Enlightened Conflict

How do you solve a problem when one half absolutely hates the other half?

February 10th, 2017

Polar Opposites conflict

 

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I want people to think about our politics here in America, because I’m telling you guys that I don’t know of a single nation in this history of the world that’s been able to solve its problems when half the people in the country absolutely hate the other half of the people in that country.

This is the most important country in the world, and people in this body cannot function if people are offending one another.

Marco Rubio

 

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Well.

 

Polarization can create some pretty foul conduct.

 

Polarization can bring out the worst in people.

 

Polarization can create stillness within turmoil when movement within teamwork is needed <and desired>.

And.

 

Polarization within leadership is a virus that infects everyone in the organization … not just in leadership.

marco rubio speech on respectful conflict

I was reminded of this as I watched a completely underreported and under the radar speech Marco Rubio gave on the senate floor after <I believe> Elizabeth Warren had been asked to stop speaking.

Warren gained all the headlines where Rubio actually had the words we should have all been listening to. It is maybe 8 minutes long and worth every second.

 

 

Please note that I believe this message is more important than just one directed toward the Senate … it is a message which all Americans should take note of.

We are fortunate to have the privilege of freedom of speech & thought and we should embrace that freedom as one to permit healthy discussion, debate and disagreements … all of which should enable healthy, positive decisions.

 

Freedom is a tricky thing. In the United States of America we have the unique opportunity to “criticize a president without retribution.” <as past President Obama said to a group of military people at MacDill Air Force base>.

 

But our freedoms are being challenge by Trump and his attitudes & behaviors in ways we haven’t really seen in a very very long time.

 

The Trump Affect ripples way beyond simple executive orders and specific friends unfluencers ripples2actions that will have an impact on the people of the country. The more dangerous ripple effect is one of attitudes & behaviors.

Within this dangerous Trump affect ripple,  the freedom to freely criticize is a little less secure … and the way we criticize, debate & discuss in the Trump era appears to be one of not listening, not respecting and not believing that there could possibly be a way to do something differently than the way “I believe.”

 

Trump and his merry little band of morally corrupt liars suggest that there is no middle ground for “ladies & gentlemen to disagree with ladies & gentlemen” <note: this is a rip off of the Ritz Carlton motto>.

 

The Trump Affect has trickled down into his direct organization … the congress.

 

And within that ripple Republicans either embrace the bully opportunity or simply privately watch in horror as leadership decorum and leadership example <which, by the way, IS important as impressionable children and adult seeking cues on how to be leaders watch closely>.

And within that ripple Democrats screech & gnash their teeth in impotent frustration over not only having no power to shift the tides of change but also because, in their heart of hearts, they know this is not the way business should be conducted.

 

Balance has disappeared.

compromise balancing actWhile people can bitch & moan that decorum, in the past, has only encouraged stagnancy & lack of action they should not confuse with what business is conducted and how business is conducted.

Just as I am more accepting of my high school football coach if we have a losing season but the players play with respect & dignity and go to class and show signs of growing up with a healthy personal responsibility … I am less accepting of the coach who permits poor behavior & lack of respectful competition even if they win more.

You can have all the good in this case. But balance has been lost.

 

In fact.

 

We should face the fact that balance deserted us the day Trump stepped onto his golden Trump Tower escalator last year to announce his candidacy.

 

And that is why Rubio’s speech is so important. Without actually saying it he suggests that we shouldn’t let Trump drag us down into some dysfunctional squabbling amorphous blob of indignant jerks.

 

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“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do.

Both are nonsense.

You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

 

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Rick Warren

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I like conflict and I think conflict is healthy.

creative spark light bulb

It is a basic Life truth that conflict is the positive friction that often creates innovations and new thinking and new ideas.

But, as with most things in life, there are degrees of conflict.

 

The kind of conflict we need now, more than ever, is the productive type.

 

We need to better embrace the valuable contradictions in life.

Things like:

 

Smart and funny.

Silent but says a lot.

Liberal conservative.

Cynical optimist.

 

Oh.

 

And enlightened and conflict of course.

 

We need to better embrace the fact that contradictions are powerful.

They create a chemistry ending in positive friction <when done right> and the fire for innovative thinking and thoughts.

 

In general I believe contradiction not only make life & people interesting but they also forge the kind of decisions that become the iron construct for a solid culture, civilization and country.

 

We need to embrace that conflict is part of life and not treat it as only a negative thing.

 

void embrace the unknownHumans are neither passive nor stagnant. We move. We do. We think.

 

Combine that fact with individuals are unique <although they may group together> and inevitably there is some conflict. It can simply be healthy competition or it can be staggeringly evil intended activity <i.e. there will be conflict because your point of view and thoughts shouldn’t exist and I am going to extinguish them>.

 

We need to embrace the fact that conflict can be “managed”.

Maybe call it competitive camaraderie. I call it enlightened conflict. I believe if people know more about stuff <I don’t really believe it needs a technical term> then conflict will be conducted with knowledge.

 

I would suggest that ignorance, and being close minded, guides conflict toward evil interactions … while knowledge guides conflict to responsible interactions.

 

Lastly.

 

We need to embrace that enlightened conflict is really some version of pluralism.

A pluralism in that it encourages, and embraces, freedom to learn and freedom to think different thoughts.

 

In the end I imagine what I really care about are people’s actions. They can remain mute as far as I am concerned as long as their actions respect others opinions and others lives and meets global responsibilities.

 

Look.

 

enlightened conflict ideasIt is silly to think that conflict doesn’t exist as part of our natural behavior <I apologize to all the “why can’t we all get along” groups>.

 

It is silly to think that friction between beliefs and causes is not the spark for something better.

 

It is silly to think conflict and friction is not good.

Good conflict leads to positive friction and ideation and evolution of ideas.

 

But it needs to be conducted with respect. Respectful disagreements & debate lead to two things:

 

  • Positive friction.

 

  • Enlightened conflict.

 

 

The first is based on curiosity plus friction equals better ideas and thinking.

The second is lack of ignorance plus conflict equals respectful competition.

 

We here in the United States have an incredible privilege … a freedom to say what we want and disagree and criticize whomever we want. We shouldn’t abuse that privilege by not understanding that it creates good conflict which enlightened conflict thinkenables ‘gooder’ ideas.

 

Marco Rubio did something in his speech which I endorse wholeheartedly … he tried to make an impact on his own little corner of the world … encouraging positive friction for enlightened conflict.

 

 

Marco Rubio had a stellar enlightened conflict moment … and more people should see it and listen.

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“Enlighten the people, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”

Thomas Jefferson

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finding a better version of capitalism

May 28th, 2016

 capitalism conspiracy elite

 

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“The combination of technology and capitalism has given us a world that really feels out of control.”

 

Jonathon Franzen

 

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 “Communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the Kingdom of Brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of Communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis.”

 

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Martin Luther King 1967

 

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Why am I writing my umpteenth article on capitalism?

 

capitalism kills loveI saw a number from some USA research the other day … something like 50% of people under the age of 30 do not believe in capitalism.

 

Ok.

 

Capitalism is good.

 

Capitalism is not bad.

 

Just wanted to get that out of the way.

 

But that does not mean there isn’t always a tension between good and bad in the soul of capitalism. It is an incredible wealth-creating & life bettering mechanism and, yet, left to its own devices can run off the tracks <morally and financially>.

 

Capitalism needs guard rails. Or some smart guy called it “embedded countervailing power.” It needs guard rails because humans will be humans.

 

When business is good, human beings become greedy.

When business is bad, human beings become fearful.

 

And I would like to remind everyone that culture is created by … uhm … human beings.

I say that not to be a smart ass but to suggest there is a real culture war in America, maybe the world, and it is occurring in the business world.

 

I purposefully use ‘culture’ because it has to do with some ethics or moral fortitude, some personal responsibility and some pragmatic hope for the future.

In fact … if we fix how capitalism works <systemic & infrastructure aspects> the net result is addressing income inequality, wage stagnation and overall economic prosperity as well as some individual “self-stuff” <kind of all the big societal issues we tend to discuss>.

