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Why Trump’s Travel Ban Hurts Innovation

Silicon Valley exports technology and imports the world’s best talent. That is how it has helped grow America’s economy and boosted its competitive advantage. President Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from some Muslim countries sent shock waves through the tech industry over the weekend because it was a loud and clear message to the world that America’s doors are now closed, and that xenophobia and bigotry are the new rules of law.

It is no wonder that executives at almost every major technology company, including Alphabet, Facebook and Apple, have made statements defending immigrants and distancing their companies from the president. These companies are worried about their survival and the future of the country.

Let there be no doubt that immigrants are essential to our economic present and future. These newcomers start a disproportionate number of U.S. businesses, particularly in advanced technologies. Immigrants and foreign-passport holders occupy a growing majority of places in graduate education programs in computer science, mathematics, physics and other hard sciences. They play an outsize role in U.S. research and innovation.

See also: An Open Letter to the Trump Administration  

A 2012 research paper I co-wrote, “America’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Then and Now,” documented that 24% of U.S. engineering and technology startup companies and 44% of those based in Silicon Valley were founded by immigrants. My research also determined that immigrants contributed to more than 60% of the patent filings at innovative companies such as Qualcomm, Merck, General Electric and Cisco Systems. And surprisingly, more than 40% of the international patent applications filed by the U.S. government had foreign-national authors.

Study after study has found that immigrants are more likely to start job-creating businesses, not only in tech but across the economy. In 2014, 20% of the Inc. 500 companies had immigrant founders. That’s despite immigrants accounting for less than 15% of the U.S. population. According to research by economist Robert Fairlie for the Small Business Administration, immigrants are more than twice as likely to found businesses as non-immigrants, and 7.1% of immigrant-founded businesses export their products outside the U.S. as compared with only 4.4% of non-immigrant-founded businesses.

Clearly, blocking the path of immigrants into the U.S. cuts off the exact economic growth serum that has made America great. Creating an atmosphere where immigrants are fearful and uncertain about their future will reduce their incentives to open businesses here and stay. This is becoming even more so as other countries increasingly court educated immigrants and entrepreneurs. Those who support the president’s executive order say that the intent is to block people from countries where terrorism is sourced. But it’s not so simple.

By blocking entrance based on passport or country of birth rather than objective criteria, the executive order paints all immigrants from those affected countries and possibly dual passport holders with the same scarlet letter. What if the next Mark Zuckerberg happens to be Iranian? Or if an Einstein happened to be born in Libya? Let’s not forget that Steve Jobs’s father was Syrian — and he would have been banned from entering the U.S. under Trump’s dictate.

Yes, it is true that the affected countries are not the largest sources of immigrant entrepreneurs. But setting a precedent like this can mean that a politician can use this weapon against other countries that have become critical in supplying talent to fuel U.S. innovation. What if a frustrated president elected to block immigrants with Mexican, Chinese or Indian passports? The scenario, totally unthinkable a few months ago, is today entirely plausible.

In my 2012 book, “The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent,” I documented the stories of numerous immigrant entrepreneurs who were forced to leave the country because of shortages of skilled immigrant visas, called green cards. It wasn’t that we didn’t want these people here; American politics was caught in a political quagmire on skilled immigration. As a result, the country began suffering a brain drain, with highly skilled foreign-born doctors, engineers and scientists returning home.

With this executive order, Trump has made it clear that immigrants will have to worry about being singled out even after they have become lawful permanent residents; that their religion and place of birth may be the deciding factor in whether they are allowed to reenter the U.S. after going abroad. This will no doubt turn the trickle of skilled workers permanently leaving the country into a flood. Entrepreneurs who had wanted to come here will have now second thoughts.

See also: What Will Trump Mean for State Regulation?  

Whether or not the courts uphold the legality of the executive order, the damage has been done. Already, the number of billion-dollar technology startups, commonly called “unicorns,” that are located outside the U.. has been increasing dramatically. Fifteen years ago, almost all were in the U.S., while today 86 of the 191 unicorns are in countries such as China and India. We can expect this trend to accelerate because the Trump administration has just added fuel to the fire of innovation abroad and handicapped our own technology industry.

