CBS Network  continues the tradition begun a century ago by Ida Tarbell (nemesis of Standard Oil), Upton Sinclair (whose novel about big oil was recently made into the movie, “There Will Be Blood,” starring Daniel Day Lewis), writer Lincoln Steffens, and others.

The progressives brought about a better country with their reforms. Their work was instrumental, I believe, in creating the conditions that led to the rise of the middle class – the engine of our GDP (2/3 of the US economy). Millions of Americans were the beneficiaries of the progressive thinking of 100 years ago.

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Of course, conditions are different in 2008 and 2009, aren’t they? OK, let’s admit we’ve made tremendous progress as a society since the early 1900s. Thank the progressives for that.

The problems and challenges and issues of our age will be addressed in different ways, it appears, after January 20, 2009.

The early 20th Century progressives were united by a number of forces. Based on what I have been seeing in recent months – one example was the Barack Obama campaign fervor – this Millennium Generation, approaching positions of influence and power – may revive the spirit of the early Progressive Movement, especially if they unite to bring about important changes.

Stay Tuned to the shift taking place in public opinion, the shift from right-to-center or even center-left, and the drive for a better quality of life in this great nation. We may be on the verge of something really exciting – with expanding (not contracting) opportunity for most Americans! The best that our nation can be…may be just ahead of us.

Your thoughts?

(for more details on the Progressive Movement, read “The Progressive Movement, 1900-1917,” by A.J. Scopino, Jr; 1996m Discovery Enterprises Ltd.)

Photo: Crowded cities: The original Progressive Movement came together more than a century ago.  Under conditions that include several sounding a bit familiar in 2008.  Immigrants were flooding into the US (the late-1800’s waves came from Italy, Eastern Europe, Russia, and other lands) and many of the recent arrivals were living in terrible conditions as they landed and remained in the crowding cities.

Today – We Honor Dr. King – His Courage, and Contributions to Our Nation

by Hank Boerner

Today we celebrate the birthday of a great American, a man who somewhat reluctantly became a “street warrior” battling for fairness, social justice and equality for the African-American community. And for all Americans, yesterday and today and into our future as a People.

While still a young minister (still in his 30′s), in his early pastoral years The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became a fierce advocate for “Negro” rights. As he campaigned, Dr. King was jailed in Birmingham, Alabama for joining the civil protests underway in the early 1960s.

There in the jail cell, on scraps of paper he hid from his jailers Dr. King answered his critics, including fellow clergy, citing important Biblical precedent, important milestones and events in American history, and the emergence of new nations from former colonies in Africa and Asia. Old colonial empires were shattering.

But in the USA the “southern empire” of the post-Civil War era was mostly still intact; this nation had its own version of the South African system of Apartheid, including structured denial of voting rights for blacks and various Jim Crow practices. One day, he writes in the letter, the south will recognize its real heroes.

Dr. King writes: “One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.” Inspiring words!

The young church leader appeals for help in this letter; this document was released and widely read over time. Soon, he would have a much larger stage for his soaring commentary — a few months later on August 28, 1963 he mounted the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC and faced perhaps up to a quarter-million people — white, black, brown — and they awaited his words…”I Have A Dream” is still his best-known work.

But when you read this letter from inside a jail cell once again (or for the first time), see if the words don’t ring true for you across a half-century.

Born to a middle-class family, educated at Morehouse College and then in Boston at grad school (Boston University 1953, Ph.D.). Dr. King was not expected to be in the streets heading marches…he was born to lead from the pulpit, and the “higher pulpit” at that…in a big city church, for example, perhaps there in Atlanta where his father served as pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church. (Which he later joined as co-pastor.)

Instead, early in 1963 (only a few years into his ministry) he finds himself sitting in an Alabama jail cell pleading for help, and calm, and social justice. He could not count on the Kennedy Administration for much help at the time – President John Kennedy and Attorney General Bobby Kennedy were then reluctant to anger the long-tenured southern senators and congressmen who ruled Capitol Hill. The Kennedy’s needed their support to win re-election in November 1964. And so we could say that the brothers were then also reluctant warriors to the civil rights struggle emerging in the 1960s.

Shortly after writing his epistle, Dr. King would be out of jail and eulogizing the four little African-American girls killed in a cowardly, racist bomb blast at their church in Birmingham…at least one of them a friend of another little girl, Condoleezza Rice, who rose to be our Secretary of State. (The bombing was on September 15, 1963.)

Dr. King continued to speak out and to be the national voice (and conscience) of civil rights activism, and the leader who could best appeal to the nation’s conscience, north and south, east and west; white and black.   He would be awarded the Nobel Prize for his non-violence campaigning in December 1964.

But then, in a short while — in June 1968 – US Senator Robert Kennedy would be announcing the slaying of Dr. King (in Memphis) to a crowd of African-Americans…and a dramatic change would occur in Senator Kennedy’s public attitudes toward civil rights. He would become a man with a mission that clearly included addressing the wrongs of racism.

And not long after that, sad to recall, it would be his brother, Senator Edward Kennedy eulogizing his late brother, Bobby, the presidential candidate (murdered in Los Angeles, June 5, 1968, as he won the California Democratic Party primary).   1968 – that was a terrible year – two leaders slain within months of each other.

But today there is a prayer for all of us as a People in the concluding words from that jail cell letter five decades ago.  Dr. King said, “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.” May that day be!

On this day that celebrates this brave, intelligent civil rights and religious leader, my thoughts go back to 1963 and that cold jail cell in Birmingham and I re-read the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..  (January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968)

I think about his personal and professional struggles when we celebrate his birthday, today, every year.  A  deserved honor, in my opinion.

He helped move this nation forward in many, many ways, during his very short life on Earth. Imagine if he had lived his biblical four score-plus years!  We are in his debt as a nation and People.

Note: This was in part derived from a commentary I authored in December 2007