 

Anyway.

 

A moment on the role of government.

trust the government society young

It is both a fallacy to believe Government is not the problem nor believe they are the solution.

We have a mixed economy < I stole that term from Foreign Policy magazine>.

 

Capitalism is not a governance system which is about maximizing corporate profit at the expense of the citizenry. Effective government curbs greed obejectives & regulates capitalism so that it does the good things it is supposed to do <innovate & bring prosperity to many> and it doesn’t do the bad things <be driven solely by greed>.

 

Let’s be clear.

 

America is not based on an unfettered capitalism nor has it ever been <nor was it ever meant to be by the founding fathers>.

 

It is a managed capitalism system <always has been … I say that to head off any of the ‘government is too involved’ today talking heads>.

 

Government attempts … sometimes better than other times … to put reins on humans within a capitalistic society.  Let’s say it’s something like giving enough range for wild horses to run free … but not to trample the gardens and lawns of the surrounding areas.

 

This ‘fettered’ managed capitalism idea is not perfect. It ebbs and flows and morphs into different shapes as time passes.

But it IS an effective economic and political system.

 

I would suggest that while polarizing … capitalism is balanced … when balanced.

But a better version of capitalism really is not dependent upon governance and laws <and putting banks out of business> but rather personal decisions, choices & responsibility.  Yes. I just suggested <again> that people, not the system, will define the better version of capitalism.

 

Adam Smith suggested the three pillars of a society are: prudence, looking after oneself as best as one is able; justice, keeping the law of the land; and reflection people imperefcetbeneficence, caring for others and society where there is need.

 

Clearly our main issue is not how to survive on true scarcity <that is not a perceived scarcity or a “less than” scarcity> but rather how to live well with plenty.

 

To date we have chased double digit growth and higher GDP all the while seeking higher material happiness <sometimes confused with higher standard of living>.

 

We have become societally insatiable.

 

In other words … we cannot have enough.

 

This funny Maslow chart reflects that as additional personal needs are fulfilled it induces new needs <which we, as humans, constantly improve ourselves in order to further attain these ‘self actualization’ activities>.  Think about this from a non-funny sustenance perspective in growing from poverty to non poverty <but the dimension perspective will always reside in the human mind>.

money puzzle-maslow

 

Yes. Capitalism has certainly vastly improved our lives and our means to live.

 

But it has also fed this insatiability.

 

Some guy named Sandel wrote in “what money can’t buy … the moral limits of markets:”

 

  • the more things money can buy the more the lack of it hurts.

 

  • buying and selling can change the way a good is perceived (he used “giving children money as incentive to read a book may make reading a chore rather than a simple pleasure”).

 

This all leads to an overall attitude that endless <and double digit> growth is essential to maintain and improve our quality of life. While I will not go into the detailed debate … that is simply not true <this is a standard efficiency versus effectiveness argument>.

 

Now. All that said.

 

The issue is really about the attitudes & attributes we are attaching to capitalism.

 

As I share some thoughts to try and address the young’s lack of belief in capitalism I will lead with two things:

 

  • Communism promises to make everyone equally rich and instead makes everyone equally poor.

 

  • Youth thinks it invents the world. Maturity respects the world it finds.

 

Suffice it to say that Capitalism is becoming some evil entity in the minds of many young people. In addition, aspects of other ideologies <communism being one> are being used relatively flippantly as ‘better than’ what is occurring within capitalism.

I actually believe it is a lack of understanding … but it is also quite possible there is a deeper lack of faith with capitalism.

 

If you step back you can see why the young <and the shallow thinkers> feel this way.

 

  • Real unemployment is nearly in double digits. Most Americans think the economy will recover next year, but only 2% think it will make a complete recovery.

 

  • On average, according to Gallup, Americans believe that 50 cents of every dollar the federal government spends is wasted. Democrats, who are supposed to believe in big government, guess that 41 cents of every federal dollar is wasted. Republicans think it is 54 cents, and independents put the number at 55 cents in the dollar.

 

  • A poll found that most Americans would rather their government did less. Some 57% said it was doing too many things that were better left to individuals and businesses. Only 38% thought it should do more.

 

And many people have genuine complaints. Many working-class men have lost their jobs. Those who are still employed have seen their wages stagnate. And overall they don’t trust government not to make it worse.

 

This is a sad state of affairs <for government who CAN make shit happen> because regulations can positively address stagnation & inequality without intervening in entrepreneurial decisions or in the price/profit mechanism.

 

The harsh black & white truth no one wants to say is that regulation is what makes free markets … well … free <free markets cannot sustain themselves>.

 

Anyway.

moral crossraodsI have been thinking about capitalism for a while nudging my mind toward discussing morals and character <society & culture>.

 

I found it interesting to think about Schumpeter when addressing the youth capitalism challenge.

 

  • what Joseph Schumpeter called ‘the cultural contradictions’ of Capitalism

 

One of the cultural contradictions <I believe he outlined 5> was … Rationality.

In that Capitalism encourages rationality in behavior. And that culture creates, and demands, a natural conflict by insisting on some ‘irrational’ behavior.

 

Rationality comes to life as the “maximization” of particular interests of individuals and groups.

This same rationalization then bleeds into both personal lives <family & home> and ultimately becomes embodied in some form or fashion into cultural forms.

 

Children become quasi economic assets <or their rearing incorporates rational ‘maximization’ theory embedded in capitalism>.

 

At its extreme … maximization bleeds into soulless wealth and extreme consumption thereby substituting saving and societal salvation.

 

Oddly, but fairly, he suggests consumption wins against accumulation. This leads to a certain diminishing of the desirability of incomes above a certain level.

 

At the same time, however, when the breaks of certain values associated with ethical or religious tradition fail <called the sophrosyne: Greek philosophical term meaning healthy-mindedness and from there self-control or moderation guided by knowledge and balance. Roman poet Juvenal later interpreted sophrosyne as “mens sana in corpore sano” – “a healthy mind in a healthy body”> individuals and groups come into natural conflict with capitalism. The basic human instinct is one of core values <in some degree within everyone> and therefore the natural contradiction forces some balance within capitalism.

 

This means that the irrational components of behavior are critical for capitalism to emerge and withstand rational arguments … especially when based on long term considerations.

 

But.

That said.

 

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“This is the genius and the Achilles’ heel of American culture. We … have a strong belief in self-determination and agency, even when our expectations fly in the face of reality,”

 

Katherine Newman, who studies social mobility

 

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Capitalism in America is not functioning efficiently for a variety of reasons … but that doesn’t make it bad.confuxed

 

The issue of Confused capitalism … or being confused by capitalism.

 

No matter how altruistic and non-materialistic you may be … the issue is simple … as we sit perched on a stool at the bar of society where we can scan the room and see the danger of those who have nothing or little … as well as those who have the most <and lots of most>.

 

If the majority of us begin to look like we are either nearing the dangerously ‘nothing people’ or, contrarily, appear to be too distant from those who ‘have the most’ <no matter what your exact status is> we get nervous … if not angry.

 

Materialism, culturally, is therefore naturally cyclical in that it will always seek to balance itself. For we always ‘want’ … but most of us want it to be within the realm of ‘hopeful that we can get more’ … without appearing too greedy. Hence that is fairness.

Give me a chance for something more than I have … and give me more and I won’t be too greedy.

 

While everyone can debate the role of money with regard to people’s happiness … it is true that economic health does make people happier <more secure, more comfortable, more sustenance>.

This actually means that free-market capitalism is not devoted to integrity and a reliance on trust but rather economic growth.

 

And this suggests the people need to be regulated.

 

Why do we balk at regulation?

 

The US has always been a wide-open, free-wheeling country, with a high tolerance for big winners and big losers as the price of equal opportunity in a dynamic society. If the US brand of capitalism has rougher edges than that of other democracies most people inherently believe it is worth the trade-off for growth and mobility.

Buut while we like the free wheeling we also recognize that we are going through some type of crisis. It just becomes a discussion on what type of crisis.

