Enlightened Conflict

the science, and the lost art, of ROI

May 24th, 2017

choices-path-shopping-direction-decisions

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“… businesses want answers right away and many times high statistical reliability is not worth the cost it takes to achieve it.

 

Insights that point decision-makers to go “left” or “right” is innately good enough. Leaders are oftentimes not willing to pay for “turn left at a 30 degree angle” or “turn right at an 115 degree angle” because it may cost too much money and takes far too long to obtain those precise next steps through drawn-out methodologies.”

 

—–

Kuhn

 

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“Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.”

 

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John Dewey

 

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“Perfect numbers like perfect men are very rare.”

 

—–

Rene Descartes

 

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Well.

 

fire water contradiction ideas thinkThis is about how ROI gets abused in decision making and I am writing about that because the Trump administration issued their “national budget proposal” <which I fully acknowledge is simple a guideline of the administration’s desires> and immediately started ponying up all their “we made cuts where there was no evidence of appropriate results” justifications.

 

Some of those justifications are terrifying.

Some of their choices are terrifying.

 

As for the budget plan?  As one writer put it … “the math is terrifying.”

 

Cutting Medicaid would be devastating for all low-income Americans, but particularly for women and mothers: 45 percent of childbirths in the U.S. were funded by Medicaid in 2010, according to data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Trump’s budget also cuts funding for after-school programs for children and support for domestic violence victims.

 

I am going to let other people tear apart the incredibly short sighted Trump budget plan <which, yes, has scraps of good ideas> and I will focus on the criteria it appears they focused on <excepting the parental leave initiative which was like placing a half-eaten M&M on top of a turd> — budget by ROI.

 

Budgeting by ROI.

 

Whew.

 

 

This provides me with another excuse to blast my generation of business leaders and how their misguided thinking has screwed up not only how business is conducted, in general, but how we think about business. Specifically about ROI … these hollow men hollowed out business of any of the ‘art’ and color which is associated with thriving businesses which contribute to society & cultural norms leaving at an empty husk of dollars & cents and black & white ROI decisions.

 

Look.

 

roi einstein

I am all for analysis and love quantitatively judging tactics and initiatives. But I also understand that <1>  numbers often do not always tell the entire story and <2> we far too often judge ROI on one specific outcome without assessing some value on some ‘ripple effect’ outcomes.

 

But, first, the numbers and ROI.

 

I wrote back in February that numbers have lost their mojo  … yeah … well … I still believe that … just in a different context.

 

In this case we are dealing with a generation of business people who have completely bastardized the use of numbers – stripping them of anything but the false veneer of what they call “simplistic stark truth.”

Now. ‘Simplistic stark truth’ sounds good … and it sounds really good in the business world.

 

And, yet, in this starkness there is found falseness. The falseness can be found in its lack of imagination, its lack of depth and its lack of seeing anything but ‘what can be measured.’

 

This stupid view of numbers wreaks havoc when viewing ROI analysis.

 

Now … back on November 13th 2016 I wrote about the Trump administration as the last stand of the old white men  <the business generation I continuously skewer> and discussed hollowness. And while I outlined a number of ‘hollow’ things which can be blamed on this generation in that piece I neglected to point one out — the hollowing of ROI.

 

————–

 

ROI.

 

ROI <return on investment> is a fabulous tool. It offers us every day unimaginative pragmatic schmucks an almost heuristic way to judge some fairly complex and complicated things in business.

 

But old white men hollowed ROI of anything intangible and along the way scraped away some of the most meaningful things associated with investment in their desire for simplistic “this led to that.” Certainly some investments have linear outcomes and results. But not all. And these hollow men in their black & white pursuit of profit, efficiency and outcomes became color blind.  Old white men started looking at people as equal to numbers & dollars and not organic organisms of less than linear productivity <in terms of Life actualization as well as business actualization>. These hollow men fell in love with numbers and began diminishing the value of humanity.

 

That is Trump in a nutshell.

 

—————-

.......... hollow men making hollow decisions ......

………. hollow men making hollow decisions ……

Well.

 

I could argue this all happened because ROI analysis permitted a shortcut for business people — a thinking & decision making shortcut.

It permitted, and encouraged, an entire generation to not have to really think but rather fallback on “that’s what the analysis said.”

 

That is plain and simple lazy fucking business … not smart solid business.

 

I will not argue that a good ROI analysis can offer a quick spontaneous glimpse of truth viable snapshot … in fact … it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who stated that the growth of intellect is spontaneous.

 

Of course, he hadn’t been bludgeoned with measurement, ROI and data driven decisions.

 

Of course, he was also on the one who stated … what is the hardest task in the world? To think. And. We are all wise. The difference between create destroy pencilpersons is not in wisdom but in art.

 

And that is where Trump and his merry band of old white men doing this whole budget thing are most aggravating.

 

It is not that they cannot envision the art of decision making but rather they purposefully abstain from the art of decision making <and focus solely on ROI>.

 

It is not that they are incapable of holding two conflicting ideas at the same time but rather they purposefully choose to ignore one idea or thought for the one most supported by the science of ROI.

 

 

It is not that they are oblivious to the qualitative nature & benefits of budgetary decision but rather they avoid the more difficult defense of the qualitative to utilize the more easy, and lazy, rationale of the quantitative.

 

I don’t blame them specifically <although it is their budget blueprint> but it is the unfortunate legacy of that entire generation to do those things.

 

All that said.

 

While ROI seems a straightforward way to analyze … ROI, when evaluated properly, can be devilishly tricky … but when done well it can inform some great insightful decisions and ideas.

 

ROI, when evaluated properly, can be devilishly painful … like having the devil screaming at you type painful … and even when done well tends to dull <not sharpen> the good ideas.

 

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The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

 

—-

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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But ROI, measurement … practical rewards & output … that is what we ‘do’ these days.

