Sunday, December 18, 2016

The 38th Parallel of Organizations

Donald Trump
Donald Trump
Every organization has an organizational structure. The formal structure, often represented in an 'organization chart' displays names, titles and reporting responsibilities.  Paralleling that is the informal structure of how organizations actually work.  Often titled staff "make things happen" beyond the representation of the organization chart and it's accompanying catalog of formal job descriptions.  The "informal organization chart" lacks documentation other than informal but established and historical knowledge, experience and perspectives.  The lack of formal organization charts and documented processes can be a challenge to new incoming staff members.  Entry level staff struggle to understand how the processes work.  Incoming senior staff often stumble when attempting to formalize or change informal processes that already work fine.

Douglas MacArthur
Douglas MacArthur
It's a challenge.  The junior person needs to "get up to speed" and "show their worth" in the first year. The new senior person needs to "straighten things up"  and "make the changes that need changing." The counterpoint is for all new people to understand an organizations culture.  Strangely, the challenge is to create a formal process of education and communication that transfers knowledge of the informal processes.

Zappos, the online shoe retailer, does a great job of educating new employees on Zappos culture.  A lengthy, mandatory training session on company culture is followed by the offer to leave the company, with a cash offer, if the employee is uncomfortable in any sense with the culture.

Notes to incoming junior staff:
  • listen more than you talk
  • request a peer mentor
  • request a mentor at a more senior position
  • develop a mentor at a comparable organization
  • network
  • be good in your discipline and another
  • plan your future leadership
Notes to incoming senior staff:
  • listen more than you talk
  • request a peer mentor
  • request a mentor at a lessor non-reporting position
  • develop a mentor at a comparable organization
  • network
  • be good in your discipline and another
  • lead based on your experience as a follower
Now for the political commentary...
The President-elect has offered complementary statements about his military hero, Douglas MacArthur:

Regarding Hillary Clinton's website:
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton is helping ISIS by putting her plan to fight the extremist group on her website, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump argued in Monday night’s presidential debate.
“General Douglas MacArthur wouldn’t like that,” Trump said.
My comment:  Donald Trump has frequently mentioned and idolized General MacArthur (and General Patton to a lesser degree).  He's possibly cherry-picked those references.  We all do that to a degree.  
The media and the generals:
Trump:  "I don't want my generals being interviewed."
My comment:  Patton and MacArthur, two egotistic WWII generals are often referenced by Donald Trump.  Each was criticized and censured by sitting Presidents for their public commentary.  MacArthur was removed as commander of US forces in Korea for his commentary.  Historians regard both MacArthur and Patton as leading media whores of their era, successful yet controversial in the field.
Fox News:
Trump commentary: As Donald Trump, our new president-elect, starts to plan for the future, the man he should turn to for advice may have died more than fifty years ago, but his words and deeds live on. He’s General Douglas MacArthur, who actually has a lot in common with Donald Trump—and should be one of his role models as president.    
Like Trump, MacArthur was a maverick, an anti-establishment figure.
Truman: "I fired him (MacArthur) because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the president," Truman later explained. "I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the laws for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail."
Trump reference: Nothing else Trump has said—about Muslims, women, protesters, immigrants and so on—has chilled the political, military and media establishment more than his glib pronouncements on nuclear weapons. If we’re not going to use them, Trump told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews in a typical remark last March, “then why are we making them?” He said he might drop one on the Islamic State group, known as ISIS, or Europe. “You want to be unpredictable,” he said.
MacArthur:  (from "American Caesar" by William Manchester)
On the second anniversary of Hiroshima, when a bell of peace was rung at the very spot where the bomb had exploded, he asked that "the agonies of that fateful day serve as a warning to all men of all races" that nuclear weapons "challenge the reason and the logic and the purpose of man....This," he said, "is the lesson of Hiroshima.  God grant that it not be ignored."
My comment:  MacArthur was also not in favor of the use of nuclear weapons on Japan.  He was a great general, more knowing of his opponent's intentions that they were themselves and believe Japan to be within days of surrender.  This is what differentiates leaders (good executives); understand your staff, your peers and your competition as well or better than they understand themselves.  It's a big job.  Listen.  Read. Plan.
MacArthur now resides in history as a great strategist particularly in his role in the Pacific in WWII.  Unfortunately, ego, his major strength and major flaw undermined his place in history.  

Donald Trump has surrounded himself with people of extreme partisan positions and experience, some with no experience.  His challenge will be to afford  the "MacArthurs" of his appointees to succeed yet remember for whom they work, and to ensure his own MacArthur traits include the ego to define, prioritize and strategize but remain a humanitarian.

Humility has a place in leadership. Good business leaders have followed before they led. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Wisdom of Youthful Organizational Decision-Making

During all of my managerial positions I was older than my staff.  My job was to understand them, their needs, the reality of the organization, and do whatever, but leave them alone.  They were talented.  Rarely did I override their decisions.  The exceptions were at times of major strategic changes in direction or the inevitable crisis; those were the times to pull experience from my cerebral cortex.

The talents to lead are honed when you follow.  It's not easy working for someone you don't care for or who lacks talent.  It preps you for your time at the podium.

Of course getting to the podium is just the start.  My constant advice is continual re-education.  There are few professions or crafts that are not continually developing and changing.  Listening to younger people, your staff and others offers insight.  The challenges of a youthful employee and a more senior employee are much different.  One can be comfortable with their achievement (don't get comfortable) and one wants more challenges and growth (that's your are the waiter).

Organizations that fail to change fail (duh).  My approach in hiring was to always include a younger staff member.  In the IT space I worked really hard to be ahead of the curve in strategy and opportunity but I knew that interviews were about discovering what kind of person wanted to work there.  As a senior person did you know all the trends and lifestyles that you should?  Did you put a candidate in the reject pile because of their ink?  Your youthful counterpart might have explained that half the world wears ink.  

