Start with Incompetence

The more I consider the current state of the American job market, the more I realize that its most astonishing failures are simply the result of incompetence.

American business management doesn’t train employees. Why? Because they don’t know how. They can’t find qualified candidates for jobs? They don’t know how. They can’t build a quality product and make money with it? They don’t know how. They use layoffs as a routine cost-cutting measure? They don’t know any other way.

This is all quite strange considering the obsessive and paranoid mechanisms workplaces have established to weed out anyone who isn’t quite frankly perfect in every possible way. We’ve all been treated to stories of how employers scour social media, conduct paid background checks, perform credit checks, insist on excessive references and so on. It’s almost as if they are more interested in disqualifying candidates than hiring them.

Anyone who has looked for a job in the last five to ten years has experienced the inexplicable delays, the unresponsive hiring managers and recruiters and the cumbersome, exhausting siege job candidates are forced to endure. And even if they succeed, what do they have? They are guaranteed to be underpaid, overworked and have no job security at all.

From a social and political standpoint, America is a warehouse full of gunpowder and dynamite right now. People are angry, frustrated and scared out of their minds. And when I say people I mean a lot of people. This broken thing we call the employment market is the box of matches in that warehouse. This is the thing that will be the end of us if we don’t get it locked down in a right now hurry.

It’s a complex problem, which means there are no easy solutions, but the one thing we need to put an abrupt stop to right this second is this perfidious myth that it’s the workers who are to blame. We have the best educated and most skilled workforce in the history of the human race in this country. Tens of millions of Americans have college educations, and the overwhelming majority of the workforce is literate and capable of all kinds of creative solutions to the problems we need to solve as a country.

This alternative theory that Americans are a bunch of feckless layabouts with worthless degrees and no skills is a message designed to consume what’s left of your hope for a brighter future. It’s patent nonsense perpetrated by lazy managers and shareholders who don’t want to pay their dinner check.

Our future may be as simple as something I read in a discussion of automated hiring the other day: “In the future, nobody has a job, but they can’t find anyone to blame but themselves, so they just starve to death quietly.”

While I don’t want to encourage people to spend all their time looking for someone to blame, I will point out there are millions of people in this country who not only want work, but are qualified to do amazing things, and they are all sitting idle because there is no practical way to penetrate the fortress of confusion corporate America has erected around gainful employment. And again, even if someone manages to achieve the impossible, they have only layoffs and pay cuts to look forward to.

Is that the country you want your kids to grow up in? Me neither.

Jacks Full of Aces Preview Chapter Three

The following is a free preview chapter from the upcoming fifth book in my Starships at War military science fiction series Jacks Full of Aces

This preview contains spoilers for Strike Battleship Marines and Fleet Commander Recon.

“Hearts wasn’t kidding when she said we were in for a treat on the lab deck. Look at this place!”

Zony’s astonishment existed on several levels. For one thing, she was only one deck below the main signals facilities. Everything she was seeing had been built quite literally right under her nose. Secondly, Annora had only been posted to Chief Medical Officer for a few weeks, and it seemed she had gotten her house in order, so to speak, just as fast as Sabrina Mallory acquired her ratings for force command. While Doctor Doverly wasn’t officially a Chief Sciences Officer, all of Argent’s science personnel and facilities were technically under her command, along with the enormous warship’s entire life support system.

Zony and Captain Hunter looked through the corridor-length bay window into the ship’s main spectrometry lab. The facility was easily three times the size of the executive conference, with enough precision equipment to outfit two observatories and an aircraft manufacturing plant. Spectrometry was the major deck fifteen facility on the starboard side of the ship, while stellar cartography occupied the port side main platform. The doctor had scheduled a demonstration for the senior staff, and it looked like she had the juice to make it a blockbuster.

Unlike smaller vessels, Skywatch capital ships had fully capable scientific research facilities alongside far better than average medical units. Destroyers and lighter vessels were all designed for maneuverability, and reducing tonnage had exponential benefits for ships operating in high-energy drive fields. The results were predictable. Several classes of warship ended up being designed around their weapons, with any extra capacity being discarded in favor of better acceleration, better energy envelopes and more rapid evasive turns. The most prominent example of this philosophy was none other than the refitted DSS Rhode Island, a ship included in a battle formation for subspace warfare and built around the best weapons for that role. Battleship-class vessels, on the other hand, were always bound to have excess capacity due to their much heavier engines and the manpower needed to operate them safely. Crew numbers added significantly to a ship’s bulk due to the realities of life support. Despite shipwrights’ best efforts, most of those increases produced excess capacity due to the realities of geometry.

When it came time to decide what to use the extra displacement and tonnage for, factions developed rapidly, as was the case with every ship design. The doctors and scientists who successfully persuaded their superiors that a full suite of exploratory scientific instrumentation could be pressed into service to give ships like Argent a military advantage ultimately prevailed. It wasn’t long before nearly all the ships of the line had laboratory and experimental facilities of one kind or another. Argent’s science deck and hospital deck were as spacious and as well equipped as any other ship in the fleet. Only Argent had Commander Doverly, however.

The doctor hadn’t had the time to investigate the Dunkerque before the X-Ray Tango engagement, but now she had finally gathered all the research in one place, and she wasn’t going to let her chance escape.

Unnatural light glared through the reinforced and radiation-proof observation bays along the corridor leading to Argent’s chemistry and genetics labs. The bluish color made the entire deck look as if it were experiencing electrical discharges not unlike a small lightning storm. Zony and Hunter peered around the corner and found that the glow was being caused by a video recording of the phenomenon Doctor Doverly had encountered aboard DSS Saratoga.

The hatch opened with an antiseptic hiss. Annora stepped into the corridor looking particularly pleased with herself. She was wearing her regulation white lab coat and MEDCOM badge opposite her silver commander’s rank insignia on the lapel. Hunter had to admit that despite the doctor’s talent at commanding the crew, she looked far more at home here in her three-deck scientific and medical empire.

