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.

 

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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.

the fraying of organizational communication

May 8th, 2017

fraying communications

 

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“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”

 

—–

Benjamin Franklin

 

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Ok.

 

It seems like in today’s world leaders are getting the shit kicked out of them if they communicate in a precise fashion, in a measured way and in what appears bland magic in the headto be calculated communicating.

They are called unauthentic, bland and blamed for being ‘less than truthful.’

 

This is creating a sense that semi-impetuous blurbs of ‘here is what I think’ communication is deemed of higher value from our leaders.

 

Well.

 

It is a sad state of affairs if we value the latter in a leader more than the former.

But let me point out the flaws in the impetuous less-than-thought-out thought communicating.

 

I call it the fraying of organizational communication.

 

You learn fairly quickly once you begin leading a larger group of people, and desire them to grow beyond simply being order takers, that precise communications matters.

 

You learn you cannot be everywhere at once, you cannot be in every meeting and you cannot have people simply parrot your own words because … well … they are your words and not theirs <and for them to grow they need to figure out how to articulate things on their own>. Therefore, you learn that you need to precisely communicate an idea so that they can offer up their own words to share that idea.

 

You learn this because impreciseness means people start having to answer not only unnecessary questions … but are also being demanded to explain ‘what you meant.’

 

This is a dangerous slippery slope.good and bad thoughts words

 

People work for you for a reason <you most likely have more experience and have some skills they do not have>.

People have different titles for a reason <they most likely have different or less experience and have yet to learn some skills they do not have>.

 

This means that farther out your words & thoughts have to be explained the more likely the explanation is not going to be exactly right.

Oh.

 

And let’s ad in ‘the stress factor.’

 

This is where ‘fraying’ becomes obvious.

 

The less precise a leader is the more likely the communication fabric is going to be tugged at the edges. The edges being where many of your least experienced people reside. The less precise a leader is the more the pressure at the farthest point of communication.

 

This is where the ‘fraying’ becomes most obvious. As more and more questions are piled upon the person on the edge with regard to the “whys” and “whats” the communication becomes more and more stressed … and mistakes are made.

 

wrong faultThings are said that just may not be exactly right.

 

Something is said in exasperation.

 

Something is communicated as a ‘well, could be’ scenario to offer some space.

 

This is not the fault of the person on the edge … the responsibility lies with the person at the center.

 

Anyway.

 

As a leader, the people closest to you most likely don’t need the precision, calculation and measured words … but you give it to them anyway. You do so because those closest to you will find their own words to say what you said … without losing its meaning.

 

A flawed message at the top doesn’t lose its flaws as it expands … its flaws become increased.

 

Some people call it ‘getting your talking points in line’ … I do not. I simply call it “clarity & precision from the top.” I do that because while it may seem bland and it may seem calculated … it avoids the more difficult problems and criticisms.

 

ato normal center abnormal societyA leader must hold the center verbally. It can sometimes be held with vision and soaring rhetoric but more often it is captures in the calculated pragmatic words which are easily carried by those on the edges out beyond the organization.

 

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‘Things fall apart, the center cannot hold….

The best lack all conviction,

While the worst are full of passionate intensity

 

—–

William Butler Yeats < The Second Coming>

 

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As a leader there may be nothing worse than confidently saying the wrong thing. For when you do the rest of your organization feels compelled to support your confidence … uhm … and the wrong thing.

 

And if the ‘wrongness’ is compounded with any sense of vagueness in meaning ‘wrong’ becomes his multidimensional blob of slime which mucks up the entire organizational engine.

 

I am fairly sure mom & pop businesses don’t learn this lesson <or maybe not as well>. They have no real need to do so. Most words are in the domain of the ‘mom & pop’ and any family members or close knit employees will most likely simply regurgitate whatever the mom & pop say with earnestness … but no real understanding. There is no need to understand … it just is.

 

And maybe that is where leaders, who are precise and calculated in wording, understand what truth about success within an organization is — that understanding matters.

 

People cannot defend what they do not completely understand and, well, you know as a leader you cannot always be there to defend and you need to depend on others to do so … not by interpreting what you said but through understanding what you said.

 

In the end.

 

We may beat the crap out of ‘bland colorless calculated’ communication from leaders but we should all recognize that it isn’t necessarily done out of fear of saying the wrong thing or political correctness but rather done because … well … good leaders know they hold the center. They know that understanding limits spotlight seat lead follow center alonefraying at the edges of the organization.