The secondary and more important reason for bringing a youthful employee to
meet candidates is because you might have 3-5 years of employment left.  The young employee seated next to you might be working with this candidate for 25 years.    The young employee and this young candidate are the ones that will shape the future, not you.  It's one of those times that you have to poke yourself in the eye and remember that despite your manager status you work for your employees.  Listen to them.

It's also possible that anyone achieving a 'C' level position should either have to go sit in the basement, out of sight or automatically be laid off in 24 months. That would improve innovation, creativity, etc.

P.S.  "Office Space," the movie, should be viewed annually.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

You need to be afraid...

career fear scared
Traveling north during a recent early winter storm I was able to keep the truck out of the ditch and generally pointing the direction I was headed.  Two winters ago I was following a truck pulling a trailer with four snowmobiles (snow machines) that was traveling too fast.  Four wheel drive is a dangerous thing for all the freeway NASCAR drivers.  As the vehicle lost control it entered the center ditch the snowmobiles went airborne and landed in the southbound lane.  The truck and trailer were deeply buried in half a winter's snow. Never have four snowmobiles flown into my lane.  I have thought about deer, small animals., wrong-way vehicles, moose and airplanes but never four airborne snow machines.  My guess is that first thing that would happen is I'd quickly wonder if they were SkiDoos or the Minnesota-based Polaris machines.  It would be scary.

Listening to NPR interview a gentleman who had written a column for the San Francisco Gate for thirty-five years.  He wrote a column three days a week.  Many times he stared at the screen with a two-hour deadline, but he was good.  One comment he made was "If you have never been scared in your job you are probably in the wrong job."  During the gig I have to admit I was never scared.  I was methodical, thorough and competent.  There were indicators that it was not as challenging as I wished.

Facing the unknown is OK.  We need to have more of a challenge than just the unknown.  If you've worked through every scenario on every big project you're good.  We need the unexpected.  Since leaving the gig I've challenged myself many times. Today I took on a project I'd never done.  Going into it confidently I left feeling damn good.  All the right tools accompanied me and there was only one predicted trip to the hardware store.  It's four hours later and I am afraid that I might have missed one component.  It's sort of like losing one lug nut on a six hole rim...a little bit scary; that's good.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Polls Were Wrong...The Underbelly of Big Data

Presidential Polls...All Wrong...I Was Right
Two years ago I made a two bets.  The first was that Donald Trump would be the Republican Presidential nominee.  Winning the Presidency was the second.  Each was for $40.  

As the campaign progressed the margin narrowed and with missteps on the part of the Democratic candidate, possible Hatch Act transgressions by the FBI Director and rising enthusiasm of the disenfranchised right (and Sanders misguiding the youth) and Mr. Trump won, not carrying the popular vote but winning the electoral vote which is what really counts.

It was about 10:30 PM on NOV 8th that all the talking heads and pollsters must have simultaneously watched the red light go on and thought "everything we've analyzed and said is wrong."

One aspect of Big Data is the marketing and merchandising side.  No one reads much any more, including Donald Trump, but we're addicted to smart phones, tablets, 140 character Tweets and a perpetual stream of visual and sound bites (bytes).    It's regarded as truth by many despite the fact that the major news carriers are more about advertising dollars than journalistic responsibility.

My forecast was based on no data, simply a gut feel.  As Andy Warhol  said "In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes."  It appears that I've had my fifteen minutes although it's been in two or three minute segments.

Your Online Smart-Ass Social Media Legacy & Big Data
During the Republican debates Ted Cruz had to defend the allegation that his father was a conspirator of Lee Harvey Oswald based upon a fuzzy photograph taken in Cuba.  A photograph, almost sixty years old may have played a part in Mr. Cruz's failure to be the nominee.  Minimally it's now become a topic.   Some people, having seen it in the debate or the regurgitated media/internet blasts will not certainly regard it as truth.

With the progression of the Obama Presidency it appears that American's willingness to identify themselves  with slanderous, derogatory and offensive commentary seemed to escalate.  Often I'm amused when people talk about their Facebook pages and state that they can say whatever they want on 'their Facebook page.'  Now if Facebook was a public utility or a government entity, perhaps like the library system that might be the case but it's not.  Facebook is a corporation.  When you open an account there, or on Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest, etc., you are agreeing to the corporations end-user license agreement (EULA) which almost always says that you have given them all rights to use your postings, data, contacts, profile information, etc.

So down the road when your child applies to college or for a job the first research that will be done will be to look up their current social media profile.  As big data progresses big data will be re-packaged and sold to other companies that mine this data to provide analytics on what you might buy, where you might live, your political inclinations and your suitability for whatever.

If you repeatedly posted that President Obama was born in Kenya or some more disparaging comment your kids or your children's children might lose out because you were a birther or you were a political contributor to the wrong party or you bought a lot of odd things online or from a particular retailer.  It's possible that you, too, might have to defend yourself as Ted Cruz did.  On the other hand you have the opportunity to leave a good online legacy.

Broken Systems...Broken Truck

Broken Systems...Loss of Customer Focus/Fees...Wells Fargo...
The Wells Fargo CEO is going to forego $41,000,000 in stock options.  Under his direction employees opened false accounts for customers to meet their sales goals. They fire 1% of their employees every years.  Jack Welsh, the over-rated former CEO of GE, encouraged the replacement of 1/3 of GE's employees every year.  Some of the Wells Fargo employees fired for being 'honest' are moving for a class action suit.  I wish them well.

Recently we changed the credit card processing service for our small business.  We were working one day a month just for that cost (from Wells Fargo).  After changing credit card processors our costs dropped in half.  When I called Wells Fargo to terminate that service they asked "why did you change?"  When I said 'cost,' they followed with "did you ask for an account review to see if we could lower costs?"  

