The Best of The TEN7 Podcast 2020
For a while it felt like it would never happen, but 2020 did, finally, come to an end. Still, in the midst of a difficult year, we still managed to connect, listen and learn from a wide variety of interesting guests. This is a selection of just some of the conversations that educated and inspired us. Listen to the full podcasts if you like what you hear.
- Episode 100: J. Kenji López-Alt, food writer, cookbook author and restaurateur
- Episode 104: Chuck Hermes, founding partner and Chief Experience Officer at Clockwork
- Episode 97: Rob Dalton, President of Dalton Brand Catalyst
- Episode 106: Mary Jo Hoffman, visual artist, nature photographer
- Episode 107: Gavin King: Becoming DJ Aphrodite
- Episode 88: Claire Lew, CEO of Know Your Team
- Episode 102: Gareth van Onselen, South African journalist, political analyst and author
- Episode 99: Bob Collins, creator of the NewsCut blog and former Senior News Editor at Minnesota Public Radio
- Episode 98: Waldo Jaquith, open government technologist
- Episode 101: Clementine Jacoby, Executive Director of Recidiviz
IVAN STEGIC: Hey, everyone. You’re listening to The TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I’m your host Ivan Stegic.
For this episode we’re going to do something that may shock you. We’re going to revisit 2020! I know, that sounds painful… but trust me, this will be a pleasant and interesting journey. Yes, 2020 was awful. But looking back on the 28 episodes we produced last year reminded me that it wasn’t ALL bad!
Our guests offered hope, perspective, humor, and beauty. We had difficult conversations about some of the most difficult issues facing our country and our world. We also talked about new and innovative paths forward, that provide hope that our best days are still to come.
With that, we’re going to take a look back at just SOME of our favorite moments from the past year. Before each clip, I’ll tell you who the guest is, what episode it came from and I’ll try to set it up with additional context. And don’t worry, today’s podcast webpage has links to the episodes, so you can always go back and listen to them all.
To start us out, we’re going to revisit our 100th episode, a milestone that warranted an all-star guest and food writer, cookbook author and restaurateur J. Kenji López-Alt delivered.
I asked him how he went from a budding scientist at MIT to a restaurateur and entrepreneur.
KENJI: Well, my father is American, from western Pennsylvania. He grew up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and my mother is Japanese, so she moved to the U.S. when she was 16 years old, and so the Japanese Kenji, which is actually my middle name. My first name is James. I’ve never gone by James though, but that’s where the Japanese first name and Alt, the German last name.
My father was a scientist and my grandfather on my mother’s side was a scientist as well. I grew up with my grandparents and my parents, and so, science is just kind of a common language of communication and thought within our house. And my Mom was sort of a typical Japanese mom, she pushed us very hard as kids, academically, and made us all practice violin and all those things that moms do.
I ended up going to MIT because I thought I was going to be a scientist. Biology actually is what my original major was. And I had spent a couple summers working in a biology lab at high school and then summer after my freshman year in college as well. And then by the time I got to sophomore year and I was taking organic chemistry, which is one of the requirements for biology. I really disliked organic chemistry, even though my grandfather was actually an organist chemist, I really just disliked the class.
Then it actually made me stop and start thinking about whether I was actually enjoying biology, whether I enjoyed the two summers I had spent working in a lab. I sort of realized then that I actually didn’t really enjoy the process of biology either. The lab work wasn’t something that I really enjoyed. It was just a little too slow paced.
So the summer after my sophomore year, when I was not really sure what I wanted to do, I decided not to work in a lab and instead spend the summer working as a server, like a waiter at a restaurant in Boston. But I couldn’t find a job as a server.
What ended up happening is I actually, sort of accidentally walked into a job as a cook, because one of the restaurants I went to looking for a job as a server said that, They had a prep cook who didn’t show up that morning and so they were short one prep cook, and if I could come in that afternoon and start cooking, start doing prep work, that I could have a job for the summer. And so, that’s what I did. [laughing] I had zero experience in the kitchen, zero real desire. I never really thought about working in a kitchen. It was just like, Oh, okay, that skill I don’t have, that’ll be a fun and interesting thing to do here. I always enjoyed learning new things and learning new skills, and so I thought it would be a fun and different thing to do that I’ve never done before. And it was. It turned out to be something that I actually really loved doing. So, that’s sort of how I fell into cooking.
