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Watching

I was recently talking to a young executive in a large corporation who was frustrated with his boss.  His frustration centered around his perception of his boss’s indecisiveness, guidance, and commitment to a very important project.  He said, “I can’t believe the executive team doesn’t see what is going on.”  If you have been in business long enough, you no doubt have experienced this frustration.  Maybe not with your boss, but certainly with a coworker or fellow manager.

It has been my experience that in most situations the level above the young executive, and all those impacted by the project, know what he is dealing with.  So, they are all watching.  Not only the progress of the project, but also how he is managing himself in a difficult situation.  Early in my career I was made an assistant manager of a department where the department manager had his issues.  I had to learn how to effectively manage the department in spite of the challenges.  It was only much later that I learned the Vice President of the division knew the situation and was watching/hoping I could get the department back on track.  I did, but it was frustrating because I didn’t think people knew how bad it was.  I never forgot this.

However, I don’t believe that above example is the norm; it happens but not often.  More often the frustrated young executive “believes” that their boss is disconnected when in fact, they are challenging the young executive to figure it out without a lot of hand-holding.  I have distributed responsibility and provided direction to many managers over the years.  I was crystal clear in what I needed but I wanted them to develop their own ideas and processes to carry out my direction.  Sometimes I knew that they had to deal with difficult people in order to be successful, but they had to figure it out. – Not only was I watching, in many cases, so was my boss.

One of my favorite sayings I tell young managers is that “You have to be able to sit at a table with Mother Teresa on your left and Attila the Hun on your right, and still carry out your direction/responsibilities.” – Remember, they are watching.

 

cc0-picture-417_HD

One of my early recollections of a ‘sound bite’ was “War is Hell.”  Our fathers, the greatest generation, had returned from WWII and this expression was occasionally heard in those rare conversations about the war.  What was the substance of this simple snippet?  Four years of global war that touched every family in this country.  It was a fact; war is hell.

With the onset of the digital world, social media, instant news, and our rushed lifestyle, we have become more dependent on sound bites to find out what is going on in the world.  Just look at the number of twitter messages you receive in a day.  The problem is you cannot determine the substance of these sound bites/snippets.  Let’s look at what I believe was the biggest sound bite used in our recent political campaign.  First, let me say that I am not taking a political position on this example.

Make American Great Again. – How many people cast votes driven by this slogan?  I am all-in on wanting a great America; we all do.  Personally, I think we are still great.  However, I wonder about what is meant by ‘again.’  Greater than what period?  Pick a decade in the last 100 years that defines the point of reference for the word ‘again.’  What do you want to return to?

In the months following the election, I have had the opportunity to occasionally ask people what the slogan meant.  There were many responses that identified singular issues that bugged them, e.g., taxes are too high.  Others were more general, e.g., Washington D.C is broken.  However, no one could adequately describe the ‘again.’  To many, it was a catchy ‘feel good about America’ statement, so they ran with it.

The greatest contribution each of us can make when referencing a sound bite/snippet that we find interesting is to investigate the substance of its meaning, and then, describe it in our own words.  Don’t just pronounce it like everybody else.  Doing so you are accepting the absence of identifiable substance, and missing the opportunity to add real value.  You either help to debunk it, or support its message.  Either of which is of real value

One symbol and motto, widely used in the election, would have been better served if its “history” was known.  Two hints: it first appeared on a drum and Marines.  What is it?

The Impossible

square peg round hole

Did you ever watch a toddler trying to put the pieces of a wooden puzzle in the proper hole?  Over and over again they try to find a way to get the round peg into the square hole.  It is an interesting learning and discovery process to observe.  Eventually, they discover the right hole and then move on to the next piece repeating the process.  Over time, they figure the puzzle out.  Interestingly, as adults, we have a natural tendency to continue to play this game.  The difference is we don’t know we are playing it.

While the world has gone through significant change over the past five to ten years, some have struggled to adapt to the changes.  Harder and harder they bang on the round peg believing that it must fit into that square hole.  Nowhere is this more apparent than with our political system.  What they fail to realize is that what we are experiencing is nothing like what we have experienced in the past.  It is a new playing field all together.