 

Some think it is a crisis of capitalism. <I don’t>

 

Others think the crisis is moral. <I do>

 

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“Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate.”

 

 

Bertrand Russell

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First there is attitude. What is maybe a disregard for societal fairness versus what could be construed as individual ‘winning’ or ‘what I deserve.’

 

A lot has been written about the effects of globalization during the past generation. Much less has been said about the change in social norms that globalization enabled. Many people, particularly people in power positions, took the vast transformation of the economy as an excuse to rewrite the rules that used to govern their behavior.

 

I say that because while there will always be isolated small groups of lawbreakers in high places what truly destroys morale is a systemic corner-cutting, rule-bending, self interest behavior type of construct.

 

I have thought about how and why this happens.

 

It starts early.

As young children we start off with a healthy core of greatness, but before long it gets covered in layers of doubt, fear and guilt. Often this is caused by people we trust most like parents, teachers and managers who put us down in subtle and less subtle ways. It’s as though people were flicking bits of mud at us until our core of greatness is totally covered. Even worse, we flick mud at ourselves by accepting smaller versions of ourselves through negative self-talk and poor thinking; and we become a tiny fraction of the potential that once existed.

 

Once potential is curbed we seek to find success in other ways … sometimes circumventing “what is right” to make small excusable steps in our behavior to attain ‘small personal successes.”

 

repair faults consumerism

Second is our propensity to consume <and its self perpetuation>.

Our propensity to consume without thought for the planet, the poor or even the person next door is a sign that greed and fear are the motives of the moment.

 

Freedom certainly creates problems (inequalities most notably), but it also solves them.

But the central aspect of freedom advanced by these thinkers was the market, or what Adam Smith had described as the propensity to truck, barter and exchange. In this area, freedom allowed dispersed individuals—disposing of their own resources and choosing for themselves what they want to buy—to generate a level of prosperity that has had no precedent in human history. And the pricing system that emerges from the market—that is, from the push and pull of supply and demand—provides the indispensable knowledge needed to guide the economy.

 

So. All that said.

 

I would tell young people that Capitalism is not the issue.

It is the people within the system <and young people can fix that by entering the system>. The system can work just fine … it is simply being abused at the moment.

 

Capitalism needs to be managed to be more oriented to the long term and socially more responsible.

 

Interestingly … Richard Branson has formed an initiative to do just this … but I found it interesting that initially he sought to have a board of Business Elders … but  there were too few candidates from the business world of sufficiently unimpeachable character to staff it <insert ‘oh my’ here>.

 

Anyway <to conclude part 1>.

 

Since World War II in particular, America has been on a consumption surge/binge. While wages have certainly stagnated family disposable income has grown, life standards have improved, health has improved and overall quality of life has improved <and showed a continuous growth>. Unfortunately, at the same time, while families busily lived their lives they also had access to the finest inventory of toys capitalism could provide. Each generation was doing better than the one before, life was good and standard of living acquired a layer of ‘non essentials’ as part of how the people lived a successful & happy life.

At the same time.

Televisions starting bringing news, influential people talking and capitalism toys into the family living room. Television allowed busy families the opportunity to be exposed to complex issues through professionally crafted sound bites and talking points. People were now becoming more informed from a larger perspective, not just local perspective, and we ushered in the inevitable “keeping up with the Joneses” aspect.

What we face is the natural rising tide of ‘better than before’ facing the ebb and flow of time. The waters being drawn backwards is not appreciated by those standing in a spot washing their feet in the surf. Is it greed for most people? No. it is simply a desire for the status quo – “better is a right not a privilege.” Therein lies the social & cultural task at hand.

 

Anyway <to conclude part 2>.

 

Doing something.Accountability where you stand

 

Me?

 

I write and post on my blog. And speak about it wherever and whenever I can <especially to young people>.

 

It is easy to talk about it because it seems like if we take a moment and reflect on the problems in the world today we might easily come to the conclusion that it is mainly due to deterioration of our morality compass.

It seems like everywhere we see people filled with greed and intent on self-gratification.

It seems like people are always willing to compromise on values/morality to make personal gains.

 

If we start talking about values and create some sort of awakening in the minds of people.

 

Will everyone do it? of course not.

But someone has to go first.

 

Someone has to become the catalyst for change.

 

Why not the youth? We should encourage them to enter the system and build what they desire from the inside out rather than simply breaking the system as unfixable.

Open, open … and open again

November 4th, 2012

Ok.

I have two pet peeves … or things that aggravate me, in business meetings.

(1)    Selling beyond the close.

(2)    Having multiple people say the same thing.

Selling beyond the close is going to be another post.

Because that really only aggravates me when it is an experienced person who does it.  Less experienced have to find the “feeling” associated with agreement and then have the strength, and fortitude, to keep their mouth shut <to leave unsaid words … well … left unsaid> because the idea had been agreed upon. And that just takes practice.

This is about “the repeat.”

It may be the single most aggravating common mistake business people do in meetings.

I bring it up because I just experienced it. <again>

In the opening of the meeting someone else came crashing in and … well … re-opened the meeting … oh … and then someone else steps in to reopen.

Yup. That would officially be three opens to the same meeting.

Three opens differentiated mostly by the sound of the voices … and maybe a word here or there.

I used the opening as an example mostly because it sets the tone for the rest of the meeting and I started scribbling notes for this post right then and there <yeah … even I started tuning out … and I had a role>.

So.

You would think experienced business people would not do this, but experienced people are actually the worst offenders <probably because they have the most bloated egos>.

Let’s think about this … because this repeating can occur in a variety of ways in a business meeting.

The most popular is three people answering a question … when the first answer was just fine (or 90% right which is just as good as fine).

This one is just frickin’ crazy.

It is crazy for 2 reasons <okay … there are more but I will stick with the two most common sense business craziness aspects>:

–          Multiple answering is acting like this is the one and only opportunity to answer the question. It looks like three dogs slobbering over a bowl of human food thinking they need to eat it fast before the bowl is completely empty because they will never ever get any food ever again <dogs have no sense of time>.

It is crazy because if it is important enough it will come up again.

Oh. And isn’t there something at the end of a meeting called “questions”? <silly me for pointing that out>

–          Multiple answering implies the business people on the opposite side of the table are stupid. Okay. It just implies that they are not smart enough to ask a clarification question if they actually need clarification. Oh. But here is the crazy part. You will never frickin’ know if they had needed clarification because you just bludgeoned them with three different clubs of words.

But I guess the open, open, open practice is the worst.

Or maybe it just feels the worst.

Because it is delaying the actual meeting.  And it is people just talking. And most of the words are saying the same thing (in different words).

And. It. Is. Painful.

And it shows lack of confidence (from the presenting group).

And it shows lack of understanding (in that if you are patient and the point you want to make is THAT important it can be discussed later).

And it shows lack of meeting dynamics understanding.

The only example I can come up with would be if you went to a symphony and they opened with a song. And at the end of the opening one of the band members said: ‘Let’s play that again <because I think we could do it better>’.

And then at the end of that opening … another band member said “ok, let’s do it once more” <because I think we could do it better>.

Oh.  And think of that example just as I explained it … but it is decided to do so … without telling the other band members you were going to do it.

Yeah.

You would kinda be tempted to shove a violin where the sun don’t shine on that person wouldn’t ya? <yes>

Now.

Because this is so aggravating and is so prevalent I know I have been part of several fairly creative techniques to halt things before it can even happen.

Just some tricks of the trade <but even they don’t work all the time>. I will begin with the infamous “one person could never answer a question correctly so several people will addend the initial answer.”

First.

Of course you tell everyone “just one answer to every question.” Get it out on the table. Even the worst offenders will take a reflective moment and ponder. They may not heed the advice in the heat of the battle but at least you have set the groundwork. Please note … 99% of the time this never works.

–          Designate a question answerer. Most companies have one or two people who are just … well … better than other people at answering questions. Just have all questions answered by this person. Now. This person doesn’t actually answer all the questions … but they redirect to the appropriate person.