This seem o be our “how we conduct business handbook” these days.

philosophical-discovering-gravity

We seem to have forgotten the value of unsought discovery and the value of … well … the benefit of the benefit <I spent money which created ‘x’ outcome … which enabled this other ‘x’ outcome>.

 

We seem to have culturally decided consciously to … “inevitably we will show a failure of imagination.”

 

What do I mean ? Let me use a quote from Le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy:

 

 

 

“…in the hands of politicians grand designs achieve nothing but new forms of the old misery…”

 

 

 

In our failure of imagination in our analysis of existing programs and initiatives we come up with grand designs begetting new forms of old misery. But what makes today and this budget worse? These are supposed to be fucking business people and not politicians in place making these ‘grand designs’ <isn’t that what some people voted for with Trump?>.

 

I admit.

 

I am wary of how ‘we the people’ will move forward with regard to budgeting tough-choices-shopping-decisions-lifeand programs and policies and deciding what we should do to better America..

 

I am wary because I see little moving forward, no ‘trying to do what it takes to get there’ other than bludgeoning people with simplistic harsh solutions and no imagination to overcome the cries of ‘why waste money on something like this!”

 

I am wary because I see men of a generation who bastardized ROI analysis applying their own bastardized version of ROI thinking to people’s lives <under the guise of “applying it to people’s money/taxes” — no, they are not the same>.

 

I am a business guy.

 

I cannot envision running a business, or a government, without solid measurement, ROI & budgeting rigor.

 

But I also know from running a business with hundreds of employees that the greatness of an organization does not reside solely in some number … or some ROI analysis.

 

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“The true greatness of a nation is not measured by the vastness of its territory, or by the multitude of its people, or by the profusion of its exports and imports; but by the extent to which it has contributed to the life and thought and progress of the world.

 

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I tend to believe most of us every day schmucks recognize that ROI is part of doing business and insuring our hard earned money/taxes is used effectively.

But I also believe that most of us every day schmucks also realize that some things just cannot be measured solely by numbers.

 

 

I worry that this Trump administration is reflective of the lost art of ROI family choices tough decisions aheadanalysis and the value of discovery

 

In their love of money as ‘winning’ they have lost sight of the value of seeking what is beyond the horizon. They have devalued imagination to such a point that they most likely define imagination as measurable in an ROI analysis. In other words they take ideas and thoughts, even ones with no history, and embrace them not by saying “what if” and “what could be” but rather by grinding it through some veg-o-matic ROI machine to assess its true value.

 

And that, my friends, is how they came up with their “blueprint for a national budget.”

 

And that, my friends, is how they plan on running this country and making their decisions.

 

And that, my friends, is not how America does business … because it shows a failure of imagination and it is imagination, not ROI analysis, which drives real change and progress.

 

—————–

 

“Imagination has brought mankind through the dark ages to its present state of civilization.

Imagination led Columbus to discover America. Imagination led Franklin to discover electricity. Imagination has given us the steam engine, the telephone, the talking-machine, and the automobile, for these things had to be dreamed of before they became realities.

 

So I believe that dreams–daydreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain machinery whizzing–are likely to lead to the betterment of the world.

 

The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to invent, and therefore to foster, civilization.”

=

 

Baum

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testing norms and what is legal

May 15th, 2017

never too good at following rules

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“I am free, no matter what rules surround me.

If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”

 

Robert A. Heinlein

 

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“Rules are for children.

This is war, and in war the only crime is to lose.”

 

Joe Abercrombie, Last Argument of Kings

 

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Ok.

 

hoist the black flag rulesWe have a shitload of regulations, laws and rules to abide by every day.

 

We set out explicit rules and guidelines and sometimes these appear as laws. They are meant to showcase a red line for behavior.

 

That said, boy oh boy … we sure do bitch about how many laws we have and how many regulations are in place and how many rules we face that curb our success. The government is most likely the main villain in this story.

Most of us act like government sits around coming up with rules and laws and regulations simply to stifle freedom in our lives – personal and business.

 

It may behoove us to think a little more about why those rules, regulations and laws came about and how we still have some room to navigate which is a playing field called “norms.”

 

It may behoove us to think a little more about the fact we suck at self-regulation. In fact, when left to regulate ourselves, within a capitalist environment, the arc of behavior bends toward some fairly heinous behavior.

 

What happens is that some start pushing out beyond what most people would integrity has no need of rulestend to believe is ‘integrity driven behavior’ and with each push what is acceptable becomes broader and broader.

 

So what we have done in the past is to step in, slap the wrist of those who have bent the arc toward what is not really the best for all and then set up some regulations to insure our self-regulation has some fences to corral us.

 

That said.

 

We do have some norms.

Some ‘accepted beliefs’ for some specific roles and responsibilities.

 

It’s like we assume if you become a CEO of a business that you will not instigate any illegal behavior and you will tell the truth with regard to what you are selling & offering.

Yes there are laws and regulations but, in general, a business sets its own behavioral compass – within which there will be things unwritten but accepted.

 

 

It’s like we assume if you decided to accept the responsibility of a public servant you will share your tax returns to show how you have earned your money in the past, you assume that you will cut ties with your business to insure no conflicts of interest and you assume you don’t fire people because you don’t like them.

 

All of those things may be legal to actually do but norms suggest they are not the right things to do.

 

Norms, in my pea like brain, reside outside a buffer zone just prior to reaching one of these red lines. They are usually unstated and they are usually simply expected for those who uphold some integrity and they are usually just done by the people who truly matter.

 

Ah.

breaking rules HagyBut let’s remember … most times norms reside within what is a larger legally acceptable behavior.

Why does that happen?

Because most people who set up rules and regulations and laws desire to give people some freedom to act and make their own decisions.

