Enlightened Conflict

questionable civil discourse, calm the rhetoric … and leading

June 14th, 2017

obama sad thoughtful tough

 

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“We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.”

 

—-

Barack Obama on January 12th 2011

 

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On a day which we are faced with someone who decided to take a gun and shoot words rememberpoliticians … and appear to target politicians … I am reminded of several things.

 

The first thing is the rhetoric.

The rhetoric of the citizenry but mostly the rhetoric of our elected leaders. I say that because words have repercussions.

 

Yes.

 

I do believe in personal responsibility and choices are made by individuals.

 

But I also believe leaders lead with words <because most of us cannot view their actions>.

 

And if our elected leaders treat their words as if we will not remember them forever.

 

And if our elected leaders treat each other as if they are truly enemies <and even use that word on occasion>.

 

And if our elected leaders treat each other as if the opposite’s behavior is unfathomable behavior for sane, moral people.

 

And if our elected officials treat each other with verbal hyperbole as the standard rhetoric discourse … and the highest of the elected leaders, the president, tosses out the word ‘unity’ on occasion but 99% of the time does nothing verbally or behavior wise to unite … well … the electors will be tempted to do as leaders do.

 

We need to calm our rhetoric. We need to remind ourselves what we teach our children … that you don’t always get what you want and that most progress sis made in mutual effort.

 

We all need to be speaking more calmly and acting more civilly but we should be demanding our elected leaders do so. I get angry with how they act and what they say because it suggests to people that is behavior we should all embrace — and it is not.  Stop, and stop it now.

 

speechless

 

The second thing I am reminded of is one of the best speeches President Obama ever made.

 

To share my thoughts I will borrow <steal> liberally from a NY Times article written by Helene Cooper and Jeff Zelenyjan. The article was Obama Calls for a New Era of Civility in U.S. Politics and it shares the speech Obama gave on January 12th 2011 in Tucson after the shooting of a US Congresswoman and the deaths of 6 other people.

 

Apparently Obama wrote much of the speech himself the day before.

 

I suggest everyone read the speech but today I will share highlights because it is a nice reminder on a day on which we need some reminders.

 

 

President Obama offered the nation’s condolences on Wednesday to the victims of the shootings here, calling on Americans to draw a lesson from the lives of the fallen and the actions of the heroes, and to usher in a new era of civility in their honor.

 

The president directly confronted the political debate that erupted after the rampage, urging people of all beliefs not to use the tragedy to turn on one another. He did not cast blame on Republicans or Democrats, but asked people to “sharpen our instincts for empathy.”

 

It was one of the more powerful addresses that Mr. Obama has delivered as president, harnessing the emotion generated by the shock and loss from Saturday’s shootings to urge Americans “to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully” and to “remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.”

 

“At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do,” he said, “it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

 

The president led an overflow crowd at the evening service at the University of Arizona in eulogizing the six people who died on Saturday and asking for prayers for the wounded, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who the authorities said was the target of an assassination attempt.

 

He warned against “simple explanations” and spoke of the unknowability of the thoughts that “lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind.”

He suggested that the events should force individuals to look inward, but also that they should prompt a collective response against reflexive ideological and social conflict.

 

While the tone and content were distinctly nonpolitical, there were clear political ramifications to the speech, giving Mr. Obama a chance, for an evening at least, to try to occupy a space outside of partisanship or agenda.

 

“If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost,” Mr. Obama said. “Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.”

 

suicide losing care“If, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse,” Mr. Obama said, let us remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy — it did not — but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud.”

 

In the end.

No, I do not believe we will learn anything from today’s event <or the other shooting events that cost people’s lives today> but maybe, just maybe, we can start talking to each other like we don’t want to shoot the other person if given an opportunity. That is a good start.

balanced versus proportional

June 7th, 2017

balance proportion life business things

 

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“You cannot live without establishing an equilibrium between the inner and outer.”

 

—–

Paul Auster

 

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“I used to think of you that way, you know. Like the sun. My own personal sun. You balanced out the clouds nicely for me.”

 

He sighed.

“The clouds I can handle. But I can’t fight with an eclipse.”

 

 

Jacob

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“The idea that talent is directly proportional to your trophy cabinet is one I oppose.”

 

—-

Alex Turner

 

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Ok.

 

balance elephantI have been extremely consistent over the years with regard to my belief that I think balance is the key to almost any successful endeavor – in life & in business.

 

Suffice it to say … I am a big balance person.

 

And, yet, the other day during a business discussion it occurred to me that I may not be using the right word or even have the concept correct.

 

I may actually be a ‘proportional’ advocate.

 

Business, more often than not, is about assessing the correct proportional value of a topic, fact or idea and assigning the correct proportional response to that value.

 

Sure.

 

That may inevitably arrive at something we could call “a balanced response” but to get to the so-called balance we need to think about proportions.

 

I imagine, in my head, this means I need to stop viewing things as a zero sum balance but rather as proportional to the situation in hand.

balance and proportion graph

 

I did some research and back in 1975 a guy named Piaget described the essential characteristic of proportional reasoning as it must involve a “relationship between two relationships.”

 

Now.

 

I am not really sure what that means but I am guessing it means that proportional assumes some dimensional aspects while balance is simply a relationship between two more concrete things.

 

He also suggested that proportional involves something called “additive reasoning” which, to me, explained my misrepresentation of balance.

 

Balance suggests an either/or trade off … something like teetering on a balance beam … proportional suggests a more spatial trade off … or maybe ratio based trade off. What I mean by that is I can add one thing as part of a compromise and its true value is a zillion and give up one thing as part of the same compromise and its true value is 1/10th of a zillion.

 

I balanced my response but gained a proportional advantage.

 

There is even something called ‘the constant of proportionality’ but that becomes too complicated for my pea like brain so I will let you google it and see if you can explain it.

 

balance wheel of life proportionateI imagine my real point is that most of us, most likely, are proportional thinkers and not balance thinkers <although we say we are balanced>.

 

More often than not we invariably assess things through assimilation and the synthesis of multiple things <numbers, ratios, tangible, intangible, and … yes … even missing information & components>. Our decisions are a messy mix of analyzing a series of unequal and equal things shaping them into the proper proportions to make a … well … proportional response.

 

All that said.

 

Here was the bigger epiphany to me.

 

While balanced may be the improper term the more I focus on it the higher the likelihood I would actually end up doing the wrong things.

Huh?

If you focus on balance you will inevitably try and force equality in all things. That may sound good but it ain’t really reality. Simplistically it means you are focused on the wrong outcome & objective.

 

Instead, if you focus on the best proportional response to every situation, you may not end up with a one-to-one balanced relationship on any one comparison you review <which creates issues in its own right> but you will end up with a balanced relationship on any given series of comparisons.

 

That last paragraph may actually showcase why most people focus on balance. In a simplistic measurement business world we are almost always demanded to show one-to-one or linear explanations.

 

Balance does that.

 

Proportion does not.

 

This means to embrace being proportional means you will have to accept the burden of explaining the more difficult to explain, to showcase asymmetrical as actually being simple and dimensional can actually reflect symmetry.

 

Nothing in what I just shared in that last paragraph is easy. Particularly in thoughtful rabbit idea quick slowtoday’s business world.

 

All I really know is that whether I like it or not I am actually a proportion person and not a balance person.

 

It only took me over 25 years in business to figure that out <no one has ever suggested I am a quick learner>.

 

Think about it. You may actually be a proportional person too.

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.

 

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.......... 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.

 

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“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.

Enlightened Conflict