“Sue knows the most about that … Sue … what do you think?” is the easy redirect.

The power of this solution is that all questions are being handled by your best question answerer. Depending on the type and length of the meeting it is very very effective … but puts a very heavy burden on that person. The only tip I really have on this option is that even though that person may be your best answerer, if you ask him/her to do this … do not ask them to close the meeting. They will have invested too much energy and thought to be the most effective in closing.

–          Designate a question follow-upper. This is most typically the person who you have decided to close the meeting because they also tend to be the ones who have listened the best, assimilated the data <who said what and asked what> and crafted a bunch of words that doesn’t sound like gobbledygook <a technical business term>. This person follows behind answers to questions and either adds a brief point or asks for permission to move on <it can be done like this … “if that answers the question we can go to …”>.

Trust me. It sounds smooth if you have the right person do it.

–          Coach everyone to end their answer with something like “did that answer your question? If not, someone else may have something to add.” It is a preemptive strike against your ‘repeat’ offenders on your side of the table … in addition it shows patience, care for your audience, desire to listen <and respond> and a sincere desire to insure something is covered well before you move on.

<by the way … this one is extremely difficult to have a broad group of question answerers actually do … but it is also probably the most effective meeting tactic of the bunch>

And directly to the rant topic of ‘open, open, open.’

–          Stick to the plan & the script.

Look. Most meetings using a full team have been discussed, discussed again, and most likely rehearsed. You have made some decisions. You have a plan. Stick to it.

Most likely you have made one of two decisions for the opening.

The first is ‘I am going to have my best opener and have that person set the tone’ or, the second option, ‘I am going to have the most relevant person open the meeting and have them set the functional groundwork’ <which isn’t exactly ‘tone’ as it is more functional>.

And because you have made that decision, either one, you have also made a conscious decision on two additional things for sure … who follows the opening … and who will close the meeting <the rest of the speakers are really all about delivering the information>.

The second talker will always know the risks of what happens if opener doesn’t have their “A” game that day. And will move in and do whatever it is their script suggests.

Oh. On that thought … people who step in and ‘re-open’ for some reason always seem to be clueless on the affect they have on the second speaker <which constantly amazes me in its lack of awareness>. Not only does a ‘second opening’ undermine the opening statements but also immediately suggests to the audience that the second planned speaker wouldn’t be smart enough, and aware enough, to know what to do.

Anyway. You have also selected the closer because … well … they know how to close a meeting. A good closer knows if you stumbled out of the gates or not, if you have picked up momentum or not as well as what was covered and what wasn’t. You picked that person because that is what they do. And if you stick with the script that closer will pick up whatever pieces which are important enough to be picked up as well as assimilate what has been shared and discussed.

Frankly, going off script can make the best closers in the world become the non-best closers in the world. Why? Mostly because it scatters even more random pieces out to be assessed and juggled.

Lastly on sticking to the script … not all openings go as well as planned … and some go better than planned … in either case it does a meeting no good to slow down.

You keep on keepin’ on.

Because meetings, just as in Life, if you are not going forward you are going backwards.

Oh. Someone is probably going to suggest all these guidelines and boundaries make for a rigid cold meeting. Well. I have three things to say with regard to that:

  1. No. <or … “nuts to that.”>

    Meeting & the Business World

  2. It sometimes seems like people put a higher priority when designing & discussing meetings on “casual” and likeable and a whole bunch of loosey-goosey nebulous feel good stuff versus information delivery. In meetings … pretty much any meeting … the number one priority, far and away from any other, is delivering relevant information. Worry, and focus, on that. The better, and more relaxed, you are on delivering the information the more casual/likeable/nebulous good you will look.
  3. Adaptability. The ability to adapt to a situation is the pinnacle of meeting effectiveness. But notice I used ‘pinnacle.’ I did because it is difficult … which is kind of funny for me to write because despite that ‘truth’ … I cannot remember the last time in discussing a meeting where it was almost discussed as a “well of course we will adapt if we need to.” Look. I love adaptability. That characteristic in a meeting is powerful. I also recognize it is very difficult. I only suggest being open to adapting if you have one of two things <there may be others but these are the easiest>:

–          a cohesive team with a track record together. Anything other than an experienced team is fraught with peril. And, no, you cannot bend this rule if you say “we have a senior experienced team.” Nope. No can do. Even the best of the best ,as individuals, need to play together as a team for a while, and particularly in pressure situations, before you actually become a cohesive team. So just being senior and experienced doesn’t meet these criteria.

<note: I cannot tell you how many times companies make the ‘this is a senior team’ mistake … and make it again and again>.

–          At least two senior great ‘listener/responder’ team members. If you have 2 co-captains who seem like they are two sides of the same coin you can sometimes pull this off. Of course the presentation/discussion has to be built to accommodate adapting <typically this means other people on the team have to have ‘pods’ of information to share and understand they can avoid the transition responsibilities> but a good team can pull this off if you have ‘the two.’ One? No can do.

To finish up …

Meetings, using a team, is all about choreography … in delivering information <not in delivering a show>. However I will use a show metaphor on why “opening, opening, opening” is not only aggravating but never good. In the performance arts even the best make mistakes. The audience groans. The rest of the cast visibly tightens up. But the best of the best pick themselves up and move forward like nothing bad ever happened. The audience doesn’t forget … but they relax … and recognize the best don’t dwell but move on. And the rest of the cast? Hmmmmmmmm … they typically not only relax but they also typically pick up their game ever so slightly because their best of the best decided to show them that mistakes does not mean failure.

It never fails to amaze me how often senior business people just completely miss the boat on this relatively simple thing.

3 thoughts for the day

October 18th, 2012

This will be my American debate post <although there are some Life lesson thoughts buried within>. And, as before, I will permit the paid media to dissect what seems to be every syllable, not just individual words, performing a surgery to uncover intent versus what was actually said. I would tell all those media surgeons one thing … 50% of the people watching the debates say <in polls> they would not vote for either candidate.

Okay. Without tearing apart anything here are three thoughts with regard to what I saw <without any massive overthinking but simply using a note or two I jotted down during the actual debates>.

Thought 1: subtle acts of graciousness

The last President debate. In an otherwise 90 minute workmanlike display of negativity and attacks there was a subtle moment of graciousness.

Extremely subtle and will be continuously overlooked because of the importance of the moment <so thank god I am here to point it out, huh?>.

This was during the now infamous Libya/Benghazi embassy discussion <did he actually say acts of terror or not and despite the fact he actually said it did he mean it … all of which is crazy …>.

The president had just finished his ‘Hollywood moment’ <”that is not the way we do it”> and Governor Romney went on the attack because he was sure he had caught the President in a lie.

We need to remember this is a highly emotional moment for the president. Politics aside he was also actually delivering a state of the union sound bite on “don’t fuck with America”.

The Governor turned directly to the president and said “so … in the Rose Garden you actually said acts of terror?”

The president knew exactly where the governor was going. The president knew the intent and the inevitable next phase. In a debate this is where you can actually see the jaws of the trap closing.

Let’s be clear. You don’t always get these moments and nor do you give them away.

The president’s initial response … “move along governor.”

In an incredibly subtle act of graciousness the president, in a highly emotionally charged moment, held the trap open for a moment and was giving the Governor the opportunity to think for a second … and even avoid the trap if he decided to. He suggested to his competitor that this was not a path he should pursue.

–          Note: I envision in that moment, no matter how brief it actually was, someone in the Democratic debate team backroom was screaming at the President “what the f#@% are you doing !!??!!”

People can tear this apart but there is only one way to view this. Instead of pouncing on an opportunity he instead offered to give the opportunity away.

That, no matter how you elect to define it, is a gracious act on an incredibly important stage.

Now.

In the heat of the moment the Governor missed his opportunity <although I believe he sincerely thought he had caught the President in a ‘puffery’ moment and I am also willing to bet some aide who either had not shared the transcript or had convinced everyone that ‘the president wasn’t being literal’ – which is dancing on the head of a pin type reasoning – got a well-deserved smack on the head afterwards> and got trapped.