 

That said … to be clear … you can do a shitload of legal things in life, business & government which when viewed honestly can look and smell really bad.

 

I have worked several times with people who have constantly suggested “but it is legal.” And 90% of the time I have felt uneasy about what we were about to do. Not that it was illegal but rather it <a> tested what I would consider a norm and <b> it was clearly in that buffer zone that got too close to the red line.

 

There will always be people who will dance on the icy brink of the red line and these same people will dance while singing “it is legal.”

 

It is a hollow song to sing and it always sounds slightly out of tune.

 

Anyway.

 

Let’s just say there are two basic types of people:

 

  • Those who see norms, and normative behavior, and see it as guidelines for right or wrong <an subsequently check laws, rules and regulations to be sure all is good & legal>. In other words behavior doesn’t have to be dictated by some rule or law but more often than not “what seem like the right thig to do.”

 

 

  • Those who see “anything that could be deemed legal”, or, conversely, “if it is not expressly forbidden than it is permissible. These people don’t ever ponder “what seems like the right thing to do” because, to them, if it is legal it is right.

 

 

People have a lot of leeway to do non-criminal bad actions.

rules do not why not

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“Look, that’s why there’s rules, understand? So that you think before you break ’em.”

 

Terry Pratchett

 

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And I tend to believe most times rules & laws are not rewritten is because people break them <because they have done their job>, It is when people start ignoring norms where rules & laws get rewritten.

As soon as enough people, or prominent people, start doing things that the norm had suggested up to that point was ‘not the right thing to do’ people sit back, shake their heads a little sadly … and say “well, I guess we need to set up some rules.”

 

I admit.

I am both a norms guy and a law/rules guy.

 

If you give me the rules & the laws I believe I can win within them. And win even without bending their interpretation.

 

If norms are established and the norms reflect ‘good’ and not ‘bad behavior’ I tend to place them right beside all the rules/laws you gave me and say exactly the same thing … I believe I can win within them.

 

following the rulesBut not everyone thinks that way.

 

Some people don’t care about ‘good behavior’ all they care about is ‘legal behavior’ <what is technically legal>. It is these people who actually create the need for rules, regulations and laws.

 

So maybe when we start bitching about all the rules, regulations and laws we have that seem to restrict some things we tend think are kind of okay to do … we shouldn’t blame the institutions which created them … we should be blaming the people who forced their creation.

They are the ones who absolutely suck at self-regulation … actually worse than most of the rest of us … and we pay the price for their behavior.

what firing someone says about you

May 10th, 2017

you sir are fired

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“We should place confidence in our employee. Confidence is the foundation of friendship.

If we give it, we will receive it. Any person in a managerial position, from supervisor to president, who feels that his employee is basically not as good as he is and who suspects his employee is always trying to put something over on him, lacks the necessary qualities for human leadership – to say nothing of human friendship.”

 

—–

Harry Humphreys

 

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“The conventional definition of management is getting work done through people, but real management is developing people through work.”

 

—-

Agha Abedi

 

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Well.

 

Leading and managing people is possibly one of the most rewarding things you fire bee strategy drive incan do in a business career.

 

Firing people is possibly one of the most unrewarding things you can do in a business career.

 

Unfortunately these two things are inextricably linked.

 

I could argue that once you assume responsibility for firing someone you learn more about yourself, and I imagine others learn about you, than almost any other responsibility you assume as a leader.

 

No one likes firing people. Well. no one who is any good at business leadership. I don’t care if you absolutely hate the person you are firing, if the person has actually committed a fireable offense and you are in the right to fire them, or even if you fire someone for good reason … suffice it to say … it never feels good to fire someone.

 

And because of that … a good business leader never delegates the tough termination. And they never send someone to terminate a direct report.

Generally speaking … you fire anyone who is a direct report, or you were directly responsive for hiring, face to face.

 

Yeah.

setbacks one of those days poohThis may not be, logistically, the easiest thing to do but it is part of the burden of responsibility. It is the mantle you wear and it is what you are obligated to offer the person being terminated – dignity & respect.

 

Anything less than that and you are shirking your responsibility.  Anything less than that is … well … chicken shit. And you are a chickenshit business leader if you do not do these things.

 

Sure.

 

What I just shared is a hard lesson but one business people learn in young management.

 

I will never forget the first person I ever fired. Paul.

An absolute great guy in absolutely the wrong position and possibly career. But that doesn’t mean it was easy to terminate him. While I was 99% sure it was the right thing to do <and my boss and her bosses agreed> there was an extraordinarily loud 1% in my head that kept me awake that night.

Inevitably he chose a different career and went on to become an SVP of sales.

And he was kind enough to drop me a couple of notes to tell me it all worked out for the best.

 

But I will never forget firing him. I can honestly say I never forget anyone I have fired <and that is a semi-long list after years of management>.

 

However.

I would like to think my leadership career is measured more by the people I did not fire.

 

Not firing, in a larger organization, can be harder than you think.

 

I think I spent more time explaining to the most senior people why I would not fire some of the people I managed than I did ever discussing almost anything else about employees with them.

 

Well. That is … it felt that way.

The crap that floats upwards into senior leadership about individual employees is amazing. The littlest mistakes and quirks seem to take on exponential size when it arrives at the most senior people — and they do not hesitate to share their disproportional views.

 

Regardless. All of those views cut into the ‘trust belief’ … are they respected within the organization, do they have the trust of the organization and can they be trusted with their responsibility.

totally worth it show for it life

And that is when you earn your stripes as a manager. You do not cave in to the ‘easy thing to do’ but rather stand up for your people and let the chips fall as they may. Oh. And you learn it is totally worth it to not take the easy way out.

 

Let me be clear.

No one is perfect. I was not a perfect employee nor was a perfect manager. And, yet, when judging employees there sometimes is the ‘perfect measure’ of which becomes the absurd standard.