I finished MIT with an architecture degree. After that summer, I was working in restaurants part time, and I went into it full time after college.
IVAN: How fortuitous that you would show up and there’d be a line cook job opening, [laughing] and that you would end up in a career in the food industry.
KENJI: My career has a lot of fortunate accidents. I consider myself extremely lucky, but it’s also one of the sort of like, you make your own luck things, where it’s like the more chances you take and the more you’re willing to learn new things and try new things, the higher the likelihood that you’re going to stumble on something that you enjoy.
IVAN: Another guest whose career took unexpected turns was Chuck Hermes, Bitstream and Clockwork founder. In Episode 104, I asked him about an early crossroad in his career, when he started working for Prince at Paisley Park Studios.
CHUCK: So, at the same time that I started working at Paisley Park, I enrolled at MCAD. And as I was doing my night reception duties at Paisley, I had a lot of time and used that time to do my artwork and my schoolwork. People around the studio recognized what I was doing and started assigning me little design tasks around the studio. Which, over time, I moved from the night receptionist position to being hired within the same building by Warner Brothers, who was Prince’s record company and the record company affiliated with Paisley Park records.
So I went from night receptionist to working as an administrative assistant at Paisley Park Records, which was a Warner Brothers company. There I did a lot of work on kind of a liaison between Paisley Park and Prince the Artist and Warner Brothers art department. So that’s how I kind of transitioned into the art production side of the business.
Then it just went on from there where Prince at that time, all of the record covers, all of the artwork, pretty much everything was done through Warner Brothers. So any of those cover designs were designers that were true Warner Brothers on one of the coasts. Then he used a lot of people locally and regionally for things like tour sets and tour graphics and just all of this other stuff that he was doing.
But officially there was never an art department at Paisley. It just was freelancers coming in to do this and that. And then depending on what was going on, like Graffiti Bridge the movie was just wrapping up. They were just taking the sets down on that when I started working there. And so there were a bunch of designers and freelancers that were working on that. But once that project was over, they dispersed. This gap of Paisley, the question I asked was, “Do you realize that we could do a lot of what you’re sourcing out in-house here?” At that point, they said, “No, we didn’t realize that. So why don’t you take on the task of building an art department here?”
IVAN: What a wonderful assignment to build a department for Prince.
CHUCK: Yes, and I was grossly under qualified, which was okay, I guess, just having started school. And then ultimately, I dropped out of school because I had this opportunity to take this role at Paisley Park or be a student. I couldn’t do both at that time.
IVAN: Continuing on the topic of career paths and what often inspires people to find and follow a dream, in Episode 97 I spoke with Rob Dalton. Rob is President of Dalton Brand Catalyst, and I asked him what inspired him to pursue advertising and marketing.
ROB: I love this question because it gives me a chance to honor somebody. I was not a great student throughout my school career. And about the time I was going to graduate from Southwest High School in Minneapolis, my prospects were pretty grim, because I was not really college material. But basically across the board pretty bad grades, I got good grades in English and in art, and I loved playing guitar with my friends, and life was good. It’s just that I wasn’t on my way to a career that would probably be above minimum wage.
But, about a month before graduation, my English teacher, Sarah Sexton, started the class with a series of questions. I can’t remember them verbatim, of course, because that was many, many years ago, but she would say stuff like, Who thinks that they would love to paint a soup can and become famous for that? Or, Who thinks they would like to create the next Pink Floyd album or After the Gold Rush, and a bunch of hands go up. And, Who would like to author the next Breakfast of Champions or pick a novel from that era, and more hands went up, And, Who would like to be the coolest photographer in the world? Who’d love to make movies? Who wants to make the next Godfather?
She got everybody in that room raising their hands, including me, and she said, All of those things, you can’t all be Neil Young and all these Ansel Adams and Andy Warhol, because those are crazy long odds. But if you raised your hand, and you want to do those creative endeavors, you could go into advertising.
That was a life changing sentence for me, where I had no place to go after high school, and that sentence gave me this idea that, You know what, I love all of the things, all the creative things she was talking about. But back in 1973, that wasn’t what colleges were looking for, I’ll put it that way.
