Monday, December 31, 2007

Obligatory New Year Resolution

The beginning of every year, we as business people are obliged to set new goals for the upcoming year. I have gone through this process over 30 times in my career. During this time I have noticed one striking trend. Those who believe succeed; those who don’t, don’t. Brian Tracy in his Psychology of Achievement spends a great deal of time helping people reset their subconscious so that they can achieve the success they have always wanted. His story is that you have to concretely believe you can succeed before you can actually do it. There is a lot of data to support that this is fundamental to individual success. What about corporations?

Thirty years of business planning has taught me that it’s very true of corporations as well. If the annual plan is a hope and a prayer, it will not succeed. Many companies have a top down planning approach. Those in the know determine the cash requirements of the corporation to survive and meet expectations for the coming year. They then extrapolate the revenue number taking into account cost of goods and cost of sales. The revenue number is then passed down to the individuals responsible. Sometime, like when I work for British Telecom, the number is inflated as it is passed down to assure each management group is successful. The final number given to each sales person is a result of this process and doesn’t reflect the reality of their market. The people at the top “believe” in their number because it makes sense. The people at the bottom find the number arbitrary at best and will strive to do their best.

A deviation to this strategy is a top-down, bottom-up approach. While the executive management is forecasting from above, the sales force is forecasting from below. They meet in the middle and develop a compromise. Sound better doesn’t it? Heisenberg taught us that this isn’t necessarily so. My experience collaborates this. The people at the top assume the people at the bottom are going to sandbag (low ball) their numbers and the people at the bottom assume that the top is going to inflate the numbers. Everyone knows it’s a negotiation, therefore it’s best to build in some level of compromise. In this case neither party”believes”. Both have had to compromise and assume the other is not being fully honest in the process. This by the way is true.

So, how do you get everyone to believe? The answer is to take a more systemic approach. If you haven’t ever done this it won’t happen for 2008, but it can happen in 2008. The object is to align the entire company toward a single goal. Everything is tied to achieving that goal; from product development, to marketing, to sales, to legal, to accounting, to procurement, to support. Everyone knows their responsibility for achieving that goal and believes they can do their part. No one is part of the “sales prevention” team. The sum of the parts becomes greater than the whole. What’s the systemic approach?

This takes some thinking. It is not intuitively obvious. If you are a glass half empty type of person, you may not see how it will work. Every activity must be tied directly to revenue and carry a specific expense associated with that activity. Some will be profit centers and some will be cost centers. But they are all tied to the final objective. Deciding how this will work within your specific corporation may take a lot of thought. Many departments don’t like this thinking because either they don’t truly understand how their department impacts revenue or they do understand and they would just as soon you don’t. A good place to start is to map out the process, cradle to grave. Apply your vision and mission to the process, you do have one right? Make sure everything aligns, and then start doing the math. Always seek input from those responsible for implementation.

Reprogramming the human subconscious to succeed is a consistent, repetitive process. The same is true of corporations.

The corporation that believes…. Succeeds.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Change is inevitable, but it’s the speed of change that determines success.

I am constantly trying to find ways to accelerate performance without burdening the process or people. The first question that comes to mind is “If performance is accelerated how can the process be burdened?” To find that answer, let’s start at the very beginning. At some point a need within the company is recognized. Something is not being done as well as it could be to the benefit of the company. A new process is defined, new job descriptions are developed, compensation equal to the effort is determined, and extensive search for the right employee is undertaken. A business ecosystem is developed that like all biological ecosystems is based not only on the inhabitants of the local system, but also the interaction with the contiguous systems surrounding it.

In James Moore’s book “The Death of Competition” he talks about the difference in the biological ecosystems of Hawaii and Costa Rica. Hawaii is an island that is somewhat sheltered from outside biological influences. Costa Rica is a virtual highway of migrating plants and animals. Costa Rica hardly notices a new entrant into its ecosystem, while Hawaii is devastated by every variant. So it is with business ecosystems. A business process that is virtually independent of other process within the business has less tolerance for change than business processes that are heavily dependent on external processes. The dependent process is constantly being pushed to and fro with changes from the co-dependent processes. Employees are so use to change that they notice lack of change more than change. Someone is always doing something to disrupt their karma.

Highly independent processes are more rigid and inflexible. They change only when the inhabitants want the change to take place. Homeostasis dictates that change is hard to accept, so given an option, it won’t happen. When change is thrust upon this independent process it is very disruptive. People fight back. They intentionally or unintentionally sabotage the desired results. Wayne Anderson wrote an article “People Performance: Can you believe what you see?” In it he discusses Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle which says the very act of observing performance changes the performance while it is being observed.

So, when an opportunity arises to make a change that will theoretically improve performance, a close eye has to be kept on whom it affects. A highly dependent process will adapt much easier than a highly independent process. The performance improvement that is expected from the change may be eroded or eliminated in an independent process by the disruption to the system. While a more dependent process may take it in stride, make the adjustment and reap the benefits more easily.

Change is an inevitable and desired aspect of running a business. To constantly evolve is to continue to grow, but at what cost? Before diving into even obvious change, determine the ability to absorb the change. Change is inevitable, but the speed is dependent. Engage all the stakeholders. If they appear to be a fairly homogeneous group get buy in up front, take the time to paint a clear vision of how things will be better after the change is complete and implement the change in well documented stages. If this sounds familiar it’s because it follows Gleicher’s Formula for Change. Gleicher doesn’t have a time element. But timing is very important.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Getting an early Start on New Years Resolutions

With New Year’s Day 2008 just around the corner it’s not too early to set those all important New Year’s Resolutions so that we can be prepared to break them earlier than we did last year. For those folks who are reading this and this is your goal, or at least forgone conclusion, save yourself some time and stop reading now…..

For the rest of us let’s look at what we can do to not only reach our goals for 2008 but accelerate through them. To truly be successful we need to understand why we aren’t. Keep in mind that humans, as a whole, are very complex. We may feel in general that we are not successful based on our own measurements. If we break down our activities we will find that we are very good at some things and poor at others. The real question is, are we good at the right things? Congratulate yourselves because no matter who you are, you are successful. You just might not be as successful as you want to be at the things that matter most to you.

Let’s fix that. First of all we have to agree that success is in the mind, literally.

The greatest barrier to achievement and success is not lack of talent or ability but…. Rather… the fact that achievement and success, above a certain level, are outside of our self-concept, our image of who we are and what is appropriate to us.” – “The Power of Self-Esteem”, Nathaniel Branden

We are constantly changing in the direction of our self image. - Abraham Maslow

A man becomes what he thinks about most of the time. - Emerson

Becoming something different takes a concerted effort to change the inner self. The inner self is made up of three important components; the conscious mind, the subconscious mind and the reticular cortex. As we know, the conscious mind takes in new information, makes calculations and decisions and can only handle one thing at a time (serial processing). We can listen at over 450 words per minute and talk at around 150, so it sometime seems like our brain is parallel processing, but it not. It’s simply multitasking or wandering because it has extra unused cycles. The subconscious mind is much the opposite. It runs on a set of rules that are fairly hard to change. Most of them are formed before we are five. Its job is to move us from a position of discomfort to a position of comfort (pleasure-pain principle). It does this by comparing all new information with its existing database and moving away from anything that conflicts with what it deems is its world view. This is a form of Psychosclerosis, hardening of the mind. It does this very quickly and in parallel. It operates much quicker than the conscious mind.