“I knew we walked away from Saratoga too quickly,” Annora announced. “Come on in. Moo and Yili are already here.” The captain and Zony followed the doctor into the fourth spacious lab area they had seen so far and took a seat at the makeshift combination lab counter and meeting table.

“What the hell were they doing out there on the Sarn Frontier unescorted?” Moo replied. “We searched the logs and Northern Banner orders for hours and didn’t find anything except the disaster buoy, and even that didn’t have a word from the captain.”

“We know who was responsible,” Yili added. “The only thing I can think of is they were conducting some kind of experiment. But of all the places–”

“Exactly. If you’re going to pop off some weird alien contraption, why would you start at the edge of hostile space in a missile cruiser designed to operate in a battle group?” Moo replied.

In the video, the recording showed Annora aiming her modified ATMAS handheld squarely at what at least appeared to be the source of the disturbance. Hovering a few inches over one of the non-reactive metal tables in Saratoga’s main lab was an impossibly bright strobing light source. It looked as if it were not quite solid, and occasionally emitted a thin spidery bolt of electrical energy. It wasn’t moving, but it was obviously highly energetic.

“Whatever it was, it was ionizing everything in the room, including the metal,” Doverly reported.

“Was it hot?” Hunter asked.

“Negative. No temperature increase. But it was emitting high-energy ultraviolet radiation. Saratoga’s lab is shielded, of course. We were able to contain the phenomenon with an isolation screen.”

“Has it been here all this time? Ever since the rescue?” Zony asked.

“It’s a distinct possibility. This has to be the phenomenon we all experienced when Moo and the captain were on the Magellan mission. This is what caused the disturbances and the gateways we all used to communicate. Watch this.”

In the video, the camera pulled back and then was pointed around a corner. The next corridor was lit by a single fixture. The metal bulkheads were painted clean white with several warning symbols along one side indicating access to a safety airlock. The picture froze.

“Recognize that?” Annora asked.

Zony and the others looked quizzical.

“This is the same deck I saw when the scanner energy reflected back on us at Magellan,” Moo said. “Same notices. Same color and geometry. It must have created some kind of transit gateway between our paladin’s position and Saratoga’s hull.”

“What were those freighters carrying at Magellan?” Zony asked.

The colonel pulled up the library computer interface on his handheld. The device created a scrambled ultrawideband communications field that activated the security interface to Argent’s cephalon matrix. Within moments, the colonel had access to all the records of the Magellan ambush mission.

“We never got a clear reading on everything inside those freighters, but take a look at this.” Annora watched as the marine officer brought up the paladin’s scanner data and displayed it on one of the auxiliary screens. “Here. We had just activated a millisecond SRS burst. That would have given us a ping at best. Mass and position. But the instant the short range scanners activated, it caused the phenomenon.”

“You had the same experience aboard Dunkerque,” Annora mused. Zony’s eyebrows raised in recognition.

“That’s right,” Hunter said. “Zony’s short range scanner improvisation. She used the scanners to match the communications frequency harmonics being generated by my commlink.”

“Good thing we set those things up to broadcast the owner’s position and status,” Annora added. “With the help of the fleet’s most sound-sensitive signals officer, we could track Jason’s location across dimensions.”

Moo was cycling through Argent’s records of Zony’s experiment aboard Dunkerque. “Here. This is the timecode where the SRS emissions matched the automatic beacon’s communications frequency.”

“And with enough power, the captain stepped through the doorway from one dimension to another.” Zony’s voice was full of wonder. “That explains it. When the energy produced by our SRS systems is transmitted at the right harmonic frequency and it encounters this scattering field energy or whatever it is, the phenomenon creates a physical tunnel through space-time.”

“Where time passes 100 to one.” Moo added.

“Or one to 100,” Annora replied. “These frequencies are simple waveforms, not particles. They can be inverted, just like a sound canceling device. In fact, if this phenomenon got into the open air, the lower harmonics could probably create some painful results.”

“That would explain that powerful noise storm on Dunkerque. It even amplified our voices,” Hunter said.

“And this is the nexus for Saratoga’s connection to it all,” Annora said, starting the video again. One the screen, the strange light source strobed and pulsed. “What if–”

“I know exactly what you’re about to say, doctor,” Moo interrupted.

“Oh?” Annora put a hand on a hip in mock annoyance.

“Dunkerque winked out because whoever was aboard that ship didn’t know the phenomenon was affecting them until it was too late,” Moo said. “That’s why she was abandoned and those whatever they were ended up invading the decks and altering the internal life support. But once we got control of it again, Yili provided us with enough power to bring her back into normal space. I think Saratoga was subject to the same thing, and further, I think that’s how she got out into the middle of the Sarn Frontier all by herself. She flew right through that tunnel you just described. It was an experiment, just like Dunkerque.”

“And then whoever was conducting the experiment couldn’t get back because whatever they encountered–” Zony began.

“Either drove them insane or sent them somewhere else?” Hunter finished.

Annora continued examining her handheld. “What if a ship went one way and the crew went another?”

“Or even better, what if someone in control of this technology wanted to transport a crew somewhere else like they did with Argent’s?” Moo added.

The doctor shook her head. “I don’t think it’s that sophisticated, colonel. I think they try to transport the ships, and when they screw it up, it has some kind of strange effect on the crew. It either warps their minds or they don’t go where the ship goes and we end up with empty vessels.”

“You mean they tried to transport Argent somewhere else, wedged the controls and ended up sending our crew down to Bayone’s surface instead?” Hunter asked.

“Or, maybe they tried to transport Argent to the surface and missed,” Annora mused. “Whatever this thing was, it maintained a steady power level, and I had a solid lock on its electromagnetic harmonics. These phenomena must be some kind of energy sink, or perhaps a communications beacon like the repeaters on our jump gates.”

“The free-floating equivalent of our less advanced stationary alternative,” Zony concluded.

“At any rate, captain. I think we’ve found the answer to the vanishing starships.”

“Outstanding, doctor. Now the question is can you re-create that phenomenon and do it safely?” Hunter asked.