So, it gave me an opportunity to look into advertising, and I went to a technical college that happened to have one more opening, and started just a couple weeks later. A couple weeks after graduation I was back in school learning to be an ad guy. I didn’t think about it growing up, but that moment where Sarah Sexton brought these questions to the table, it was like, Oh, I absolutely have a place in this world. It’s just that I’m sort of born to be a creative, and like I said, it changed my life.
IVAN: What kind of art were you interested in at the time?
ROB: I really did love pop art, and I wasn’t an “art student” per se. But I would say, and again for those of your listeners who are a little older, we as high school kids would collect album covers. A lot of my friends have framed album covers on their walls. But so much of my exposure to art was through music and through those album covers.
IVAN: Yet another interesting career path led Episode 106 guest, Mary Jo Hoffman, to transform herself from an aerospace engineer to an artist. Mary Jo had a successful career at Honeywell when the company was purchased by Allied Signal. That soon set her on a new path.
MARY JO: Yes, another thing happened. By then Allied had bought Honeywell, and Allied Signal’s corporate headquarters were in Morristown, NJ. And I remember flying out to there, I had to fly out there all the time, and an executive HR person called me aside and said, By the way, sort of enjoy this position now, because this is the last position you’ll have where you get to call the shots. After this you’re married to the company.
MARY JO: They literally said that.
IVAN: That’s awful.
MARY JO: I came home from that trip and I said, I’m not married to Honeywell, I’m married to you, Steve, you know, I’m married to my husband. I like my job, I’m a hard worker, but I am not married to Honeywell, I’m married to my family. It was the wrong thing to say to me at that moment. So, I leave Honeywell, and they let me leave, and I leave for good, I don’t harbor any intention of going back. Then just as the fertility doctor predicted, I got pregnant right away, and we had our son [laughter]. Yes, she was right. So now I’m a stay at home mom with two kids, but used to working full-time.
My husband had been a stay at home Dad with our third daughter, and we like to say we high fived and switched roles, which is what we did, but of course that transition took over five years. He had only been working part-time, and then he ramped up to full-time. It was a step back financially for me to quit working obviously, and we didn’t get parity for a long time after that. But, I remember that story about, You’re going to be married to Honeywell, I remember thinking, No, I want a life. I don’t want a career. At the end of the day I want to have had a rich life, not necessarily just a rich career.
Again, I went into math and science because I was good at it, not because it was necessarily a burning passion. What we’re both passionate about was creativity. He’s a writer, and I would say I’m a visual artist, and my current primary medium is photography. I was more into visual arts, he was into writing, and those were always hobbies. But we always dreamed of early retirement where we could do that more full-time. The thing that we carry then that you don’t have to stop doing someday, because you can be a writer when you’re 80. It’s hard to be a software engineer when you’re 80.
So, when I quit work and became a full-time mom, and those first years of children are just overwhelming, and then after three or four years, it was when my son went into preschool, I remember picking my head up and saying, Okay, what do I want to do now? I always wanted to do visual art, and what I happened to be best at was photography.
IVAN: The TEN7 Podcast turned into a dance party for Episode 107 when Gavin King, also known as DJ Aphrodite, brought us into his creative process for how he developed his unique and influential sound:
IVAN: You’ve been referred to as one of the founding fathers of Jump-Up Jungle. And to me I know what Jungle is, I know what the niche of Jump-Up is, it’s what originally got me hooked on Jungle and Drum and Bass. It’s been a lifelong obsession for me. For those of our listeners who don’t know what it is, could you give us a description of what it is and maybe play a sample of something that’s quintessentially Jump Up?
GAVIN: Okay, so in about 1996, there was a lot of accelerated breakbeats going on. And for me it was all a bit complex, and you danced to the bass line. And then I preferred the sound of stricter rhythms so that music. I love that because that was more danceable. And, when I add rolling bass lines and kind of wobbly sounds to that, that became known as Jump Up. I don’t know why it became Jump Up. I don’t even know who coined the phrase, but if it makes you jump up and dance, then it’s a good thing.
IVAN: Exactly. It’s happy and uplifting, that’s what I always thought. It made you jump up. [laughing]
GAVIN: A good track to start off and show that would be King of the Beats.