The fun part is the reticular cortex. It’s about the size of your thumb and sits at the base of the brain at the top of your neck. It “wakes up” the brain. Because of all of these unused cycles in your brain, the reticular cortex uses them to scan the environment. It hears conversations your conscious mind does not hear. It sees things that the subconscious does not process up to the conscious. It pushes all this information to the subconscious that then filters it through its little database and helps the conscious mind move you from situations that are uncomfortable to ones that are more comfortable.

All of this just to help explain how to be success with your New Year’s resolutions. Here’s how. You want to reprogram your subconscious to allow through information from the reticular cortex that will improve your chances of achieving your new goals. To do that you need to reprogram your subconscious. You do that by being very purposeful in what you think about. First your goals need to be in the first person, present tense and positive. The subconscious can’t stop things from happening, it can only help make things happen. It’s only interested in “I”. It will not try to help someone else do something, and it’s not overly interested in tomorrow. So if I say “I have lost 10 lbs. on June 1, 2008”. The subconscious will say to itself “No I haven’t, I’m uncomfortable with my weight.” When you look at food the reticular cortex will zoom in on things that will help move toward a more comfortable position. This will work for almost any goal you set, money, relationships, health (doesn’t cure already experience deceases, but will help you live a more healthy life), anger….

It’s not that easy to change the subconscious. You need to write and rewrite your goals every day for as long as it takes to achieve them. Write them the same way every time. Repeat them to yourself several times a day for at least 21 straight days. This is the conscious mind reprogramming the subconscious mind. The reticular cortex is the scout that feed reaffirming information to the subconscious. As you eventually reprogram your subconscious you will be amazed at the opportunities to succeed that the reticular cortex comes across. The opportunity has always been there, but was filtered out….

Monday, August 20, 2007

Moving with the Top 3%

The last few months have been busy to say the least. I had an opportunity to reassess where I was going and how I planned on getting there. It’s nice when you get to that point in life when you can throw away all of the artificial constraints of living and really focus on what you want. I am very fortunate to be at that very place. It’s scary from the standpoint that there aren’t any excuses for not succeeding. Fundamentally everyone is driven by only two emotions; passion and fear. If I consider Gleicher’s Formula for Change, and fear and passion are the drivers, I must have enough passion for my vision to overcome the fear of change. Of course that assumes I have a vision in the first place. Without vision I am blind and fear becomes the predominate emotion.

So how do I feel? Great… Scared… mostly just excited about what the next 10 or so years will bring. It seems odd to me but chasing someone else’s vision, or lack thereof, never seemed too risky. After all it’s not my vision, it’s theirs. If it fails it is not a reflection on me. My job is to bring my experience and knowledge to the table to help illuminate the situation. Don’t get me wrong I am extremely goal driven. It’s just not personal, it’s a job. I can always find a way to make it fun and successful. At the end of the day the overall success or failure will be accredited to the CEO or owner. I was just one of the tools he or she had in their bag. It was a rewarding and fulfilling vocation to have. I enjoyed it.

There was and is a bigger thing (Major Definite Goal) out there for me, a passion to truly drive optimum success, to have clarity of vision, well thought out plans and goals, and a drive to make a difference. I wanted to find people who share those traits. The Law of Attraction states that we attract those people who are most like what we perceive we are. I want to attract the top 3%. They don’t have to start in the top 3%, but they must be willing to work hard enough to get there.

Now I would have to say that perceiving I am in the top 3% and only wanting like souls to share my world may seem egotistic, narcissistic, and self-absorbed. It’s really not (says I). Who are the top 3%? They are not elitist. They are not necessarily the movers and shakers of industry. Being rich does not in and of itself put you in the top 3%. The top 3% balance the work, family, physical and spiritual aspects of their lives. They live a centered life, everything in moderation. They have written detailed goals of what they want to achieve in the next 5, 10 or 15 years. Many do not have a goal to make a lot of money. But, we live in a capitalistic society so money always plays a part. If I want more quality time with my family I have to be able to afford it. I can’t just quit work and stay at home. Interestingly, most of these people have far more money than their peers. It’s a byproduct if nothing else.

They are active, vibrant, above the line thinkers. They exude energy. They are open to new learning. They are not all happy day one. But they have a real desire to be and a willingness to take the steps required to get there. Traditionally they are “High D’s” and “High I’s”(D.I.S.C.), drivers (Merrill-Reid), type “A” personalities (Jenkins Activity Survey). Just because someone is highly motivated does not put them in the top 3%. A know a lot of people who work very hard for long hours that a) aren’t getting anywhere and b) don’t care to hear about it.

Here is what it takes to be in the top 3% in my book:

  • · You have taken the time to both understand and write down your goals in life for work (money), family (fun and vacations) and spiritual endeavors (charities and volunteering).
  • · You have prioritized these goals and determined your one major definite goal. It is your focus
  • · You take full responsibility for your actions
  • · You try to spend most of your time in a positive frame of mind (above the line).
  • · You have a continuous learning mentality, constantly reading and listening
  • · You make improvement is a series of 1% changes that produce outstanding results over time, not radical changes all at once.
  • · You are decisive, able to set out in a direction and make coarse changes as required.
  • · You have an internal locus of control verses an external locus of control. You know who you are.

These are the people I am looking for. They are the people who will make a significant difference in the world around them. Their world may be big or small, but it will benefit from knowing them. It’s exciting and scary all at the same time. I know some of these folks. I expect to meet many more of them in the future.

I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult. - E. B. White

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Can I buy Self-Esteem?

It’s 4:00 in the morning. I’m on a business trip staying in a strange hotel room. I woke up thinking about several simultaneous issues. One is why do we as a culture continue to try to solve our issues of lack of self-esteem and self-actualization with more material goods? The second was why do we have such a disparate immigration issue? And in the end why do many of us feel we are the victims in all of this?

The baseline of my thinking centers on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In Maslow’s hierarchy there are five levels: physical, security, belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization. The bottom two needs are external (physical and material) in nature. The top three are more internally focused. A few days ago I was in a meeting where we started to talk about “Who were the oppressed?” The discussion started along the lines of the third world countries. It very quickly turned because some (certainly not all or even most) of the people in the third world countries can maintain a high level of self-esteem and self-actualization in spite of their seemingly lack of food, shelter and security. Whereas many, if not most of the population of the United States, in spite of our great wealth, feel oppressed by others, be it government, our employer, or society in general. Our discussion concluded that some people could operate at the higher level of Maslow’s hierarchy in spite of their environment, while others feel that the path to the top leads through the bottom. “If I can have enough things I will feel better about myself.”

Because of this we are willing to go into debt to buy things we neither need nor can afford. Madison Avenue helps us by making sure we understand that this behavior is the American way and that it drives capitalism. I read an article recently in which a man said that he grew up poor but didn’t know it. Now even the lower middle class is made to understand they are poor by our standards. The media won’t let it go. We don’t seem to want to acknowledge that our poor have a higher standard of living than most country’s rich. That will lead later to my thoughts about illegal immigration. For now let’s talk about those who are legally here. Now I am not naive, with over 250M people in the United States anyone can come up with literally thousands of examples of almost anything. It’s pure probability. So let’s gloss over for now the stories of the poor and down trodden. They exist in every society and that can’t be resolved, we can only move the definition of poor. There will always be someone at the bottom. Our standards are high and they should be. As one of the wealthiest nation in the world we should expect more. Pareto’s Law (cour’s d’economie politique) stated back in 1896 that 80% of the wealth is generated by 20% of the population. That would mean the converse is true that only 20% of the wealth is held by the remaining 80%. It was true in Europe then as in the United States now. We have tried every tax scheme and entitlement program known to man to change this and still can’t. The Communist tried socialism and only exasperated the issue. Yet we are trying to socialize even more services in an attempt to control the decisions of others. In the end, we as a people are far better off materially than almost any other country, yet we suffer dramatically under our own lack of self worth. We have become a victim-based society that is looking for reasons to believe that we are suffering and it’s not our fault.

