Saturday, March 5, 2011

TED: Ideas worth spreading

TED: Ideas worth spreading

Here I am in Long Beach, California participating in TED 2011 with representatives of at least 80 countries in the world.

I haven’t yet run into anyone from Puerto Rico, so if there was someone from Puerto Rico here, please write me and let me know.

Those of you not familiar with TED go to and see what this conference is all about.

This conference is not cheap. It will cost you $7,500 to participate for four days with some of the most advanced minds in the planet. Right now, they, through their web site, are taking reservations for TED 2012 and in just a few days, the 1,500 seats will be sold out.

Believe it or not, you can’t just go and sign up and pay the money. You have to apply to be allowed in. You have to fill out a questionnaire and sometime later they will let you know whether you have been approved to attend or not.

Do you know of any conference in the whole world that sells out a year in advance with a cost of $7,500 and that you have to qualify in order to attend?

It is well worth it, because not only being here will give you new ideas and insights that can be applied to your business, but it will also give you solutions that could be implemented in Puerto Rico. Besides, how much is it worth to be able to rub shoulders with Bill Gates, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Jeff Betzos, CEO of Amazon. com, Larry Page and Sergei Brin from Google and many, many others. In fact, your eyes will also benefit when you see Cameron Diaz, Melanie Griffin and other beautiful actresses sitting next to you or ladies, when you see Will Smith, Forrest Whitaker and other celebrities also participating.

Besides the extra- curricular benefits, people from the government, educators, scientists and educators must attend this conference to see what is happening in the most advanced countries in the world.

For example, Bill Gates, who attends every TED conference, gave a magnificent talk on Educational Economics.

With education consuming an increasing share of public resources and calls for even more spending, the public must know how education resources are used. And, the present economic downturn will require even a tighter scrutiny as decisions must be made when spending priorities are considered. Our education department must deal with those issues too.

I was blown away by a speech by a fellow named Rob Khan who is changing the face of education. If you don’t believe me, go to his web site, and look at it very closely. Every educator in Puerto Rico must take advantage of this site in order to help their students. It doesn’t matter if you are a student, teacher, home schooled, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a space alien just trying to understand earth biology, the Khan Academy’s educational materials and resources are available completely free of charge. And there are over 2,200 videos available.

Their mission is to provide a world class free education for everyone in the planet.

To give you an idea, I ran into Ricardo Salinas, Mexico’s second richest individual, television mogul, owner of two professional soccer teams and a score of other businesses, and the first thing he says to me was “ did you see the Khan site? I couldn’t believe it; I registered myself and took one course already”.

From the governor on down to the poorest student in Puerto Rico, this site will be invaluable. This is the type of knowledge you acquire here in TED.

Indira Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, presented PepsiCo’s multi- year growth strategy, with a goal of sustainable growth and a healthier future for both people and planet. Coca Cola better look at what they are doing or they will get a competitive advantage.

Deb Roy, a cognitive scientist from MIT who installed video cameras in his home and recorded every single movement of his family these last three years and recorded 140,000 hours of video in order to understand how children communicate with adults and learn to speak. For example, he learned how his two year old son has already learned 503 words and how was he able to learn them. He clearly saw how a sound of gogogogogogo, little by little became “water”. He was even able to determine which words the child learned in the kitchen, in the living room, right by the front door and even in his room. Absolutely fascinating!

We heard from the world expert in the Titanic who has done tremendous work with the wreckage and who now has been commissioned to find the Air France airplane that crashed at Sea on June 1st 2009 so that they can retrieve the black box and see what happened.

We saw Dennis Hong, the founder and director of RoMeLa, a Virginia Tech robotics lab that has pioneered several breakthroughs in robot design and for the first time demonstrated an invention that will allow people in wheelchairs to walk. All of a sudden, a young lady, who had been in a wheel chair for 19 years, walked into the stage with tears in her eyes. First time ever she has been able to walk, and it was made possible by Dr. Hong’s invention.

We saw a car that has just been invented that will allow blind people to drive. We saw the video demonstration of a blind man driving the car and avoiding boxes that were thrown in front of the car to see if he would hit them. He sure didn’t!

We spent a day in NASA’s world renowned Jet Propulsion laboratory. This 5,000 person campus is known worldwide for its robotic rovers on Mars, the many telescopes that see the far reaches of the universe, and spacecraft that have explored our solar system. We saw exciting new developments, including the incredible experience of watching the assembling of the next robotic rover that will be launched towards Mars on November of this year.

Little did I know that the Rover will have my name, and the name of the other attendees inscribed on its side when it lands in Mars. Rather vain, but nonetheless, good topic of conversation to have with your children and grandchildren.

What else can I say? If next year I don’t see a good representation of Puerto Rican businesspeople and government officials in TED 2012, we are worse off than I thought.