“I’ll do you one better. With all the data we got from Saratoga, and the surplus handhelds we’ve accumulated, I think we can block the scattering field and put Atwell’s forces out of business.”

Jacks Full of Aces is set to be released soon. If you’d like announcements on new book releases, be sure to sign up for the mailing list!

LadyStar for Warrior Moms and Warrior Dads Chapter Four: Seeing Themselves in the Story

One of the great strengths of the ensemble model or the “classic” team of superheroes is the wide range of personalities and powers they can develop through the story. Authors like myself recognize many young readers are looking for someone they can identify with and root for through the adventure. That’s why I believe my character ensemble is one of LadyStar’s greatest strengths.

Simply put, everyone who reads LadyStar books will find a character they can follow. Whether they like seeing a shy girl like Talitha Casey navigate a mystery, or they like to laugh at a joke-telling firecracker like Ranko Whelan, there will be at least one hero they will find appealing, and that character will make them feel like they have something to offer too.

Middle grade readers are at a point in life where they are asking important questions about themselves like “where do I belong?” and “what can I do?” These can be confusing questions, especially for someone with little experience, few social skills and the ever present feeling maybe they don’t really fit in. What LadyStar will teach them is to be patient with themselves. It will show every reader that even the 11-year-old “annoying little kid” can be part of the older girls’ adventure and might even have something unique to contribute.

Things don’t always work out for the Ajan Warriors right away, but Jessica and her friends find a way to get the job done. They don’t quit. More often than not, the solution is found when everyone contributes. All the girls find their own answers to the questions of where they belong and what they can do. I wrote these books to give readers a sense of participating in exactly these kinds of adventures, so they can learn what it takes to overcome challenges, put their unique talents to work and achieve the same things my characters do.

Then I discovered I was telling a Noblebright Story.

Skywatch Warship Hull BBV 740


Jacks Full of Aces by Shane Lochlann Black

Design

Defender Starship Argent is a Citadel-class strike battleship. She is the third ship of her class, following DSS Citadel and DSS Bushido. Argent was constructed at the War Memorial Star Yard under the authority of Core Two’s Skywatch Operations Base.

She is a hybrid design, incorporating a modified main battery of eight heavy anti-proton guns and four kinetic-reactive capital missile launchers combined with two class B and one class A flight decks. Argent carries a standard medium-engagement-radius star wing of 90 fighters, 24 gunships, 12 corvettes, four super-heavy transports and 70 surface mechs organized into one bomber wing, three mechanized marine infantry squadrons and one marine orbital combat engineering squadron. Argent’s ground forces also include one super-heavy armor company, one mobile security company and one electronic warfare platoon. Among her other armaments are 64 Oerlikon multi-role point defense energy cannon and 12 short-range kinetic rocket launchers.

Dimension

Hull BBV-740 displaces 5.07 million tons and is 2480 feet long and 1710 feet at the beam from flight bay to flight bay. She is 72 stories tall from her ventral armor plates to the top of the Skywatch tower. Her main hull is 543 feet tall from bay mounts to deck one. Her class B external flight bays are 18 stories tall and cover more than 21 acres each. Her class A internal flight bay is more than twice that size, covering more than fifty acres and rising 21 stories from the primary deck.

Argent is equipped with eight magnetically-activated rail-tunnel spacecraft launchers. The six along her flanks are capable of launching strike fighters including Wildcat and 2G Yellowjacket designs plus the new 3G Superjacks. The two on either side of her internal bay are much larger, designed to launch transports, corvettes and gunships. The interior volume of Argent’s primary hull and flight decks is sufficient to contain 32 Ford-class wet navy aircraft carriers.

Officers and Crew

A strike battleship’s crew is organized into six major commands, each with a senior officer reporting to the vessel’s executive officer. Her total complement at full load is approximately 4300 personnel.

The commanding officer of a strike battleship must hold the rank of captain, commodore or rear admiral, and must be both a line officer and a flight officer. The executive officer holds the rank of commander or captain. Although the XO is not strictly required to have flight status, they must at minimum be eligible for a line command.

All senior officers aboard report to the executive officer, who in turn reports to the captain. Executive officers are informally addressed as “Force Commander” (FORCECOM) aboard capital ships with star wings or marine brigades, as they are often tasked with deploying and managing away forces like strike fighters, surface formations and other spacecraft. Aboard “pure” capital platforms like battleships, heavy battleships and dreadnoughts, the XO is informally nicknamed “Gunnery Commander” (GUNCOM).

Skywatch line vessels maintain a post for the ranking enlisted officer, who must hold the rank of Chief Petty Officer or higher, regardless of ship class. This officer is addressed as “Chief of the Boat” (COB) and is the ranking enlisted officer aboard the vessel. Skywatch chiefs are considered senior officers for purposes of command and precedence. On destroyer and frigate-class vessels, they often serve as engineers and section chiefs as well.

Capital ships are required by law to appoint an enlisted crew member with the rank of Senior or Master Chief Petty Officer to the post of “Chief of the Deck” (COD) aboard carriers or “Chief of the Battleship” (COB) aboard battleships. Capital ship chiefs may not hold active senior ratings for other commands aboard a capital ship. Because those vessels have officers posted to lead each command, chiefs serve as close advisors to the captain and advocates for the ship’s enlisted personnel instead.

Argent’s star wing is generally under the command of a senior lieutenant or higher with the title Commander Star Wing (SCOM), assisted by a Deputy Commander Star Wing (DSCOM). They must both be flight officers and squadron leaders responsible for strike fighter, gunship, bomber, corvette and spacelift operations.

Argent’s Marine Ground Forces Commander (MCOM) usually holds the rank of major or higher and is responsible for her mechanized infantry, armor, orbital combat engineering and electronic warfare companies. The ranking marine officer is assisted by an enlisted Master-At-Arms (ARMSCOM) with the rank of tech sergeant or higher who is generally in charge of security aboard the battleship.