In this increasingly software-driven world it would have been simple to index or change our fees to the competition, lower it because we were a good client, or just remain competitive.  

It seems that large companies get on this income stream of regular customers.  I'm sure 90% of us don't shop prices on things we should.  

More Broken Systems...Wells Fargo/Customer Service...
Yesterday I logged on to transfer money from Wells Fargo for a 100 year old relative to pay a few of her bills.  Wells Fargo recently updated their web sites.  They're very mobile friendly now but certainly not a functional improvement.  I was unable to access the account.  After an hour on the phone with three people I could not understand they said they'd call back.  When they did I had my phone on speaker so I could talk and type at the same time.  There were some background conversations going on and the Wells Fargo person said they could not continue talking with me if I was on a speaker phone.  "You asked me to log in and stay on the phone.  How would you suggest I do that?"  "I cannot speak if you are on speakerphone."  It was at that point that I decided I am closing my relative's Wells Fargo account.  I was able to finally see the account and said "This problem only started after the new web site deployment.  Was that part of the problem?"  "Sir, if you can see the account now you may make your transaction."  "You did not answer my question!"  "Sir, if you can see the account now you may make your transaction."  Long pause.  "Sir, can Wells Fargo do anything else for you today."  Duh, not likely. Click.

Broken Systems...MetLife/Underwriting/Claims/Customer Portal/Customer Service...
Our personal insurance on cars, property, dwellings, etc., was through MetLife for more than two decades.  It's possible that our only claim history was for a couple of windshields.  A few years ago hail damaged all the roofs in our neighborhood.  As the houses around me received nice new roofs I had to take MetLife to a mediation process which cost $500...and they denied the claim even though they acknowledged hail damage on a vehicle parked ten feet from the roof.

I shopped insurance and ended up with Liberty Mutual.  The cost is at least 1/3 less, they have a fantastic online presence (MetLife was in the internet dark ages) and the employees are considerate, helpful and a pleasure, focused on what's good for me, the customer.

After a couple of decades, probably $100,000+ in premiums with MetLife and the same agent, I switched.  There was a small refund from MetLife.  No one from MetLife or the agency followed up or asked why I'd left.

A 'Broken Arrow' Opportunity...
There was a time that I was critical of companies that focused on low prices all the time.  There is an issue with their employees making a living wage but the reality is that wages are being challenged in all types of organizations.  The low-price providers might be primarily focused on profits but they do focus on customer options and services, as well.  In my lean process improvement days I used to start each Kaizen with a discussion on waste (the biggest being a loss of a customer) and the 'CEO' focus.  'C' the customer comes first.  'E' the employee comes second.  'O' the owner comes last.  In my examples today the 'O' people, like the Wells Fargo CEO, did come in last, but not last enough.  We'd also have to consider 'O' to be Wall Street, to which most public companies are beholding.

The Wells Fargo CEO appears uninformed under review.  We seem to be moving in a direction where the C-level people make big bucks and are not customer focused, workers are struggling to stay employed at a living wage and 'systems' are replacing decent customer management.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Who to hire?...and no job, no truck

Trump Clinton Hiring qualifications
This weekend I broke a rim on my truck making a tight right turn that resulted in an encounter with a 18" tall 6" concrete post protecting a fire hydrant.  It's a long story but it's because someone (not me) was helpful and chose to return a lost item.

Monday the truck was towed to the dealer.  The encounter left the vehicle with a tendency to only go in a circle to the right...serious alignment issue.

The dealer has confirmed the broken wheel and recommended a replacement tire.  Alignment issues were confirmed but it was more.  "The right rear axle housing is bent.  The part is about $3000 and the labor will be an additional $1000."  The total is now $4500+ from a 2 MPH confrontation.  The redeeming part is that now it's an insurance claim with a company that is a leader in online policy management and claims reporting.  All, now, is in process.  The downside is not having the F-150 for a week plus.  My insurance covers a rental vehicle but floods and hail have depleted the nation's fleet of vehicles. Global weather change hits home.

This AM I asked my better half if I could use her vehicle.  "You don't even have a real job.  You have no where to go."  Nice reminder.

When I did have a job I had the opportunity to hire people.  The challenge for the applicant is to get through the screening process, the review of resumes, including the right 'key words' (#keyword #resume #applicant #wantthisjobbad) and get an interview.  Reviewing resumes, mountains of them, was tedious but enjoyable.  My normal approach was to spend about 30 seconds on each resume.  You look for form, style, relevant experience and typos.  Typos typically indicate that they can't spell and you don't need them or that they are human and did not use a professional service to make a 'good resume.'  So much for logic and deductive reasoning.  Hiring needs intuition.

My interviews were always for an hour, the first never one-on-one.  I brought one of my staff.  It's good to put a face on the people they might work with; I was in charge but they needed to be part of a team.  My  role was scorekeeper, linesman, referee, umpire, etc., making and breaking rules and guidelines and convention.  My goal was to put the interviewee at ease, to ask a few questions, probe their knowledge, find out their individual working styles and learn about their interests.  Musicians always make good IT people.  My staff always wanted conventional candidates.  They all started as my unconventional choices.  It worked.

It's been a while since I interviewed anyone.  Last night's debate was a good opportunity to run through the "would this person be a good hire?" routine.

Attribute Donald Trump Hillary Clinton
Appearance/Dress/td> Professional Professional
Grooming Polished. Power tie & suit. Polished. Pants suit.
Facial Tattoo None. None
Visible Tattoo None None
'Private' Tattoo 'Donald Trump' 'Bill'
Grammar Choppy Polished, planned
Experience Only at own business Progressively more demanding government
Relevant Experience Probably not Yes
Sense of Humor None apparent Not sure. Laughs at odd times.
Has a Pet Yes & No. Unclear. One cat, two dogs.
Listening Skills None. Only to worthy.
Speaking Skills Not really. Shouts. Rehearsed. To detailed.
Demeanor Arrogant. Elitist. Arrogant. Elitist.
Can take direction No. Can't. Could but won't.
Years of Preparation Not enough. Too many.
Ego Explosive. Huge
Team Player No. Only wants to be captain. Would agree to be co-captain.
Would respect me No. Would tolerate me for a while.
Pleasant at happy hour? Might pick up tab. Would leverage time.
Plays a musical instrument Unclear. Appears not.