Unfortunately, the strongest point of reference for dealing with the “new” is often what worked for us in the past.  In effect, we tend to see the new through ‘old’ glasses.  So, our options quickly come to the surface.  And then we get upset with the results.  Maybe if we hit the peg harder.

What is interesting about change is that most businesses quickly figure it out, younger generations embrace it, and advanced institutions are riding it into the future.  However, many of our political pundits are stuck in the government labyrinth and will never figure it out. –  It looks impossible.

Many years ago, I came up with the following quote: “Nothing is more disruptive to the current state than a change in reality.”  What we are dealing with today is a change in reality, and it is disruptive.  No matter how hard they hit the round peg it is not going into square hole.

I wish I had an answer for our political quagmire; because it is painful to watch.

Unforgettable

Farrell USMC

It was a beautiful crisp morning at Arlington Nation Cemetery about six years ago when we were visiting my father’s grave. Our youngest son, who was in the military, and his wife were with us. As we were walking toward another area we crossed paths with a young mother carrying her young daughter.

We overheard her whisper to her daughter, who we found out later had never met her father, “Let’s go see Daddy.” We were speechless by such a simple comment. We talked with the young mother walking with her to her husband’s grave. We hugged her. We cried with her. There wasn’t a dry eye among us. – Unforgettable.

On our next visit, she wasn’t there, but there were paper cut-out hearts and a toddler’s toys beneath his niche. The young mother will not let her daughter forget the father she never knew. – He is unforgettable.

Two years ago, on another trip to Arlington, and as is our practice, after visiting my father’s grave we stopped by to pay our respects to this brave man who gave all. No, we did not see the young wife there, but she had been there not long before and left lipstick marks where she had sent kisses to him. Every year we visit Arlington we see evidence of her visits. –  It was unforgettable!

Note the little stones on top of the marker; these are signs that the fallen have been remembered by someone. Our stone was the red stone on the right.

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance of those who have given their lives while serving in the United States Armed Forces. There are thousands of stories going back to the Revolutionary War like the one above. While many stories have faded away over time, others are being written as you read this. Visit Section 60 at Arlington, where over 1,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war causalities are buried, to see where many stories begin.

This year, while you celebrate the holiday grilling out, going to the pool, or going to a local parade, think of these images at Arlington National Cemetery. Think of why we celebrate Memorial Day and why it should be unforgettable.

The beginning, Section 60 (you see this almost every day)
Section 60 #1

Section 60 #2

Section 60 #3

Taps for a newly fallen…

Taps New

Taps for a WWII buddy…

Taps Old

Remembering 58,479 Vietnam brothers and sisters …

Vietnam Wall

For me personally, it’s remembering:
Frank Adamson, USMC, KIA Thua Thien, Panel 2E, Row 16
Charlie Bradford, U.S. Army, KIA MR Unknown, Panel 11E, Row 43
Dave “DJ” Jones, USMC, KIA Quang Tri, Panel 53E, Row 35

A simple remembrance that says a lot …

Vietnam Wall Bud

The stories are endless …

Graves with Flags

Memorial Day – it should always be unforgettable.

Standards

grandad-71012_1280

It was another warm summer night as we walked the quiet streets of this small river town. For as many years as I can remember, this was a common occurrence for my Grandfather and me.  We passed neighbors, shop owners, friends, and others simply outside enjoying the summer evenings.

What I learned at that early age were the “standards” that existed for human interaction.  Standards that I would later learn had a lot to do with the return of the Greatest Generation from WWII.  Simply, respect (people and property), decency, courtesy, fairness, generosity, and responsibility.  These were never spoken of as standards, they were exhibited in everyday behavior.  Simply put, they were expected.  If you violated one of these, you stood out. – I had my share of standing out.

Over the years, we have wandered to a new place.  A place that I question as being good for society in general.   You don’t have to look far to see what I am talking about.  Watch a news channel or talk show.  Go to a sporting event (watch adults scream obscenities).  Go to a sale at a large department store.  Take an airplane flight.  Drive down a freeway (how about I-95 in Washington D.C.).  This list goes on.