Argent’s medical and science personnel are led by a Chief Medical (MEDCOM) or Chief Sciences Officer (SCICOM) with the rank of lieutenant commander or higher. Medical officers are tasked with the operation and maintenance of life support and airlock systems. As capital ships, strike battleships often have best-in-fleet medical facilities and peerless scientific loadouts complete with laboratory facilities, synthesis equipment, medical transport capacity and specialized space, surface and subspace scientific exploration capabilities.

Engineering is supervised by a Chief Engineer (ENCOM) with the rank of senior lieutenant or higher. The engineering section is responsible for the proper operation of the vessel’s engines, reactors, powered armor, battle screens, fusion matrix, electrical systems, cephalon core, computer systems, maneuvering thrusters, drive field generators, flight mode sequencers, batteries, energy transfer systems, main and auxiliary control and damage control personnel. Engineering often coordinates with other commands aboard a strike battleship for purposes of providing technical assistance and personnel for repair and maintenance of other shipboard electronics, spacecraft and equipment.

The battleship signals section is supervised by a Chief Signals Officer (SATCOM) with the rank of senior lieutenant or higher. A signals officer is responsible for the operation of all communications, electronic warfare, subspace warfare, alert, tactical, scanner, sensor, sight-sound synthesis, navigational and cryptographic systems. If a vessel has an intelligence section, their officers and crew members will most often coordinate their operations with the signals section.

Argent’s weapons section is supervised by a Chief Weapons Officer (WEPCOM) with the rank of senior lieutenant or higher. The weapons officer or “WEPS” is responsible for the operation of the main battery, point-defense, battle computer, missile and kinetics systems aboard the vessel. Aboard smaller vessels, weapons are often manned in series, with crews transferring from energy to missile systems between salvoes. Cruiser-class and heavier vessels are always manned with sufficient numbers to operate both types of weapons at the same time.

The commanding officer of the battleship Argent is Captain Jason Hunter, former flight leader of Yellowjacket Nine, also known as the infamous Bandit Jacks. He is a winner of the Skyshield Legion and the youngest confirmed ace strike fighter pilot in Skywatch history, which earned him the nickname “Ace.”

Argent’s Executive Officer is Acting Commander Sabrina Mallory, former operations officer aboard the advanced strike cruiser Fury.

The marine ground forces officer is Lieutenant Colonel Lucas Moody, who is Captain Hunter’s former academy rival and also the former fifth slotted pilot in Hunter’s squadron, callsign “Clubs.”

Commander Annora Doverly, M.D. is the former executive officer aboard Argent. She was assigned as the battleship’s Chief Medical Officer prior to the Monarch Squadron engagement over Bayone Three. Doctor Doverly was Captain Hunter’s wing during her time with the Bandit Jacks, and is also the only officer to have completed the Skywatch’s brutal Search and Rescue (SAR) training. Her callsign is “Hearts.”

Lieutenant Commander Yili Curtiss is Argent’s Chief Engineer. As a certified Orbital Combat Engineer, Yili is in charge of Argent’s Copernicus wing and demolitions teams, which coordinate with the marine OCE mech squadron in combat. Her callsign is “Spades.”

Acting Lieutenant Commander Zony Tixia is Argent’s Chief Signals Officer. She is arguably the best combat pilot among the Bandit Jacks, having earned nicknames like “Red Duchess” “Diamond Jack” and “Rabbit with a Gun” during her time as one of the most feared strike fighter pilots in space. Zony’s callsign is “Diamonds.”

DSS Argent is home to numerous “embarked” units, each with its own command structure and mission aboard the battleship. Among her embarked units are:

  • Wildcat Squadron One-Six “Fighting 16th” DSS Song of Heaven
  • Yellowjacket Squadron 994 “The Red Bucanneers”
  • Wildcat 85th “Los Gatos”
  • Wildcat 22nd “Archangels”
  • Yellowjacket One “Tigersharks”
  • Gunship Squadron Tarantula-Hawk Black
  • Heavy Gunship Squadron Tarantula-Hawk Green
  • Nemesis Electronic Warfare Squadron 880 “Ghost Hunters”
  • 17th Copernicus Orbital Combat Engineering Squadron
  • Fifth Tranquility Search and Rescue (SAR) Squadron
  • Heavy Paladin 99th Marine Amphibious Company “Rolling Thunder”
  • Heavy Paladin 12th Marine Mechanized
  • Paladin Seventh Strategic Air Group/Bomber Wing
  • Paladin 40th Marine Airborne
  • Razorback Sixth Superheavy Armor Company “Death by Bacon”

It Has to be Said

I have withheld much of what I’m sure I should be writing on the grounds that it might not be what my ostensible middle grade fantasy audience and their moms want to read, but the truth is those middle graders may not have much of a life to look forward to if we don’t fix some of the problems we are facing in these United States.

I’m a science fiction and fantasy novelist. As much as I would prefer to avoid political debate in the interests of not upsetting my readers, we’re rapidly reaching a point where nothing else I or anyone else does at our day job is going to matter. If we keep avoiding the room-sized elephant, the situation will continue to deteriorate. I’d like to think my characters and stories would influence society for the better, but I can’t help but wondering if I am holding one of those little battery-powered propeller fans on the beach during a category four.

So far, I have written around the edges of the problem. I wrote an article on the problems faced by gifted children and followed up with an article about the colorful personalities populating our workplaces.

Nevertheless, we live in a society where a man who wants to work and who is clearly qualified for many a vocation is treated with such skepticism that even amateur psychologists inadvertently bark the word “paranoid” when describing their associated hiring managers. It is not hard to imagine a man applying to work at a supermarket and being asked by an alleged grown-up if they have any shelf-stocking experience.

I have considered and may yet pursue a series of articles making fun of certain online job ads. In fact, I’ve recently written about the special kind of paranoia that inspires most employment ads these days. It is not hard to imagine the people engaged in this juvenile suspicion club to be participating in some kind of informal contest where actually hiring someone counts as a penalty. By all other criteria, they certainly have no interest in placing qualified people in productive roles.

