Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Corporate Culturism, Frances Kellor, and Gary Oberoi

Gary Oberoi is the lead trainer and CEO of my company, Starnest. One of his presentations helped me connect Frances Kellor (on whom I just completed my dissertation), culturism (my published manifesto), and my new job. Thus he combined my three great current and lasting passions. And his pep talk may have a lifelong impact on me.

Gary told us about an internet-based shoe company he toured in Las Vegas: Zappos. They gave him the royal treatment. Zappos has tried to create worker productivity and low turnover by making the employees, (likely called ‘team members’), totally content. To this end they give them free books, childcare, free food, health benefits, 24 hour, cooking facilities at some work stations, concierge service, and more. These perks allow Zappos to live up to its slogan, “powered by service.” Happy people are really much nicer to customers.

Frances Kellor (1873 – 1952), the leader of the Americanization movement, led in the effort to create what, her day, was termed ‘welfare capitalism.’ This was her form of corporate culturism. Seen as a solution to worker unrest and strikes, this effort sought to address worker’s concerns via a voice in management and great working conditions. She also protected immigrants from abuse in our society at large. These initiatives were typical of her efforts to ‘Americanize’ immigrants. Once happy and invested on our soil, people would never go back home and they would love, and be loyal to, America.

Because Kellor used this technique outside of, as well as inside of, businesses, she was not just practitioner of corporate culturism; she was a practitioner of national culturism too. Culturism counterbalances multiculturalism. My book, Culturism: A Word, A Value, Our Future, profiles many culturist heroes such as Kellor. Just as Kappos’ leaders tried to build unity and team spirit, these culturists sought to unite and improve our national culture. Noah Webster tried to knit our nation together with his dictionary containing American English spelling. Frances Scott Key’s national anthem still unites America today. And Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s attempt to unite America made him a culturist too.

Gary’s speech sent me away determined to study Zappos. This led to the research that led to my epiphany about the connection between corporate culturism, Frances Kellor, and culturism. Gary later led us on a culture-creating exercise about the power of goal setting. His handouts guided us to writing 10 goals, with dates, that he said he would make sure we would see again at the end of 2010. After reflecting on his lecture, I would like to add a goal. I wish to be a trainer or some kind of corporate culturist by late April 2010. Thus Gary’s spawning thoughts about the parallels between culturism, Frances Kellor’s work, and corporate culturism, may well impact the trajectory of my career.

John Kenneth Press, Ph.D. is the author of Founding Mother: Frances Kellor and the Quest for Participatory Democracy. has more information

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Where are They Now? Culturist John

Culturist John is now Dr. John K. Press. My dissertation on Frances Kellor and the Americanization movement is done. And, now that I am free to attack, sans concern about PC, mulituculturalism and all of its splendors, I am out of gas. I would say that I am defeated, but exhausted is kinder. But I am exhausted from fighting on a couple of text-based fronts.

I have some fun with text. I continue to revise my Frances Kellor project. Two agents were interested, and one said she was excited, wanted more, and will accept a rewrite. After ruminating for a few days, i recognized the problem. My doctorate advisor's advice made my work more academic. That is, it made it focus on my argument that the literature had mischaracterized the Americanization movement. Thus all France's actions, and Frances herself, faded into the background. In making it pointed, my dissertation lost its passion for Kellor for Kellor's sake. It lost its broad range of speculation and inquiry. I pledge, in the New Year, to revise the versions that first excited me.

And, I find myself, these days, fighting with text in another arena. I am writing history of education curriculum for a local branch of the State University of New York system. I put my soul into this work. It is beautiful and an accumulation of all of my culturist wisdom, teaching wisdom, and history of education wisdom distilled into 40 pages on a 12 week, three and a half our per class, curriculum. But dweebs, for reasons totally inexplicable to me, wanna mess with it. As this may make me sound uncoachable, I will will show below that it is ridiculous.

The text is and is not the issue. The curriculum is built upon a reader comprised of 400 hand-picked pages of handouts. Every week has full instructions and supplemental question handouts to guide the discussion. Each week is both chronological in presentation and represents a different theme. They sought to replace this noble construction with a book on co-ed education. They did not know it was such a focused book because they read neither my syllabus nor the work before trying to impose. This labor union university higher-up just wants to prove something to themselves. I may lose here, but I'll always have that curriculum.

And the sum total of my life dedicated to cause, mission, and meaning; now with my Ph.D I am qualified to do no work. I should have been a dentist. I would like to think the university martyrs and tortures me for my political stances. They haven't read the curriculum. The content doesn't matter and the results are intangible at best. And as the futility of my five books, many CDs, and various political actions to the landlord become clear I despair of the value of all but the buck.

The last poetic irony follows. When I was young I did telephone sales for a coked up British con-artist. When out of his mind he would pace the room and shout, "Stay with the pitch." His con written his way, was the best way. Now after devoting my life to creating meaning, my new real estate position will - for the sake of money - require me to "stay with the pitch." And, as such, word oppress me. Wittgenstein should know they go straight from the system to the heart.