They know they have a responsibility, boring as it may be on occasion, to pragmatically say what needs to be said in a way that doesn’t encourage guessing or questioning.

 

Clarity really does matter.

And ‘bland’ can be underrated.

But fraying communications farther from the center is a reflection of a leader not assuming responsibility for holding a strong center.  A good leader knows that while they may have a dozen things they really want to say 11 of those things will most likely make the people on the edges edgy and miserable.

A good leader knows that an organization is not just about what the one wants to say <the leader themselves> but rather organizational effectiveness resides in ‘out of many, one.’

 

I imagine what I am saying is that if you see some people on-the-ground who are part of an organization and you start hearing verbal mistakes … 99% of the time it is a reflection of the fact the leader was vague, imprecise and didn’t hold the communication center <that would make them a bad leader>.

 

We often beat the crap out of ourselves

May 4th, 2017

beat the crap bad days people life

 

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novice-heartbreaker:

 

    Reminder: Everyone has bad days, you don’t have to be your best self everyday.

 

Everyone has days where they are sad, cranky, or lazy.

Don’t beat yourself up for being human, you’re ok. What counts is how you handle yourself and treat people on a regular basis.

 

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Well.

 

I tend to believe everyone thinks Life does a fairly good job of beating the crap out of us almost every day. It tries to beat optimism out of us, hope out of us, positive out of us as well as … uhm … compassion, empathy, fellowship and almost everything good.

It doesn’t always succeed … but it surely tries to beat the crap out of us.

 

And, yet, despite knowing all that … we still beat the crap out of ourselves.

 

It is kind of a little nuts when you think about it.

push-through-bad-days

 

Its nuts because most people don’t set out every day thinking “boy, I hope I have a bad day and do some bad shit.” Most of us set out each day with the intention to do something good … not bad. Most people do the best they can.

 

And, yeah, sometimes that best isn’t that good … or maybe just not as good as our good really is. But that doesn’t mean that simply because we have a bad day or are cranky or even a little lazy that we still don’t do something useful and, in general, conduct ourselves in an honorable fashion.

 

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“The purpose of life is not to be happy.

It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

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Look.

beat the crap love myself

I am not suggesting you have to sit around and say “I love myself.”  All I am saying is that you don’t have to beat the crap out of yourself for being human.

 

You have some bad days.

 

You have some days when you are cranky and not particularly pleasant to be around.

 

You have some days when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning … but you do … and everyone around you wishes you hadn’t.

 

You have some days when you do not feel energetic … may even feel lazy … and you don’t really get shit done that day.

 

None of those things make you bad.

None of those things make it worth beating the crap out of yourself.

 

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“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

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Days come and go, opportunities come and go and your ‘bad’ comes and goes.

That’s the way Life goes. You can beat the crap out of yourself if you want but it seems like, if you think about what I just wrote, you would pretty much conclude that even your bad days while they could be better could also certainly be worse.

 

Uh.

That’s called Life and that’s called ‘being human.’beat the crap poo poo people on you

 

Let’s face it.

Every day someone is gonna point out you are having a bad day … and you may not even being have a bad day for fucks sake … it just may be a bad moment.

 

Let’s face it.

Every day some jerkwad is gonna look at you as if you had done something wrong even when you do something right.

 

Let’s face it.

About the only time someone isn’t going to be giving you shit is if you act like a robot … and even then someone is going to bitch about you being ‘too consistent’ and too much like a robot.

 

 

Anyway.

 

beat the crap situation define 1

I have used a couple Emerson quotes/thoughts today because  he abhorred how society tried to grind everyone into a simplistic repetitive cycle of ‘expectations, reward & recycle.’

 

He abhorred how society beat the crap out of people their individuality so that they turned into something that they weren’t born to be.

 

He abhorred the fact the more we got the crap beaten out of us by society & Life beat the crap situation define 2the more difficult it was to break free from the grip of what society expected and demanded of us.

 

No one said that being yourself was easy.

And it seems like beating the crap out of yourself doesn’t make it any fucking easier.

 

Everyone has bad days. What counts is how you handle yourself and treat people on a regular basis.

 

So stop beating the crap out of yourself … that is Life’s job.

Enlightened Conflict