You see, I grew up in an America where it took my mom a grand total of about 40 minutes to get hired into a career-track job she held for 36 years. It was no different for my father. My mom’s title was “Features Editor.” My father’s was “Investigative Reporter.” Their actual grown-up adult jobs with real paychecks and no layoffs or workplace stupidity are two of the main reasons I grew up in a four-bedroom house with a swimming pool and graduated from college debt-free. It’s been a long time since I’ve lived anywhere with four bedrooms that wasn’t a hotel. The opportunities my parents had, like jobs with grown-up titles and managers who were adults with character and integrity, are sadly no longer available.

The truth is our job market is a mental hospital. When combined with the total absence of job security, the chronic underpayment of employees and the tightening hand around the neck of the Internet in general, the future is becoming rather grim. One need only look at the recent news from Activision/Blizzard to see what happens to employees who do a good job. The senior executives at that company only consider their spreadsheets when they make destructive decisions like that. They don’t consider the corrosive effect it has on the rest of society. If doing a good job no longer matters, and the proof is being published under loud headlines all over the web, see if you can guess what happens next?

We’ve all been entertained over the years by extinction events on the big and small screens that populate the short-range distances between our noses and the rest of the world. This persistent disconnect between employers and the rest of us is exactly like that Texas-sized asteroid. There ain’t no Bruce Willis to save us this time, and that rock isn’t slowing down either. It is no different than the near-disaster the credit markets experienced after the housing crisis. Nobody trusts anyone else and everyone is trying to protect what little they have left.

With the credit market crisis, it was the end of capital. If nobody can find or keep a job, it’s the end of the republic.

Black out.

Is Arrested Adolescence the Problem?

Occasionally I come across a video on YouTube that inspires me to consider a problem from a different angle. Last night was one of those videos. It was on the subject of personal development and its host correctly observed that some people are never taught responsibility.

One of the problems I have long struggled with are the broken, paranoid workplaces we tolerate in these United States, but I believe I am slowly zeroing in on the problem.

I discovered relatively early that I would never be able to rely on a job to provide for myself or a family. It wasn’t long after the CFO of the gigantic company where I had just started my 401k became the target of an investigation for cooking the books that any hope of a long-term career was swept away into ashes like the unfortunate heroes in the last Avengers film. We all live in a short-term economy now where jobs are acquired and discarded (or swiped) like paper towels, and are about as valuable.

Because my working life started out in a brokerage firm, I’m a little more sensitive to money topics than most. I recognize, for example, that motives gravitate to money. If something makes a person $2 rather than $1, they will do the former in almost every circumstance, no matter how theoretically destructive it may be to themselves or others. Money is the lens through which you can accurately discern nearly any motive.

So when trying to determine the why of a situation, I almost always start by asking “which option gets the decision maker more money right now?” Why was Toys-R-Us burned to the ground? Because it was worth more cash dead than alive. Why are so many women working now? Because employers can keep more money if they use 100% more staff as an excuse to underpay both men and women.

Why are so many people having trouble finding stable careers? Is it possible you’re worth more unemployed than employed?

This isn’t a simple topic, because it weaves together a number of problems into a cohesive whole. For openers, we have tremendous trouble getting people to take anything seriously in this country right now. The juvenile constituency we apparently turned the Internet over to at some point is far more interested in making rude noises and throwing things at others than they are in tolerating grown-ups or their boring ideas. That’s why sites like The Onion and Reddit and imbeciles like John Oliver have a place at the table (and a perceived security council-esque veto) in our vital public discourse. People who behave in a grown-up manner are treated with either ridicule or suspicion, at least until everything goes to hell, then all the kids run to dad to make it all better. That’s fine in the average family. When the kids outnumber the dads three million to one it’s a little tougher.

This is a symptom of the larger problem of arrested adolescence. Much of the confusion we are experiencing in this country right now is a result of the total absence of grown-ups. The rest is the result of the hostile and bitter reaction many have to the sudden introduction of grown-ups into what was previously adolescent chaos, much like the early return of parents to a teenage house party.

These problems are most pronounced in our workplaces, where the absence of grown-ups isn’t just an entertaining diversion, but a direct threat to your family’s survival. I’m fairly certain I don’t have to go into the dangers that await the average family with no income in America. Forty years ago, a man or woman could rely on their career as the anchor in their life. Today, a job is more often a liability, since its sudden withdrawal can create far more intense problems than just poverty.

If it is the case your boss is one of these arrested adolescents pretending to be a grown-up in our society, is it possible that he or she is motivated more by avoiding mistakes than failure? Most people realize you can do everything right and still fail. This is proven in every athletic championship. Sometimes you just get outplayed. It is for this reason we can conclude failure isn’t necessarily a mistake. Failure doesn’t demand blame.

Mistakes, on the other hand, always invite blame, and in the workplace, blame can be fatal, especially if it is wielded by an over-emotional adolescent obsessed with protecting themselves. We’ve all witnessed the favorite defense of every child in the court of parental law: “He made me do it!” Well, if those kids never grow up, this can become a theme in the workplace. Where these kinds of people gather, all productive enterprise is replaced by frenzied attempts to gain political advantage, and the best way to gain political advantage is to mold blame into a weapon and use it to corruptly dispatch rivals. Sound familiar?

It reaches a point where people will do anything or say anything to avoid taking responsibility. They become paranoid and pledge their very souls to choosing failure over mistakes whenever possible. The reason they do this is because they were never taught that the proper response to a mistake is not to overturn the table, but to evaluate it and learn to avoid it in the future.

The alternative relegates everyone to a life of idle waste or missed opportunity, because none dare act unless forced. When these people are put in a position where they have to hire people, they face the ultimate risk of having to trust others, which intensifies their paranoia to unbearable levels. How can you trust anyone in a world where all is lost if anyone makes even the slightest mistake?

We have all experienced being perfectly qualified for a job and not being hired, only to find the same job re-advertised days later. Why does this happen? Because the hiring manager is paranoid about being blamed. The hiring manager is very likely an arrested adolescent who is terrified they will be exposed as someone who really doesn’t know how to do their job. They don’t know how to lead others, because they were never trained to be a leader. They can’t take responsibility for a mistake. They can’t look their boss in the eye and say “I made the call because I thought it was the right thing to do and I was wrong.” It’s completely beyond them, because they never grew up. They were never taught to be responsible. There are 19-year-old privates first class in the U.S. Marines more capable of taking responsibility for a mistake. Why? Because that PFC outranks other marines. He or she was trained to be a leader and to be responsible.