Interestingly Pareto’s Law extrapolated also says that 80% of our problems are within our own control. We can take action to change the very environment that causes us so much distress. Is going into debt to buy self-esteem the right answer? Could be go to the library and read a book for free rather than set in front of the TV watching cable programming? Aren’t these the very programs that convince us that we are undervalued because we don’t live like the top 20%? The answer is “No”. It is not the American way. We are consumer oriented. One of the major roles of our government is income redistribution. We will buy our way into a higher self worth even if the government, or debt, has to pay for it. It is not our responsibility to raise our selves up. It is the responsibility of the rich, the government and society in general. After all they have all the resources. All we have is our self-will and self-control. We know how weak that is.

My only statement concerning illegal immigration: do you really wonder why? When they can come here, live better than they ever have and still send money home, why not? We are disgusted by their willingness to live three and four families to a home. Adults get along by riding bicycles to menial work for sub-standard pay driving down our standard of living. Why, because it is so much more rewarding here then where they came from. They haven’t bought into Madison Avenue. Before you say it, there is one more issue that helps them. They aren’t part of the income redistribution system. They don’t pay taxes. We have built an environment where the middle class from another country can come here to fulfill their dreams by becoming our lower class. And all we get is lower self-esteem because we lost a job we didn’t want to someone who will take less to do it then we would.

Cicero’s Six Mistakes of Man (according to Arthur F. Lenehan):

  • The delusion that individual advancement is made by crushing others
  • The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected
  • Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it
  • Refusing to set aside trivial preferences
  • Neglecting development and refinement of the mind and not acquiring the habit of reading and studying
  • Attempting to compel other persons to believe and live as we do.

Character vs. Rule of Law

Like everyone else I have heard a lot of talk about the Michael Vick case. Being from the Atlanta area I am particularly interested. Although I am a Falcons fan and a football fan in general, my real interest is not generally with Michael Vick or the Falcons or for that matter the NFL. My interest lies specifically in the concept of right and wrong. I’ll try to be brief.

In my eyes there seemed to be a historic turning point in responsibility when then President Clinton dodged the responsibility for his action by trying to redefine his actions through semantics. Even though the lapse in character was well known and documented, many of his supporters, even to this day, rally around the fact that he was not convicted of any wrong doing and therefore somehow less culpable of his actions. This to me set the stage for being judged guilty or innocent in a Court of law as the ultimate indicator of character. Somehow we now feel that the only correct and fair thing is for our actions to be judge by the legal system and not “the court of public opinion.” Somehow the public view of right and wrong should no longer carry weight in our culture.

We seem to gloss over the impact of the Rules of Law, the set of laws and precedence that govern the legal process. These laws and precedence’s do not govern guilt and innocence, but procedure. They are to protect the defendant from illegal acts by law enforcement that breach individual protection. A police officer can know that an individual is a drug dealer. If that officer then breaks down the door without due cause and catches the man with a 100 pounds of cocaine, under Rule of Law that evidence does not exist and can’t be used in court. Is the man innocent? In court he could be found not guilty, in life he is still a scumbag. He is what he is, despite the court ruling. It will be a matter of time before he screws up and goes to jail. Failure to be convicted does not necessarily make you a good guy.

The judge makes these decisions. The Judge can rule that the jury is to disregard a fact when contemplating the verdict. If they do not, the defendant can appeal the conviction. Interestingly, with the concept of double jeopardy, if the judge throws out evidence that could have clearly changed the verdict to guilty, we the public, cannot appeal the acquittal. It might be an error in judgment by the courts that cannot be reversed.

Mike Vick is guilty of extremely bad judgment at the very least and possibly more. For him to profess total ignorance of a felony act, not to mention enormous cruelty, on his property using his business license is somewhat suspect. If true it shows very poor judgment unbefitting a person who is paid over $6mm per year to be the figurehead and premier employee of an organization.

Something we cannot ignore is that criminal psychologist have proven that acts of animal cruelty are one of the strongest indicators of deeper more violent problems. That is not to say everyone who has acted cruel toward an animal is a sociopath. But it is clearly a big red flag to be monitored. To think that a person would harm anything capable of feeling pain and fear just for entertainment is not normal by any standard. To even know that there was the potential of this going on and not reporting it is hard to fathom. If one of our children saw a neighbor act in the way the indictment said dogs were treated and did not report it, we would be gravely concerned for our child. We would be concerned that our child did not see the enormous act of cruelty as anything worth reporting. We might wonder what else our child had seen or been involved with that did not strike them as sick and perverted. We wouldn’t say “you haven’t been convicted of anything therefore what you did is OK.”

The battle cry for Michael Vick is “innocent until proven guilty”. Somehow having this go on under his nose and doing nothing about it shows acceptable character. After all he has done nothing wrong until the courts say he has. The other side is that he is so out of it that he could be used in an extremely heinous way and be clueless. I would rather be thought of as unwilling to act, then so stupid I didn’t know. Both are very poor character traits for a multi-million dollar man. He is not going to learn to take responsibility until someone makes him step up and pay a significant price for his actions. It is for his own good. Yet so many people don’t get it. He is a young man. Calling him out at this point in his life may be the best thing for him over the next 60 years. Not doing it may be the worst.

It is true that until the court rule him guilty of a crime he should not and will not serve time in a correctional institution. Ultimately it is not up to the courts to determine his character.

"Indifference is the essence of inhumanity." — George Bernard Shaw

Sunday, July 1, 2007

How many Squares?

How many squares to you see?

Do you see 16, 17, 21, 23, 24, or more? The answer is 46. This is all about vision. Not in terms of eyesight, but in terms of the future. In 1858 there we only 4 cities with a population over one million people, in 1960 there were 141 and in 1980 there were 282. In 600 BC the top speed was 8 MPH (camel) in 1960 it was over 4,000 MPH. One last statistic; in the 1500’s it would take 100 years to produce 100,000 new manuscripts. Today we produce more than 1,000 per day.

The rate of change in today’s business is staggering. The amount of time available for corrections is diminishing rapidly. Managers cannot rely on their intelligence alone to make adjustment. Things are just changing too fast. Change has to be an instinct. Decisions have to be made considering only the nuance of the problem not the core issue.

Think of it this way: You and your family are sitting in Time Square. You decide it would be great to eat at Castagnola's at Fisherman's Wharf. Now there are several approaches you can take. Option One everyone jumps in the car and you head west. At every intersection you make a decision to go left, right or straight ahead, you don’t know how long it will take, you just wing it. Option Two, you determine how far it is, when you want eat, mode of transportation available, cost of transportation, amount of money available and you make a plan. Option One requires you to evaluate all the alternatives at each intersection. That’s fine if you can stop and think each time. What happens if the light is green and the person behind you is a little impatient? With Option Two you only have to evaluate changes in expectations. The decisions concerning direction are taken care of. You can concentrate on fine-tuning your results because you have a vision of the future. You have some idea of what should happen next.

Companies have to reinvent themselves every 3 to 4 years. This rate of change is going to accelerate. If you as a manager must stop and evaluate all the alternatives before you can make a decision, you’re going to get run over. The foundation of a Strategic Plan is a clear vision of where you want to go. Without this foundation your plan will crumble under the weight of change. The stress of trying to understand and react to every change in your business environment could not only cause you to lose your company, it could cost you your family and maybe your life. Take the time up front to understand what you want your future to look like and then make it happen.

Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision and relentlessly drive it to completion – Jack Welsh

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Fathers Day

It’s easy on Fathers Day to remember our fathers for the extreme acts in their lives. But it is really the greatness in the common things that has made me especially proud to be the son of my father. Those who know me have heard me talk of my dad’s uncommon valor in not only the way he served in WWII, but also the selflessness by which he did it. Our family has seen my father rise above the common when he had a landing strip build in front of a small rural hospital in southern Illinois so that he could fly my sister, packed in ice, to Chicago for emergence treatment after she was hit while riding a bicycle at college. I remember sitting in my dad’s hospital room after he had back surgery. Rather than dwelling on the pain and discomfort of the surgery and rehabilitation, he spent his time amazing us by multiplying any set of two numbers in his head. He would give us the answer in seconds and we would spend the next few minutes trying to figure out if he was right…. he was….

Real greatness for any father is found in the everyday common acts like providing food, shelter, clothing and being there to guide and mentor. Giving strength to others. Don’t get me wrong; I had the normal tumultuous relationship with my father as an adolescent. I like almost every child, felt he was too strict. One especially painful experience was when I was 9 or 10 years old. I was expected to keep a journal of my allowance as a life lesson in responsibility. Once a year the carnival came to town. Growing up in the central farm land of Illinois didn’t provide the wealth of opportunity for entertainment that living in Atlanta does. This was a once-a-year event that we all looked forward to with great anticipation. My father checked my journal and it wasn’t current. The punishment was that I had to go to the carnival with the family but I could not and did not ride on any rides or spend any money. I remember it to this day. I can see it in my minds eye as if it was yesterday, the twirling light and music. My father allowed me to make stupid decisions, feel the pain of the consequences, learn from the event and move on with my life. He taught me that it is not in the falling down, but the getting up that we overcome our fear of failure. He taught me that a gift is not a trade and to never promise anything I wasn’t willing to do or give up. The day at the carnival was a hard day for my dad, but there was a lesson, or two, in it. If I was to survive and be happy I needed to learn them. My punishment was his also. I pouted and fretted and sulked all night. Rather then my father seeing the joy on my face as I was once again amazed by what life had to offer, he had to put up with a child who didn’t understand the gift he was being given: a one-time chance to correct a thousand mistakes before they happened.

True greatness is in the common: putting one foot in front of the other consistently day after day. Because he was who he was when I needed him the most, I am who I am today. All the small pieces came together to make the whole. Dad, you are the whisper in my heart that talks to me every day. For this I will be eternally grateful and thankful.

If I have one regret it is that my father may never come to know his creator, that I will not have the joy of spending eternity with him.

Ephesians 2: 8-10

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from GOD - not by works so that no one can boast. For we are GOD's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which GOD prepared in advance for us to do.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Profit Motive and the Poor

As the Presidential Race starts to build steam I keep hearing the debate concerning living conditions of the poor and excess profits of corporations. Many people discuss these two topics as if they are diametrically opposing points of view (much like creationism and evolution, another posted for another day). They are not. They are intertwined in a concept called capitalism.

Profit is not a tangible object that can be obtained and sat on a shelf. Profit is fundamentally a unit of measure used to evaluate the success of a business campaign. It’s like a river constantly moving down stream. At any given moment the volume is unique to that moment. For Tax purposes the IRS has selected December 31 of each year as the benchmark date. It uses the measurement of profit since the previous January first to determine taxes. But by the time a corporation actually pays their tax, the profit measurement has changed. Storing up profit is nothing more than a form of savings. Within a corporation the means of “storing” Profit is complex. There are obvious things like treasure notes and certificates of deposit, but there are less obvious vehicles like capital investment, stock buybacks and even increased employment. The point is that the value of Profit is in its spending, not its ownership. Excessive profit like excessive savings only deprives the owner of its value. Profits have to be invested to have value.

Most people can see that some level of Profit is required to stay in business. What challenges them is “excessive profit”. I don’t know exactly how to define “excessive profit” except to say it is the amount of profit perceived to be more than a person is comfortable seeing in a corporation. It’s clearly subjective. Today many people believe that Oil Companies are making an excessive profit. This excess profit is made up of both the high level of profits reported to the IRS and the rising cost of gasoline. Most of the arguments, that I have heard, center on the concept of the oil companies sharing their profit by lowering the price of gasoline. But in Capitalism that is accomplished through supply and demand. One of the reasons that the Oil Companies have produced large profits is because the buying public has not changed it oil consumption habits even in light of large price increases in gasoline. Demand continues to grow in spite of price increases.

So here’s the really complicated part for most people. Using BP as an example: Their Profit in 2006 was $22.0B and in 2005 it was $22.3B. Revenue was $270B and $243B respectively. Average Retail price of gas (adjusted for inflation) was $3.00 per gal in 2006 and $2.35 in 2005, that’s a 27% increase. BP also spent $16.9B in capital expenditures, $15.5B in dividends to the stockholders and $3.5B in stock repurchases. So you think that this just reinforces the rich getting richer and poor getting nothing. The companies that make the capital equipment that BP bought received $16B in new sales, thus hiring more people. If the investors were banks, they had more dividend money to reinvest. If they were consumers they bought things, both providing more employment. And by the way more tax dollars to be redistributed. If BP just reduced the cost of gas at the gas pump, capital equipment sales would go down, dividends and their reinvestment would go down and taxes would decrease. Lower skilled jobs would be lost in both the private and public sectors. Some of the lower economic workers would get cheaper transportation and heating cost, but others would lose their jobs. Each dollar reinvested provides a multiplier effect in the market. That means $16B can become $112B in increased opportunity

The best long-term program for helping the poor is to provide opportunity. Opportunity comes from corporate investment in the future. The sources of those funds are profits. Only the government can print money and when they do we generally get inflation as a by-product.

The worst crime against working people is a company, which fails to operate at a profit. - Samuel Gompers,

Friday, June 8, 2007

Passion - Who’s Responsible

Passion, especially passion at work is an extremely popular subject. Google it and find 63M hits. I guess this makes 63M and one. It’s interesting because so many people want it and yet so few have it. Employers demand it of new employees but seldom can sustain it after employment. Lack of passion for what they do is one of the biggest reasons people change jobs. Why can’t employees find and sustain passion and once they do why can’t corporations nurture it?

Let’s look at the first half, why can’t employees find and sustain passion? For years I have heard it said that you are not defined by what you do. The context of that statement is that we have a social aspect, a family aspect, a spiritual aspect, along with the work aspect of our lives. The premise of this view is that we do what we must to provide the money required to be who we want to be. Sadly for most people this is true. They take the highest paying job that will afford them the luxury of living the life they prefer. Although intuitively I understand this argument, I always felt that it was attacking life from the wrong point of view. I am not defined by what I do, what I do is defined by who I am. I love what I do. I can’t imagine not doing it. I do what I do because it makes me happy.

Now unfortunately, if right out of high school or college you start doing something you don’t enjoy and acquire debt to make yourself happy (e.g. house, car, better house, better car etc.) you create a vortex that continues to draw you downward. You feel that you cannot afford to find your true destiny, so you settle for the destiny that has been thrust on you. This is one of the hard facts of life.

Nearly all great passions, comes from a singular vision pursued doggedly until it achieves success.

Martin Luther King Jr., once said "If a man is called to be a street-sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street-sweeper who did his job well.'"