 

Yes.

We should judge senior people more critically but we should judge them fairly.

 

Anyway.

 

I didn’t fire a lot of people. And I can think of at least 4 who made me incredibly proud that I didn’t … despite some pressure from others to do so.

 

All 4 of these have sent me notes at different points, not thanking me for not firing them but rather for simply giving them a chance, believing in them and seeing something in them that they knew <because all employees know when they are under ‘the human resources microscope’>  many others didn’t.

All 4 of them have been professionally successful and, more importantly, are solid good human beings. Neither of those are because I didn’t fire them but rather vindicate the non-firing decision.

 

All that said.

 

Firing someone, despite the pain of actually doing it, is often the easy way out and is certainly a way to avoid looking at your own flaws.

 

Flaws? I sometimes believe one of the hardest things you can learn in your career is that your best is not particularly special.

Learning the fact that your talent, in reality, is matched by a shitload of people.

Learning that your best is relatively easily matched by a shitload of people.

 

It is an unfortunate truth that:

 

  • Talent is talent.
  • Smarts are smarts.
  • And expertise is almost always relative.

 

reality-slapped-you-really-hardAt any given point in Life and your career you can look around you and if you are self aware you will note you are rarely the most talented, rarely the smartest one in the room and rarely the only expert.

 

Even on your best day you may not actually be the best.

I imagine that is a tough thing to get your head wrapped around.

But I also imagine if you do wrap your head around it evaluating employees and how you fire them is affected.

 

I always watch how someone terminates an employee.

You can learn a lot about people in that situation … and you can learn a shitload about how someone feels about dignity, respect and responsibility in how they terminate an employee.

 

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Postscript 1: under the general heading of “chickenshit” from a business perspective:

 

There are hundreds of different viable reasons to fire someone and if you have the responsibility to hire & fire and it is ‘at will’ you can do what you want. But HOW Trump fired Comey was chickenshit.

 

It wasn’t face to face with a direct report <or even face to face with anyone … just a letter delivered by a non-government employee>.

November 24, 2015

While there appeared to be no sense of urgency to terminate the action was taken with an absurd sense of senseless urgency which permitted Comey the indignity of being blindsided, in the middle of a commitment to the people who reported to him and not even in town.

 

This was a chicken shit way of terminating an honorable employee. It is indicative of Trump’s lack of character.

 

Postscript 2: Under the general heading of “this is some crazy shit” from a business perspective:

 

Firing someone for lack of confidence when the people who you are actually working for have a general lack of confidence in you is slightly surreal.

 

This may actually be the ironic point of the day.

Yesterday Donald J Trump fired his FBI Director because of ‘lack of confidence.’ Well. If that is a true criteria and I were to look at some national polling data I could argue Trump could be fired on the same criteria by the American people.

 

Most leaders do not defend their firing decision through childish name calling.

 

“Crying Chuck” “Richie” in quotes <instead of Richard>. Calling people diminishing names. Childish crap like that. I have been criticized as a leader for people I have fired, as well as people who i didn’t fire, and when appropriate I responded with some “why I did it” information but I never deflected my choice & decision onto others by suggesting they were not qualified to criticize … and I certainly always treated peers with a modicum of respect.

 

Tweet response rather than standing up in person

 

Sniping from the sidelines is not leadership.

Period.

‘nuf said.

unstimulating relationships & your work life

May 2nd, 2017

burned out employees unsatisfied

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“I see a lot of people in unstimulating relationships. If people were a little less scared of ending things they’d get more out of life.

You meet the right person at the right time and they fulfill a certain something in your life. You fulfill something in theirs.

 

But there’s a time limit to that. “

 

Laura Marling

 

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“When inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it.”

 

—–

Sigmund Freud

 

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So.

 

Unstimulating relationships. This is actually about business … and about ‘time limits.’

limitations difference knowing

As a business manager you end up grasping a couple of truths about your employees and their relationship with what they do, their work, their careers and the company.

 

The first truth is that many of the employees are just doing their job. They are in a relatively unstimulating relationship with their job & career … and they are kind of okay with that.

 

As a manager you genuinely try and make the relationship a little more simulating for them and, if you are truly genuine, while the these employees may never get as passionate or interested as you would like … they appreciate you caring enough to try and … well … on occasion … will try harder for you and the company.

 

The second truth is that there are some employees who are actively seeking stimulated relationship with their jobs, careers and the company. If they are in an unstimulating relationship, suffice it to say, they will make you miserable out of their own miserableness.

 

As a manager you genuinely try and keep these employees stimulated. If you do it well, these people kill it. they are absolute monster achieving workers/thinkers/doers in the work place. Get it wrong with these employees and … well … most leave to find some stimulating relationship.

 

Understanding these two truths is surprisingly like getting a pail of cold water thrown in your face.

Well. At least it was for me.

 

I am not sure it was the same for others but this may have been one of the most difficult things for me to understand, and deal with, when I moved from managing a group <where you get to hire everyone and try to have them match your attitude> to managing multiple groups, departments and a bunch of people you do not hire yourself.going through the motions good work unsatisfied

 

I, personally, struggled to understand how anyone could come into work each day, be relatively unstimulated and not only do good work but actually want to come in and do good work every day.

 

But a lot of people do just that.

 

It took me awhile.

But I got it. At the same time I also understood that you never really let the unstimulated group of employees remain completely unstimulated. You kind of never really let them completely start doing their work by rote or like robots.

Mostly you just try to give them some positive stimulation on occasion.

 

Anyway.

 

Being an employee is a dance. You have a dance partner and sometimes there is a song you hate and do not dance, sometimes there is a song you hate and you are asked <or told> to dance and sometimes there is a good song and you will dance no matter what.

That is a fairly metaphoric example of a stimulating employment.

 

But I will point out something I purposefully did. I suggested the bad song is playing in two of the three scenarios.

