Friday, November 30, 2007

Too easy for government

I just read a report on Red Herring about midwestern governors agitating for biofuels at the pump by 2025. Here’s the quote:

Governors of Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and the premier of Manitoba endorsed the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Accord. By 2025, they want 33 percent of gas stations, or around 9,700 locations, in the region to offer E85.

Now here’s a simple solution that will drive the oil companies nuts - The state builds E85 stations, sells the fuel at cost without taxes. Think that will drive people to the pumps? Try treating it as a public service not an income source.

The other way is to have the state build the stations, price the product competitively, and use the profits to cut taxes - make the state a profit making enterprise.

A third way is to have the state make tax lean properties available at the cost of the tax lean to companies that will build E85 and biodiesel stations at selected locations.

The GM website claims 2.5 million flex fuel vehicles on the road now so there is a market waiting.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What would Richard Nixon have done with the patriot act?

My biggest fear of government is of the well intentioned folks who are honestly trying to protect me. In their attempt to find the people who are truly trying to harm me they are putting in place an information collection process that puts my freedom at risk.

I remember an over zealous staff member under President Clinton who requested and received a series of FBI files on member of congress that he should not have accessed. The FBI kept the files as part of their ongoing tracking of threats to the members but, there was information that might be embarrassing to the individuals (like any of us might have in our backgrounds) but not really related to the performance of their duties or to threats against them.

The story at the time was that the staffer was looking for things to use politically. I believe the information would have been used, I would like to think without the President’s knowledge, if the press hadn’t gotten the story.

One thing history has taught us is that if something can be misused it will be. Can you picture a government official with access to information about the people he deals with (either personally or professionally) not accessing that information?

Remember that honest discussion of government policy can use a lot of the same vocabulary as the terrorists and that the people listening to a telephone conversation or reading an email are predisposed to put the statements into the most dangerous context.

It their job to see a threat so they will err on the side of caution and put the information in the database, just in case. Once it’s in the database it will be there forever.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Job search notes

A couple of years ago the company I worked for closed the division I where I worked and I couldn’t find a job. The job search process can be very difficult for those of us who aren’t self promoter personality types.

Most of us are good at our jobs but showcasing our talents is not our specialty. We read the books and listen to the advice of the unemployment office, the advisers at the job fairs, and still can’t seem to get it right.

The biggest problem I found is that there is no “right” to get. Each reviewer has a personal view of how the applicant should present their resume and while there are some generalizations, mostly, if it doesn’t match that particular individuals expectations, REJECT.

Its a trial and error process with only one chance to get it right and no feedback. As the big group of baby boomers retire and the smaller group of the next generation moves into the work force the process will have to change to accommodate the the new fact of life - there aren’t enough workers!

The companies will have to put a lot more effort into finding workers.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What is the next step?

Two years ago I was laid off for about the 20th time in my life. All the other times, I hit the ground running and found another job. At times in the past, I changed fields to use the same skills, what we now call “cross over skills”. This time at age 60, the only thing I could find was to go back to construction work by starting my own handyman business.

At about age 35 I sold my partnership in a burglar alarm sales and service company and went to work for a large aerospace company because I didn’t want to get to be 60 and still crawling under houses. Now here I was doing just that.

I did that for about a year before a former customer called to see if I could support a special project scheduled to last about 45 days. Turned into an 18 month gig. Sounds great, but now that source has dried up and I am looking for the “next step”. Since I turned 62 I started to draw my pension and social security so the money angel is not the issue, I spent the last 45 years working and defining myself by my work - just like most of us.

So, who am I now? What is the next step in feeling productive?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Falling over rocks

A lot of what I know, I learned so long ago, I no longer remember when or how I learned it. When I was in the army (over 40 years ago) we had a label we used to cover make work - painting rocks. This referred to painting the rocks lining the walkways white to both make them look pretty, in the first sergeant's opinion - we could have cared less, and to make them visible. Calling it make work came from the practice of having solders who had no other work repaint the rocks.

Over the years I came to use the idea of rocks in the road to symbolize the business problems that seem to always be there. No matter how hard you try you keep finding the same road blocks and problems cropping up.

My lesson for today is on how to deal with these kinds of problems. Think of them as rocks in the road and either: Mover them out of the road or Paint them white. If you can move them out of the road, you never fall over them again - a permanent solution. If you can’t move them because you don’t have the resources or the authority, paint them white so the rest of your company can see and avoid them.

This helps to create a system that you and others in your company can follow to create to replace the corporate memory that is disappearing from most companies with the change to shorter tenure in specific job functions.