My conclusion:  I'm going to run through the stack of submitted resumes a second time.  This is tough.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


The Wall Street Journal has been direct in it's analysis of the current Presidential campaign candidates.  Offering up this election's offerings as a choice of locusts or frogs was good.  One candidate talks like AM talk radio and lacks depth and spins.  That might be broad brush America today.  The other, vastly more knowledgeable, struggles to appear sincere, totally open and honest, and is also good at spinning.  I'm not sure either are honest but when was total honesty a attribute in politics?

Fortune had a short piece contrasting the idealism of the early internet and the brash, money-driven and bad behavior of the internet we face today.  The words left by people are a bit shocking.  What you say is there forever and not anonymous even if your public name is BigFootForever2.

We have an acquaintance making a lot of money from their food blog.  Containing great photography and recipes and all written with an uplifting, fun style it appeals to a certain demographic, probably women, mothers in the 25-40 category.  They've leveraged big data and evolving social media and really good marketing companies to leverage and build their following which now results of tens of thousands of hits per day, month, whatever.  They continue to put on little seminars for other wanna-be bloggers.  The charge a good rate for that but I think it's also an effort to make their blog production appears legitimate, more real, countering the reality of the internet being an incestuous churning of sites and ads.  A recent Bloomberg Business Week identified 75% of all web site hits coming from bots, automated search/click/hit servers.  All of this plays back into selling into big business advertising dollars.

Facebook shows me people that I might like to friend.  Some of them are former co-workers, some from my home town and others who appear to walked some of the streets.  A consulting psychiatrist recently found that Facebook was presenting her patients to each other as potential friends.  The psychiatrist was not a 'friend' with any of her patients.  It appeared to be connections through geographic data.  Normally I use Facebook at my desktop (geek) so I should really only be presented friend options from perhaps the plumber or the guy mowing his yard next door.  I have been presented as 'friend' options people who have sent me unsolicited email in my Gmail account.  Perhaps Mark Zuckerberg will be at my door if I continue with this thought.

My iPhone had a pop-up ad promoting 'three things to do to avoid dementia.'  That was yesterday.  1. learn a new word in a foreign language. 2. I have no idea.  3.  Each certain foods.   I did not follow the link for 'certain foods.' 

Mobility and Brevity Versus 'Quaint'
Yesterday I saw the PC mode I like best referred to as 'the desktop age' and I read that as 'horse and buggy.'  It's not always that I want to work at Starbucks with earbuds and a $6 coffee.  New devices (tablets & convertible notebooks) do have keyboard options.  It's possible that the 'swipe' generation will look upon this users as horse people, too.  In the small business we did a favor for an instructor at a neighboring large college.  He was teaching a class in marketing and required student groups to take on a small business as a project.  The four kids showed up wearing hats, two backwards.  One messed w/ his phone during two meetings.  They were inarticulate, could not spell or write complete sentences.  All had career goals of working in large advertising firms, hoping to start as account executives.

I guess I'll get a saddle seat for my desktop and continue to improve my typing skills and vocabulary (I am weak in foreign language potential).

Regarding's 140 characters, hashtags and abbreviations, a constant feed of not sound bites but code bites, created, opened, closed and deleted with a thumb swipe.  It seems that Elon Musk could do all that for us.  Blogging, like this, sharing thoughts, dealing with life in sentences and images and a story line or disjointed connection of thoughts  is now considered quaint. Henceforce #idontevenhaveadumbjob #quaint

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Buried In Paper In An Electronic Age

Buried in Books...
Douglas MacArthurOne of the blogs I frequent is written by someone self-described as totally cool and really hip with their American Caesar a wonderful biography of Douglas MacArthur written by William Manchester.  Apparently we're all messed up and driven by our parents obsessions, strengths and weaknesses.
reading of books.  Lacking coolness but good at copying people who are, I am sharing what I'm reading (which also distracts me from writing).

Tananarive Due, a writer of some accomplishment has nine books, eight collaborations and articles and
stories in wordsmith credits.  The first was written in a wooden, straight-back chair at ten years of age.  Forty years later it remains part of the creative process.

My chair has been far less productive in its' place before the keyboard.  As a new office desk chair in 1990 it served well until a corporate 'office move' in 2001.  At that point I simply took it home.  With 26 years in front of my keyboard it has produced nothing of publishing quality, perhaps hundreds of letters, thousands of emails, many attempts at work of interest...and sixteen years of tax returns.  I have annoyed a lot of people.  A few have chuckled.

A broader posterior or small cleaning effort would make it as good as new...but without that there's still a future and duct tape repair is not imminent.

Buried in Small Business...
After six years we're getting some media coverage on the local CBS station.  Like all businesses it's a balance of resources and effort and endless time of being too busy or not busy enough.  The media coverage will change the equation.

Buried in Rental/Tenants/Mediation/Farming...
Years ago I removed myself from the landlord business.  I'm weak and again a landlord.  My labor day was spent mediating a conflict and misunderstanding between the tenant who farms the land and watches his emerging plantings, and the housing tenant who perhaps should have walked across the field to shoot geese rather than drive a pickup.  In elementary school they remind you to keep to your own space.  Good advice.