I will admit that I extremely disliked the President’s “could you repeat that” comment after the trap had closed as unnecessary gloating.

However, in the end, I made note of the subtle act of graciousness.

I believe it is often the moments within the moments, the subtle things, which show you the true measure of the man (or woman).

Does this mean he now gets my vote? Nope <I am still undecided>. Just means I respect him for the subtle act of graciousness he offered a competitor in a heated moment.

Thought 2: invested spectating

The heck with the debaters … watch the invested spectators <and it is difficult on a number of levels>.

Michelle Obama, who has been through this gauntlet before, is a stoic rock. Absorbing whatever she sees and hears <although I envision many of Dolly Madison’s finest china has met their demise against a white house wall on occasion as she vents some frustration afterwards>. Ann Romney, who hasn’t been through this gauntlet, looks like she has swallowed an entire glass of milk … that has gone bad. Tagg Romney <one of Mitt’s sons>, in one of the most delightfully honest moments of candor, stated he wanted to go up on stage and take a swing at the president <noting he doubted the secret service would permit him the opportunity>.

Michelle Obama has equated watching her husband in a debate like watching her child doing a balance beam routine. With all due respect to Mrs. Obama <who I do admire> she is selling the challenge to her and Mrs. Romney, and all the truly invested spectators <family> short. There is an intellectual aspect in which integrity, honesty & character is combined with the concern for the physical aspect <the mental agility> necessary to be successful on the stage in this event. This is not just like watching a physical event where there is some failure to perform aspect but there is an emotional aspect that tears at the bond you have with someone you love.

A retort between candidates means that someone you love, are married to, been brought up by, etc. is having their character questioned <and let us be very very clear on this … both of these men are good men with strong character & passion for what they believe is right for America>. But I really do believe it is worse for the invested spectators than it is for the debaters themselves.

I say that because I do not see two men who dislike each other. I see two men who sincerely believe they have the right ideas and who are passionate about their ideas and are, well, competitive to some extent. Within the game itself athletes who are good friends will rip each other’s heads off and yet have beers together that night. Do I believe they are that close? Nope. But, frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised, if re-elected, if the President would ask Governor Romney to be part of his cabinet.

All that said … I do not believe any of what I said about the athletes in the actual game itself makes it any easier on the invested spectators. Especially because it appears from the outside looking in that both wives seem to have special relationships with their husbands <which I wish more people would take note of … because it is also a measure of the man we are voting for> and uniquely have what is, frankly … an enviable bond.

I like the fact that Ann Romney, who has adult children, seems to try and have them around as often as possible. I envision it is a natural support group during some extremely difficult personally challenging moments as her husband is being challenged <note: I am not suggesting she is not a strong woman but rather I don’t care how strong you are this is a tough situation>. I think this says a lot about her as a mother and wife.

I like the fact Mrs. Obama doesn’t involve her younger daughters at debates <and, frankly, I hope she doesn’t let them watch them> but she seems to have her brother there with her … which says a lot about her as a mother, wife & the importance of family. I imagine it is one way to help her get through what she has to endure during a debate.

I guess I am writing this thought for two reasons.

First is that I admire Michelle and Ann for a variety of reasons but also to mention to people that the debate is not just about two candidates but extends out. What they say, heck, what we say, during and afterwards has impact deeper than I believe we can ever imagine <so maybe more of us should think about what we actually say about these candidates personally>. I cannot envision ever putting my own family through something like this.

Second is that while I love a good debate, and discussion, I couldn’t do what they are currently doing. I am no smarter than either of these two men and I know that if my wife started discussing how what the other person said attacked my character … I would immediately begin thinking about what I may have said that would have suggested a lack of integrity or honesty to them. And the possible discussion that is taking place in their living room. I couldn’t do it.

Negativity is a cruel sword to wield.

It demeans and diminishes. And not just the person you are attacking but those who have invested in that person.

Thought 3: math

This is about managing a deficit … or budgeting … or however you want to phrase this … and politician math <which is nothing like the stuff you learn in 3rd grade … it is sketchier … closer to say theoretical physics>.

You would think that doing the math with a revenue and expense ledger would be simple <what comes in equals what goes out>.

But. Here is a truth, a fact as it were, neither of the American candidates <or any politician in any country for that matter> will ever honestly tell you – the numbers do not add up on any national plan.

Yup.

Read those words and weep.

Because there is a wacky variable called ‘the economy’ that impacts both. The better the economy the more revenue <taxes> and less expenses <government assistance>.

That said … neither the Romney plan <whatever it actually is> nor the Obama plan <whatever that is> mathematically works <there is a headline for you>.

Ah. Until you tell us how much you are assuming the economy will grow. There’s the rub.

Mitt is optimistic.

Barack is cautious.

To make the Romney math work <because he seems adamant about not increasing revenue> there needs to be a significant uptick in jobs, and the economy overall, oh, and quickly by the way.

To make the Obama math work <because he is adamant about attacking the deficit and is assuming the economy stays relatively slow> there can be modest economic growth.

There are other significant things I could use a comparison between the two but as a thought for the day I was just tired of the whole math thing.

I won’t tell anyone which path to like and subscribe to … but I would suggest everyone read a Wall Street Journal editorial column <Putting Fiscal Policies Under the Microscope” by David Wessel : http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444657804578048433223646530.html> as they think about it. Basically this guy suggests politicians are always more optimistic with regard to the affect they can have on an economy than actually occurs.

Ok. Gotta get back to having more thoughts. Enjoy.

let the bout begin

October 5th, 2012

Alright, time for me to write about the first American presidential debate.

Of course, me being me, I am going to look at the first American presidential debate very differently than all the talking heads on tv are looking at it.

I will let everyone else debate on who won the debate and the excruciating dismantling of each word. Mostly because it was such a mosh pit of he said/she said partial/selective truths which was incredibly annoying and in the end I believe the everyday person had no clue if either told the truth.

Anyway.

What fascinates me is watching what I perceive as two significantly different debate strategies … not ideologies <although they are lurking their within their debate strategies>.  And what may make my point of view different than others is:

–          I don’t know diddly about politics or debate strategy so I have an unfiltered business <or sports> point of view on what I saw., and

–          I truly believe that despite what we all feel about politics and politicians there are some very very smart people thinking about everything that is being done and said and that there is very rarely anything done without a purpose. Anything. Even a perceived disinterested participant.

That said.

Here is what I believe.

Both campaign teams know this is a 3 round boxing bout (with an under card bout). And I think both campaign/bout handlers know exactly what they are doing and the candidates are delivering on a 3 round  strategy  <no matter how the talking heads want to tear apart one as if it is the end all be all>.

Let me take on the biggest elephant in the room … for example, while we may not have seen the presidents ‘A game’ <I think he could have been sharper> I do believe he did exactly what he was asked to do by his Angelo Dundee.

Anyway, that is what I believe and here is what I saw.

To me I saw the Raging Bull (or ‘strong like bull’ if you prefer) strategy versus the Muhammad Ali strategy.

Attack, deflect and create doubt (with an eye to knockout) versus absorb, counterpunch and show unshakeable confidence (with an eye to knockout) strategy.

The Romney debate strategy is former and president is latter.

Both extremely viable strategies.

Both really smart strategic plans of action for the appropriate candidate.

Let me begin with the Romney Raging Bull strategy because it was executed flawlessly in the debate.

First.

Attack.

Relentlessly attack.

The Republican trainer <I apologize … I do not know the Raging Bull’s trainer> told him before he went into the ring “you need to win this round on punches” and “don’t come back to the corner with any punches or energy left. Leave it all out there.”

Now. Here is what truly made this strategy effective in the first debate. The trainer had Romney commit to a brilliant opening psychologically driven tactic.

Intellectually we all know it is an open debate of ideas.