We have become more of a ‘what is in it for me,’ my needs are more important than yours,’ and ‘in your face’ society.  Don’t get me wrong, it is not everyone.  However, it has become common enough to be easily observable.  To the point, that someone exhibiting exceptionally good standards stands out.  Just the opposite of what it was like when I was growing up.

I don’t know where this is going to end up, but it bothers me.   Hopefully, over the next several decades we will wander back to better standards of behavior.  If we don’t, we become less of a ‘society.’

 

Board Mtg

A common misconception of business owners is that outside advisory boards are for larger companies – multi-million dollar international firms you read about in the news.  Smaller mom and pop shops, individual proprietors, or firms with less than $5 million in revenue would never have an outside advisory board. – Not true.

An outside advisory board consists of three or four individuals (outside of your business) that have the competencies and capabilities to help you be more successful.  It is that simple.

Most businesses are started by an individual, or several individuals, who invest their personal capital (time and money) in an idea.  In the beginning, they do everything, primarily because they simply don’t have the funds to hire employees.  If successful, they gradually develop into a more structured organization with numerous employees, customers, business relationships, and a defined capital base.  Along this journey, it becomes increasing difficult for the owners to break away from business operations to spend time thinking about the strategic perspective of the business.  They can’t work on the future because they stuck in the day-to-day.

This is where an outside advisory board can help a lot of companies.  Its primary purpose is to help/guide owners to spend time working on the future of their business.  In other words, planning for the future.  Of course, outside advisory boards also help owners work on the day-to-day stuff; but their greatest value is strategic.

There is a long list of reasons why companies say they have not considered outside advisory boards.  In many cases, the reasons are based on a lack of understanding of the role and responsibilities of outside advisors.  In other cases, the owner simply does not want outside advisors.  For companies that set up advisory boards, the board is one of the most valuable assets an owner can draw upon; regardless of the size of the business, its products or services, or its industry.  Clay Mathile, founder of Aileron and former owner of The Iams Company, has said that “if I had a popcorn stand on the corner of Third and Main in Dayton, I would have an outside board; it is the best investment you will ever make in your life.”  I know quite a few companies that have set up a Board of Advisors, and not a single one has regretted that decision.  Most wish they had done it sooner.

There are organizations that can help you develop a better understanding about the value of an outside advisory board.  Check local business listings, organizations, chambers, etc. to find out more.

On the other hand, I realize that outside advisory boards aren’t for many business owners.  If this is the case, find an strategic business expert that can help you develop and implement a “strategic perspective” of your business.  Like advisory boards, a strategic business expert is also a valuable asset business owners can draw upon to help them to be more successful.

Regardless, of setting up an outside advisory board or using an expert, you must take charge of your future; don’t leave it to chance.

old-man

In the new normal, data has become the Holy Grail for making business decisions.  Everywhere you look the importance of data comes to the surface.  Marketing programs, websites, hiring practices, social media, finance, sourcing, and manufacturing, to name just a few, all rely heavily on data as a feedstock for decision-making.  Throw this data in to a computer and ‘presto,’ you have your answer.

As the world moves to the age of data scientists, data engineers, data analysts and data architects, I reflect on something I experienced many years ago that I believe remains true today.

I took a course at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in computer simulation of business strategies.  Part of the course was a three-day forecasting competition using the data of a real business.  We set up four groups.  Each group developed their own business strategies and entered the data into the computer system each night.  The next day we reviewed the results and decided on new input for the next run.  It was a financial simulation model that involved using random number generators and distribution functions that mirrored historic company data and performance.  At that time, this type of simulation modeling was very sophisticated.  It was like the data analytics of today.

One group who corralled at the back end of the class room, included an older gentleman (old man).  He didn’t say much but when he did, his questions and comments were measured and well thought-out.  On the final day, when we were comparing our results, he spoke up.  Out of the back of the room came, “It won’t work.”  What?  “Your models won’t work.  I just cut off your raw material supply.”  Silence.  Game over.  Using his 40 plus years of business experience, intuition, and knowledge of the industry, he made a human decision that trumped our models.  It didn’t matter what the data was saying.  I never forgot this experience.

I have built many financial simulation models in my business career and realize that in every fancy algorithm, there is an old man.  I believe he also exists in today’s data analytics.  –  Beware of the old man.

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