Buried Septic History...
The farm has a quaint farmhouse which has been rented out continuously.  At the time of purchase a decade ago we were aware of the non-complying septic system.  It a perfect septic world the products flushed end up in a solid tank, the solids settle and the overflow runs off to a drain field where it is purified draining back through the sandy soil.  This septic tank was farmer-made of silo bricks and leaked.  It was a good solution for the day when walking out to the little house was no longer convenient.  As we've conducted our septic archaeology survey it appears that there are three farmer-made tanks serving various effluent production devices and two drain fields.  It's an October project.  Hopefully the next owner will appreciate our investment to relocate what goes downhill.

Digitally Buried...
Certainly we're in a paperless world.  Digital.  Electronic.  People I owe money to don't want my checks or 
credit cards but simply want my bank routing number and account number and they suck the money out.  That's fine.  Writing checks, paper or electronic is tedious and the credit card companies collect fees at unfairly high rates.  Despite all this new form of communication and payment the paper continues to accumulate and my recycling barrel becomes full every two weeks and my keyboard is disappearing (yes, that is probably a 15 year old keyboard.  Somewhere I have newer that match the black of my current desktops (one keyboard, three PCs) but I don't want to trace the cables under the stacks of important papers and I don't want to go to a wireless keyboard (no good reason).

Even the companies give me an option to print out receipts for payments, registrations, purchases, etc.  I'm certain that "print a copy of this for safekeeping" will ultimately bury me or be good tinder (for all those buried cables).

Sunday, September 4, 2016

"What a Nightmare" "Business Relationships & Treading Water"

If you can't swim you need to be good a treading water. While employed you're surrounded by organizational resources and people who use you and you them. Once out in the open water, unemployed, that helping hand is gone.

I always told my employees to develop their skills and be immediately employable elsewhere.  That's easy.  In-service options abound and money can always be found for training and development.  The second part of being employable is to 'know people.'  Work harder on this part.  You're more likely to be employable if you actually have developed your network people.  Even with rusty or weak skills good contacts will help you get your work life together.

Social media is invaluable but real people, real handshakes and face-ed to-face conversations leave an impression.  This is better done while employed. Once unemployed your former co-workers become as weak as a 2nd level LinkedIn contact.

Work at treading. Survive.  Others sink.  Ships pass.

You brand, the part that gets you a new gig is swimming, not treading.

"What A Nightmare"

We've owned rental property for years.  It's still not clear if that makes sense but it is what it is.  A new tenant is coming September 5th.  Fortunately the previous tenant left a couple of days early.  You never know what you're going to find when you walk in the door.  This time is was not bad and the routine was the standard cleaning and light repair and adding to the list of what really should be done.  It's call the "after this tenant list."  After this tenant we'll re-do the kitchen and bath, replace the windows and carpet...make it really nice, spend $20,000 and get another $75/month in rent.

You work through the list in your head, the obvious issues, the likely issues and what you might find that you anticipate and the things that might be there that would be bad.  If you plan on making three trips it will probably be six.  You find that the tenant took all the light bulbs and you did not bring any or a work light.  

It's all good practice.  Scenarios.  Paradigm-busting.  "I've never had a tenant leave voodoo dolls of me with pins through their head."  Actually I have.  That was not a scenario that I'd planned for.  Now I open each cupboard, closet and drawer and look for the pin-through-the-head doll.  Business scenario planning needs to give thought to these outliers, too. Not every hole in the road is a 2008 recession.

Late in the evening Saturday I know there is one more trip on Sunday to finish painting and final cleanup.  One more pass at the tub/shower is completed but the water won't go down.  The drain open/close mechanism did work but has failed.  Thanks for YouTube.  It's simple, sort of to take apart.

As the part comes out it's clear that the linkage component is broken.  Skipping dinner (it's 8:30 PM) I head to Menard's in search of part(s).  The first young man responds that he is not a plumbing expert but will find one.  A jovial guy appears.  I show him the part.  His response "what a nightmare" is about what I expected.  Menard's is a 50,000 SQFT store.  "We don't have anything like that.  You'll have to visit xxx.  They are closed until Tuesday.

"Coming Home Crazy" was one of regional writer Bill Holm's works.  Written in the 1980s it inspired me to find words in each days passage and frustration.  He wrote of simple things, drawing in part from his Icelandic heritage and a simple life in Minneota, MN.  Once I wrote to him offering thanks that his example allowed me to write creatively about snaking a floor drain.

Now it's fifteen years later and I've not been as diligent about this writing challenge as I should have been.  I'm thinking that Bill was talking to me, the new plumbing breakage is a sign as were his words channeled to me "oh, what a nightmare."

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Plan B Might Not Be Enough

Plan B Hippo Gramsie Road
This summer a nearby roadway was re-surfaced, but not raised.  City officials did not raise the roadway because it had no other history of flooding other than two years ago.

Conventional wisdom would indicate we all need a Plan B.  If I don't get the first job I applied for I need to chase the second opening.  Spare tires are good but what if two flats occur simultaneously.

Plan B works for conventional events, conventional market opportunities and standard organizational decision making.  It would be easy to add Plan C, D, E, etc. but those, too, follow convention.  Spend time on scenarios that change the playing field.  Study major paradigm shifts that caused the best to flounder.

My Plan A & Plan B was to find another position of similar character.  Envision the opportunities that 'might' happen and be first in line...or better yet be in charge of the line.

Regarding the roadway...who would have thought the Endangered Species Act of 1973 would have come into play on a Twin Cities metro roadway.  Cows falling from the sky could be next.

Monday, July 18, 2016

"So You Are A Big Shot"

My paternal grandfather was a Norwegian immigrant.  Arriving in the States with a small bag and the address of a farm in rural MN he worked for seven years as a hired hand, glad to have work.  After retrieving his wife-to-be from "the old country" he rented land and farmed.  The birth of no sons and the third daughter brought the proclamation "you can't farm with girls" and he moved his family to town.