 

Yeah.

And that is still a stimulating relationship.

Go figure.

 

For some reason we seem to think we need to love our jobs all the time <or the significant majority of the time> or inject passion into what we do.

That is, frankly, a little nuts.

 

Mostly we should be seeking to have employees be proud of what they do <even if they don’t actually love what they do> and, as a manager, be wise enough to know what to overlook.

 

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“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook. “

 

William James

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after a tough day of work drinkWork is called work, and not ‘play, for a reason.

 

It’s work.

And sometimes work takes some … well … work.

 

I could actually argue that the ‘working at work’ can be stimulating if you view it correctly.

But that really doesn’t sound logical enough to invest energy in.

 

And maybe that is the key to understanding this whole ‘unstimulating relationship” thing … logic.

 

I can truthfully say that behind closed doors senior managers talk far too much about “logical” ways to stimulate employees and tap into some mysterious passion muscle we absurdly believe every employee has within <to be focused on our business and their work within our business>.

 

Once again … that is kind of nuts.

 

To be clear. I do believe everyone has a passion muscle within but to think it can randomly be directed toward ‘work’ <which, I will remind everyone, is called ‘work’ because it is work … and not play or relaxation or ‘fun’> is the nuts part.

 

Logically we should just accept the fact that many employees have mentally we are just going through the motions unsatisfiedcome to grips with a job in which they are not in an overly stimulated relationship with.

That doesn’t mean they don’t want to do a good job nor does it mean they will not care it just means that their job is more a paycheck and not a career.

 

All that said … let me close with where I started … “time limits.”

 

All employees have limits in an unstimulating relationship – all … the ones who live with being unstimulated and the ones who actively seek stimulation. I am fairly sure most employees don’t create tangible definable limits … they more often probably fall into the “I will know when it is time.” 

 

All business managers should recognize that all employees have ‘time limits’ when it comes to anything unstimulating. What that means is you cannot get away with being an uninvolved, uninterested, un-energy creating manager for too long. I don’t mean to imply many managers do that but I will note that creating stimulation and seeking to energize a stimulating relationship between your employees and your business is hard work.

 

It isn’t about some motto or slogan.

 

It isn’t about donuts in the mornings and fun team meetings on Fridays.

 

 

unsatisfied key to success passion business womanIt is about finding ways to show employees that their work is respected, their contributions are valued and that there are opportunities to grow as a person <intellectually, skills or responsibilities>. Yeah. I just offered that up as a solution to stimulate relationships and nowhere in that was any activity or initiative. All I outlined was possible destinations – mind, body or leadership.

 

Nothing stimulates an employee business relationship more than being a business that suggest they will enable an individual to ‘be more than they are today’ if they have the time and interest.

 

To me … businesses with an unstimulated relationship with their employees may be doing ‘things’ but they are just going through the motions , maybe using too much logic, to create some false stimulation.

 

Here is the truth. Show people where they can go and tell them you believe in them … and a shitload will be stimulated, all on their own, to engage in the relationship.

 

 

on how we are behaving

April 11th, 2017

 behave toward each other discourse mean

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“Etiquette means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential.”

 

—–

Will Cuppy

 

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“The grace of the gesture is as important as the victories.”

 

—–

Rene Lacoste

 

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Well.

 

Europeans, in general, have always been nicer acting, better behaving and more scared what you see‘refined’ <by degree> than Americans.

<please> Everyone just accept that as a Life truth.

 

So having a European look on in horror at how an American acts is an ongoing event … since almost the dawn of … well … dawn <of every day>.

 

But now it is not just Europeans looking on in horror … we, as in you & I, are also looking around dumbfounded by some of the behavior we are seeing in America.

 

Study after study after study <I just saw another one today> is showing that men are acting more like assholes, white supremacists are acting more like white supremacists, anti-Semites are acting more like anti-Semites, politicians are acting more like caricature politicians, everyone named Homer is acting more like Homer Simpson and, in general, any aspect of our internal asshole in anyone is coming out.

good manners etiquette

I am certainly not suggesting we should all be studying Emily Posts’s Book of Etiquette but behaving well should be about behaving a little better than absolutely essential and not behaving a little worse than absolutely essential.

 

Now.

 

Whether you believe there is a direct relationship or an indirect relationship with Trump … or any relationship I imagine … it is happening at the same time Trump is happening.

 

Coincidence or correlation? … pick your poison.

 

There are a couple of things that seem to be happening.

 

 

Political correctness backlash.

 

Political correctness, for all its good intentions, clashed with the natural political correctness holbrook thinkinability that maybe 90% of people have … an inability to artfully articulate their thoughts.

So let’s say that 90% of that 90% say stupid shit with no bad intentions … this translates into a semi-made up-factoid that almost 80% of all people are getting slammed by political correctness and the majority of them mean nothing bad … they just suck at articulating their thoughts.

 

Sure. Many of those people will attempt to get better at articulating what they feel & think … but, in general, this means a shitload of well-meaning people harbor some bad feelings toward not being able to just talk the way they talk.

 

And then … well … along comes Donald J. Trump … a 70 year old man who sometimes talks like a junior high school bully and sometimes talks like the well-meaning guy at the bar <although he is certainly not well meaning> who has ‘one too many’.   A significant portion of us think “whew, finally, an excuse to say all the things I just want to say without having to weigh every word I say.”

 

There is nothing inherently bad about saying what you are thinking.

 

But.

 

Inherent is what I just shared is … well … you start behaving a little more like an asshole <behaving badly>.

 

Think of this as the puppy set off the leash. The leash gave them some freedom but, once off, they go wild with no boundaries … in general being a boisterous puppy and being the unbounded happy assholeish puppy … at least for a while.

