Saul Kaplan: Hourglass Theory of Life
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Hourglass Theory Of Life: Start with broad learning, narrow focus for impact, return to generalized exploration before the sand runs out!
Every life takes a different path but as sand moves inexorably through our personalized hourglasses there are patterns worth considering.
The top of the hourglass represents unlimited potential. While full with life’s sand anything and everything seems possible. The future is brightest when we start with the broadest learning. No limits. No boundaries. Zen Buddhism teaches us the important concept of beginner’s mind, approaching everything with an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” Shunryu Suzuki
I’m blessed to see beginner’s mind in action every time I see our three year-old twin granddaughters. It’s exhausting to watch them explore the world around them with reckless abandon, soaking up diverse inputs, experimenting with every sense, and squealing with delight with every surprising new discovery. All kids are born great. Our youth is characterized by broad general learning, the broader the better. The top of the hourglass is about foundation building. It’s about being a voracious generalist. It’s about keeping all opportunities open. The goal at the top of the hourglass is to explore the widest possible frontier of ideas and tools and to establish confidence in a sandbox full of capabilities that can be combined and recombined in unpredictable ways as the future unfolds.
As the sands of time move through our youth it’s important not to jump too fast into the narrow part of the hourglass. I worry about societal pressure to specialize too soon. There seems to be a steady drumbeat advocating for a narrow college education in order to maximize job prospects. Resist it if you can. Have you ever asked a group of people if they are doing what they thought they were going to do when they were in college? I have, and they almost never raise their hands. You can’t predict what you are going to be doing in the future. Why not treat college as foundation building and part of the top of the hourglass, an opportunity to explore a broad rage of interests and capabilities.
I think a liberal arts education is one of the world’s greatest experiences and the best possible preparation for an unknowable future. I didn’t get one in a rush to specialize and regret it. I nudged all three of our children successfully! It bothers me that as a society we aren’t making liberal arts education more accessible, affordable, and preferable.
The middle part of the hourglass represents focus and leverage. As the hourglass narrows so does our focus to accelerate and maximize progress and impact. It’s a wonderful time in our lives to mine our generalist foundation for personal growth. As the sand moves through the narrow part of the hourglass we specialize. We specialize as our interests and capabilities become more focused and clear. We specialize to advance professionally and economically. We specialize to better position ourselves in a competitive world. We self identify with how we choose to specialize. We seek professional credentials, titles, promotions, raises, and market validation based on how we specialize. The narrow part of life’s hourglass represents heady times. It can be a fantastic time of life with the right generalist foundation and strategies for specialization. It was for me, but something was missing. I didn’t fully understand it then but it was time for me to stop leaning against the flow of sand back into the wide part of the hourglass.
I’ve come to believe that the potential to transition from a competent specialist to being a voracious generalist again is one of the most important inflection points in life. There’s no right or wrong age to transition and of course many people choose or try not to. For me, it felt like a natural part of life’s journey. I don’t know exactly when it happened (I think for me, like for many, 9/11/01 had something to do with it) but at some point the specialization thing got old. It felt too limiting. At the margin each promotion, raise, professional accolade felt less important and relevant. It may happen in different ways and at different times in each of our lives but if we are fortunate we become free to unleash our beginner’s mind again. We become free to leverage both our generalist foundations and deep specialist capabilities to work on an entirely new set of important social challenges. We free ourselves to randomly collide with unusual suspects outside of our specialized silos and to explore the grey areas between us. The world seems new again and we are armed with the superpowers that come from a lifetime of experiences.
This innovation junkie feels blessed to be experiencing the wide part of life’s hourglass again and I intend to enjoy it and try to make a difference before the sand runs out.
Saul Kaplan is the Founder and Chief Catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF). Saul shares innovation musings on his blog at It’s Saul Connected and on Twitter at @skap5.
Related Slideshow: RI Business Rankings in US
See how Rhode Island stacked up.
Rhode Island has 2015's eighth highest insurance premium penalties for high risk drivers, according to a WalletHub report.
Rhode Island ranks fifth overall in the category of speeding over 20 mph annual premium increase at $482. While ranking third overall in the category of 2 accidents annual premium increase at $2,721.
Rhode Island ranks ninth overall under the reckless driving annual premium increase at $749.
Rhode Island has been ranked as the 8th most eco-friendly state in the country, according to a recent study by WalletHub.
Rhode Island ranks third in environmental quality and 16th in Eco-Friendly Behaviors Ran landing them in 8th overall.
RI is behind Washington and New Hampshire who are in the six and seven spots respectively, and in front of Connecticut and Hawaii who come in at the nine and ten spot.