"albert lea" "wilson & company" "meatpacking plant"

For thirty years he worked at Wilson and Company.  At the center of the photograph is a six-story ramp that led from the stockyards to the killing floor.  Without fail for all those years he drove livestock up the ramp all day.  He was in pretty good shape but retired at 70 and lived to 100.

"josef albers" "work on paper" "big shot"
When I was first starting in my professional working career he asked me what I did.  At the time I wrote reports, did statistical analysis on crime data and dabbled in the computer world.  None of this seemed relevant to a guy whose first trip across the ocean took 21 days and who's life's work was at the fragrant end of some exhausted horses or panicked beef cattle.  Finally I said that I did "book work" and sat in an office.  "So you are a big shot!"  I think, in his Norwegian stoicism, that he did care a small amount about me but really I think he thought my work was pointless and a waste.

For most of the next 40 years my "work" became increasingly digital and abstract in nature.  In a big corporate move in 2001 we moved to a new corporate headquarters.  My input to that plan was broad but specific to the nature of storage and work stations.  "We don't need to buy very many file cabinets.  Our world is going digital."  By 2008 we were giving away scores of thousand dollar file cabinets and three thousand dollar architectural plan tables. During the eleven years I spent in that office I put total of about five file folders in a file cabinet.

Were I having that conversation with him now I could not really even claim to do "paperwork" and I'm not sure how to explain "digital" other than saying it's "electronic" and that's no better explanation.  Broad multi-dimensional applications that integrate systems, resources and real-time and future-time and imagined/conceptual/virtual (pokemon) systems are the new "big shot" jobs, I guess.  Here I am trying to put that in words.  My almost three-year reprieve from that "big shot" job world  has been good.  I'd like to go chase some cows up that ramp to reflect on his real work but the building is gone.  Beef-processing technology has changed.  Gravity is not as important a factor as it once was. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Cloud Storage, Negatives, "About Schmidt" (Jack Nicholson)

Jack Nicholson cloud storage negatives
The 2002 film, "About Schmidt", profiled an insurance executive, proud of his actuarial legacy, who leaves his job (reluctantly), finds his life work in a dumpster during a visit to the workplace, and embarks on a journey unencumbered.  It's a tough trip.

With regrets at mentioning the '27-year gig', I must.  Had I simply printed out all that was important (most of which is not) or made copies and placed in boxes to accompany me on 'my journey' they'd certainly been dumped on the desert by now.  Unfortunately I uploaded it all to a couple of fee-based cloud storage sites.  Almost three years have passed and I don't want to pay for any further storage and decided to download it to storage at home (and forego concerns of backup).

Each of those documents was important for content, creative, innovative work, etc., or something that I might need on my next gig.  Austin Kleon's books have made it very clear that even creative people steal from others and leveraging work from one organization to another, while perhaps questionable, would be creative...and creative is always good.  So goes the justification.

Reading each document before determining it's retention in this 'almost three years later' pass has caused me to smile, chuckle, reflect and be annoyed at some of the same roadblocks and tools (that's 'tool' in a negative personality sense).

This afternoon my daughter asked me if disposable cameras were still available.  She talked about the process of taking in a camera or film, waiting for the film to be processed, deciding on 3x5, 4x6, matte or glossy and then waiting.  Digital has made us all film processors as much as photographers.  What we lack is that box of prints and negatives that sit in a closet for years, until we die, and our relatives pick through them, remarking about changes, parties, events and vacations sites of past.  With digital we rarely print.  Dying without a URL, user name and password leaves our image legacy in the cloud.  It's probably not even deleted but remaining without access.

Negatives were always a challenge to review.  In the lab we'd do proof sheets, aggregations of small images, select from that and printer larger that we wished to print, mount, distribute and enjoy.  It would appear that I'm doing some sort of electronic proof sheet (no, not a thumbnail).

It seems that my electronic work legacy is all about negatives, too.  I have to open them and transport them and that causes me to review and revisit.  My childless 100 year old aunt asks who would want to look at all her photographs but struggles to throw them out (ironic even more as her vision fades and she cannot see what she has).  We hold on to things under the illusion that we'll use them, need them, share them or that someone else will want them.

After moving most of these files from a fee-based storage to a storage device in the office (it feels like moving valuables from a temperature and humidity controlled storage facility to a damp garage) I wish someone would have simply checked all the boxes and hit 'Delete.'  'Someone' always limits forward progress.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Garrison Keillor, my material, his balls

Garrison Keillor
Garrison Keillor's last show was good.  The midwestern guy underplayed the transition, made it sound a natural process, timely.  It might prove to be a struggle.  Not being in charge of something you created is a challenge.

He is a writer, remarkably creative and cleverly funny, taken in doses.

I've talked of being a writer.  Lately Amazon has delivered numerous tomes on the craft of writing.  Similar, they've encouraged me to simply write about the round-about of reading books and watching videos, but like many wanna-be's is a passing idea.

Long before personal computers Mr. Keillor used some material I sent in.  At the time Bertha's Kitty Boutique was a recurring topic in the weekly Lake Wobegon news.  Perhaps I have a copy, but probably not.  Generally the story (my story, his presentation) was about sending your feline pets to Cat Camp in the Catskills, the days spent catamaran sailing, mandatory catnaps, etc.  The 'etc.' is lost to time but it was several minutes.  I would have appreciated "John from St. Paul..."

Years later a friend who lived on the first floor of a Grand Avenue duplex asked me to go golfing.  Not having any clubs he said the the upstairs tennant's clubs were in the basement.  That summer, numerous times, I borrowed the clubs without asking, and yes, played with Garrison Keillor's balls.

Small Business...
Brent Olson Inadventent Cafe
Several years ago we drove from Arkansas back to Shoreivew on US 65. We passed through many small towns, most with the lights off in the historic downtowns, some with no business districts (or businesses) left at all. Buying groceries or finding a place to eat was difficult. 'Beige food' from convenience stores seemed to be the only option for the rural midwesterners; that's not healthy.