 

At some point they recognize maybe not that the leash was good but that the leash kept them closer to their owner and some of their assholeish puppiness isn’t received as well as they were sure it would be received – and they start going back toward the leash holder and maybe curbing their puppiness a little bit.trump is an asshole mayor

 

My point is the asshole factor has increased but I imagine at some point it will revert back a little closer to what political correctness suggested was a good thing <at least one could hope>.

 

The fly in this ointment is Trump. He has no leash, has never been on a leash and … in fact … seems to believe leashes are inherently bad.

 

He is not exactly a great role model for puppies <or people>.

 

 

I am pissed because it seems everyone else gets a break and I do not.

 

 

Trump only views the world as winners & losers, i.e., if you don’t win you are a loser. Well. What this does is encourage all of us to think of the world as a simplistic fight over limited resources where the other guy/gal is competing for your share. In other words you lose if they win.

 

Now.

 

If you believe this … or this thought even bleeds into your consciousness on occasion … well … you start behaving a little more like an asshole <behaving badly>.

 

I am certainly not blaming Trump for all our increased bad behavior but he is certainly an enabler with the whole win or be a loser mindset.

 

He embodies a toxic resentment toward everyone who has something he believes is his – and this attitude bleeds into how he views America. Germany, NATO, China, Mexico, whomever … all has shit that should be ours. Money, trade, power, etc. him his rightful place in the world.

 

File photo dated 08/04/17 of Saffiyah Khan (left) staring down English Defence League (EDL) protester Ian Crossland during a demonstration in Birmingham, as she has said she was "not scared in the slightest" during the tense confrontation.

Symbolically <to those who claim he has a racist muscle> … this is quite like the resentment of an old white man who believes everything is infringing upon his ability to access the pride, power & pay that rightfully belongs to him.

 

Just like my puppy on a leash example … this is like a puppy who grows up alone but realizes that going to the puppy playground is a shitload more fun … and even more fun if you behave well.

 

The fly in this ointment is Trump. he doesn’t want to play with other puppies, he hates the puppy playground and says … well … puppies are losers … I want to be a lion or the leader of the wolf pack <and fuck whatever female wolf I want whenever I want>.

 

Trump treats everyone outside his immediate family members as people who are out to deny him not only from what he wants but also what he believes belongs to him <this attitude bleeds into how he views America and other counties>. This is not exactly a great role model for anyone who is not part of a rich powerful family <and I could argue it isn’t a good role model even for them>.

 

He is not a particularly good role model if we want to encourage the belief the country is a team which needs to work together, make some sacrifices for the other team members so that the team benefits <and will never go 365-0 in a season>.

 

Ok.

 

Look.

 

We all have flaws and the system, society and institutions are flawed. But just because it is flawed doesn’t mean an asshole president should suddenly set a new bar for behavior that is so low it makes a guy’s junior high school locker room actually appear slightly dignified.

 

But I imagine my point is that the bar for acceptable good behavior has dropped significantly. Studies show it. Shit. Just watch the people around you or watch some tv and you will actually see it.

 

Anyway.

 

I think we all know that Life isn’t just solely about winning and losing. I think we all know that some basic good behavior isn’t something that needs to be dictated but rather it is simply something good for common humanity within a population with a desire to have better things and do better things than we are doing today.

behave well being of society care trust fairness

I think we all know that behaving, at least relatively so the majority of the time, well has a reward that may not always show up in pride, power & pay but rather in dignity, honor & … well … certainty.

 

Yeah.

Certainty.

 

Good behavior by the bulk of a population tends to lead people to a certainty that society will treat them more fairly, institutions will treat them more fairly and the world, in general, will treat them more fairly … because we can become more certain we will be less screwed more often because people will behave less badly more often <plus … we are happier this way>.

 

In the end.

 

I do believe we are behaving more badly.

 

And while I have the studies and I have the research I don’t really need them. I can just turn on the TV and watch a president who behaves more badly than the majority of the typical high school student. With this kind of role model why wouldn’t a significant portion of the citizenry believe they could behave more badly than they had been behaving the day before?

Suffice it to say that if everyone took one step backwards in their behavior, given the wide spectrum of current behavior from good to heinous, it just doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

 

We are acting more like assholes every day.

Even the people who are trying to stand up against the assholes.

 

If I didn’t want to be that harsh I could have said “it appears our level of courteous behavior toward each other is declining” but I didn’t … because research is clearly showing our inner asshole is becoming our outer asshole behavior.

 

bad behavior be courteous all the time represent yourselfI believe we are better than this <and I also believe the average American is better, behaviorwise, than our so-called President>.

We will get through this and I tend to believe in the end we will end up in a better place.

 

But, boy oh boy, the level of our general discourse and behavior has surely declined significantly lately and I cannot wait for it to begin improving.

 

As I stated upfront … I am certainly not suggesting we should all be studying Emily Posts’s Book of Etiquette … but behaving well should be about behaving a little better than absolutely essential and not a little worse than absolutely essential.

 

 

how do ads like Pepsi get approved?

April 10th, 2017

 

pepsi kendall jenner commercial

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“You aren’t advertising to a standing army; you are advertising to a moving parade.”

 

—-

David Ogilvy

 

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“You cannot use someone else’s fire; you can only use your own.

And in order to do that, you must first be willing to believe you have it.”

 

 

==

 

Audre Lorde

 

————

 

“There is always an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”

 

==

 

H. L. Mencken

 

———–

 

frankenstein pepsiOk.

 

This is about the Pepsi fake revolution, fake protest , fake celebrity, misguided brand image advertisement  <which I will inevitably call “the Frankenstein social issue” ad>.

 

While I had been shaking my head over the ad when I saw it I wasn’t going to write anything until there was a really nice article in The Atlantic, “how does an ad like this get approved?”   which does a fairly nice job of walking everyone through some of the backroom pretzel logic steps an advertisement like this goes through to actually end up on air.