However, psychologically, when the president is involved, there is an additional dynamic. Psychologically we expect our president to be treated with respect so no matter how you prepare yourself for it the first attack, the ‘he was wrong’ or ‘he wasn’t smart’ or ‘he didn’t prioritize correctly’, we bristle. We don’t like it and maybe even get a little angry at the attacker (unless you are Rush Limbaugh of course).

Now. We get over it in a debate, but the first punch hurts.

The republican trainer had Romney rip the band aid off fast and quick and early (opening). He punched the president right in the nose as soon as he stepped in the ring. Painful?  You bet. But he got it out of the way and paved the way for a full 40 minutes or so of attack. Well thought out. Well done.

After that it was all about landing punches … didn’t have to be good solid punches but be relentless, don’t give him any space, just keep punching  … because something will land and even if they don’t it doesn’t give him any openings to attack.

And attacking played to his strength. Romney is an excellent debater and excellent when the subject is one he has prepared for. His weakness is the unforeseen. He sometimes struggles <and gets flustered> when things aren’t going as planned.  Therefore the Romney team avoided the semi-impossible task of guessing every question or possible punch and created the platform for him to win – attack. Just get out there and say what you want to say and what has been scripted.

Oh. They also told him … ‘on anything else? Do. Not. Say. It. <and don’t even think about saying it>.’

Next.

Deflect.

His trainer told him “I do not want you to absorb one punch. Not one.”

Romney was brilliant on this strategic objective. And I mean frickin’ brilliant. It didn’t matter whether the president counter punched with a real truth, a half truth, a partial truth or no truth because whatever the president said the response was “that’s not true” <or ‘you are wrong’>.

He deflected.

And when he actually decided to go on the attack again by counterpunching he simply selected whatever one aspect he had a script memorized on. He slid the punch and counterpunched on his terms. Slightly aggravating to the viewers because that meant he didn’t actually answer the questions but, to the Romney team, it was about punches. And after a while the president simply stopped punching because even he recognized he gained nothing as no matter what he said all people would remember is “that’s not true” every time he said something.

The other brilliant aspect was that it kept the dialogue on parts and not the sum of the parts <brilliant>.

Parts:

Would he increase deficit? Of course not. Never.

Would he cut taxes for the rich? No.

Would he cut back on America’s future investment strategies? Silly, of course not.

Would he raise taxes on the middle class? No.

Would he roll back regulation? No <if it is smart>

Would he cut education? Never <they are our future>.

Sum?

<p.s. – they cannot all be true and add up. It really is arithmetic>

Brilliant. Well played.

Now.

As a truth person I hated the strategy. As a strategy-to-win person I thought it was brilliant.

Lastly.

The trainer told Romney, after he told him he needs to win the round, remember, whatever happens in the fight itself when in doubt you counterpunch with the objective to create doubt in the president – his words, his actions, his knowledge of facts – so that people just aren’t sure about the overall current plan and leader (of course the ultimate hope is the president may even show a crack of doubt or regret at some point for some past decision when I assume Romney would have pounced – rightfully so).

Stay on mission. Whatever you do stay on script and create doubt on whatever he says.

I am not sure that last objective was achieved but that’s not the point. It was the strategic vision. And I think whoever (the Romney Raging Bull trainer) designed the strategy deserves a cocktail.

The risk?

The risk is partially energy (like a real boxing match) but the debates are so spread out (although it does mandate a high level of energy every round) so I believe it is really about rhythm. You only have so many punches. The risk is he slips into some rhythm that can be read before the punch comes or he slightly revises the punch <going slightly off the practiced script> and leaves a big opening. Or he simply runs out of punches and the champ is still standing and has some whoopass punches left. But Romney has a lot more punches he can throw than the president can. Any challenger in a tough economy does. In addition he has the benefit of selective hindsight … punching past actions without having to defend his own actions. And when an economy is doing poorly the challenger has a simplified attack stance as he punches … no need to explain the case of what is wrong … everyone knows <but it is an easy punch to throw if you are suddenly backpedaling>. All Romney has to say is: “I can do this job better than that.” Look. It is always easier to look back and say “stupid, why did you do that?” when no one knows what you would have done in that time and place. But that’s how the bout is fought. Raging bull won a lot of matches. He can win.

– The proof that my theory may be right?

Romney is a bottom line business guy through and through. I would probably love him running a troubled business. I do not doubt for one minute he is a compassionate man but all business leaders have a switch. A switch where it ain’t personal  … it is business. And you have to do that sometimes <as a business person>. I imagine he is ruthlessly effective at dissecting past actions of others, revise and improve moving forward. And I tend to believe his business credentials show that this strategy is a mirror reflection of what takes place in a boardroom. What makes him appealing is that when cornered he really doesn’t know how to play politics … he is a business guy. He knows people are involved, and he cares about them, but ultimately he is about making the right business decision and believes the happiness of people will follow. This strategy is perfect for him.

Moving on to the president.

The Muhammad Ali strategy. To me this was the most interesting.

Because while I believe the raging bull strategy was very easy for Romney to implement I believe the Muhammad Ali strategy is a little more difficult for the president to implement.

I believe the democrat Angelo Dundee told the president “remember champ, this is a 3 round bout, not one, and you are the champ, he cannot knock you out in this round, so this round you absorb every punch he’s got. Let him give you the best he has. You will probably lose this round. That said … I only want you to come back at him if, and only if, you think you can put him down on the mat. Other than that, suck it up, absorb what he’s got and just give enough counterpunches to see what else he’s got.”

Well. The president did what he was asked.

Flawlessly if not painfully. He was pushed on the ropes and took a battering.

He used counterpunches to show he was unshakeable in his beliefs on his plan. He used counterpunches to show aspects of his vision. And, yes, there were some openings (albeit not many because frankly the relentless attack was pretty relentless). But if the criteria were “only if you can put him down” then he did what his trainer told him to do.

Let me give a hypothetical, but realistic, example.

The Democrat team is in the bout strategy room and someone says “okay champ, when you get an opening you swing from the hips with the 47% punch and rock him.”

Everyone says ‘hell yeah.’

The republican Angelo Dundee, sitting in the corner with a twisted sweaty towel, clears his throat and growls … “do we know his counter punch if he slips it? … think about this …  the other guy says ‘I am glad you brought that up Mr. president because I owe America an apology … especially the 47% but 100% of America. I was wrong to say that and I apologize. I am for 100% of America, have been, and always will be. Please accept my apology’ … all said looking directly at the camera and 67 million people” <plus youtube & media the next day> …  Angelo takes a deep breath and then says … “Champ, you can’t ask him if he was flip flopping or changing his mind or even lying … he just apologized to 67 million watchers and 250 million Americans. That punch misses.”

Silence in the room as they think.

(He lets the room ponder that for maybe 30 seconds as he sips some water … clears his throat and turns directly to the president)

“Champ, you can throw that punch if you want, but you need to get your hands up quick to protect your jaw because you know for sure that immediately after he has looked directly at the camera and apologized he is going to turn to you and look directly at you, in front of 67 million people, and ask you ‘is there anything you would like to apologize to America for?’”

He doesn’t even let that one sit in the room but immediately reminds the entire room “in round one the champ only attacks with a punch that will put him on the mat. Let’s move on.”

Someone give the republican Angelo a raise.

Now.

I do not think this was easy for the president. And while some viewers thought he was disinterested or making notes I actually think he was writing something like “remember to take Angelo out to the woodshed, if Michelle doesn’t, and kick his ass for making me do this.” Because while I believe this is a great strategy for a champ it is not an easy one for someone who wants to fight.

Which is why I believe the president was at his best in the closing comments.

He basically got to finally come off the ropes after being battered for 40 minutes and say “I took the best he has, I am bloodied but still standing here, I am unshaken and confident that my plan is the best for America and its people.”

He got to say to Romney “if that is the best you got you, you didn’t hurt me <and you are screwed and should be worried because I am not going away>.”