The Secret and other Ineffective techniques

The secret and other ineffective techniques

On Thursday night I was the keynote speaker in the annual Unity Awards in Sarasota, Florida a very nice town in the west side of Florida. I was very happy to see a community get together as one team and recognize the power of diversity.

There was the large company award which was won by Tropicana Products, a subsidiary of Pepsi, for hiring so many minorities, the entrepreneur award, won by a distinguished Colombian woman named Rosalia Holmund who started her career in New York cleaning houses and now owns a big restaurant.

The medical award was given to Dr. James McCloud, an African American who took it upon himself to open a clinic to treat the needy, for that segment of society that have nothing and no money to afford healthcare.

The small business award was given to a law firm named Czaia and Gallagher formed by two lawyers who are believers in treating people well and helping everyone solve their legal problems fast and without hassle.

Esperanza Gamboa, a Cuban American won the Education Award for her work in educating a diverse community making sure that no one is left out of educational opportunities.

After my keynote, I was invited to participate in a television program which will air in April by the editor of the prestigious Sarasota Hispanic newspaper 7 dias.

It was a very interesting interview and one of the things he gave importance to was my million dollar card, saying that people could visualize that they would get a million dollars and make it a reality.

He asked me point blank if this type of visualizing really works. And I had to tell him that according to the latest research, it actually doesn’t.

Throughout the past fifty years, a large number of books, audio books and seminars, most recently a book called “The Secret” have promised to help people look beyond the perils of immediate gratification and achieve their long term objectives. From visualizing to self affirmation, from being extremely focused to simply “going with the flow” in the end, you will make lots of money and be happy.

There is one small hitch. Several recent studies suggest that many of these exercises plain and simple, don’t work.

You might close your eyes, you imagine the new you, thinking how great you would look in that red bikini, sitting in a lovely beach in Isla Verde or in Anguilla. This type of exercise has been promoted by the very lucrative self help industry for years, with claims that it can help people stop smoking, lose excess pounds, find your ideal partner or become a very successful salesperson. .

Unfortunately, recently published research reported by Rick Viseman, suggests that although such exercises might make you feel rather good in the short term, the technique is at best ineffective.

For example, he reports that in a University of California study a group of students were asked to spend a few moments each day visualizing themselves getting a good grade on a midterm exam that would take place a few days later. They were told to form a clear image in their mind’s “eye” and imagine how great it would feel to make a good grade. The study also involved a control group of students who did nothing special and weren’t asked to imagine anything. The psychologists asked the students in both groups to write down the number of hours that they studied each day and monitored their final grades. Even though the daydreaming exercise lasted only a few minutes, it had a marked impact on the student’s behavior, causing them to study less and make lower grades on the exam. It is obvious that the experiment may have made them feel better about themselves, but it didn’t help them reach their objectives.

In another exercise conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, a group of obese women took part in a weight reduction program. During the experiment, the women were asked to imagine how they might behave in various food related scenarios, such as going to a friend’s house and being tempted with a delicious pizza. Each of their responses was classified on a scale ranging from highly positive (something like saying” I would be a good person and I would stay away from the dessert”)to highly negative (“Hey I would go for it, eating my own and somebody else’s too”).

Get this, after the women were monitored for a year, the results revealed that those with more positive fantasies had lost, on average, twenty six pounds less than those with negative fantasies.

The same effect applies to career success. The experimenters asked their senior students to write down how often they fantasized about getting their perfect job after graduating from college. A two year follow up revealed that the students who had reported frequently fantasizing about success had submitted fewer job applications, received a lower number of job offers, and commanded significantly smaller salaries than their classmates.

Why, you may ask, should it be so bad to imagine yourself achieving your goals? Psychologists and Sociologists have theorized that those who fantasize about how wonderful life could be are not very well prepared for the defeats that often occur along the jagged road to success, or maybe they enjoy delighting in escapism and so become reluctant to invest the effort, often a really big effort, to achieve their goals. Either way, the message from the research is crystal clear: fantasizing about your perfect world may make you feel better, but it is highly unlikely to help you convert your dreams into reality.

What should you do then?

Well, research has also shown that some techniques do help create lasting and genuine changes in people’s lives. From losing weight, to stop smoking, getting a good job, finding the love of your life, there are very effective techniques that can provide meaningful help.

It all comes down to understanding your strengths and weaknesses, having clear expectations, drawing a realistic plan, acting on it without procrastinating and persisting until you achieve your goal.

I would love to see a study of people who have read the book The Secret and see if by simply thinking that you can attract what you want, it actually materialized and you are better off now after you read it than before. I highly doubt it.

The budget crises: an opportunity for leadership

The budget crises: an opportunity for leadership?

This article deals with the US budget, not Puerto Rico’s. Since we are part of the US and we are, unfortunately, dependent in great measure on the fiscal situation in the States, it is a matter that should concern all of us.