 

But.

After reading the article I felt I needed to paint on a coat of some advertising development wacky reality because it neglected to share some of the more obscure things which most likely happened.

 

To be clear.

I could write a 10,000 word diatribe on how this Pepsi ad was a misguided use of a celebrity, a misguided  hijacking of a social event, a misguided use of casting and a misguided tone overall for trying to tie image advertising for a brand with a social revolution <tied to a political issue> … but I will not. Suffice it to say that the ad itself is certainly a mashup of bad ideas … a Frankenstein … but making an ad pepsi mash up commercialseven Frankensteins need to be built <they are not just born> and … believe it or not … there will be some specific things that will happen along the development path which can appear as ‘good business protocol’ but in reality is simply bad laboratory technique.

 

Now.

 

Before I skewer Pepsi and their in-house creative group let me suggest a shitload more of the larger companies are going to be faced with this possibility <of developing a misguided socially issue driven ad> sooner rather than later.

 

I have always believed a company, if it has a strong mission centered on some societal moral compass construct, should be sharing it in some form or fashion <it doesn’t have to be in-your-face> in its external marketing & advertising.

 

I now believe, in the age of Trumpism, it is almost a societal imperative for companies & brands to take a stand publicly. And I say that not suggesting they i will be defined stand up speak outstop selling shit but rather they sell shit through a societal view lens. I do believe more than ever companies who stand for something should publicly stand up for that something.

 

And I don’t really care whether it is a liberal or conservative lens … a business should just elegantly articulate their view in the construct of what you sell and who you are. Society is almost demanding the debate & discussion and no one is better to have it publicly, in a civil discourse versus the coarseness found within Trumpology, than businesses.

 

Saying that … I give Pepsi points for at least making the attempt. I take points away because … well … a brand & company as large as Pepsi with access to so much creative & strategic talent should have made a better attempt.

 

But you know what?

 

Even in their bad they did some good … we talked about standing up for shit and how you should, or should not, stand up for shit.

Rather than beat the shit out of Pepsi for this attempt I will hold my fire until we see the next attempt and see if they learned something.

I would suggest everyone try and do that.

 

Now.

 

As for how and why ads like this get approved.

 

The article suggested this:

 

“How do these ads get approved?

By brand managers who are not doing their cultural homework—relying upon surface-level understandings of the cultural phenomenon they are featuring in their marketing communications and not understanding the deep well of emotions, identity politics, and ideologies that their ads will trigger.”

 

Jill Avery, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School

 

Oh.

 

If it were only this black & white, I could solve this.

It is much more absurdly complicated in order to actually approve and produce something this so brutally off target.

 

Suffice it to say that the issue will encompass a spectrum of things … there will be a spectrum of misguided ‘execution strategy’ combined with some thoughts people stand up i will be definedabsurd “brand imperatives” all wrapped up in a nice snug outfit made up of stubborn edgy creative people, old white executives out of touch with their target audience, brand managers adverse to risk but an unhealthy desire to be cooler than they are and company visionaries who view cultural trends through what is cool rather than what is truly trendworthy.

 

This is a Frankenstein social issue “brand” ad created by a brand built on … well … no real social issues … but rather it is representative of a vapid brand which has convinced itself <at least some time in the past> it was more like a ‘fashion brand.’

 

Of course I should take a minute and discuss the research which “must have been done” to create this ad.

 

First.

 

If there really was any research done we need to remind ourselves this is a ‘fashion brand’ <or someone has convinced them they should think of themselves as  fashion brand … which is stupid> created on some vapid imagey type attributes therefore their research is mostly based on some vapid feel-good “cool” cultural benchmarks.

Sure.

I could have set them up with some research company who could have measured what needed to be measured but <a> they don’t want that kind of truth and <b> someone smarter than I was yelling “how could we measure new information … we need to see results which can be compared to what we have so we can also see some ‘post’ numbers.”

 

Well. That yeller was yelling some well-intended truth but misguided in this case.

 

good and bad research pepsiIn larger companies it is always <always> gobs of “pre” information which you pour over and then setting up a ‘post analysis’ against the pre-stuff. This assumes the “pre” is meaningful and on target and that the ‘post’ is really what matters.

 

Uh oh.

 

Assume makes an ass out of you and me.

 

Status quo is a sonuvabitch.

 

That is mostly research they would have used to inform the development.

 

To be clear.

I don’t think they did any ‘pre’ research. I think they “saw” a cultural movement within their supposed target audience and decided “I want to connect with them <so someone go do an ad to do that>.”

 

If any of this past ‘pre’ research was used it was simply to highlight the aspects that supported the idea they wanted to do <I feel comfortable saying that because I have done just that … cherry picking the “pre” information to highlight the reason why an idea is something worth pursuing and even highlighting some of the first components you may want to start building your Frankenstein with … uhm … any advertising person with half a brain has done this>.

 

Second.

 

Ok.

 

Let’s assume they did some research on the ad itself <which is different than research informing the development of the ad>.

 

Someone probably set up some high falutin’ research methodology tracking trying and researching knowledgewatcher response second by second and checked scores against industry norms <or their own imagey crappy stuff they have done in the past> and the final power point was 30 pages long <with maybe 12 pages of backup graphs> and the printed binder they handed out to a select few to bludgeon themselves with at a later date was probably 80 pages <with nice colored tabs>.

 

Here is the net of all that stuff.

 

The celebrity drove up ‘breakthrough’, recall and ‘brand interest’ <albeit they hid the numbers that said the celebrity did not build credibility or authenticity>.

 

And, yeah, I would also bet someone probably dug up a nice score on “unique from competition.”

 

And I also bet they figured out a way to get a score worth showing <you never show bad numbers unless you can convince everyone that the bad number is actually a good number … yeah … we do that> to suggest the overall message was topical and that their audience related to the importance of “standing up and speaking out.”

