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