About the time we began the Marianne's Kitchen adventure we crossed paths with Brent Olson who was attempting to keep a small town cafe alive in Clinton, Minnesota. You can follow him on Facebook at the Inadvertent Cafe. His commitment was for four years, the deadline soon approaching. We traded commentary on the returns and challenges of small food venues in the sparse prairies and the food-sparse suburbs. Before he closes we're going to drive almost to South Dakota for breakfast.

The remodeling project is done.  The carpet installation was a scheduling disaster.  After it was in the quality of the install was awful.  Complaining led to the troubleshooter (carpet guy) who found the carpet was delaminating.  A few days after going in it's coming out.  My work is done.  Now I want a real job.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Write & Wrong

Revisiting not having a dumb job...

"You were done when your new boss knew your were sharper than him.  He wanted a 'yes' man."  

Gall Bladder -> Hospice...
hospice ultrasound job unemploymentIt appeared to be appendicitis but turned out to be gall bladder sludge.  Your liver produces three to five cups of bile per day.  The gall bladder doles it out into your intestine to aid in the digestion of fatty foods, probably the stuff you shouldn't be eating anyway.  Of course taking down a wooly mammoth and eating ten pounds of warm fat is all in a day's work and that's why we have a gall bladder.  The sludge is irremovable so the gall bladder is the departing organ of choice.

Waiting around is a bore.  I concluded that all the renovations included images that were those we might be surrounded with at the end of life.  Sailboats, trees, peaceful streams, leaves falling gently to the forest floor.  What a BOS.  I'm not dying, I'm here for a CT, ultrasound, blood work, etc.

I'm going to write a letter to the health company CEO.

In the closet...
blue shirts costume jobless
all within a theme
We were leaving for a couple of parties Saturday evening and it was 90+ Fahrenheit.  A short sleeve shirt was in order.  The closet presented my past.

It would be convenience to say that I'd narrowed the variety of my executive wardrobe when I was running the process improvement program and focused on 'eliminating waste.'  That was not how it happened.  'Matching sock' time is shortened when you wear the same socks every day (not the same pair but the same color/style).  Blue slacks, black cap toe shoes, grey Gold Toe socks, some sort of blue shirt, plain or plaid, not striped...that was the program.

This costume wardrobe has been utilized three times in the past two and three quarter years, once for a wedding and twice for a funeral visitation.  My conclusion is that in my former gig I was attired for the dead.  Change is good.  May it all remain in the closet is my wish du jour.

Regarding the short sleeve shirt...advice from my better half "just be comfortable.  No one is going to look at you.  No one cares what you wear."  As a guy it's clear that you go invisible at 55 or so (this to the opposite gender [I can't speak to same gender orientation...I just don't know]).

Write & Wrong...
A year ago I bet my son $40 that Trump would take the Republican nomination and another $40 (non-contingent) that Trump would win the Presidential election.  It appears that no money will exchange hands.

Approximately a year and half prior I committed to writing daily in this blog.  The same son remarked "you'll fail."  As a parent it's important to set goals for children.  Five is always a good number.  That's five goals.  Achieving all five is great but achieving fewer is not a failure.  There are many excuses for not sitting down and writing.  Every book on improving your writing, creating a career as a writer,  every motivational piece addresses all the excuses one thinks they have, the most common being to busy or lacking a topic.

innovation red hot chile peppers
Red Hot Chile Peppers
My distraction for the past 48 hours has been the weather, a couple of acres of grass to mow (still undone) and animals living in the attics (and their dutifully chewed access locations), the ninety+ degree heat, small business time demands and other lesser ideas and imagery.  Even now I could focus were it not for the common theme of the past 48 hours, recurring watching/listening of Red Hot Chile Peppers videos/music.

'Write & Wrong" came to me as an idea for a blog post topic.  It was going to identify issues with strategic planning, innovation and verbal and written articulation.  It was a good title.  If' I'd take off my headphones, quit the distraction of one of the great punk bands, quit tapping my foot to the second greatest bassist of all time I could bring some focus.  Well, perhaps tomorrow.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

"I can call someone" and "I don't do Facebook"

john deere lx280 ramps
This past week a guy came into the small business with his forearm tatted up with "Buy American of Die."  Looking around the parking lot and noting the absence of any Harley Davidson rides it led to "hey, sir, that's a commitment."  He was a welder and a trucker and younger than me and we conversed about that quality of foreign-made goods (e.g. cheap wrenches) and the lack of motivation and ability of American youth.

Fourteen years ago I started updating a rural home.  There was an aggressive 18 month schedule.  Life became complicated.  Five years ago I stopped at a garage sale and ended up purchasing a John Deere LX280 with 20 hours.  The seller's life was falling apart.  The sale gave him more than enough money to get to California and a new life.

Moving the mower from place to place required some ramps for the trailer.  Five hundred pounds is heavy.  A couple of 8' 2x12s and metal brackets from Northern Tool on one end filled the bill.  Many on-loadings and off-loadings have taken place with this and other even heavier equipment.

Two weeks ago I looked at one of the ramps and thought "that's going to break.  I need to reinforce it."  During today's off-loading my vision of lying under a five hundred pound mower was set in motion.

We have a customer at the small business who wants to move far away from people, certainly at the end of the road and preferably a bit further.  Over the past months I've suggested many approaches and given lists of equipment and tools that one needs out there on the edge.  His response normally has been "well, I can call someone."  My comment to that is that he is not suited for rural living.

As I dug around the garage and pulled out a circular saw, some wrenches, exterior screws and a partial sheet of plywood that I've saved for twenty years in anticipation of today's event I chuckled over "I can call someone."  A Google search for "ramp repair person" really would have left me with one ramp and a lawn tractor on a trailer.  