Modern paraphrase “Fake it until you make it” Look down the road 10, 15, or 20 years. Who do you really see (single vision)? Don’t wait to be that person, take small steps today that will assure success over time (pursued doggedly until it achieves success). If you take Martin Luther King’s advice in everything you do, you will create opportunities to do what you want. How will you know you’ve arrived? Here’s how I know:

  • I look forward to Monday Mornings, I’ve waited all weekend for it.
  • My eyes pop open at dawn with new ideas and things that need to be accomplished
  • I gravitate toward people who share my passion
  • I Read, Read, Read
  • I seek advice on how to be better at what I do.

I am doing what I enjoy, therefore I am much better at it and people find me better to work with when I am doing it.

Lets take the second part of the dilemma, employers who are lucky enough to find someone with passion then can’t sustain it. I worked for an interesting individual at one point that could not understand why his employees had no initiative. Part of the hiring process was identifying those prospective employees that had passion and energy and enthusiasm. Within months these people became robots. The good ones were very good at following orders; the bad took on the persona of the living dead. They had all lost their passion. In this case the metamorphosis took place because we didn’t listen to them. They came in with great ideas cultivated by external experiences, new ways of looking at information, different ways of approaching problems. That was the core of the problem. They were different (not invented here syndrome). Most ideas were not aligned with the existing plans in place. Ideas were squashed or worse yet approved and then not acted upon. After a while the new employees stopped providing input. We hired them for their knowledge and passion, and then we managed it out of them.

Finding that which we are truly passionate about is our responsibility. At the personal level true passion is self-sustaining. Nurturing and sustaining that passion in the corporate environment falls, in part, on the employer. Give it some freedom let it breathe. If your employer is stifling your passion either find another one or become your own boss.

The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Workplace Buzz Words and Phrases for the 21st Century

This is courtesy of a very good friend of mine in Dallas. I’m sure Ed got it from cyberspace. Forgive the plagiarism….

Sitting around in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed and who was responsible.

Seagull Manager
A manager, who flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps on everything and then leaves.

Chainsaw Consultant
An outside expert brought in to reduce the employee headcount, leaving the top brass with clean hands.

Cube Farm
An office filled with cubicles.

Mouse Potato
The on-line, wired generation’s answer to the couch potato.

Prairie Dogging
When someone yells or drops something loudly in a cube farm, and people’s heads pop up over the walls to see what’s going on.

(Single income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage) What yuppies turn into when they have children and one of them stops working to stay home with the kids.

Starter Marriage
A short-lived first marriage that ends in divorce with no kids, no property, and no regrets.

Stress Puppy
A person who seems to thrive on being stressed out and whiny.

Swiped Out
An ATM or credit card that has been rendered useless because the magnetic strip is worn away from extensive use.

People who take training classes at work just to get a vacation from their jobs. “We had three serious students in the class; the rest were just tourists.”

Hacker slang for documentation or other printed material.

Xerox Subsidy
Euphemism for swiping free photocopies from one’s workplace.

Chips And Salsa
Chips = hardware; Salsa = software. For example, “Well, first we gotta figure out if the problem’s in your chips or salsa.”

Percussive Maintenance
The fine art of whacking the shit out of an electronic device to get it to work again.

Salmon Day
The experience of spending the entire day swimming upstream only to get screwed and die in the end.

“Career Limiting Move” Used among microserfs to describe ill-advised activity. Trashing your boss while he or she is within earshot is a serious CLM.

The rarefied organizational layers beginning just above the rank and file. Decisions that fall from the adminisphere are often profoundly inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems they were designed to solve.

To be exploited and oppressed by your boss. Derived from the experiences of Dilbert, the geek-in-hell comic strip character. “I’ve been Dilberted again. The old man revised the specs for the fourth time this week.”

Someone who’s clueless. From the World Wide Web error message “404 Not Found” meaning that the requested document could not be located. “Don’t bother asking him…he’s 404, man.”

Monday, June 4, 2007

Getting a Clue

People use to different types of information for making decisions. I’ll call them primary and secondary clues. I’ve heard them referred to by many different names (Peripheral and Central or Intellectual and Emotional, etc.), based on the branding the author is trying to support. Fundamentally, primary clues are attributes directly attributed to the product, service or idea you are trying get across. Secondary clues are corollary or ancillary attributes of the selling environment. Keep in mind that all of us are sales people. Parents have a monumental task of selling their children on all types of issues. Teachers have one of the hardest selling jobs out there. Anyone with an idea, accountants, engineers, administrative assistants, need to know how to position their idea so that others will accept it. Think of this is terms of getting through life. As a sales professional, it is paramount to maintaining and growing your income. To the rest, it’s a tool to stave of insanity.

The first question that needs to be answered is; does the person you are trying to persuade mentally process information in a secondary or primary fashion. Are they more likely to analyze the facts of your proposal in deciding (primary) or are they more likely to analyze your status, or appearance or some other external issue before deciding (secondary). Most people are some combination, but all people have a preference. Don’t confuse this with personality traits like driver, analytical, expressive or amiable. All of these personality types rely on primary and secondary clues when making decisions. The Vice President of Retail Operations may have driver as their primary personality type, but make decisions based on secondary clues. He or she may very quickly rule you in or out based on appearance, status, or how your proposal will help them personally.

Lets talk about secondary clues first. People who rely on secondary clues for most of their decision-making may need or want a lot of information. But they are less interested in hard-core features and facts than in benefits. This is tough for technical people to grasp. They just think everyone is interested in how things work. Non-technical sales people relate more easily on this level. Physical appearance can be very important to these people. Your appearance provides or detracts from your creditability much the same as your status. It is also important that the person you are persuading must see himself or herself in the solution. If they don’t see themselves as part of the solution, they are less likely to agree. Make statements that include them when presenting. Another great tool to use when presenting to this group is emotional stimulus. Anything that makes them feel positive like excitement, enthusiasm or happiness will make them more inclined toward your presentation. References play well with these folks.

People who prefer primary clues would be as expected almost the opposite. They are more price, process, feature, and fact oriented, wanting to leave the creation of benefits to themselves. The more of an expert the prospect feels they are, the less inclined they are to care about any benefits you mention. Pushing too hard on benefits can turn them off. They want to talk with a highly creditable person. The more creditable you are in presenting numbers, statistics and details the less your appearance or status will play a role. Those of you who are solution sales people might ask, “How do I not present the benefits?” You give them the A=B=C approach. Lead them directly up to the benefit and let them deduce it for themselves. Verify that they have as a safe measure.

Reading your prospect is extremely important for getting to “yes”. Relying too heavily on your own preferences and bias may lose the sale. You might be able to look back on great opportunities that didn’t pan out and immediately see that you took the wrong approach. You were slick and polished and right on, they wanted dry facts. You saw them as an analytical and gave them all the product facts and figures; they wanted to understand the support in detail, the company track record and the benefits of the solution, not the technical aspects of the product.

Truly successful decision-making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking. - Malcolm Gladwell

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Get 'er Done

Its interesting how hard life’s lessons are to learn. It most cases if we just listen we would learn them quickly and painlessly. Most of us, myself included, prefer to take the circuitous route through impatience, frustration, and distress to get there. One of life’s more important lessons that I learned was from my father. Keep in mind during my teenage years my father was clueless. He learned a lot during the third and fourth decade of my life.

I grew up in and around farm communities. Walking beans, bailing hay, detasseling corn and construction were my occupations between 13 and 18. I enjoyed it. It was outside and physical. Most of the time it gave me time to think. But the greatest lesson I learned didn’t include these. It included high school football. In a small country school all you had to have was a steady heartbeat to play on the high school team. Don’t get me wrong, we had some great players (we were conference champions and a couple of guys went on to play college ball) I just wasn’t one of them.

