About the Author
Steven Howard Johnson grew up in Denver, Colorado, finished high school in Bethesda, Maryland (his dad had won a seat in Congress from Colorado), and then in September 1960 entered Harvard, little imagining that the 1960s were about to become "THE SIXTIES!" The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, and folks from the Christian pacifist outfit his parents belonged to were smack in the middle of it. (Thanks to those friendships, Steve and his dad in 1959 lunched with Dr. King.)
Quite a generation of activists were coming of age. Segregation had to end. The testing of A-Bombs and H-Bombs had to stop. The War in Vietnam had to end. The oppression of gays had to end. The liberation of women was long overdue. The poisoning of the Earth had to end. Those themes were the soundtrack of the 60s and 70s.
What we didn't know, or see, was the conservative game plan by which the American Dream was soon to be killed for the bottom half of the workforce. And with Reagan's election, those conservative schemers achieved the victory they had sought. Wages for working Americans - which had risen at healthy rates since the end of World War II - stopped rising for the lower half of the workforce. For those in the bottom half, the American Dream was dead, and even today it has yet to be revived. In its place, the cruelties of Enrichment Capitalism have been shoved down the throats of all working Americans.
But oddly, even though America had spawned an entire generation of reformers, none of the reform movements of that era were able to get their minds around what had happened. Even though a sea change had occurred in America, the conceptual framework that might have explained it was nowhere to be found.
Steve's career unfolded with many twists and turns: Eleven years at Denver Yellow Cab, where as president of its cab drivers union, he led a driver buyout that turned Yellow Cab into a driver owned cooperative; Two years earning an MBA from Stanford, finishing in the top 10% of his class; Two and a half years at Cummins, just as the company began wondering how to put together the shift from traditional manufacturing to Total Quality; Three years at Bain, learning the ropes of corporate consulting from the inside; And a variety of consulting gigs for a number of years after, work that stretched his vision and helped pay the bills.
And, somehow, he ended up as one of the facilitators for the First Bipartisan Congressional Retreat in 1997.
Steve's most important lessons, though, were accumulated from independent research projects that his curiosities drew him to. e.g. On Social Security reform, testing the fantasy that the entire program could be replaced with independent retirement accounts. e.g. On Public Schools, where he learned that a deceitful dropout rate reporting system had become a nationwide scheme for helping school systems mask the severity of their real dropout rates.
And in which he also learned, once again, that those leaders who try to imagine compelling answers to the question, "What's Missing?" are likely to achieve far greater success than those who chew only on the question of "What's Broken?"
And this brings us to Steve's most significant observation. We Americans have never bothered to shape for ourselves a systemic vision of America's higher and better future. Our traditions of piecemeal reasoning, of trying to fix just the broken stuff, will never light our way to a future of systemic well-being.
It's time we raised our game. We are quite late to the adventure of seeking an America of systemic well-being.
The journey ahead will not be easy, but we do have to start, and we shall also have to stay with it. By posing substantive answers to the question, "What's Missing?" Steve has made real progress. His insights will be well worth your while.