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Posts Tagged ‘learning’

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.

 

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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?

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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.

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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.’

 

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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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teens

In the last 100 years, 16,307,243 men have been inducted (drafted) into the military: WWI – 2.8 mil., WWII – 10.1 mil., Korea – 1.5 mil., and Vietnam – 1.9 mil.  In 1970 the Selective Service System went to a lottery system based on your birthday.  In that year, the first 195 birthdays were drafted; my birthday was #82.  It didn’t matter to me since I was already in the U.S. Marine Corps.  The last man drafted entered the Army on June 30, 1972.

No one that I knew wanted to be drafted, but off they went to serve their country.  As the years passed, I’ve bumped into very few individuals that served in the military, including those drafted, that didn’t consider it a life learning experience.  We learned responsibility, commitment, loyalty, discipline and the experience of “serving” our country.  We learned how to work with individuals with vastly different backgrounds and perspectives.  And, we experienced some things that we would like to forget.  Most of us can still talk about it as if were yesterday.

Let me put this into perspective.  Today we have 1.4 million individuals serving in the military protecting 323 million of us; or 0.4 percent of our population.  So very few individuals will acquire that “serving your country” experience.

I realize that everyone can’t serve in the military.  In a ‘We Are the Mighty’ article in 2015, it was reported that there were 34 million individuals between the ages of 17 – 34.  Of that group 71% wouldn’t qualify for military service due to physical, behavioral and emotional issues.  Of the qualified group, only 1% had an interest to serve in the military.  We, as a country, have become disconnected from the idea of serving our country.

Here is my thought-provoking proposal.  Every young person, starting at age 18 must serve their country in one of the following services.

  • Military (two years active, or 6 years reserve)
  • Conservation Service (National Parks, recreation, energy programs, etc.)
  • Medical Service (Veterans hospitals, health service, etc.)
  • Peace Corps (as is)
  • Educational Service (Programs for supporting primarily at risk schools, preschool programs, maintenance, etc.).

There would be two commitment choices for non-military service; a two-year full-time commitment, or a four-year commitment of two active weeks each year and two days a month.  Pay grades and ‘service’ benefits would be like those for military personnel.  How about earning funds for college, college credit, help with buying a house and medical benefits?

While the service requirement starts at 18, full-time student deferments (college, trade schools, etc.) would make sense for filling certain positions; however, the deferment would have a set period.  Also, the non-military service options would provide a great opportunity for those individuals with some physical limitations that could not serve in the military.

The future of our country will be determined by how well we prepare our young people.  However, too many of them today are struggling to find a path forward or a purpose; or in street terms, a way out.  I believe this would provide a valuable building-block for growth, and it would greatly benefit our country.

 

 

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orignal-thought

One of the great benefits of the rapid development and integration of computers in our lives is that information/data is ubiquitous.  It is basically available to anyone who wants to discover it.  So, some say, original thoughts are simply a compilation of existing information; a new recipe of existing ingredients.  It reminds me of a quote I ran across years ago:  Charles H. Duell was the Commissioner of US patent office in 1899 when he said that “everything that can be invented has been invented.”

Think of the journey the Wright brothers traveled to develop the foundation of manned-flight.  Remember the term “wonder drugs?”  They were ‘magical’ discoveries.’  I remember the conversations I had with my Uncle Frank, who was born in 1914, about some of the discoveries he experienced in his lifetime.  Even as an engineer, he marveled at the atomic bomb, and in later years personal computers.  Society couldn’t begin to understand the substance of these early discoveries.

For me, I remember in 1964 when I was at the World’s Fair in New York City; we were young kids.  Several of my friends and I walked into a room to get something to eat.  We were directed to a cooler that had hot dogs in small plastic bags.  Quite surprised, we turned to the clerk and said “these are cold.”  He pointed to a machine of some kind and told us to put the hot dogs in it and press the hot dog button.  Sixty seconds later we had steaming hot dogs out of a machine that didn’t get hot.  It was magic.  We couldn’t wait to get back to Kentucky and tell our friends about this magic box.  The funny thing is that we couldn’t adequately explain it.  The magic – a microwave oven.

So, what has changed?  Is original thought dead?  My answer, a resounding NO.  What has changed is the “expectation” of discovery.  Just a few decades ago, society did not expect some of the inventions that have become part of our lives.  Now society recognizes the power of the technology/information/data we have at our fingertips, and how it is going to change our future.  Original thought is not seen as ’discovery;’ it is simply an expectation.  Even to the point where you hear “Why is it taking so long?”

 

 

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