Wednesday, August 28, 2013

War in Syria!

Once again the drums are beating to involve us in the Middle East. Once again I question the need for us to be involved as more than supporting cast. Once again I am reminded of the 60s folk song performed by the Kingston Trio.

They're rioting in Africa

They're starving in Spain

There's hurricanes in Florida
and Texas needs rain
The whole world is festering with unhappy souls

The French hate the Germans

The Germans hate the Poles
Italians hate Yugoslavs

South Africans hate the Dutch

And I don't like anybody very much
But we can be tranquil and thankful

And proud for man's been endowed

With a mushroom shaped cloud
And we know for certain that

Some lovely day someone will set the spark off

And we will all be blown away
They're rioting in Africa
There's strife in Iran

What nature doesn't do to us will be done by our fellow man

Written by Sheldon Harnick

Most of the same places are having the same problems that I watched them live through 50 years ago. And we got involved then and didn’t help either them or ourselves then and I don’t know why to expect a lot of good to come from us getting involved this time.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Stated Goal Analysis

Years ago I worked as a civilian contractor on an Army post and I wanted to ride my motorcycle to work.  The Army required that everyone riding a motorcycle on the post take a motorcycle safety course.  Their stated goal was:

“In order to reduce the number of motorcycle accidents, all motorcycle riders will be required to take the motorcycle safety course.” 

While taking the course, I learned that over 80% of all motorcycle accidents involved an automobile, and that the automobiles were at fault 80% of the time.  In other words, automobiles were at fault for 64% of all motorcycle accidents!  I was scratching my head trying to understand why the Army required this class only for motorcycle riders who were only at fault 36% of the time?  Why didn’t they require the class for automobile drivers too since they were at fault 64% of the time?

The Stated Goal method of analyzing an idea is to clearly state the goal and the recommended solution in a simple sentence or paragraph.  If the resulting statement includes all the significant information and sounds logical then the plan is fundamentally sound.  Conversely, if the statement sounds ridiculous then the planned steps are flawed.

If the Army was being completely honest and logical, their stated goal should have been:

“In order to reduce the number of motorcycle accidents, all motorcycle riders (who are generally NOT at fault) will be required to take the motorcycle safety course, while all automobile drivers (who are generally AT fault) will NOT be required to take a safety course.”

Well let’s apply the Army’s logic to an OSHA regulated industrial machine.  Their stated goal could be:

“In order to reduce the number of industrial accidents, all machine operators will be required to take the machine operator safety course, while the machines will NOT be modified to remove any hazards.”

Common sense tells you that both are needed to reduce industrial accidents!

The Army’s motorcycle safety course requirement had an unstated goal…they really preferred that solders NOT ride motorcycles at all!  The motorcycle training course requirement acted as a disincentive to solders thinking about riding motorcycles to the base.  The goal was unstated because the individuals making the decisions didn't want to be recognized as being responsible for creating an obstacle to riding motorcycles.  Once the stated and unstated goals are merged, the Army’s stated goal becomes:

"In order to reduce the number of motorcycle riders and thus reduce the number of motorcycle accidents, motorcycle riders (who are generally NOT at fault) will have to take a motorcycle safety class, while automobile drivers (who are generally AT fault) will NOT be required to take a safety course.”

Now I’m not against motorcycle safety courses…statistics show they actually DO decrease the number of motorcycle accidents.  My point is only that managers use the stated goal method honestly and ethically to identify and evaluate any unstated goals before a plan is implemented. 

Whenever you clearly state the goal together with the desired outcome in the form of “By doing this we will end up with this” you can clearly see whether or not all the goals have been clearly identified or if there is some end goal being hidden.

Only by understanding the full and complete goals can you effectively contribute to achieving those goals. When some part of the goal is not clearly stated it’s usually because the person stating the goals doesn’t want to have to admit to some part of their goal and they want to that part from their audience.

In business, managers often keep some part of their true goals secrete because they know that their workers would not willingly participate. If you catch yourself hiding some part of your goals, it's a pretty clear indication that you really shouldn't be doing that in the first place.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Three Wishes

Does having my very first guest blogger make me a "real blogger"? Whatever. Here is a post from my very good friend and writing partner, with a little editorial help from me.

Three Wishes by Bryan Neva

Let's pretend for a moment you're the guy in the three wishes joke stranded on a deserted island and you find an old bottle washed up on the beach; you pop the cork and out comes a genie who grants you three wishes.  What would you wish for? 

Well, you reply, the most logical choice is to be rescued from this deserted island.  Good one; it’s our basic human need to survive. 

Now what’s your second wish? 

A good wife or husband, you answer.  Another good one; it’s our basic human need to love and to leave a legacy (children).   

You’ve made two good wishes.  Now for your third and final wish? 

You think for a moment, well a million dollars would be good, a billion dollars would be better, but having all the money in the world would be the best! 

BLEEEEP!  Bad choice!  It’s our basic human vice of greed. 

If you had all the money in the world then no one else would have any and it would be worthless.  By itself, money has no intrinsic value; it's only a medium of exchange for goods and services, a way to store and exchange your work for someone else’s without direct barter.   

Corporate America is not much different than the foolish guy in the three wishes joke.  We all have a basic need to live, to love, and to leave a legacy.  Unfortunately, we’re all cursed with vices like greed (like wishing for all the money in the world). 

How is Corporate America doing this?  Generally speaking, they pay their employees as little as possible, charge their customers as much as possible, hoard most of their cash, and avoid paying taxes.  Before they know it, they too will have all the money in the world but it will be worthless because no one else will have any to buy their products.