My dad had a rule that if you start something, you must finish it. Every late summer, fall football practice would start. It had been a full year since the last experience, so as a budding adolescent it was ancient history. Virtually every guy I hung with played sports. We all went to the first practice together. This is where my dad’s rule comes in. The first few days of practice were pretty much the same. We had three-a-day practices in 90-degree heat and almost 100 per cent humidity. We used to consume salt pills like popcorn. We ran laps in full pads. Coach Scott had this general rule about exercising until you threw up. Everyone had to do it. It’s how we got into playing shape. I usually remembered this about noon the first day. Now I liked to play in the games. Once the season started practice was easy to take, but the first six to eight weeks were next to impossible. So around noon of the first day I would announce I was through. Dad’s rule kicked in: If you start something you must finish it. I played high school football four years. Four years I started in August and four years I finished in November. I never learned.

It was a great lesson for life. It has served me well. I’m careful what I start and I always finish. I am a lot better at the “careful what you start” part. I don’t commit to things I’m not sure I can finish. If I do take on a project that I may not have resources to finish, to my liking, I make sure to set that expectation up front. Sometimes people want you to do something knowing there is a chance it won’t work out. I’m OK with that. I treat it as an idea or concept, not an action item. I make sure we are all on the same page from the beginning.

Recently as part of a management review, our consultant stated, “Don’t ask him to do something you don’t really want done.” That is part of what my dad gave me. It’s now part of my DNA. Your family, friends and co-workers should see you as a person of character. A person they trust will follow through and get it done. If you’re not, you need to fix it. Don’t over commit or under produce.

The memory should be specially taxed in youth, since it is then that it is strongest and most tenacious. But in choosing the things that should be committed to memory the utmost care and forethought must be exercised; as lessons well learnt in youth are never forgotten. - Arthur Schopenhauer

Friday, June 1, 2007

Election Responsibility

With the Presidential election coming up I once again became concerned with the civic duty of voting. It’s important to remind myself that the United States is a Republic not a democracy. We use democratic methods to select our representative. But our representatives are not held to popular vote for their decision-making. Although I can’t think of a better way of governing, this process has shown to be somewhat suspect. It seems to pander to special interest at the expense of the majority. Which is why political correctness is all in vogue.

Since 1960 the percent of eligible voters actually participating in the election process by casting a vote has dropped from 62.8% down to 48.9%. That’s a 25% (almost 16 million voters) reduction on only 36 years. The Roper pollsters have documented that the average collage graduate today knows little more about public affairs then the average high school graduate did in the 1940’s. This in spite of the fact that political organizations with paid staff has grown from 5 organizations per million population in 1980 to 9 organizations per million in 1996. The growth in individual contact by a political organization has grown dramatically while party workers have declined. We are 2.5 times more likely to be contact now then in 1968. It’s all about mass marketing.

Political fund raising is outstripping inflation by a factor of two for the Democrats and a factor of four for the Republicans. In 1964 on average it cost $35 million to run for president, in 1996 that number had risen to almost $700 million. Those figures are in current dollars and are not adjusted for inflation. In spite of this, the percent of voters who identify themselves with a political party has dropped from 75% in the 1960’s to 65% in the 1990’s. What a dichotomy. What’s going on?

The problem seems to be disenfranchisement of the average voter. A well-funded special interest group has two distinct advantages. First is money for mass marketing. You don’t have to be backed by the majority if you have a good marketing staff that can make you look like the majority. The second is motivated voters. If less than 50% of the voting population actually votes and a candidate only need a simple majority, then they need less than 25% of the voting population’s vote to win. If the special interest group represents 10% - 12% of the voting population and is motivated to get out to vote, they’re half way home. They can control the outcome of the election. That is one of the main reasons for all of this political correctness. They don’t need to court the other 75% to win. If a candidate doesn’t need a simple majority of the voting population to win, then the fewer voters, the better. If you don’t know the rules or the players, you don’t care about the outcome.

Cultural change comes from one of two phenomena, intercohortal or intracohortal. Intracohortal change is individual change on a wide scale. A shift from SUV’s to hybrid automobiles would be an intracohortal change. It would happen fairly quickly with increased gas prices and it could very easily change back when gas prices go down. If over years the price of gas never drops and new generations only have experience with hybrids there might be an intercohortal change in driving preference. These new generations might not see SUV’s as a viable option. In time it might be impossible to make a living selling SUV’s. This cultural change will take generations to change back.

This intercohortal change has taken place in politics. In the past, individuals may have opted out of the voting process, but the process was generally accepted as an obligation as a good citizen. As newer generations become more and more disenfranchised and they saw the older generation opting out, they eventually started to see voting as unimportant. It’s just not about being a good citizen. Big money and special interest groups have driven out the common voter.

I vote a split ticket almost every election. I could write a dissertation on why but I won’t. I don’t vote for anyone running unopposed (Judges mostly) because they don’t need my approval. They win because they are on the ballot. I also don’t vote for anyone unless they have earned my vote. I won’t pick the lesser of two evils in a contested election. I don’t want to endorse someone just because I am less opposed to him or her then his or her rival. I am mature enough to know that politics is about compromise, campaign promises are marketing, and unless I want to quit work to lobby for my own interest its hard to get noticed. I am afraid that the younger generation just doesn’t care. Quite frankly I don’t think the politicians do either.

If we want civic involvement to get back to the activity of the 1970’s at some point we need to recognize that what is good for the majority may not be good for a special interest group. That special interest group needs to convince the majority that their suggested change is good for most people. Politicians should be required to capture more than a simple majority of the active voters. If they were tied to a simple majority of the voting population they would create political platforms that motivated everyone to vote. This would be the other extreme. But then again, the politicians would have to change the rules and they like them the way they are. Only the loser wants them changed.

If God had wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates. - Jay Leno

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Next Great Generation?

Running the risk of being viewed as single threaded in my posts I have decided to take this generational issue one more step. Our future lies not with “The Greatest Generation” or the “Baby Boomers”. It can be argued that they have done their part from an economic standpoint. It could also be argued that they fell short when it comes to real social change. The inventions, achievements and discoveries are extraordinary. Just to name a few:

  • Quantum Physics
  • Proliferation of modern computing power
  • Transistors and nano-engineering
  • DNA mapping for science and crime fighting
  • Commercialized Nuclear Reaction
  • Space Travel (manned space flight, Mars landing)
  • Lasers (light wave transmission and fiber optics)
  • Massive Government entitlement programs (from farmers to urban dwellers)

So what about the future? Who will carry the flag into the next battle? The Millennials as they call themselves? Now Neil Howe and William Strauss would have you believe that they’re the ones. I for one hope it’s true. In their book Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation“ Howe and Strauss would have us believe Millennials are part of the generational cycle of four. That means that they will, according to the authors, as part of their rebellion, emphasize manners, modesty and old fashion courtesies. They will bring trust to politics, rebel against individualism and social ennui. Fundamentally right almost every wrong.

I don’t know that I would go that far. What I do believe is that in every generation there are those who stand out. My parents thought that long hair and rock and roll was going to end civilization, as they knew it. To some extent it did. But out of that rock and roll era came great minds and leaders. I expect that the Millennials will have the same impact. Some will rise to the top while most will continue along their chosen path without really giving much thought to the future, other than their own. I am just as concerned about this generation as my parents were concerned about mine. I was as outspoken about my parents as the Millennials are about theirs. Sure they irritate me at times, I irritated my elders. The key to their fame is in their passion. What are they passionate about?