GAVIN: So, I’m getting carried away listening to that now.
IVAN: [laughing] That’s okay. Actually that leads into a good question for me. Do you listen to your own music? I mean, you make it all the time. How does the music you make, make you feel?
GAVIN: If I could make music that makes me dance, then the likelihood is it’s going to make others dance around too. So, my mission is, I want to make something that I’m really happy with and I want to DJ and I’m going to play. If when I’m making it I catch a moment where I’m dancing around the studio like a nutter, then that’s a pretty good sign.
IVAN: [laughing] That’s your surefire way of knowing if others will lie it. And you knoe what, I think I agree with you.
IVAN: Of course, heading out to clubs and dancing was a pipe dream for most of 2020, when the defining event was the COVID-19 pandemic. Early in the year, as the virus started to sweep across the country, it became clear that everything had to change.
One area that had to adapt quickly was business, as the pandemic forced companies to adopt new work models. At TEN7, we were lucky. We transitioned to a distributed workplace in 2017, so the pandemic didn’t change our model. But many companies had to learn on the fly.
In Episode 88, we interviewed Claire Lew, CEO of Know Your Team, one of our favorite products at TEN7. She discussed how leaders needed to adapt to create more productive remote work environments.
CLAIRE: I think it’s encouraging that it’s something that’s more widely adopted just because of the forcing function. I think one of the things that will be interesting or that I’ve sort of watched is also the way leadership styles and management styles sort of adapt in that context as well. For example, one of the biggest reactions that happens unfortunately in teams that go remote quite quickly is that oftentimes the leader, because they’re not used to remote work, they get a little anxious about, well, are people working? And so, as a result, Ivan, they start micromanaging a bit more. They hold update meetings every day, or they ping people on Slack, what’s going on with this, incessantly. They put up more pressure. There was a Bloomberg article that was published recently about how it reported bosses panic buying spy software. And this is on tracking and surveillance.
It’s I think the opportunity for remote work to actually work well is there and then I think the actual practice of it, I mean, that’s where we really feel with Know Your Team, and it’s a huge part of why we have the tool in all of our resources, is, to help make sure that just because you’re now remote doesn’t mean that your actual management practices get better in any way, and then sometimes in some cases remote work can actually bring out the worst in us, in leaders, and exacerbate already negative habits that we have.
I wrote an article on this recently where I go a lot deeper on that, but it’s just something that I’ve been noticing. And I think for folks that are listening, if you are a manager who’s recently become remote and you’re listening to me and you’re like, Well Claire, how do you know if people are working? You know, that’s what I’m trying to figure out right.
CLAIRE: Ooh, say that one more time Ivan. What was that?
IVAN: It’s trust. [laughing]
CLAIRE: Yeah, right. Exactly. You hire people to do a job and I think part of your role as a leader is to trust them to do it.
IVAN: Exactly. We’re all adults, right?
CLAIRE: Right. And you have to help them along the way I’m sure at times, and coach folks and make expectations clear and there’s a lot of things that you could do to create an environment for people to do the work, but there’s a lot of research that’s been shown the more surveillance and tracking that you try to do the worst that that actual outcome is.
IVAN: As the cases skyrocketed, COVID upended our lives, our economy, and unfortunately the virus became a driver of even more political divide in our nation. In Episode 102, South African journalist, political analyst and author, Gareth van Onselen, provided his perspective on how coronavirus put a spotlight on growing political extremism in the U.S.
GARETH: To think about the mask or those people that deny that masks do anything, the thing that’s interesting about them is, so let’s say for the sake of argument that masks don’t do anything, and it’s all a giant mistake, and it was a waste of people's time to wear masks. In terms of them actually preventing the disease spreading, let’s say that’s the argument and let’s say we agree with it. Well, would there be any benefit to a mask outside of that? I think there are behavioral benefits that are indisputable.
I mean, for one, it stops you touching the nose on your face. ‘cause there is a barrier there. Secondly, it makes you aware that there is a problem, and you need to distance yourself from other people, otherwise why would you have this barrier over your mouth. And those are quite profound impacts on the way people behave.