I am not sure the president can do this strategy, for personal pride reasons, for one more round and wait for the third to finally come out swinging. Well he could, and maybe should, because strategically it is quite possible <although he does need to find some openings in round two to score some solid points> but I think personally this strategy is very difficult for him to take. But if his Angelo Dundee could convince him … I would. Muhammad Ali was one of the best strategist and counter punchers of all time. He waited. And waited. And watched. And waited more. And by taking the best shots and still be standing he gained confidence, he gained some respect, and then he used all he learned and won.

Now.

I think the Democrat Angelo Dundee is going to give a different strategy to Biden … I think he is gonna tell him “go out and kick the young whipper snapper’s ass and feel free and be a jerk about it. Win us the old white folk.” But that is a different post.

Anyway.

The risk here? You can’t deliver the knockout punch in the last round. It’s all or nothin’ in the 3rd round and by this time all of America that will ever even think about voting is watching.

67 million will look like frickin’ peanuts by this debate.

And he has to win by TKO or KO. You are too far behind in points to simply win on points. You need to put him on the mat a couple of times or out for good. It puts a lot of pressure on the champ. But those are the moments champions are defined. Mohammed Ali won a lot of bouts this way. But he did lose some matches. The president can lose.

– The proof my theory may be right?  Well. The democrat strategy was exactly the same during the republican primaries. People were jumping up and down saying “why aren’t the democrats defending themselves?!?” as the republicans used the president and the administration’s plan of action as a punching bag. The administration just absorbed the punches and unshakabley kept on keeping on. And then they came out swinging. Time in and time out by biding their time they got the ammunition they have needed for the counterpunch uppercuts. They have used this strategy before.

In addition … the media is actually throwing the punches for him as he rests in the corner for the next round. All the talking bobbleheads are sitting around talking about all the things he could have punched Romney with. Gosh. Romney won the round on punches but the announcers are all talking about the quality of the punches and punches the President could have taken. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm … kinda smart that the president didn’t have to bring them up.

Someone knows their shit in the democrat camp.

Okay.

If I am right, I actually believe these strategies are a reflection of the choice America has and they were outlined pretty clearly in the debate:

–          Romney. Aggressively attack the short term issues and deflect the long term (not ignore it but the priority is “create jobs now”).

Private, private, private <with some delegation to states>. Now. I don’t really believe he believes this but this is the message. But he is certainly a believer in unfettered <or minimally fettered> capitalism. Let me use healthcare as an example because it is such a lightning rod.

When people hear him talk the people are confusing state rights and his business acumen. In his heart he wants 50 small businesses managing America. It is irrelevant they are called ‘states’ he just believes that businesses generate effective bottom line and effective cost-efficient solutions. That may be an extreme generalization but that is the core of his belief.

–          Obama. Absorb the best punches (issues) we are given and create an unshakable future (this doesn’t suggest ignoring immediate job creation but the priority is a solid foundation for the future).

Balance, balance, balance. People don’t like to hear it. Romney message is a lot easier to grasp. The president pounds away at selective governmental assistance and encouragement of private sector innovation. It ain’t sexy and it ain’t just talking about jobs. The president, using business acumen as an example with regard to healthcare, suggests Massachusetts was a new product test market which can now be rolled out nationally. From a business perspective the president philosophically is actually pretty close to a national franchise business model.

Please note that both are viable approaches with pluses and minuses on each. But do not be fooled into believing one system is better than the other. They are simply systems. It is always the people who manage the systems over the long term (not just a year or 4) that make or break either of those business models.

That’s my thinking.

Oh. And who really wins if I am right?  The media and whoever covers the third debate. Viewership will continue to increase as the Obama strategy is to guide everyone to the last round of the bout. Especially if the second round goes the way I think it will <a purposeful draw>.

And, actually, I imagine the candidates do also. In a very close race the last debate becomes the make or break moment.

I am sure a lot of people do not want to agree with what I just wrote but, remember, a lot of these yahoos have Harvard and Princeton and a whole bunch of high falutin’ degrees. They may not be in touch with what happens around the average American kitchen table but that doesn’t make them dumb. They know their shit.

And rarely is something happening that they haven’t planned … they just don’t tell you their plan <that is the Bill Belechik acumen I believe>.

I look forward to rounds two and three … and the undercard also.

Euripides, economists & economy

October 3rd, 2012

“Circumstances rule men and not men rule circumstances.” – Euripides

<a thought I hope both candidates remember in the debate & in general>

Let me be clear upfront.

–          I am not old enough to have met Euripides,

–          I am not an economist (albeit I did get a fake undergraduate economics degree – fake in that it was an essay theoretical driven degree and I have always known how to write and be theoretical …in a good grade drivel way),

–          I am not afraid of numbers (and in fact find comfort in them sometimes),

–          and, lastly, I am perfectly unclear on what is best to fix the american economy (although I am fairly sure which president we have is irrelevant to fixing).

Now.

I used to think I knew.

At least in broader strokes.

Now? I am simply confused. Ok. Not confused but rather unclear why I can’t choose some items off the Romney menu and why I can’t choose some other things off the Obama menu. And I am also unclear why they wouldn’t want to do the same.

Why do I say this?  Well. I read the Wall Street Journal (an unabashed republican skewed paper) and when going into detail … some of what “the Romney plan” suggests is good stuff. Not all (because for some reason they want to make it all about dollars and cents) but a lot. .

And then I watch MSNBC (an unabashed democrat skewed information provider) and some of what “the Obama plan” suggests (and has implemented) is good stuff. Not all (because for some reason they want to make it all about fairness) but a lot.

Then I watch CNN and get really confused because they actually try and be fair by representing all views <which apparently viewers do not like because their ratings are lower despite having the best, by far, news product available today>

— separate note (just in case CNN is reading this): they should hire me … I could change that —

Anyway.

I want to pick and choose ideas.

Now, whenever I get confused <on this stuff> I typically try and get some perspective by reading letters to the editor in The Economist after they have written a British point of view on the topic I may be having some confusion over. I find the letter writers, when critiquing the article, do a nice short portrayal of ‘what really is’ (and regardless of however the Economist may skew an article the letters kind of nail down truth …or as close to truth as one can get) and get to a nice clear point.

I did this … and I am still confused.

The only thing I am not confused about?  After watching night after night of negative TV ads from both sides I am perfectly clear that both candidates lie, are stupid, their plans suck and, in general, Wile E Coyote would have a better plan than either of them.

Anyway.

Personally? I want to pick and choose from both menus.

I don’t believe you can go 100percent to invisible hand top down economics. Too slow, not sure I trust business leaders in key segments to look beyond dollars and cents to reinvest in people and some segments just need to be infrastructurally ‘force changed.”

I don’t believe you can go “government dominated” overall. That’s not what free market is all about and, frankly, it’s not America.  We have always been about self-made and “selves” have to have an opportunity to “make.”

At crossroads moments like this … the one we are in … it seems to me we need some of both. Government to be heavy-handed where large infrastructures long term changes need to occur (healthcare was one of those in my eyes … secondary education would be another).

Government has to have a softer touch in the involvement of businesses but somehow has to identify regulatory standards to insure some type of moral code (so profit doesn’t trump “what is in the best interest of the people”).

Maybe, in the end, all of what I typed is the reason I don’t get involved in Romney-Obama bashing … it is all complex and quite complicated and each has valuable ideas & thoughts.

The economy situation is one where short term decisions may have minimal short term results with massive long term implications … and at the same time we need long term decisions which maximize some short term results (without massive long term negative impact).

It is a fine tuned dance of which simplicity seems nowhere within any of the plans.

And what makes it more complex? People. Citizens. Us. You & me.

Similar to the business world if we don’t immediately see positive results everyone starts running around like chickens with their heads cut off looking for someone to blame or suggest something is wrong.

I do not envy either candidate … for a variety of reasons <some just listed>.

However … despite the fact I do not envy them I will watch the debate tonight.

Yeah. I know. No one ever wins an election from a debate and, in fact, no matter what happens in the debate afterwards Democrats will wave their hands in the air while chuckling over some Romney miscue and Republicans will pound their fists on tables everywhere saying “see, Obama is a spineless jelly fish” and Libertarians will smoke some pot and mumble something about Ron Paul.