American Millennials face a growing challenge to their greatness with competition from Asian and Indian Millennials. Overseas they are studying Physics, Math and Engineering in greater numbers. We are not. I have heard it said that their schools are not as good as ours. They will be. In the mean time they will just go to ours. Think about this, every year, China produces more university graduates than the US and 60 percent of them cannot find a job. The massive growth in their capitalistic societies will mirror the Golden Era of Capitalization in America during the 1950’s through the 1970’s. Every year since 2004 China has been building enough power plants to supply a major European country. They will gobble up every natural resource they can consume. Suppliers will be looking east for trade not the west. Currently the United States annually imports $200M worth goods more then it exports to China.

China has a population of about 1.3B. India has a population of around 1.1B. The combined population of Europe, Canada and the United States is only 1.1B. There is already a 350 million English-speaking, educated Indian workers. In China, an estimated 200 million people are learning English. There are only 250 million English-speaking Americans.

Millennials can meet this challenge. They must start to take control of their future. They will need the help of all of us. We need to nurture this generation into greatness. I don’t see a “rebellion to the light”. I see the natural evolution of a generation.

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. - Anne Frank

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Web 2.0’s affect on Marketing

Web 2.0 was coined my O’Reilly Media in 2003 and has become many things to many people. Some would even say that it doesn’t really mean anything at all. Most would agree it is just the natural inflection point of the DOTCOM phase (Net 1.0) and what comes after it (Web 2.0). Over time is has come to mean a change in the direction of information on the web. The underpinnings are elements like social networking sites, wikis and folksomoies. In the past (Web 1.0) someone (supplier) would produce content, they would publish the content on a website and push the information out to the users (consumers). Web 2.0 is an attempt to formalize a symbiotic relationship between suppliers and consumers of information. (Great video tutorial on Web 2.0 ) Consumers can now become directly involved with content on the Internet. It is a two-way conversation with the original content provider. Blogs are perfect examples. Someone can post content and anyone who reads it can post a comment correcting or adding to anything that was originally posted. These comments bring clarity to the original content. Many times the comments have a stronger impact on readership and creditability, then the original post. Companies like ViTrue have launched a user-created advertising platform that allows companies to use a Web 2.0 approach for collaborative promotion development. The company (supplier) creates a marketing program around a subject. The consumer creates the content and posts it to ViTrue’s site. The supplier then uses, by virtue of user voting, the best of the user-supplied content in their promotional package. An interesting aspect is the extent that users propagate the content across the network without direct involvement by the originating company (viral marketing). ViTrue provides a vetting process that helps weed out undesirable content, which is a big distinction with sites like YouTube that have less control over user interaction.

Times Magazines “Person of the Year” is the consumer. And the consumer will continue to become more ingrained in the promotional process. Marketing is being driven toward the “Have it your way” approach to promotions. Many of us have Kroger or CVS cards that track what we buy. The card also allows the retailer to customize his or her promotions sent to each cardholder. For years major magazines have had regional publications to maximize advertising dollars within each market. This isn’t new stuff it is just more sophisticated. Self-serve gasoline has been around since the 1970’s. Self-server check out counters started being installed few years ago, we are now entering the self-server advertising era. We all thought that self-serve check out was a way of saving on employees, not providing better service (and it was for the most part). But now self-serve is part of our culture. Many people now prefer self-service to live cashiers.

Some day a cottage industry will sprout up of innovative aspiring producers that can have their creations aired by submitting them through a Web 2.0 portal. If their stuff gets voted to the top, they become the star. Marketing’s role this process will be to determine the direction of the ideation. They will also provide the vetting process to assure company standards are met. Traditional marketing will always have a place in the promotional mix. Web 2.0 may just give them more original material to work with.

Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising. -Mark Twain

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Greatest Generation

This Memorial Day I want to take a minute to recognize “The Greatest Generation”. My parents (Marian and Eugene Stevenson) are part of the greatest generation. My father served in the Navy during World War II. I’ll write more about him in a minute. Tom Brokaw labeled them The Greatest Generation in his book by that title. It generally refers to the generation born in the United States between 1911 and 1924. My parents were born toward the end of this span. They are also referred to as the GI Generation because of their involvement in World War II and the again in the Korean War. They were raised as post depression babies. Many lived through World War I, World War II, The Korean War, Vietnam, Bay of Pigs, the Cold War, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and The Civil Right Movement. To them the War in Iraq is a cakewalk. Not that any war is to be minimized in its impact on the lives of the participants, both military and civilian. War is the last resort of civilized men. (I’m a-political so don’t rant at me.)

What made them “The Greatest Generation” was their commitment and self-sacrifice. They gave us the greatest economic boom the United States has seen in recent times (1950 – 1973). This has been noted as the Golden Era of Capitalism. They did it because they knew what it was like to be on the bottom fighting your way up. They knew the impact of dictatorships like Hitler and Mussolini and socialism in Russia and China. They put their early trust in government and community. They were the consummate team players. They rebuilt their vanquished foes after WWII. These good deeds would eventual come back to haunt them as Germany and Japan became industrial super powers taking many US jobs overseas. Through all of this they were the loyal backbone of this nation.

My Dad is a good example of this. He dropped out of high school to serve in the United States Navy during WWII. Much of his duty time was spend in the Japanese occupied Philippine Islands in a balsa minesweeper picking up fallen airman. As the Air Force flew raids on the Japanese, some would be shot down into the Pacific Ocean. The job of my dad’s crew was to hang out in the Philippine Island, pick up the fallen airman, and transport them to a waiting submarine. He talked about hiding out during the day in an inlet. Listening to the Japanese soldiers all around them. The Japanese were known for their cruel treatment of prisoners of war. At night they would head out to sea to pick up survivors. The amazing part of this story is that he did this in his teenage years, felt it was his duty, and has never felt the need to be repaid for the sacrifice. He didn’t feel it was a sacrifice. It was what Americans do for each other.

Living with this attitude of commitment and self-sacrifice, it is no wonder that his generation went on to such great heights. If our childhood was getting over the Great Depression and our adolescence was literally fighting for our life in enemy territory, what would be the risk in the business world? My father went on to earn a college degree in engineering without ever having finished high school. He was almost 80 when he first cashed in on the GI Bill. Up until then he didn’t feel the country owed him anything for his military service. Finally the cost of medication forced him to fill his prescription through the VA.

We are arguably the greatest nation on this globe. To wake up in the morning and know that today we don’t have to worry about the very basic elements like food, clothing, or shelter. Our standards are very high. My wife and I just watched “Blood Diamonds” which takes place in Sierra Leone. We both have problems realizing that others live their entire lives in this sort of a bloody and violent environment. There will always be people in need here and abroad. We should always be compassionate and help these people when possible. Because all in all we have it good. We owe all of this to the men and women who have served in our armed forces.

I can’t help but add this note: All that is left for Americans is the top two layers of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs; esteem and self-actualization. Because we have not had to suffer as other generations have, to gain and protect our freedoms we don’t fully appreciate what it is like to be without. We sit and whine rather than get up and do….

I would like to take this Memorial Day to thank “The Greatest Generation” and especially my parents. We owe what we have to their sacrifice and determination.

Thank you Mom and Dad

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sales Innovation

Life is accelerating. Product life cycles are shrinking. Corporations must re-invent themselves every 3.5 years. Innovation is not a nice-to-have but a must-have. Historically new product development has been driven by marketing or engineering. There are several levels of innovation within new product development; brand new earth shattering products, major improvements of existing products, re-positioning existing products and cost refinement. At any given point most of these should be in play within your product portfolio. All of them have a price tag.