Apple is the epitome of what’s wrong with Corporate America today.  They pay their Chinese factory workers as little as possible (about $1.11 an hour), make them work as much as possible (twelve hours a day, six days a week), and treat them as poorly as possible.  Apple then charges their customers as much as possible for their products.  After this, they hoard their cash and do their level best to legally avoid paying taxes (mainly using overseas tax havens).  And before they know it, they too will have all the money in the world but it’ll be worthless because no one else will have any to buy their products.

According to the research firm iSuppli, they estimate the iPad2 (with 32Gb memory, WiFi and Cell) costs about $10 to assemble in China; the material costs about $325 for a total of $335 per unit for labor and material.  Apples sells this device for $729, which gives them a gross profit margin of 54%.  Pretty impressive.
Now if Apple were to manufacture the iPad2 in the U.S. it would cost them about $292.77 to assemble (at a labor/benefit rate $32.53/hour); the material costs would be about the same $325 for a total of $617.77 per unit for labor and material.  Apple’s gross margin would then shrink to 15.25%. 

Sure, manufacturing in the U.S. would shrink Apple’s gross margins.  It’s not a question of making a profit, but how BIG of a profit Apple would make.  They choose to manufacture in China because they can earn 54% gross margins instead of a measly 15% in the U.S.  The only problem is that consumers will no longer be able to afford Apple’s products because they’re earning much lower wages.

While Apple and the rest of Corporate America have not achieved their wish for all the money in the world they have purpose designed their business models to lock up as much cash as they can and sequester it at the corporate level as cash on hand or as bonuses to a few corporate mangers; in doing so their money is becoming worthless because no one else has any. 

Much of today’s unemployment is caused by slow demand. People aren’t spending as much of their income for those products because they just don’t have the cash! Flat salaries coupled with inflation have eroded the bulk of the buying public’s disposable income resulting in the slow recovery from the 2008 recession.

We will be stuck in this quagmire unless and until the corporate mangers learn that their shortsighted wish for “all the money in the world” is the root cause of their financial woes.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Knowledge is not enough

I just finished a book called Proving You’re Qualified and a book called Training Yourself: the 21st Century Credential, both by Charles D. Hayes, and found a huge gap in his premise.

I looked into a website called Zero Tuition College and another called UnCollege and found that both suffer from the same missing element as Mister Hayes’ books.

A credential is important not for the knowledge it supposedly represents, but for the person you are talking to. Only a small percentage of the work force will end up starting their own business and following in the footsteps of Bill Gates to succeed without a degree.

While everyone may aspire to start their own business or work for that super startup, big companies have lots of employees so that is where the bulk of the jobs are. HR departments in big companies are swamped with applicants and are scared to death of making a mistake and recommending a “bad” candidate.

That being true, the poor HR clerk reviewing applicants is looking for a quick and safe way to wade through that mountain of resumes. The first thing they can do that is fast and safe is to screen for an accredited degree. What can be safer than saying to your boss, “She must know how to do the work, she has a degree in that very thing from XYZ College.”

If you pursue self-education as recommended in both books, how do you prove to perspective employers that you really can do the work? While a portfolio (even as an online website) works well for designers, photographers or artists this non-traditional approach really doesn’t work very well for engineers or mangers.

While Mr. Hayes is absolutely correct in his ascertain that everyone will have to invest significant time and energy in continuing their professional education, even that must come with some kind of recognized credential. Why? Because when it comes time to assign work or look for the worker ready for promotion, your boss is going to look for that same safe and easy differentiator as he or she does when hiring a new candidate.

A qualification that they can point to so that when their boss asks why they picked that that person, they have some recognized “thing” to point to; something beyond the selector’s opinion that this is the right applicant.

While there is much to support the position that far too many people graduating from college today have memorized facts that they forget as soon as the test is over, no one has yet come up with a better way to prove that people have at least “read the book” than a degree.

Yes, a person’s demonstrated experience could be used. But remember that the screener is looking for a fast, safe way to select candidates. Reading resumes is not fast; you can’t really read a resume in the time it takes to scan for a degree. It’s not safe; the screener has to make a judgment call as to which experience is relevant and how complete the experience seems to be.

Before the current system can be replaced, someone is going to have to come up with a new credentialing system to replace or tap into the current system that will validate experience gained outside the current formal classrooms.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Sexual harassment

I usually only post to this blog once a week, but I just had to get this off my chest!

At CNN’s online news reports, Amanda Watts and Greg Botelho wrote the following about Bob Filner’s sexual harassment case.

A lawyer for San Diego Mayor Bob Filner criticized the city for not providing sexual harassment training to the mayor, saying its failure to do so violated the law.

In a letter to the city attorney, Harvey Berger wrote that Filner might never have been sued for sexual harassment had he been properly trained. "If there is any liability at all, the city will almost certainly be liable for 'failing to prevent harassment,' " Berger wrote in a letter dated Monday and obtained Wednesday by CNN from City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.

Irene Jackson isn't alone. Seven other women have said they were subjected to "crude and disgusting" comments and inappropriate touching -- including groping and kissing -- by Filner. Many of the alleged incidents of which he's being accused took place during his five terms in a U.S. representative, before he was elected mayor last year.

This is the kind of stuff that drives me nuts! My mother taught me about proper and improper behavior about the time I was ready to start dating and I’m sure Filner’s mother did the same thing.

This is not a case of a man who somehow didn’t know that his actions were improper; this is a man who didn’t care. Filner was born three (3) years before I was and I have known since I was 15 that you don’t treat the women around you that way.

This guy knew his behavior was improper and was using his position to get away with behavior that would get his face slapped or worse if he did exactly the same thing in his local pub.