So, even if this thing had no material benefits, and I believe that it does, it’s literally is a physical barrier, so it must to some degree stop something passing between two people. It has behavioral benefits which are very important in a pandemic, and that signal two people internally that there is a problem that I need to be aware of how close I am to another person, about touching myself. It regulates behavior, and has a whole lot of benefits in that regard.
IVAN: That’s a good point. It’s not just that it might help you avoid spreading the virus or getting the virus, it’s that there are other benefits to it as well. I’m just still flummoxed and flabbergasted that there is no shared reality here, no shared acceptance. And I think that’s the greatest problem that we’re going to face should there be a change in the administration, and even if there isn’t a change in the administration, there is no shared reality, and I don’t know what we can do to get there. And I’m open to hearing what you think.
GARETH: This thing about shared realities, you have to be a bit careful with them. Because, I mean, I think they’ve always been, you can use the word two realities, or two interpretations of what’s best for America in broad terms, kind of republican and democratic world view. I think even those two world views have fractured somewhat over the last five or 10 years or so. But in broad terms it’s a kind of universal truth that for a very long period of time there’ve been these two dominant world views in America.
I think the problem in the current environment is the degree to which people have hunkered down in each world view. They’ve become far more fundamental, and it’s illustrated by the degree to which I think the left has become quite hysterical at the extremes, and the right from the tea party through to Trump, through to whatever has become quite extreme on its far side. And both of these factions are having a powerful influence on the world views of the broader democratic and republican views. There doesn't seem to be a moderate center anymore.
I mean, a president like Roosevelt had a very moderate centrist view. And that kind of president is not really possible in America at the moment. You’ve got to belong to one camp or the other, and your views have got to be fairly extremely aligned with that camp. And I think that is the problem, is that the kind of middle ground, not middle in neutral, just a kind of area which moderate democrats and moderate republicans could meet has been eradicated, and it’s just far more fundamental on both sides now.
IVAN: The division in our nation in 2020 was, in part, driven by a growing distrust of science, facts, and reality. In one troubling development, many people started to distrust the news media, despite the fact that the “Fourth Estate” is the foundation of our democracy.
In Episode 99, Bob Collins, creator of the NewsCut blog and former Senior News Editor at Minnesota Public Radio discussed how the idea of “fake news” spurred distrust and division in the United States.
BOB: Well, it’s a little complicated. I don’t think we saw or could have seen the extent to which this cult of denial has been created. Recall back when we were at radio camp how we were going to give everybody a voice. And we were going to take the patriarchy away from the news gathering process, and we made a fundamental fatal flaw in our thinking which was, everybody deserved a voice. What we ended up doing was giving a voice to this dark side of ourselves. And in so doing we allowed people to see that they were not alone in their dark thinking. And in a way we helped them organize and created this frankly monster to democracy, I think, that has really threatened us in ways that we never anticipated. But I think it all goes back to giving people that voice.
BOB: Enabling. And, of course, they were very good at drowning out all of those voices. I read up until the last minute at MPR, I was convinced that a good comment section was possible. But right near the end I realized it wasn’t.
IVAN: Yeah, it really did. Didn’t it?
BOB: But that’s where it all started, but now, of course, it’s migrated onto other platforms. Yeah.
IVAN: What do you think we can do? What should we be doing to bring back the trust in journalism?
BOB: I think we have to recognize that we are in an age that all the old norms and the established principles no longer apply. So, you have a media that wants to build up this trust by not having, or at least giving away that they have a dog in the fight. Well, the fight now is literally the survival of democracy. And I think it’s okay to have a dog in that fight, and I think it’s okay for the media to lead that fight, and it’s for the most part, not willing to do that.
IVAN: I think so too.
BOB: It holds onto this concept of, and this is a word I’ve always hated, objectivity, because I think some of the values of Murrow, who is, let’s face it, the godfather of journalism, I think a lot of that got corrupted somewhere along the line that has prevented people in the news business from leading that defense of democracy.
And so, that’s how you end up with what aboutism, and this balance thing where you give the dark side a voice as if it has a legitimate right, and you amplify this cult of darkness. So, until that changes, and maybe we’re seeing a little bit of that now, but I think too often media organizations have just backed away anytime that anybody yells bias, or especially liberal bias in the case of public radio, and have really ignored their true responsibility, because they just don’t want to make anybody angry.