President’s Obama’s 2012 budget proposal offers tax increases and spending cuts but doesn’t touch the big fiscal issues that need to be addressed sooner or later. It still left spending at historically high levels because of escalating health and retirement programs.

Under this new budget, spending as a percent of the US gross domestic product would be 23.6% down from 25.3% this year. This is still very high.

This plan would place the federal government’s deficit next year at $1.1 trillion down from $1.6 trillion this year.

Well, at least we are going in the right direction, aren’t we?

Bringing this down to a reasonable figure in a normal household, it is the equivalent of a family that over spends 1,600 dollars a month and from next month on, they will over spend 1,100 dollars a month.

Who would want to continue lending money to this family under such a plan?

The same applies to us, who would want to continue lending money to the US under such a plan?

As of now, we have been extremely lucky that the Chinese have loaned us money, not because they are disciples of Mother Theresa, but because they need us to purchase their goods. We are their largest customer and if we stop spending, their economy tanks. But, there is a limit to everything.

We have also printed a lot of money to pay for all this stuff, but what will happen to the value of the dollar if we continue to print money? It will tank and probably lose its status as the world’s currency.

I mentioned in a previous article my talk in Geneva, Switzerland to a multinational company where I spoke about the marshmallow principle and how I was followed by Joe Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winner in Economics. He said that out of the three children, the two that ate the marshmallows were Americans and the one that didn’t was Chinese. He then said that the savings rate of Americans was zero and the savings rate of the Chinese is 50% of what they earn.

We continue to eat more marshmallows than we produce and it seems that there is no end in sight. We continue to spend more than we produce and that is no good at all.

To give you an idea, I will reproduce here a chart that didn’t get the media attention that it deserved, for whatever reason, and should have. I admit that I got it from Dick Morris who was a very influential political advisor to President Clinton and now has a newsletter about the economy and is a critic of the present administration.

I warn you that this chart will probably scare you to death but I believe that we must raise awareness everywhere and since this newspaper and my column is read in the US and all over the world via internet; we might help convey the message to our lawmakers that they must stop spending money that we don’t have.

We all condemned the spending habits of the Bush administration. He inherited a government with a surplus and in eight years our debt soared sky high. Yes, we were attacked in 9/11, went into two wars and everything else but whatever the reasons, the debt escalated.

Let’s now look at the situation two years later under the present Democratic administration:

January 2009


% chg


Avg. retail price/gallon gas in U.S.





Crude oil, European Brent (barrel)





Crude oil, West TX Inter. (barrel)





Gold: London (per troy oz.)





Corn, No.2 yellow, Central IL





Soybeans, No. 1 yellow, IL





Sugar, cane, raw, world, lb. fob





Unemployment rate, non-farm, overall





Unemployment rate, blacks





Number of unemployed





Number of fed. employees, ex. military (curr = 12/10 prelim)





Real median household income (2008 v 2009)





Number of food stamp recipients (curr = 10/10)





Number of unemployment benefit recipients (curr = 12/10)





Number of long-term unemployed





Poverty rate, individuals (2008 v 2009)





People in poverty in U.S. (2008 v 2009)





U.S. rank in Economic Freedom World Rankings





Present Situation Index (curr = 12/10)





Failed banks (curr = 2010 + 2011 to date)





U.S. dollar versus Japanese yen exchange rate





U.S. money supply, M1, in billions (curr = 12/10 prelim)





U.S. money supply, M2, in billions (curr = 12/10 prelim)





National debt, in trillions





Just take this last item: In the last two years we have accumulated national debt at a rate more than 27 times as fast as during the rest of our entire nation's history. Over 27 times as fast! Metaphorically, speaking, if you are driving in the right lane doing 65 MPH and a car rockets past you in the left lane 27 times faster . . . it would be doing 1,755 MPH!

(1) U.S. Energy Information Administration; (2) Wall Street Journal; (3) Bureau of Labor Statistics; (4) Census Bureau; (5) USDA; (6) U.S. Dept. of Labor; (7) FHFA; (8) Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller; (9) RealtyTrac; (10) Heritage Foundation and WSJ; (11) The Conference Board; (12) FDIC; (13) Federal Reserve; (14) U.S. Treasury

We don’t have to be geniuses to understand that things are not going well.

What to do is a very difficult question, I must admit, and it will be a very painful answer. My field is not economics, thank goodness, but I know arithmetic and I am rather good at adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing and this scenario doesn’t look good.

If someone is diagnosed with cancer, either you go through chemotherapy or the cancer will kill you. We need to either go through chemotherapy or find another cure but something must be done.

IBM, that magnificent creative company just declared that creativity is the number one leadership competency in today’s world.