So these hiring managers make the backwards decision to pass on a perfectly qualified employee on the off chance they might be mistaken. Either that or they ask that candidate for evidence of such unattainable perfection that it can’t possibly be delivered truthfully.

As a result we all end up living in a world where, at least as far as a corps of adolescent hiring managers are concerned, we are more valuable unemployed.

The Plight of the Gifted Child

We’ve all encountered gifted people in our lives. We’ve also all encountered athletic people. Some are faster runners than others. Some are better at certain sports like swimming or baseball. We’re used to physically gifted athletes. We enjoy watching when they play games on television.

The mentally gifted, on the other hand, we don’t understand as well. In fact, some people are downright suspicious of them. Their minds operate on a different level than others. They often speak rapidly, as if the volume of ideas they are trying to communicate is too great and their words are too few. They come up with ideas in much the same way the rest of us breathe. Some of those ideas are hard for us to understand. Sometimes they don’t make any sense at all.

For people of average intellect, encountering someone who is much smarter can be most unsettling. Sometimes it can lead to outright hostility. This is because people of average intellect have no idea what it is like to have a mind that is constantly in motion. They also have no idea what it does to a person when they discover nobody can understand their ideas. The gifted learn to avoid sharing their thoughts. They avoid conversation. They become isolated and sullen. They don’t understand why everyone seems to hate them. It becomes terribly painful. They are ostracized and eventually they destroy themselves.

The hostility I speak of comes from fear. It is really not all that different than encountering someone in a wheelchair. There is an atavistic reaction everyone has to someone who is different. But with gifted people there is another dimension. There is a defensive emotional reaction. “Oh, you’re so much smarter than everyone else, huh? Well, I’m not dumb!”

Reacting this way is exactly like walking up to a pro football player and saying “oh, you’re so much stronger and faster than everyone else, huh? Well, I’m not crippled!” Does that sound silly? It should. Just because someone has gifts you don’t doesn’t have anything to do with your worth as a person. Everyone has gifts of one kind or another.

I can speak with some experience in these matters because I was a gifted child in elementary school. I completely skipped first grade. While this might sound like a great achievement, the practical result was I spent my entire academic career a calendar year behind all my classmates. I could do the work, naturally, but I often struggled to keep up socially. This was in addition to the problems I faced because of the way I think and the imagination I have. I started reading very early in life. My parents were motivated to encourage my academic achievements. I was also an only child, so I learned to rely on my mind more than most.

I can exhaust people in a conversation. I often find I have to exert considerable effort to throttle my “bandwidth” so to speak. I can riff off other people’s ideas instantly. I often leapfrog a sequence of six or seven steps to reach what might seem to be a totally unconnected conclusion in seconds. I freely synthesize ideas into new ideas in mid-sentence, as if my current thought and the other thoughts are all being processed simultaneously. For me this is all perfectly natural, like walking or typing. Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion it engenders intense discomfort in others. I can’t go full throttle. Ever.

Many people might think these gifts would be a glorious advantage in life. Being able to think so rapidly and come up with such amazing ideas so quickly must be such a wonderful experience! The truth is for most people like myself, it is a social and professional disaster.

One of the recognized forms of being “gifted” is something called “synesthesia.” The best way to describe it is to imagine what color a certain sound is. Synesthetes hear colors and feel scents. When asked to describe their sensations to others, it is extraordinarily difficult. Gifted children and adults face exactly the same kind of problem.

As a society we go out of our way to accommodate special needs students in school. We do this so they can keep up with the mainstream of the class. A laudable goal. But what do we do if we have a student that is far ahead of their classmates? What if that student is far ahead of their teacher? Let me describe what that experience is like so you can understand the problem better.

Imagine for a moment a fifth grader who has no friends at school. She has an IQ of 175. Her teacher doesn’t understand what she is saying half the time. Her parents love her, but they can’t engage with her mentally because it is exhausting for them. They do everything they can to find ways to let her advance academically, but there is only so much they can do. The other kids make fun of her because she sounds like the teacher when she is called on in class. They can’t understand her either. She always says such weird things. What a strange girl.

Inside that girl’s mind, ideas are forming and expressing themselves as images, sounds and colors on a constant basis. When I say constant I mean constant. It never turns off. If she gets absorbed into some train of thought, she can go for hours without rest or food. The volume of material she can produce, whether it be written, or drawn or spoken, can be astonishing. We all know nobody is ever going to read the 18 pages she wrote. Well, what if someone did? What might they discover in her words?

When that fifth grade girl looks at a park, for instance, she doesn’t just see the pond and the ducks and the trees and grass. She also sees butterflies and flowers and a purple sky and glorious white horses prancing. A moment later she sees a magnificent bird the size of an airliner. A moment after that she sees an outdoor ball with gowns and princes and pleasant music and garlands all around. All that happens in the space of 30 seconds. The other kids just saw ducks and a pond, grass and trees and they ran off to play. The girl just stands there enraptured by her own imagination. Suddenly there is a castle that soars into a sky full of stars and planets.

She desperately wants to share what she experiences with others, but she will never be able to, because they don’t understand why she is talking about princes and ponies and a purple sky. They just want to play dodgeball. What a strange girl she is.

She can see colors in her mind that don’t exist in our world. Think about that for a minute. If you saw a color in your imagination that doesn’t exist in the real world, how would you describe it to someone else? You couldn’t. Now what if you really wanted someone else to experience what you’ve experienced? How frustrating would it be for the other person to be impatient or suspicious of you? What if they didn’t want to be your friend any more? What if all the other kids in school behaved the same way?

That’s what it is like to be a gifted child. The loneliness is unbearable.