IVAN: One of the goals of our podcast is to not only call out interesting issues, but also to suggest possible solutions.
In Episode 98, Waldo Jaquith, an open government technologist, offered some thoughts about how open source software could be a driver for better, more efficient government and could help restore faith in our elections.
WALDO: One really important argument for open source is what you just made which is, if we the taxpayers are paying for something, we should own it. In fact, as a matter of law, any work of government is in the public domain.
So, my argument for open source to federal agencies is, Because you’re legally required to, that’s why. That seems easy.
But there’s a second argument that requires a little more time to argue for than one sentence, but I think it’s also really important that when government makes their work open source, and they make it clear upfront to the vendors who will be developing it it’s going to be open source, incentives change completely. I can tell you having worked on developing software, that I know nobody would ever look at the source code to, Ah, I don’t really care how great it is. Like, does it work pretty well? Cool I’m happy.
On an organizational-wide level, you’re not going to put your best and brightest on those projects. But if it’s open source, if every commit is on GitHub. Well now you care, because a lot of these smaller shops they get to show screenshots of their work. But often what they’re producing never sees the light of day in a public sense. Their clients might rely on it everyday. Maybe there’s some HTML the public can see in the browsers, but that’s it.
And so to be able to say, Now look, you can actually see a product we’ve built, all the source, all of our work, it’s in the public. That becomes a powerful sales tool.
But there’s another layer in which this is useful. And that is the employees you’re going to put on those projects. You want the work to look good, so you need your best developers on that. And for those developers, often for the first time in their lives, they have a public portfolio of work that they can point to and say, These commits are mine. This work I did on this project that you can see on GitHub even while I’m building it is mine. So, when they go to get another, or a promotion, or whatever they finally have a portfolio of their work to point to.
And so the incentives for these employees change too, where they want to be doing their very best work, because it’s finally a chance to prove how good they are. And the result of this is that the work that government gets is really excellent, because everybody’s incentives are aligned, and that’s so important.
IVAN: Just thinking about how public software changes the perspective and the sales of the marketing of individuals in companies leads me to think about the upcoming election and the voting machines that we have, and the fact that they are so black boxed and so closed source. And I’m wondering out loud now what that would look like if there was a federal mandate that all software in voting machines was open source. First of all, from a legal perspective, is that even possible? Can we even do that?
WALDO: Oh Yes. Yeah we could. The argument that some activists would make is that, Look, voting is ultimately up to the states, and the federal government has no say over that. The thing is the federal government does have say and enforces all kinds of regulations about voting, so that’s not entirely true. But also, that’s often just solved through funding. When the Help America Vote Act passed almost 20 years ago now, HAVA provided a great deal of funding to modernize election equipment, but only if you complied with the federal standards.
So, an easy solution there is really and better than unfunded mandate is to say, “Hey, everybody has to upgrade their voting software. Good news. We have produced the software that it could run, so you have to use this software. However we’re going to provide the funding, say a one-to-one match or a nine-to-one match, whatever, somewhere in that range, to states. Work with any hardware vendor you want, but they have to meet the following standards. And, of course, they have to use our open source software. So that way, the private sector continues to get the money they’re accustomed to getting, which otherwise would cause them to protest mightily, and you wind up with national standards.
And if some state says, Well, we’re just not gonna take any federal funding for our election equipment, because we’re really committed to close source for some reason, they can do that, but they’re not likely to do that. And certainly some future iteration of their Board of Elections would decide that was dumb, we passed up free money, let’s take them up on that. So, I think there’s a range from just flat out mandating it, all the way to tying it to funding requirements.
I would love, love to work on that project.
IVAN: Finally, in Episode 101, we took on the very complex problem of criminal justice reform, speaking with Clementine Jacoby, Executive Director of Recidiviz, a nonprofit that’s building a technical foundation to help improve the criminal justice system.
Clementine discussed how data could help unlock new approaches and initiatives that would make our system more equitable and effective.