Getting to 2020: Redefining the Culture (Part 3)

This is the third in a series of four articles that offer a “road less traveled” to Agency 2020. The first article focused on your agency in the marketplace’s current reality. The second article considered the world as it might be in 2020. Today, we address the processes necessary to ensure you have the “seed corn” to grow the culture and structure necessary to produce Agency 2020 and win in the marketplace of tomorrow.

Mohan Nair, in his book, Strategic Business Transformation, diagrams a world of yesterday where 80% of change was incremental/cyclical and 20% was structural/transformational. Today, he says, “When the unknown are threatening every variable we have counted on, 80% of the variables that shift are structural while 20% are predictable. We cannot use the strategic data used in the past to find our ‘true north.’”

Your successful organization today is driven by its culture: “the house rules,” “what’s tolerated.” This organization and culture were created for the world of yesterday (“Daddy, may I?”) and today (“What do our carriers say?”). If you believe the world of 2020 will be different, you must create a culture appropriate for that new world.

The Gospel of Mark (3:25) and then Abraham Lincoln stated that “a house divided cannot stand.” This was true in their world of incremental change. Theirs was a world that moved at the pace of a tortoise. Tomorrow’s world will move at the pace of the hare (but never stop for a coffee break).  As has been said: “It’s not the big that eat the small. It’s the fast that eat the slow!”

Most people are reluctant to change. As Maxine puts it, “Change is good as long as I don’t have to do anything different!” In your organization, most folks are comfortable in their jobs, see the world as it is and are terrified that things will change. A minority of folks who are enthusiastic about the new, virtual world and global economy see the world as it will be and are terrified that your organization won’t change.

Your house is already divided.  What you need to do is merely focus each segment on the role right for them.

Both groups are necessary for success, but you must answer one question for each group and each individual. WIIFM? – What’s in it for me?

Do this, and they’ll embrace your plan; ignore WIIFM, and they’ll sabotage your future. Be respectful of all. Understand that there are different “tolerances” for risk and that people discover, learn and adapt at different speeds.

Gather your team. Put them at ease. Make the environment safe for them. Explain that you want to structure change to give every contributor an opportunity to continue their success today and find the right fit in the world of tomorrow. Celebrate your past and thank them for their participation. Clearly articulate your embrace of the inevitable change necessary for tomorrow and your commitment to your team’s success in the future.

Announce your plans to begin an Agency 2020 initiative. Explain that to build a foundation for success you need two teams. This process will not be instead of their existing roles but as an extracurricular activity. This initiative is about assuring a future with opportunities for each other. This is about each voice being heard.

The first group will immediately focus on the existing organization – making it more efficient and effective to create the “seed corn” (profits) necessary to finance tomorrow. The group’s task will be to create an operational “to do list” defining and acting on what is necessary for enhanced success today and to quit doing those things carried forward from yesterday but no longer needed today – “we’ve always done it this way.”

The “tomorrow team” will be the young at thought and the young at heart. They will be your pioneers. They will be charged with discovering tomorrow as it will be and creating a blueprint to build your organization as it must be to fit in 2020. This process is not intended to exclude the traditionalists. Both teams will be encouraged to share their discoveries and enthusiasms – to create excitement about today’s improvements and refinements and tomorrow’s innovations.

Don’t create competition between the teams – encourage collaboration so that respect and trust will build. This will work because each group is focusing where “they live” – their comfort zone — and you are not forcing them, at this time, to go to where they don’t want to be. Assure all team members that, as the blueprint for 2020 is designed and new roles are defined, each person on staff will have the right to be considered for jobs right for them and your organization. Promise them the training necessary for success. If they can’t or won’t fit into the world of 2020, facilitate their exit. Make it as painless as possible.