 

And I would also bet that they didn’t have a particularly good, nor bad, likeability score … just something that didn’t deter them from this path.

 

And, lastly, I would bet they rummaged through any research they had to seal the deal on what I believe is possibly the worst part of the ad <having the celebrity leave being a celebrity and join the ‘common folk’>. They found a number that suggested “this shows that this issue is SO important that everyone, celebrities and fantastic looking poor folk included, shed their exterior Life and gather together to stand up an speak out.”

I added this last thought and call it out because … well … this is about the only thing that could have been said in the final presentation to the old white men, out of touch with their everyday customer, to gain final approval.

 

And let me say about the test scores I just highlighted … this is where testing fails people. It’s just numbers. And it’s just not real world.

 

The numbers don’t match the eye/sniff test.

 

And in a real world <on tv> environment the ad is annoying to anyone who actually wanted to participate in the movement or did participate … and the ad is generally unmemorable <and doesn’t even come close to capturing any aspect of ‘soul’ of Pepsi … assuming they have one>.

In testing it may seem fun and hip and upbeat but on tv it is annoying and bland and soulless.

 

By the way … I tossed in the word “soul” in that discussion.

 

I bring it up to make a point to any and all vapid brands out there thinking about actually taking on a social issue & message.

 

“Cool” doesn’t hack it if you want to be a fabric of society <which is different than a fabric of culture>. Weaving your way into the fabric of society demands you share a little bit of your soul … your heart … so that people can connect.

 

Yeah.

I know.

That’s not vapid. That’s some solid unforgiving truth telling about yourself.

 

Sorry.

That’s the price <and Pepsi was not willing to pay it>.

 

advertising talk to people hughNext.

 

How does this get approved?

 

Well. Let me spend a minute on image advertising and creative people.

 

Vapid fashion brands far too often forget they are selling shit to people. Most times they will just say “that’s the job of promotions” or “that is point of sale efforts and we are supposed to drive people to the point of sale” or “our job is to be cool so that people want us so badly they will drive through … well … neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Uhm. On rare occasions, maybe a new i-phone, you can inspire that kind of ‘urgent desire to buy’ but in most cases it is just a 6-pack of Pepsi.

 

Creative people are stubborn people in their everyday work life. The non-hacks … the good talented smart creative people, mostly in good ways, stubbornly & aggressively hold on to creative edges <not just to be edgy but rather to insure there is some edge to what is done>. This gets dialed up in image advertising campaigns because for some reason as soon as a creative person hears “image” <or “brand”> they immediately think “vapid” <I don’t have to sell anything, communicate anything specific and the objective is to create an overall sense that what I am saying is good and the brand is some good shit>.

 

Triple the intensity with regard to everything I just said for creative hacks <or almost all non-agency advertising people> and add in they confuse ‘creative edges’ with ‘edgy’.

 

If you are attempting to do an image advertisement you are only partially challenged <fucked> with good creative people and absolutely screwed <fucked> with bad creative people.

 

Lastly.

 

How does something like this get approved?

The “someone.”

 

Ok.

 

With an ad like this, which I assume was polarizing in its final stages, there is always “someone.”

 

someone pepsi speak out convinceSomeone who stands up and says ‘here is why.” Someone to stand up and speak out that bullshit line I just shared with you … “this ad shows that this issue is SO important that everyone, celebrities and fantastic looking poor folk included, shed their exterior Life and gather together to stand up an speak out.”

There is always ‘someone’ in that frickin’ final approval room, usually someone who shouldn’t have that kind of power, who the old white advertising-clueless men will look to in their moment of doubt on whether it is the right thing to do.

In the advertising business you cultivate this ‘someone’ so that they can bring you home <even if you have a bad misguided idea>. Suffice it to say on an ad like this there will be someone at Pepsi right now who is squirming and most likely getting ready to point a finger at some research person for either <a> not giving the right piece of information or <b> not asking the right kind of question.

 

Anyway.

 

I feel sorry for companies who truly do want to start doing image advertising and stay within their brand character and navigate the internal politics and … well … it is nothing they have done before.

 

There are rarely, very rarely, neat & plausible solutions to what a business faces in the here & now on this topic <and if someone tells you there is … they are lying>.

If you are shown a ‘formula for success’ and it looks neat and it seem plausible … it is most likely wrong.

 

That isn’t to say someone like me, or someone with smarts, experience and more talented than I, couldn’t guide a company down a viable path to success … just that there is no formula.

 

What I am now going to say is going to sound painfully inefficient.

 

A business has to create its own way of doing things. It can certainly contain some aspects of things that have been done in the past but those are simply ingredients from which you will build your own formula.

And, to be clear, if you start bolting together different formulas to create a successful business advertising idea … you are simply creating a Frankenstein which the village people are going to end up killing with simple pitchforks & torches <see Pepsi as an example>.

 

Your business formula for success will have to be yours.

 

In the end I would say this.

 

My guess is that Pepsi tried using a formula for something that is most likely really different than things they have tried in the past.

 

And while the difference between brutal and brilliant is a relatively thin line even for the people who do this for a living … you can teeter even more when attempting to enter into the fabric of a societal issue.

 

This ad was horrible.pepsi commercial stupid

Absolutely horrible.

 

But please don’t forget … Pepsi tried. They made the attempt.

 

In a Trumpenstein world in which being silent will only let the monster tear the village apart they spoke out. They stood up.

Misguided? Sure.

The villagers tore them apart.

But maybe, just maybe, the villagers should pick them up, dust them off, and say go try again … because the Trumpenstein is coming … and we can use any voice we can.

 

 

======================

 

“You cannot paint the Mona Lisa by assigning one dab each to a thousand painters.”

William Buckley

 

Enlightened Conflict