What happens when gifted children grow up? Well, I’ll tell you. They either become visionary one-of-a-kind entrepreneurs or they become supervillains. There’s no middle ground. Why? Because society won’t let them be anything else.

In our current paranoid workplace culture, anyone who stands out for any reason is immediately targeted for punitive action. The “corporate culture” will not tolerate troublemakers, and there is nobody on Earth more likely to make trouble than someone who has a lot of new ideas and talks in meetings too much. They are the people who improve things and get the attention of the boss, who *gasp* might reward them.

Resentment spreads. Envy follows. “No good know-it-all making us look bad–” We’ve all experienced it. We’ve all lived it. What happens to the smart guy at work? I’ll tell you: He’s not going to last long. Eventually the average members of the team will join forces and get them fired so things can go back to the way they were before that loudmouth started giving the boss ideas.

Effervescent imagination and visionary ambition are not high on the list of corporate priorities. They want scriveners who will show up on time, do their thing, pick up their lunchbuckets and go home, and if they can manage to keep their mouth shut for the majority of the time they are at work, so much the better. Remember that girl from the fifth grade? Her magnificent birds and prancing horses aren’t going to be received by her co-workers they way she thinks. The more she tries to spread her own wings and reach for her own potential, the more hate she is going to inspire in her colleagues. That hate will eventually find its way to the boss, where it will be corruptly formed into a weapon and used to destroy her.

By now you might recognize what I’m describing here. It’s called bullying. It’s exactly the same thing that happens to the little kid with the glasses at school. He can read at a 12th grade level, but that doesn’t stop his average fourth grade classmates from throwing his books over the fence into the mud, or taking a hammer to his bike, or stomping on the glasses his parents could barely afford. He’ll also find no refuge by complaining to the teacher, because he or she is tired of his know-it-all attitude too.

Simply put, it is incredibly easy for a gifted child to reach a point where literally everyone but their parents is their enemy. Now it’s not just unbearable loneliness. It’s open hostility. The gifted person’s interlocutors won’t say it, but they are thinking it because the film Office Space was not just a comedy. It was a documentary.

The metaphor I like to use when describing this characteristic of the human race has found its way into a number of science fiction stories. In the story there’s a plague or some kind of complex problem that the really smart doctor or scientist is racing against the clock to solve. Outside their tiny lab is the fearful rabble, who have been driven into a frenzy thinking the smart guy is working against them. Smart people are bad and dangerous, you see. Moments before the scientist has their breakthrough, the smudged filth-covered idiots break into the lab and smash everything. The scientist is beaten bloody and is forced to watch as all is lost. Pretty standard stuff. Very dramatic, but also instructional.

85% of people have an IQ below 115. Put bluntly, 115 is not genius-level. 100 is average. While 115 is above-average and probably occasionally capable of unique insight, it isn’t genius-level.

What this also means is that five out of every 30 people or so have an IQ above 115. One out of every 30 people has an IQ above 130. One in 1000 has an IQ above 145, which is considered genius-level. Einstein is estimated to have had an IQ of about 160.

This means a medium-sized elementary school class has five superior intellects on average, and a large high school has two certified geniuses at any given time. Most people have never thought about this issue this way.

What is most distressing about all this is the following hypothetical question: How many great advancements have been forever lost to humanity because these gifted people have had their metaphorical labs overrun by idiots? How many of them found that their gifts were better invested in maintaining a low profile and avoiding problem solving because it saved them from losing their jobs? How many were tormented and provoked into violence or vendettas by bullies or bureaucrats?

How many of them couldn’t hold a job because their co-workers or boss (or both) wouldn’t tolerate them? I’m pretty sure I don’t have to go into what becomes of someone when they can’t hold a job in America. One of society’s most consistent big businesses these days is guiding unemployed people and debtors into jail.

What happens when a genius decides they want to get back at the people that hurt them? Considering the weakness and inadequacy found in most of our civic institutions, one imagines the worst. Ultimately our government’s only tools are incompetence, clubs, guns and explosives. They move from one to the next until the problem is “solved.” Very much like the cro-magnons that smash the lifesaving lab. Oh, some smart guy is pissed off because he can’t find work? We’ll send some armed gorillas ’round to shut him up.

For my part, I found an outlet for my intellect through writing and works of fiction. I have been politely (and in some cases impolitely) dis-invited from the modern workplace because I don’t fit in. I’m academically qualified to teach, but if you think the average workplace is paranoid, you really don’t want to experience the average public school.

You see, I go to work to accomplish something and get paid for it. That really isn’t a high priority for most employers nowadays. They are far more interested in nerf guns and wearing Hawaiian shirts to demonstrate how much of a “team player” you are. If you don’t participate in the reindeer games, the boss will laugh and call you names. And then fire you and upend your life.

At this point it’s easy to imagine this article serves no purpose other than to complain about a problem human beings have always faced. But I have a solution. I have a path to success and happiness for those children who find themselves cut off from the mainstream because they were born too smart. My solution might even serve as an option for those adults who have struggled with their gifts all their lives. It really is very simple and it wouldn’t cost much at all.

Gifted children should be advanced to their own classroom on occasion and assigned a teacher who is trained to deal with their rapid-fire attention span and high-speed/low-drag imagination. The gifted class should be equipped with whatever they ask for: Toys, games, computers, tools, raw materials, books, videos, whatever. It should be the ultimate elective class. Completely self-directed. They ask, teacher gets. Let them spread their wings and see how far and how high they can really soar.

If you are finding yourself experiencing resentment, stop for a minute. Let me explain why this is important. When gifted children play, they are likely to come up with things that we can’t imagine. A properly equipped “gifted students lab” might be the site of an invention no amount of corporate capital will ever be able to buy. These kids will try to build things none of us would dream of because they don’t know any better. They don’t know how hard it is. The best part is they just might pull it off. And then what?

Symphonies. Patented electronics. Aircraft. New kinds of fabric. Soft drinks. Pet feeding machines. Cakes and cookies. Woodworking. New kinds of engine fuel. Works of fiction. Art. Skits. Weather stations. Radios. Human footsteps on Mars.