As people shift functions or companies their experience is lost and the person replacing them is fated to repeat the mistakes (fall over the same rocks in the road) of their predecessor. If the the previous worker had moved the rocks or painted them white, the next person would be able to avoid the rocks and move forward more smoothly and quickly.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Reinventing the wheeI

I was just reading a column about Apple’s stock prices by Leander Kahney and found the following quote “Who isn't kicking themselves that they didn't buy a few shares in February 1997, just before Steve Jobs took the helm again, when Apple was trading below a split-adjusted $4 a share?”

Steve Job’s has a clear vision of what that great product is and the market place is proving his vision right. Fitting computers to the natural working style of people is a key component, but if the product does what it’s supposed to do with little or no fuss most folks will change their work habits to take advantage of that product.

Mr. Job’s reengineering at Apple echos Lee Iacocca’s rebirth of Chrysler where (according to his autobiography) he resold the idea that “first build a great car” and then we’ll figure out how to make money.

How many times does this have to be repeated before the boards of directors of American companies learn that the first thing is to create a great product not a great financial plan. Everything is subordinate to the product and anything that cuts into the product is wrong.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


In an article at the CNN web site they reported that “Rising wages are good for workers but if they are not accompanied by strong productivity gains, they raise concerns among Fed policy makers about inflation.”

Every time I read something like this I wonder if the policy makers at the Fed are living in the real world. Anyone who works for a living knows that wages always lag behind performance. Raises are the reward for workers who perform. But the performance comes first. If I’m right, then raises can’t drive inflation since the products were produced at the lower cost before the raise.

Any one who works for a living knows that inflation is caused by increasing the cost of goods or services without increasing the value. If workers created more products or delivered more services in the same time frame a raise should hold the cost per unit at the same level.

Once again we have people circulating a theory that fits their thesis but not reality. A job actually producing a product besides conversation would go a long way toward educating the “theoreticians” in how the real world works.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Forced Retirement

A New York Times article (Leaving Corporate Live at 60 by Paul B Brown) discussed the advantages of CEOs retiring at 60 or thereabouts. According to the article while we might be loosing a great resource, we are making way for fresh ideas.

This resonated with me because I have seen what I call the “prophet” syndrome. This is where a person has a new idea, but in order to get it accepted they have to become an evangelist. During the process of getting their new idea accepted, they have to fight so hard that any question of it becomes a personal attack.

Eventually the new idea the “prophet” had years ago is ready to be replaced by the next new idea, but the former rebel is now fighting change. Giving up the old idea can be too hard for some when they’ve spent a lifetime fighting to gain acceptance for it. Those are the people who need to move aside for the next generation of ideas.

One problem I have also seen is that many of the new ideas are old ideas that the less practically experienced person just discovered. This is where the “older” or more experienced person need to educate the “younger” worker. The biggest problem is that it gets hard to separate the person who is saying “we tried that years ago and it didn’t work because ..” and the person who is just fighting a new idea.

Are the advantages of replacing senior managers outweighed by the advantages of not falling over the same rocks in the road that we fell over before? Once again, no single answer. It depends on the individual senior manager.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The politicians are crazy

I started this blog to force my self to start writing something every day. I found that the best way to improve my skills is to practice - even when I’m not particularly motivated. I didn’t have a particular theme or subject in mind. I most especially didn’t want to get into political debate and the personal attack that seem to fill the news.

One issue for me is the craziness in politics. I’m talking about the lack of common sense about some really important issue. I just finished reading about the Democratic presidential debate last Tuesday and I am appalled at some candidates support for drivers licenses for illegal aliens.

Most of us use the terms illegal and alien in there Webster’s dictionary meaning of

Illegal - “ not legal; contrary to existing statutes, regulations, etc”
Alien - “one born in or belonging to another country who has not acquired citizenship by

People who visit the United States either as tourists or with the intent of becoming citizens are our guests and we expect them to act as good guests. Just like guests in our private homes, we expect them to follow our rules. My wife’s niece and her husband don’t smoke inside our house (my wife an I are non-smokers). It’s not about “our rules”, it’s about being polite as guests in our home.

We have rules of conduct as a country and that includes who can visit and for how long they can stay. By entering illegally these people have put us on notice that they don’t intend to be good guests and follow our rules, so why should we accord them the privileges reserved for family members and “good” guests?

Nobody in their right mind thinks that we are going to try and round up several million people - some of whom were brought here as small children and don’t remember living anywhere else - and ship them “away”. But just like my latest home remodel I didn’t try and get it all done in one big jump. I did the addition, then the kitchen, and finally the landscaping, one step at a time.

First, stop or cut down on the number breaking the entry rules, second create a legal status for those already here, last overhaul the entry rules and process. Doing all three things as part of one big revision to the regulations it is almost impossible to get people to agree on everything, but we should be able to find enough common ground to solve each smaller part one at a time.