CLEMENTINE: The thing that the data clearly illustrates, I think, is that to make a huge dent in this problem, to make the kind of progress we’re talking about, we need to invest money that we will save by incarcerating fewer people in drug treatment and mental wellness, and in underserved communities, which by the way, you can see in the data. Right? Like today, if you are a black man without a GED, you’re more likely to be behind bars than employed. And we can see in the data which communities were underfunding, which communities are disenfranchised and where we need to invest. So, I think that one thing that the data makes very clear is that we’re using prisons to solve problems that would be better solved, more cheaply solved, more equitably solved, all of these things in the community.
I think that’s a solution that people can really rally behind. There’s something very, very important about that, that I think you’re clearly seeing in the public narrative right now. We want to see investment away from our justice system into the communities and into solving these problems earlier in the pipeline. So that’s, I think, the biggest takeaway that the data shows.
IVAN: What do private jails and private systems have to do with the problem statement?
CLEMENTINE: I think in some ways it’s the same problem statement. The private prison system is not as big as you might think. Most of the people we incarcerate are incarcerated not by the federal government and not by private prisons, but by states. And that’s why we are focusing on states. I think that it’s an issue, but it’s not the issue that we’re tackling.
The reason you have private prisons is because states contract to private prisons, because they think that they can either produce better outcomes, or incarcerate people for less money. And so to me, it feels like an extension of the same set of issues, which is that we don’t have tools to optimize for better outcomes, and we need those across the private and the public system, but the public system to me is more important because it impacts more people.
IVAN: And so the only way we can fix this is by making public policy and laws that address people going into incarceration and also preventing people that have left incarceration to prevent them from going back into incarceration.
And what you’re saying is the data is there and we need to make it more visible and use it to make these decisions a whole lot faster and a whole lot better.
CLEMENTINE: Yes, and I will add one thing, which is that we also need to recognize that in addition to making our prison system better, we also need to confront how hard it is in this country to recover from incarceration. Most people who go to prison will never be eligible for most jobs or housing, or even things like food stamps that were literally designed for underserved and marginalized communities. They’ll be five times as likely to be unemployed. They’ll earn less money when they’re working, and their kids will be six times more likely to enter the system.
So, we’ve created a revolving door that many millions of people enter very young and then can never leave. And so, if we want to really unwind this issue, we also need to get serious about reducing barriers to reentry, reducing contact in the first place, and also improving the system itself for the people who do get caught in it.
IVAN: It’s not just the system, it’s everything around it as well.
IVAN: We should fix it all, and I think that’s what you’re trying to do.
CLEMENTINE: We’re trying to do that, yeah.
IVAN: Your website talks about a self-improving criminal justice system. What does that mean?
CLEMENTINE: For us I think the main goal is that you should be able, as a person running a correction system, to set a goal, track your progress and hit that goal. So right now, running a corrections department is very much like being a CEO of a company. But with no way to measure profit and loss, or whether or not any of your launches worked.
And so, it’s that basic sense that today we have 50 people with an enormous amount of responsibility running an $80 billion system with hundreds of thousands of employees, incarcerating millions of people who don’t have these tools.
So, let’s get them the tools. Let’s get them the tools that they need to set a goal, see if they’re tracking towards it. Let’s get them the tools they need to evaluate upfront what impact a policy will have, and then to follow-up and see if that policy actually had that impact. And if it didn’t, close the gap. So, that’s what we mean by a self-correcting system, just giving them the ability to actively and proactively manage for the outcomes that we want to see as a citizenship and then report to us the progress on those things.
IVAN: Well, that’s it for 2020…
Before we finish, I do want to offer some words of gratitude. The TEN7 Podcast is, of course, a team effort. So I want to be sure to thank everyone who helps produce and promote this show, including Roxanne, who provides all of our transcription services, Brian and Charlene, who helped with the descriptions, summaries, and social media promotion, and particularly, Jonathan, the producer of the show, who makes the magic happen, handling all the scheduling, recording, editing and mixing to bring you this podcast. Thank you! We couldn’t do it without you.
I also want to thank you, our listeners, for tuning into the podcast. AND I’d like to ask you a small favor. It would be MOST appreciated if you could go to iTunes and give the TEN7 podcast a positive rating and review. Ratings play a huge role in helping people discover the podcast. We’ve got great shows in store for 2021, and we’d love to have even more people join in!
Finally, if you have a second, send us a message and tell us what you would like to hear in the coming year. Or, just send an email to say hi! Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thanks for listening.