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