All of that might happen in a matter of months, and in the process those children, freed from their society-imposed shackles, will finally be able to create as they wish. Why should we put up with it? Because we will all share in their achievements. I’ve always said “give me three motivated geniuses and a million dollars and I will solve any problem.” Every elementary classroom in America has five superior intellects and every high school has two geniuses. What could we have if we would just let them be who they already are?

Where might that little girl fly on her magnificent colorful bird and what if we all could follow?

Four Dangerous Mistakes Employers Make in Job Ads

If you hire people, contract with freelancers, or are looking for help, you might have occasion to advertise a job on any of a number of web sites or even in newspapers or trade magazines. Why? Because you want a variety of candidates from which to choose the best new employee or contractor.

All too often, you will miss the best candidate because you made a fundamental mistake with your job ad. Hiring has changed, to be sure. Most employers think they have an insurmountable advantage and all the power, and they are utterly wrong. Everything you think gives you an advantage in the marketplace as an employer can be flipped around and used against you by faster moving candidates just like a Judo move. The truth is you have no advantage. The harder you squeeze, the fewer good candidates you’ll attract.

Let’s get something straight right off. Your candidates can survive without a paycheck a lot longer than you can stay solvent. What’s your daily burn rate, boss? Exactly.

If you are one of the many employers who whine constantly that you can’t find qualified people, take a good long look in the mirror. You’re liable to find the person responsible. In the meantime, if you are willing to admit you aren’t perfect, and you can avoid these four mistakes, you may find you have much greater success.

Passion

Do not ever use the word “passion” or “passionate” in a job ad. If you are using either of those words in your current ads, stop it. Right now. Human beings are passionate about two things. One of them is payday, and the other isn’t the job you are offering them. This might hurt your feelings, but your employees don’t care about your company or whatever it is you do all day. For the most part, they never will. Your business is important to you. The paycheck is important to your employees.

When you hire someone, you are paying them in exchange for work. That’s it. They don’t want to be your friend. They don’t want to join your righteous crusade to change the world. They don’t care about anything but paying their bills and going home on time. Let them live their life and you run your business. Stop making them pretend to be obsessed with whatever it is you think is important. In the long run, you’ll get better employees who will probably do a better job.

By the way, since payday is one of the things that makes people passionate, if you really want your employees to get excited about something, give them a raise. It’s probably been too long since the last one.

Precious

If you put little “gotchas” in your job ads, like waiting until the second-to-last line to include important instructions like “put your favorite color in the subject line or we won’t review your application,” you are being what freelancers call “precious.”

I have news for you. On any given day, there are several dozen new ads for work for whomever it is you want to hire. You might think that your offer of money for work is rare enough that it gives you the power to dangle people and play games with their job applications, but it isn’t and it doesn’t. Most good candidates will just hard next and go elsewhere without even bothering to apply.

Your job ad is a preview of what it’s going to be like to work for you. If you’re already playing games before you’ve even met your candidate, and you’re tossing their application for childish and frivious reasons, why should they take working with you seriously? How many great applications and great candidates have you thrown out? Is that how you run your whole business? For your customers’ sake I certainly hope not.

The truth is good, highly qualified grown-ups are not going to tolerate gotchas and game-playing. This is their income and career we’re talking about. This is something they likely take rather seriously. If it is clear you don’t take it seriously, they’re going elsewhere, and they should. That leaves you with the not-so-qualified candidates, which is probably not what you wanted.

Birthday Cakes

If an application to your company requires documents in a particular proprietary format, pictures, video, tests, filling out elaborate online forms, recordings of your co-workers singing the company song, choreography, charts and graphs, cover letters on expensive stationery and costumes, you are the kind of employer who wants your candidates to bake you what freelancers call a “birthday cake.”

In the current hiring climate, candidates are required in some cases to send out dozens of applications a day. This can go on for weeks and sometimes months at a time. Why is this necessary? Well, it turns out the people doing the hiring have all kinds of reasons to throw out applications that have little, if anything, to do with a candidate’s qualifications, experience or education. Job applicants didn’t make it this way. They are just trying to adapt to the world as it is: An adversarial world created by employers.

Since dozens of applications a day is essentially the only way they’re going to find work, job seekers are required to standardize. They don’t have time to bake each employer a custom birthday cake, nor do they have time to entertain hiring managers. When they see a long list of little goodies they must include in the care package they are expected to send HR (while knowing full well it will probably be heaved into the trash the moment it arrives), they have to weigh the advantages of sending one application over the next 30 minutes with sending six. See if you can guess which option wins every time?

At best, birthday cakes should be step five in the hiring process. Be happy with a resume and an e-mail address. Or learn to be happy with candidates who are a fair distance south of the top-tier. Choose one.

Blivets

You know what you get when you stuff six pounds of s*** in a five pound bag? You get a blivet. You know what you get when you mash six job descriptions together and post that as the skill requirements for the entry-level temp position you are advertising? The same thing.

Good job candidates can tell when you are overreaching with your job descriptions. They’ve been there and done that, and in a lot of cases they know more about the job than you do. When they see long unrealistic lists of requirements, overinflated educational requirements and inaccurate and sometimes fictional experience levels, they just move on. Their job is not to train you to manage people properly, and if you post a ridiculously overdone job ad, they know working for you isn’t going to be much better. In the meantime, you’ll be left with the people who don’t know any better, and that’s not going to look good on those expensive business cards.

Lose the Ego

Hiring managers have a bad habit of letting their ego override their sense of reality. They also have a lot of trouble admitting when they are wrong. People do not have to put up with you, even if you are waving money in the air. They can also tell nobody wants to work for you if you post the same ad in 12 different cities six times a week.

The Internet may give you an endless fountain of resumes, but it also gives your candidates an endless fountain of job ads. The best candidates will look for hiring managers that give them confidence. They will look for ads written by competent professionals. They will bypass ads that lord over applicants with burdensome nonsense. If you write such ads, you’ll get the runner-up, not the champ.

Be the competent professional. Your next round of hiring will be far more successful. Black out.