By the way … I predict the media will claim Romney a winner <regardless of what he actually says … unless he drops some verbal bomb pissing off over half, or 47%, of the country or drools or wets his pants or something>. My prediction is based on the fact there is too much Obama positiveness currently going on and they will want to keep the story alive for as long as possible <boy … that was cynical, wasn’t it?>.

In the end … I will watch for 2 reasons:

candidates explaining the economy

–          Presenters. Debate format aside … this is really about a string of mini-speeches. What I mean by that is, as a presenter, there are some things that you really, really want to say. Therefore you are always seeking the opportunity to say it. Now, that can lead to trouble. It means you are partially not really listening but simply looking for the verbal cue from which to leverage. It also can get you to create some incredibly absurd links to get to what you want to say. Part of being a great debater/presenter is what you are willing to “leave in the bag.” That is the fun art of watching this.

Plus. Because the economy is so topical I love to watch both of them get twisted in knots trying to explain the math <see chart to left> in a way that doesn’t make anyone think they will have to sacrifice anything.

–          Soul. I began with Euripides and will end with him:

“The company of just and righteous men is better than wealth and a rich estate.” – Euripides, Aegeus

Now. I am not foolish enough to believe we will really see the ‘real, authentic’ man but debates have a habit of creating situations where you can get backed into the corner. And to quote that infamous movie Dirty Dancing it can become a “”nobody puts baby in the corner” moment. It is within those fleeting moments you can get a glimpse of what’s inside the person. And how he/she handles the moment. I seek a glimpse of the just & righteous.

Plus. No matter what anyone tries to tell me … a presidential election is not about the economy. Both candidates have a viable plan of action <in some form or fashion>.  What I want is one who will pick & choose off the menu to lead America and … well … someone even remotely inspirational … let’s call that someone a dealer in some pragmatic Hope.

today’s economy (my perspective)

September 6th, 2011


This post was inspired by a conversation I had with someone who, after a couple of beers, saddled up to the table and said what a lot of people are feeling … “I am just not sure that America will pull through this … I am really concerned ..”

Boy.

That gets you thinking. Maybe even moreso than you may already be thinking.

It becomes more real when something that may have been rattling around in your head all of as sudden is out there.  In public. Real words.

So.  Personally I am an optimistic cynic. As well as a studier of history and generations. And while I do believe because of the cycle of generations (and the fact we lose histrical knowledge over time) we are doomed to repeat mistakes … as well as inspired to repeat new success.

“We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days.  But so said all before us, and with just as much apparent reason …  On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us.” Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1830 in Edinburgh Review.

Yeah.

Said in 1830.

Good ole Tommy was taking on all the doomsayers of his day.

Lets bring him back.  We need him.

Ok. Don’t get me wrong. America is a country with some serious problems.  As I noted in an earlier article at least 55% of America is really hurting (PewRearch: the 2 Americas). One in six Americans are using food stamps. And the government cannot agree on how to take steps to address the problems so there is governmental paralysis.

And I believe the problems run as deep as they do because of real estate more than anything else. The last figures I saw suggests almost 30% of homes with mortgages are upside down (and that skews toward the younger labor force). It’s a double hit to America. Home value has decreased over 33% (yeah,  that means many homeowners have lost 1/3 of their equity) since the peak. And that translates into a stagnant work force (homeowners have lost the mobility to move to available jobs). So real estate has affected wealth and overall labor force.

So. Why should we have optimism (beyond the great quote at the beginning of this post).

Well. US has the biggest economy on earth. Think of it like a huge aircraft carrier.  It will not turn on a dime.  It takes time and space to get going in the opposite direction. US is the possessor of the world’s reserve currency (that has far reaching global implications for our future success).  And the US has a nice track record of re-inventing itself every generation or so. And an incredible track record of re-invention at “crisis” moments – political crisis (Andrew Jackson bringing in the voice of everyday citizens, Theodore Roosevelt creating a 3rd party) as well as financial crisis.

In addition I was reminded of optimistic thinking in a great article I found online (of which I cannot now find again) which referenced a guy named Dr. Matt Ridley.

Dr. Ridley  (Matt Ridley, author The Rational Optimist) argues that traders’ wealth builds empires and entrepreneurial tinkerers are more likely to inspire scientists than vice versa. From Stone Age seashells to the steam engine to the personal computer, innovation has mostly been a bottom-up process.

Therefore progress is sustainable as long as there is innovation and ongoing trade.

lastly.

He also states that with new hubs of innovation emerging everywhere, and with ideas spreading faster than ever on the Internet, he expects bottom-up innovators to prevail.

His prediction for the rest of the century?

“Prosperity spreads, technology progresses, poverty declines, disease retreats, fecundity falls, happiness increases, violence atrophies, freedom grows, knowledge flourishes, the environment improves and wilderness expands.”

Now. Am I implying that the phenomenal growth and changes we’ve seen for the last 150 years will continue? Well.  Yes and no. phenomenal growth is relative.

Americans are typically optimistic, but right now most of us are under a cloud of pessimism. A new Bloomberg report finds that 40% of people think the economy will stay the same over the next year; 40% think it will get worse; and only 20% think it will get better. Another survey, meanwhile, shows there’s also great pessimism among the wealthy.

We need to boost the every day families spending power.

We need to remember the qualities that got us to being the largest economy in the world.

But the reality is that this is not the worst of times.

I try to balance pessimism with optimism. Things are never as bad as they seem when they’re bad, and they’re never as good as they seem when they’re good.

Out of adversity comes opportunity.  And out of the big always comes the small (which will become big).

Creative destruction is a powerful economic engine.

And there is always money to be made if someone is willing to step up. .

Regardless.

we shouldn’t ever be taken in by the oversimplified labels of boom and bust that are being bantered about to describe what is happening.

We always need to remember that companies fail even in boom times while others succeed in recessions.

And while unemployment, which is typically a lagging economic indicator, will continue to rise yet while economies have struggled they have not totally frozen (or failed).

There is still a lot of money to be made, demand to be met, customers to be served and innovations to be created to create new markets.

And there are a boatload of companies making money right now, a lot of people working and a lot of people thinking even if they aren’t working. And we are still the largest economic engine in the global mass transit system.

And if we seize the moment (instead of being dragged down by the moment) we will reinvent ourselves one more time.

Donald Sull, professor of management practice at London Business School, wrote recently about seizing the upside of a downturn.

“Most managers look for golden opportunities when the good times are rolling. This is a mistake. The best opportunities often arise during downturns when distressed sellers are forced to offload valuable assets at bargain prices.”

“Economics is not about things and tangible material objects; it is about men, their meanings and actions.”

Ludwig von Mises

Perspective is a tricky thing.

Just as success looking in the rear view mirror uses an obvious kind of circular logic where a particular social, cultural or economic  phenomenon is applauded it is also that same rear view mirror that ignores how uncounted (large) numbers faced the same phenomenon and failed. It is a fact, the truth, that answers to questions of history are usually not well understood in the moment.  It is only with the benefit of hindsight that we can piece together the relevant factors that might have produced noteworthy events. For every economist who stands up and points to how their economic crystal ball predicted the future there are dozens with broken crystal balls. And my other gripe with most economists is they focus on numbers solely ignoring the cultural & social aspects which influence attitudes & behavior.

Regardless.

I am simply providing my own point of view on perspective for what is happening in today’s economy. In 1830 when that quote was made the average lifetime of someone was a little less than 50 years old.  Now it is a little less than 80- years old. That alone gives people different perspective. As well as it absolutely changes generation cycles and the friction between old & new (because there are more older people hanging around we retain knowledge longer but it also creates additional friction with younger people who typically inspire the new thinking).

But, in the end, today’s economy is not about government or stocks or unemployment figures.  It is about people and their attitudes, values and actions. America will be okay if we make it okay.

Yes.  Maybe the truth is as simple as if we refind what Clotaire Rapaillle suggests is America’s Culture Code (“just do it”) … well … we will just do it.

Enlightened Conflict