I don't do Facebook...
Facebook is annoying but I don't know how you function in today's world, how do you stay current, if you don't have at least one foot in at least one social media platform.  Luddite.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Balance: Left versus Right

left know not what the right does
When I ran the 'lean process improvement' program we'd look at opportunities to eliminate many types of waste.  Bringing people together we'd begin by flowcharting the process.  Often people who worked together daily would look at each other and state "you do that?"  Communication, documentation, the correct tools and resources and a commitment to continually measuring and improving the process was the desired outcome.  The left did not know what the right was doing.

Years ago I worked in manufacturing.  I did stuff. Running turret lathes, automated drilling machines, punch presses and large power shears were my deal.  As per the union contract the company was to provide certain supplies like aprons, safety glasses (no hearing protection in those days) and gloves.  The guy who handed out gloves would only give out a new pair if both gloves were worn out. 

I was reminded of him today.  As a predominantly left-handed but somewhat ambidextrous worker the wear patterns make no sense but this is how all my gloves wear.  It would be nice to partner up with someone with the opposite wear pattern.  Back in the 'plant' the simple fix would have been to hand out 'left' or 'right' or 'both.'  It was not the only manufacturing plant in the US with the same wear patterns.

Little Blue Stem

Remodeling Caffeine

Door 'Shim' Debris

Thursday, May 19, 2016

5-Minute #2 11% & Customer Service

Menard's customer service molding
 Customer service is quite simple.  Big box retailers use 'big data' to know what people need.  Walmart is excellent in this discipline.  Lumberyards had terrible customer service and many continue to make you feel like you are inconveniencing them AND you must be an idiot because you don't know all the grades of plywood.

During the previous remodeling I visited Menard's, a regional home improvement store, at least once a day.  The closest store is not one of their mega-footprint outlets but the people are generally good.

Menard's customer service molding
Menard's regularly runs store-wide 11% off sales.  You just need to go through the mechanics of filling out a small form and mailing in your receipts.  As a frequent visitor during those promotions I also leave some receipts in my pockets and miss the cut-off dates.  The sales are frequent enough that you can wait for one.

Today I needed six feet of additional molding.  The smaller store has been challenged with having adequate supplies of the type I needed, and today was no different.  The rack contained three eight foot pieces, each with cracks half the length.  The location intended could certainly be pieced.  Gathering up all three I headed to the checkout.  The first clerk said she'd call someone when I asked for a discount.  They should have been culled and put in the trash.  She called the head checkout clerk; we waited a few minutes for her to show.  Immediately she paged some sort of 'front of the store person'...we waited a few minutes for person #3, also.  It seemed that I should simply leave at this point but I kept thinking of the the missing six feet and the next nearest Menard's.  Person #3 showed up and picked up another phone and said she'd have to get the department head.  We're talking three pieces of $6.92 molding.  We now have quite a bit of labor added.  After five minutes the department head showed up and I showed my frustration.  "So it takes four Menard's employees to make a decision on three pieces of cracked molding?"  The response "that's why I'm here" gave me hope until he picked up his phone saying "I have to call someone."  This would have been the fifth person involved in the sale.  "I'll just skip it."

As I approached my car I remembered there was one other piece of molding in the rack, less damaged than the other.  Walking back across the parking lot and through the city block long store I approached the cabinetry section and found my rejected three pieces of broken molding back on sale.

Obviously the checkout person or the front of the store person should have been willing to offer 11% off on something obviously broken since everything is 11% off every month and it would have made no sense for me to break three pieces of molding selectively simply to get an 11% discount.

A few weeks ago the store manager and I had a nice long chat about the difficulty of finding employees who actually show up, can speak English, can interact with customers and who can make simple and meaningful decisions in the difficult retail market.  It's not enough to give up on Menard's or this particular store but the management staff needs to understand how little flaws lose customers.

Other than that the weather is nice.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Smoothwall Bob and the Loss of Digits

Dolgo Crab

Minnesota has had a strange spring.  A week ago Sunday we set a heat record of 92 degrees which beat the previous record set in 1930 something.  Following that, last Friday it snowed a bit.  With two nights of frosts our fruit shrubs and apple trees may have taken a hit.  Recently this Dolgo Crab has come into it's own in production.  We'll see how the global warming spring works out.

Dewalt mitre saw fingers casement molding
 Over a few years we used Smoothwall Bob for some minor remodeling.  At the beginning he was missing parts of a couple of fingers.  Each time he worked for us he was missing more parts (none on our jobs).  Then he died young.

Each and every time I use a miter saw I think of Smoothwall Bob, and check the location of my hands and fingers twice.  Five years working around large power shears and punch presses may have been a good warmup.  I'm not missing anything and I'm still alive.

Art is where you find it, Art.  Remodeling has it's moments.  With work and time we can have impact.

TurboTax  Windows 7 Java Scripting

For three of the past five years I've had issues with Java and scripting on this PC. A upgrade not during tax prep time is in order.  In the past I had people that did that sort of thing.  Now, I am them.

iPhone 5 SIM card error
My iPhone 5 has been giving recurring "No SIM Card" errors. A Google search suggested many corrective options. The first logical one was to remove the SIM card, look at it for a moment and re-install. That was interesting but did not solve the problem. The next suggestion was to put the phone in airplane mode for a few seconds. Wishing to be authentic but lacking an airplane I went outside, removed my belt and shoes, put everything in my pockets in a plastic tray, set off no alarms, jumped in the F-150, visualized the flight attendant's directions for using oxygen, followed his/her instructions and fastened my seat belt snugly. Fortunate to have an empty seat next to me I relaxed, turned my phone to 'airplane mode' for a few moments, imagined that the flight had been aborted and stepped out of the truck. The phone works. Often we're limited by logic when our imagination should prevail.