For the Today Team, some ideas to consider and questions to ask (there are more):

  1. Focus – take out the microscope and study every function you perform.
  2. If “we’ve always done it this way” – it can be changed for the better.
  3. What are five things we do today that no longer need to be done?
  4. What are five things we do today that remain important and can be improved?
  5. What are the jobs skills that remain important today? How do we improve these?
  6. What are skills no longer needed in the world of today? How do we let them go?
  7. Do we have the technology (systems and social media) needed for today?
  8. What and how can we maximize our results from this technology?
  9. Does our “client experience” differentiate us, or are we “the same old same old?”
  10. Are we capturing the data available and converting this to actionable knowledge?
  11. Where must we invest our time and energy?
  12. What must we leave behind?

Please remember – the Today Team is about updating (remodeling) the organization you have. Its role is small steps – process improvement.

Think outside of the box. Remember the words of Einstein – insanity is “continuing to do what you’ve always done and expecting a different result.” The world has changed more in the past 10 years than the previous 50, yet most agencies continue to do what they’ve always done. Don’t be crazy. Discover and do what needs to be done today to prepare for tomorrow.

The Tomorrow Team is about designing a blueprint and facilitating the building of the organization and culture you’ll need for the future. The team’s role is “giant leaps” – innovation. You are moving from the mechanical processes of yesterday to a new “living” system for tomorrow. Be bold. Don’t be afraid to fall – just do it, and learn from the experience.

For the Tomorrow Team, some directions and innovations to consider (there are more):

  1. Scan the horizon of the world and technology. Look outside your comfort zone.
  2. Determine if “place” will matter — where you, your employees and clients are.
  3. Determine if “time” will matter? Is “Working 9 – 5” only right for Dolly Parton?
  4. Determine the role of cultures and generations for buyers and those who influence decisions.
  5. What are the talents needed? Prioritize communication, technology, insurance, etc.
  6. What will be client needs? How can you deliver solutions profitably?
  7. Shift your focus from products sold in the past – to client needs in the future.
  8. What will be the demographics and psychographics of the populations served?
  9. What will be the industries/market niches in collapse/decline? Avoid them.
  10. What will be the industries/market niches in ascendancy? Focus on these.
  11. How do you manage in a “virtual” (no time, place and more non-verbal) world?
  12. What will be the role of big data? What will be your ability to use it effectively

The questions are offered as a starting point for discovery. You have many more questions to ask and answer. Yours is a world yet to be – not a world that is. Nonetheless, the better you ponder and plan, the better your head start on the future – the New World of 2020 – will be.

Learn from the great change architect Peter Drucker, who said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Is Controlling Workers' Comp Costs Really the Answer?

The agendas of all the big workers' compensation seminars agree. Controlling costs is the biggest and most pressing issue. Some might say it's the only issue. But I wonder if this emphasis isn't counterproductive….

The regulatory side

From a regulator's point of view, cost control is accomplished by imposing restrictions, by establishing fee and treatment schedules and, occasionally, by providing incentives that encourage the desired behavior. At bottom, the basis of regulation is distrust.

Controls are generally set to make everyone play by a single set of rules that allow the illusion of predictability and fairness.

I say “the illusion” because a clear understanding of the most common style of regulation shows a dysfunctional relationship. The regulator issues a regulation controlling, say, billing by physical therapists. The physical therapists will always collectively understand their business better than the regulator and will soon find a way to “work around” any portion of the regulations that they find objectionable. The regulator will eventually become aware of the “hole” in the regulations. The regulator will then move to reassert control by tightening the regulations, only to start the cycle all over again. 

In the meantime, the regulator comes to believe that the stakeholders (physical therapists in this example) cannot be trusted. The stakeholders have to be ever more closely controlled. When that fails, it “must be” because those pesky PTs are trying to make excess profits; the belief that they are self-serving becomes entrenched. Multiply this phenomenon by all of the various groups of stakeholders and service providers, and you see the atmosphere of “us against them” that is all too common in regulatory circles.

The trouble with this pattern for controlling costs is that it really is a cost driver. Every time the regulations change, two things happen. 

First, the change itself is costly. Computer programs have to be changed. People have to be retrained. Time that used to be spent doing the work of the industry is spent doing the work of the regulator. At the end of the day, the passive-aggressive resistance of the industry will win, and the cost of cost controls will outweigh the savings.