They surveyed more than 1,500 CEO’s from 60 countries, in 33 industries worldwide and they believed that more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision, successfully navigating an increasing complex world will require creativity.

And, this is exactly what we need to solve the problem we are facing now.

We must think out of the box, we must try to solve the problem as painlessly as possible but determined to do so no matter the amount of pain we must go through.

I wonder why our lawmakers don’t delegate the budget problem to IBM or other creative companies so that they can creatively solve it. Food for thought!

Leadership Starts with what a child sees at home

Leadership starts with what a child sees at home

Every time that I read in the papers or watch in television a mother or father murdering their own child, pains my heart to the deepest levels of despair.

How can anyone hurt a child? How can anyone dare insult Nature, God, and the architect of the universe, whatever your belief system is?

A child is the future of a country. A child is the hopes and aspirations that a society must have in order to succeed.

Watching the news about this woman that killed her own two months old baby was extremely painful for me and I am sure for most of our society.

How could she do such a thing? Yes, it could be a severe case of mental illness, I don’t know the details of the case, but still, and it is a despicable act.

There are thousands of families that can’t have children that would have loved to adopt that child. Why not give it up in adoption so as to give that child a chance in the world?

Why destroy a beautiful, innocent, life?

Let me give you another situation, opposite of the lady that killed her child.

My grandson Orlando Joaquin, also known as Orly, was very happy and looking forward to the opportunity to play Hopscotch after school, with a three year old kid that he wanted to be friends with. My grandson is only 27 months old.

My daughter took him to play with the little kid and for no reason; the kid ran away, he simply didn’t want to play with him. Orly was devastated. He started crying and felt very sad, and asked my daughter why the little boy didn’t want to play with him.

My daughter tried the best she could to tell him that the boy was probably sad or was hurting, that he had a good reason not to want to play, not to be sad, etc.

She then calls my son in law, a prominent attorney in a very busy law firm to tell him what had happened with the kid not wanting to play with Orly. What did Orlando, my son in law do?

He cancelled his appointments for the afternoon, went to a store, bought a Hopscotch game and went home to play with his son all afternoon.

Can you imagine the love that this father has for his son that he is willing to take time off his busy schedule in order to repair whatever harm a three year old did to his son by not wanting to play with him? I couldn’t have asked for a better son in law.

I was flabbergasted when my daughter told me just yesterday and it inspired me to write this column

Don’t you think that with that kind of example Orlando Joaquin will turn out to be a good son, a better father, even a leader in his community? Odds are not 100% but they are definitely high that he will turn out to be a good citizen, maybe even a leader in his school, college and in society.

A child that is raised with love and understanding will have a better chance to be an asset for any community, country or even the world.

A child that is raised with constant abuse, who sees his or her parents consume drugs, fight, scream at each other, will construct a crooked image of what life really is and will behave in ways that will often lead to crime and incarceration.

There are thousands, millions if we take the whole world, of families that forget that the most important part of their lives is their loved ones, their relationships.

The fact that we have evolved as group living animals and continue to do so today means that at a deep and unconscious level, people need social companionship, social feedback and social interaction. People are naturally programmed to seek the company of others. It also suggests that people will find social isolation quite stressful and the prospects of being shunned, rejected, and isolated are quite threatening.

In fact there are countless psychological studies that support the fact that people need to interact in healthy ways in order to lead happy lives.

How can children that are mistreated or witness negative behavior in their parents be expected to interact in healthy ways?

Harlow conducted social isolation studies with baby rhesus monkeys and the research was so painful as to make it unthinkable to replicate it with human infants. Data on attachment theory demonstrates that infants find separation from their primary caretakers to be deeply traumatizing. For a child to be separated from his or her caretakers is like being exposed to radiation: Any amount is harmful and it accumulates.

How many parents don’t see their children for days, weeks, months even years. How many when they get home their children are already sleeping and when they wake up the child is already off to school?

Human beings are naturally social animals and even though there are social differences such as extroverts that are powerfully motivated by the social contact and people that prefer to remain mostly by themselves (introverts), all respond to love and affection.

It is very important to understand, and I hope that parents reading this article will agree, that children in their early years of development are primarily concerned about adapting to the demands of their parents. The degree to which the parents provide an appropriate degree of warmth and affection and set appropriate limits for a child’s behavior, will affect two broad aspects of personality: core self esteem and attitudes toward authority.

Core self esteem impacts a person’s ability to deal with adversity, whereas attitudes toward authority influence a person’s self control and willingness to follow rules.

This why it is so important for parents consciously make an effort to dedicate time and effort to the development of their children.

I have been invited to speak in many schools in the island and I find great examples of youngsters that have been raised by responsible parents and are very clear of the problems of our society and their responsibility to do something about them.

We must pay attention and even train families on how to be better parents and raise their children to be productive citizens, even to become leaders.