Rhode Island is 2015's 4th Worst State to be a taxpayer, according to a recent WalletHub report.
Rhode Island ranks 48th of 51 with an average state and local tax price of $7,159 which is good for a 27% difference from the national average.
The states that are directly behind Rhode Island are Wisconsin at $7,159, Nebraska at $7,298 and Illinois at $7,719 for a 37% difference from the national average.
Rhode Island has the highest vehicle property taxes in the country, paying an average of $1,133 according to a report from WalletHub.
Virginia and Kansas are the two states just ahead of Rhode Island in the 49 and 50 spots, paying $962 and $905 respectively.
RI also ranks 42nd in average real estate tax, paying an average of $2,779, according to the WalletHub report.
WalletHub has ranked Rhode Island as the 7th worst state to be rich in in a recent in depth analysis of 2015's Best States to be Rich or Poor From a Tax Perspective.
On a scale with 1 being the best, and 25 being average, Rhode Island ranks 37th in low income earners, 42 in middle income earners and 45th in high income earners.
To see the full report, click here.
Providence-metro ranks at the bottom for job creation in 2014
Rhode Island has been ranked amongst the worst in job creation, according to a recent survey done by Gallup.
Gallup gives the Prov-metro area an index score of 23, the lowest score is the New York- New Jersey area with 20.
Salt Lake City, Utah and Austin-round Rock, Texas rank the highest with a score of 37.
The 2014 state rankings by Forbes has just been released and Rhode Island moved up two spots from #48 in 2013 to #46 in 2014.
What does Forbes say about RI's business environment"
After Michigan and Illinois, Rhode Island has experienced the third worst net migration out of its state in the country over the past five years. With a recent unemployment rate of 7.6%—lower than only Georgia and Mississippi—residents are leaving the state in search of jobs. Rhode Island has been stuck in the bottom five overall for six straight years. One plus: labor costs are 5% below the national average, which stands out in the expensive Northeast.
Findings from The State Business Tax Climate Index were released this morning by Tax Foundation which found Rhode Island to have the 45th best tax climate for businesses for 2015. The state's rank has not changed since last year after The Index analyzed 100 different tax variables in multiple categories.
Providence is the second worst city in America for small business, according to a new survey conducted by Thumbtack.com and the Kauffman Foundation.
More than 12,000 small businesses in 82 cities across the country participate in the survey. Providence received an overall "F" grade for small business friendliness.
Small Business Friendliness Grade: F
The Economist grades states on an A+ to F grading scale for its small business climate. Rhode Island is one of just 6 states to earn an "F" grade.
Overbearing bureaucracy and excessive licensing is stifling small business in America.
Forbes ranks each state in business costs, economic climate, and growth prospects. RI is third worst in 2013.
The most damning in the commentary:
After Michigan, Rhode Island has experienced the second worst net migration in the country over the past five years.
ChiefExecutive.net ranks each state in taxations and regulations, workforce quality, and living environment.
The most damning in the commentary:
Sky-high unemployment rate bespeaks continuing terrible business climate.
#46 Tax Foundation
Tax Foundation ranks each state in corporate tax rank, sales tax rank, and unemployment insurance tax rank.
Rhode Island and the other states in the bottom ten suffer from the same afflictions: complex, non-neutral taxes with comparatively high rates.
ALEC ranks each state in economic performance and outlook.
Although Rhode Island ranked low in economic performance, a forward-looking forecast is based on the state’s standing in 15 important state policy variables. Some of these variables include top marginal personal income tax rate and sales tax burden.
#47 Free Enterprise
Free Enterprise ranks each state in performance, exports, innovation + entrepreneurship, business climate, talent pipeline, infrastructure.
Rhode Island has continued to feel the direct impact and ripples from the recent recession—it ranks 47th overall in economic performance. However, positive rankings of 15th in talent pipeline and 16th in innovation and entrepreneurship suggest the existence of a foundation on which to build the future.
The Pew Charitable Trusts
#40 The Pew Charitable Trusts
The Pew Charitable Trusts ranks each state in job growth and job creation.
Rhode Island added 6,223 jobs in 2014.
10th Worst in Gallup's Annual Ranking of State Job Markets 2014
Rhode Island has been ranked 10th worst for job creation in Gallup's annual ranking of state job markets in 2014 with a job creation index number of 21
Rhode Island is one of two (Connecticut) states to rank in the bottom ten each year since 2008.
The 2014 State level findings have were drawn from 201,254 interviews with employed adults across the nation.
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