Second, the services to the injured get constrained by the cost controls, and the ability to provide individualized services suffers. One size does not fit all in injury management, and attempts to make it so usually end up fitting virtually no one.

The claims side

When the claims payer tries to impose control costs, the result is a different kind of cost driver. Once again, the whole system is based upon distrust. The claim must be investigated before it is accepted –even though only about one in 20 of the claims reported for suspected worker fraud justifies a finding of illegal behavior.[i1] Rehabilitative services that the research clearly shows are most effective if provided within the first days of the claim are delayed because this claim just might be the one in 20 (or worse, in a cynical attempt to save money by getting the injured worker with a legitimate claim to “just go away.”) Unfortunately, the delay of necessary services makes the claim more likely to become complex, more likely to attract the ungentle ministrations of the lawyers[ii], and less likely to resolve uneventfully.

Not only does the delay hurt, but the process of investigating the claim creates its own opportunities for adverse outcomes. Investigation is a statement of distrust. Tell the worker that you question whether she is really as hurt as she claims, and the natural reaction is to push back and try to prove that the injury really is severe. Sometimes, in that process, workers become attached to the belief in the seriousness of their injury, with unfortunate results.

Medicalization of the claim often occurs in the process of seeking a diagnosis. The diagnosis is not necessary for treatment of the injury in many cases – conservative care for, say, lower back pain is the same for the first few weeks whether it has a diagnosis or is just unspecified pain. Yet, because of the payer's distrust of the claim, we routinely get a diagnosis even though that risks losing control of the claim. 

Once the claim has been accepted, the scrutiny and distrust continue, again in the name of cost control. Adjusters and third-party payers have to justify their work, so claims are scrutinized. Frustration, delay and anger may be created in another self-perpetuating cycle of distrust.  

The outcomes of this dysfunction are often visited on the injured worker, in the form of reduced or curtailed injury management and lack of time for patient education that has proven value in durable recovery. 

We fail to realize that many cases of failure to recover as anticipated are caused by distrust, expressed in the system as cost-control measures. Moreover, the evidence is overwhelming that claims with unexplained failure to recover make up a large percentage of the 20% of claims that result in 80% of our loss costs. We might save a few dollars on some claims with our cost-control scrutiny, but at the risk of creating unnecessary complex, long-tail claims. We also risk pushing some of the cases into becoming one of those relatively rare cases of genuine misconduct, as people try to make the system work for them, in any way they can.

So, where are the savings?

A way forward

There are many other ways that cost controls actually become inadvertent cost drivers in the system. I'm not going to belabor the point further, because the important take-away is that an alternative exists. If 20% of claims create 80% of costs, then any efforts to prevent claims from falling into that 20% are heavily leveraged in their cost-savings impact.

If we want durable and sustainable cost control, the first step is to understand the dynamics that allow some people to recover and thrive while others with similar injuries spiral down to despair and dependency. While there isn't the space to discuss that topic here[iii], a better understanding about what helps injured people to avoid becoming “disabled” almost certainly leads to real and sustainable cost savings. And the distrust that currently permeates our systems isn't any part of it.

We created our situation, so we ought to be able to control it. Einstein said: “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.” Our current fixation on cost controls certainly makes the system more complex and full of new players eagerly selling us the latest magic bullet. The understanding to move us in the opposite direction also exists, if we can find the internal fortitude to use it.


[i1] The 5% average comes from presentations at the National Workers' Compensation College, International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions, 2004-2006, and from the author's own personal observation while supervising the New Mexico Workers' Compensation Administration fraud investigation unit over the course of five years.

[ii] See Aurbach, R.  “Suppose Hippocrates had been a Lawyer,” Psychological Injury and Law, Volume 6, pages 215-237, 2013.

[iii] See Aurbach, R. “Breaking the Web of Needless Disability” Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment and Rehabilitation, http://iospress.metapress.com/content/y50n1479vj054364/?p=7d6ab3539cd840bea6e14dbe8f2874dd&pi=0