What I want to talk about is sales innovation. Whatever your sales force is selling today will be obsolete in just a couple of years. How they are selling will become obsolete just as fast. This isn’t a marketing problem or an engineering problem. It’s a sales problem. Sales need to apply the same methodology to sales innovation that marketing and engineering apply to product innovation. Here are the key steps:

Ideation (brainstorming)

The Product Development organization will spend anywhere from hours to days just brainstorming ideas. Sales organizations need to think the same way. Either as an individuals or as a group during sales meeting you need to take time to talk about new approaches to sales, underutilized markets, or sales strategies that need tweaking. The idea is not to filter these ideas but put them all on the table. The more the merrier. Later you can group them into subject areas. Now be responsible for following through.

Concept Development

This phase is a weed out phase. Collect as much third party information you can on the viability of the idea groups. Use the Internet, publications, friends or any other easy to access source. The goal is to identify the next BHAG by eliminating the dogs. There are a number of selection criteria such as consistency with corporate vision, greatest net new revenue volume, highest potential Gross Margin, length of sales cycle, shortest time-to-market, etc. You have to know your priorities. From a sales innovation standpoint you are not looking for R&D dollars and a long product ramp. You are looking at an evolutionary process, incremental improvement to the way you sell.


So you have found a couple of ideas that seem to have merit. You are still in the weed out phase. Do you have creditable primary research (ie. Customer testimonials, steering committees notes, marketing feedback from research) that supports the need to move forward? Do you have the core competencies to execute? Is there time, budget, and resources to be successful? Whereas concept development may rely on some subjective information, validation should be much more objective. Do the numbers make sense? Do I know the details of what I have to accomplish. If it were an R&D project you would have to have detailed specifications of requirements. Think in terms of that philosophy.


This is peddle-to-the-metal time. The best projects spend 80% of their effort putting together the specifications of what needs to be accomplished so that only 20% of the effort is used for actual development. If this breakdown of effort is reversed there is every chance that development will require re-work, re-work cost time and money, and you will miss your market window for execution.


They key to this phase is preparation, preparation, preparation. Are all the T’s crossed and I’s dotted? Is there a specific plan for go-to-market? Are you providing all the tools required to be successful?

I great place to learn more about this is through Ken Westra’s New Product Development trainings found at

Keep in mind this is sales innovation, not new product development. What is within your control? Your goal is to move your sales organization toward the next natural position in their evolution. What are innovations to look for?

New Geography

Are there pockets within your existing territories that are not being exploited? Are there territories that are not covered? Is there a way to effectively expand to these areas?

New Client Profile

Can you go up market or down market? Is there an approach that will provide a valid value proposition to larger prospect or smaller prospects? Can you go deeper and wider within existing accounts?

New Industry

Are there industry specific solutions that can be emphasized? Can you put together a capture team targeted toward specific job titles or work processes with an industry?

New Product Approach

Can you re-position an existing product with a new pricing model? Do your customers talk of unexpected benefits of owning your product? Is that an opportunity? Can you target ancillary products in the market that will benefit from your product? Can you build relationships with those vendors?

The key is that the outcome must first of all have a positive impact on results and second be repeatable. One-off initiatives, unless they have long lasting benefits, are expensive and send mixed signals to the sales force. One-offs have a tendency to detract from success not add to it. You may see a short term bump to results, but long term it just might be a distraction.

Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship... the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth. - Peter Drucker

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sales Good to Great

The role of a consultative sales person has three distinct attributes. First of all they have to be a business consultant, second they have to be a strategic partner and finally an ally. Let’s look at these three roles. In the role of a business consultant the sales person has to be more concerned about the business health of the client then making a sale. Those who practice true consultative selling know this. Most product sales people think consultative selling is trapping the customer into buying by using their own words against them. During the interview process it is easy to weed these people out of the hiring process. Just ask them to explain the methodology they used to uncover the value of the business problem they used their product to address. They can’t do it. The client did all this before the sales person got there. I believe the best way to be a true consultative sales person is to throw your product knowledge away for the first sales call. Don’t worry about the solution until you understand the problem. Literally put yourself in the shoes of the client and try to find out what you would need to know to understand the magnitude of the problem if it was your problem.

Once you know the nature of the problem and the value of the problem you can begin to address it. If you have a commodity product and you are trying to take a consultative approach, what you are selling is service(s). You can’t differentiate the product. Generally speaking if you have a product that is in the later stages of the product life cycle, the client isn’t going to give you the time to engage in consultative selling. They know what they want; they generally have already applied the benefits to the organization. They are just looking for a price. You’ve got to find an angle to rise above this. It can only be done with service (s). Don’t be afraid to walk away from something that is not in your sweet spot. You will save your client, your company and yourself time and money. But take this opportunity to recommend another product or company that might more closely fit their needs. It will pay dividends in the long run.

The role of strategic partner is tricky. Being a strategic partner is not negotiating a volume discount. You really have to take the time to know their business and position yourself as a trusted advisor. There are no short cuts to this. If you are the type of sales person who does not call on a client unless you are looking for a sale, you will never be seen as a strategic partner. Not going to happen. You have to take the time to read their 10K’s and news releases. Use your network to help them fill positions. Understand what they see in other vendors they do business with. Understand which vendors they see as strategic and why. Seek their input on new product initiatives. You know you are getting to this level of trust when you spend a great deal of time talking about corporate initiatives and next years budget in stead of status of purchase orders and pricing.

The third role is easy for most good sales people. That is the role of ally or customer advocate. The tricky part is to understand what battles are worth fighting. You are an employee of the company, but you also have the responsibility to be the customer advocate. Where do you draw the line? The best way to help solve this dilemma is to understand the product roadmap of your company and the capabilities of internal resources. Capabilities does not mean what they can accomplish if time and money were not an issue. It means based on known workload and priorities what can reasonably be expected. If you advocate a position for your client that is a losing position, or will require undue stress to accomplish, you have tarnished your client's perception of your ability to get things done. You may win the battle but lose the war.

So how do you start down this path? It starts with the first impression. Always dress one-step above what you think is required. Psychologically this gives you an advantage. Plus it is better to error on the side of too much than too little. If you think your client will be put off by a tie then one of two things are true; the industry (construction, farming, etc.) is tie adverse and the one-step above rule still applies (sport coat, no tie) or the person you are talking with is not a player. If the later is true, move up the food chain. So you’ve made it through the door, you’ve read their 10K and their news releases, now what? Ask smart questions and take the time to actively listen to the answers. Ask questions that make the client think and draw conclusions. If you ask your client questions you could have answered simply by going to their Web site, how intelligent or hard working does that make you look? Now a phenomenon is going to happen. You will ask a question and not get a very quick monosyllable answer. You will be met with silence. Don’t help the client by suggesting answers. Let’s not make it multiple-choice. Give them time to think over the question and construct a meaningful answer. Silence is a good thing. Also listen closely to the answer, don’t use the time to construct your next question. This isn’t speed dating. If you need another head on the call to pull this off, bring one.

The skill to pull this off is not spontaneously acquired. It is developed over time and through preparation. If you are a shoot from the hip type of sales person you may earn a very good living, but nothing close to your potential. Collins stated in the book “Good to Great”, the enemy of Great is Good. If you start to believe you are good, you may never be great. Achieving nirvana as a sales person is a journey not a destination.

Consciousness is a phase of mental life, which arises in connection with the formation of new habits. When habit is formed, consciousness only interferes to spoil our performance. - W. R. Inge