Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Kate Ellis righteous anger the right response

Last week was a bruising week. At the time I felt a purge was in order but if JG gets some clear air it could work. Bruising, in an example of my philosophy of "your hell is their hell too" tough guy senator Mark Arbib has left.

A big thing for me last week was Kate's outburst. As I dropped the kids off to school I listened to Kevin Rudd talking about how people were saying mean things about him and he'd never do that.

Kate was apparently on hold, waiting for interview.

In her position I'd be saying "that f&@$er, I was at a function with him a year ago when he was bagging the shit out of everyone he worked with"

I don't think Kate would ever say that. But when she got on the radio her voice was shaky, I could tell she was angry, and she told the truth. At the time she just seemed to be jumping on the bandwagon, but on reflection it was righteous anger. I like that.

Unguarded righteous anger is often a career limiting move but every now and again it's helpful. This instance showed Kate Ellis to be human.

I'm just a little bit proud that she's my local member. Hence my problem at election time. I feel the Labor party has to go, but can't imagine life without Kate.

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Golf cancellations and many regrets

Its raining. A good thing for some people (subsoil moisture for future grain crop) and a bad thing for others (wine region mildew).

Good for me the gardener, and bad for me the golfer.

My dear friend texted to cancel today. Why wouldn't you? We're doing this for fun. Contrast it to the brilliant weather we had last week and why would we slosh around in the hills, braving discomfort?

Perhaps I've mellowed, because a younger me would not cancel a golf game due to rain. Another case of today's moments of truth offering the chance for tomorrow's regrets.

I wonder what tomorrow's regrets will be or (for that matter) what today's moments of truth are.

So my two stories of regret, one when I did play, and one when I didn't. On a study tour of NZ in about 1989 a sweet girl who worked in geriatric care offered to host me on a golf game. I'm not sure she even liked golf but as the forecast came in, I was undeterred. I dragged that poor girl through five hours of serious New Zealand rain at Palmerston North. And she didn't squeak a word of complaint.

Then in about 1993 I was due to play with my squash team on the morning before our regular squash match that night. I think - now - how I had more energy than brains then. I was really prepared to come of the golf course and that night play a comp game of squash. Anyhoo, when my buddy David canceled that morning I was surprised, but that wasn't the worst of it. That night at squash I threw a huge tantrum. My team would have been bewildered at my lack of commonsense, or my obsessiveness. I've often said that being a friend to me is not as much fun as it looks.

So this time around it is a great deal simpler. There'll be another week. There's plenty I can do today - in fact I can rack up some chargeable hours and move a couple of projects along.

But these days I wonder what today's moments of truth are. Experience tells me they're never the things everyone else tells you are important.

UPDATE: I get to make that chicken curry tonight too and use some of those tomatoes from our garden. I couldnt have done that if I got home 6pm from golf and wouldn't have the simmer time.

Mistakes can have unexpected upsides

Sometimes hitting your ball off course and having to play it from the trees gives you a nicer experience.
If you allow yourself to look around, and see it that way. Of course, it might not look as good on the card, which is bad if that's the only way you keep score.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My $9 meal and take home stash

Sat night in Singapore. Finished teaching about 7:30

raced out to Orchard to pick up some Occitane for Sylv and Giordano for the kids. Came back and had my fantastic $9 meal at River Valley Rd Hawker Centre.

Then to the Cold storage to get green tea for 2.15 for six and a pile of Mentos for 65c a stick plus some "Skippy" (never heard of it) peanut butter for a Singaporean buddy living in Australia.

Teaching 9-4 tomorrow, then on a plane 9pm to be back in Adlaide 6.55am the next day. Yay.

Great students here, the course is going well and I like Singapore. I might even become an expat one day.

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Presentation in Singapore: I suppose that was me

This not saying no can get a little tiring. I did this presentation this morning here in Singapore. Still, I always say "I'm here to work"

I'll take a little break then it's seven hours in the classroom until 8pm.

But it has given me a little chance to tweak the presentation as I prep it for an AMI certified practicing marketer seminar in late March.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Margin Call: A great movie

Just as Moneyball was not really about baseball, this movie is not really about trading and the GFC.

The people who foresaw the shit coming down and were pilloried. Those who were in the wrong place at the time, those who chose to sell their souls and those who had none to sell.

I put it on because I'd be happy to even watch Kevin Spacey read the phone book, but there wasn't a weak performance from anyone in the cast.

And it did give me a little technical understanding about what brought the GFC on. And a closer look at the good and evil in all of us.

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Look outside all you want. You still wake up with yourself.

The Labor leadership saga has one overarching moral. You can fix everything around you. You can point blame at other people, send them off to Coventry, set all your people onto them.

But if the problem is you, you can run but you can't hide. You still wake up with yourself.

Make no mistake. I'll poke my eyes out with a burning stick before I call Kate to tell her I'm behind Kevin.

But killing Kevin on Monday will not solve the problem. Julia. Yeh yeh, she's got a hard job, hung parliament and all of that. Who knows where the fault lies and Julia Gillard might be the best player in an impossible position.

But Rudd is right, JG has lost the confidence of the Australian people. That's the problem. She still has to wake up with herself. And at the moment Kevin is arguing that he's the salvation. For sure he has more confidence from the Australian people. Probably not enough. In the tradition of Shakespearean tragedies, a purge is in order. In Hamlet, minor character Prince Fortinbras of Norway came forward after their bloodbath.

On an aside. Certain animals need to be killed with the first shot. If you can't then don't take the shot. JG may accuse Rudd of being ungrateful - "after all I've done for him, the plum job of foreign minister" and all that. But she had no choice then, either. She barely got away with the knifing as it was. She was not in a position to kill with the one shot. If a wounded pig is dangerous then an injured cunning, sly, wild dog is surely worse.

So for those who lurch from terminating one external foe to the next without looking inwards, this is the tale writ large. If Kevin simply ceased to exist today - got marooned on Gilligan's island for instance - Julia Gillard's problems would simply take another face.

So I suppose there's the tragedy. Look inwards too much and make yourself ripe for criticisms of self indulgence. Point outwards too much and you'll never see the real problem. The one you wake up with.

Props to high school English teacher John Hartstone (Para Hills c1984) who gave me lots.

UPDATE: This piece by a former speechwriter of Rudd's is powerful. And as this guy says - history will judge JG kindly. Excellent, another chance for me to be wrong:

Time we heard truth about the real Kevin

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Leatherbound 30: Counterpoint to "Get it, share it"

Fifteen years ago I must've had a few issues. It presents a counterpoint to the recent "If you get it, share it" post I made - and I still do see people who would rather make their own problem somebody else's (in the name of collaboration) than simply, well, heal themselves.

Conchords Business Time

Just heard this on the radio - a tribute to couples that have been married for a few years.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Leatherbound 29: Moments of truth and tomorrow's regrets

As I get older I give myself fewer regrets - even over things that some people censure me for. Perhaps it's because I tend to recognise these moments of truth a little more quickly. In fact there seems to be more censure from making decisions that your older self will be able to live with.

But I see some younger people who are building their own versions of tomorrow's regrets, perhaps.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

If you get it, share it

It was well over a year ago that I had this watershed. I was working where there seemed to be a pervasive culture of secrecy. I've long since left that work and to my knowledge the world has yet to benefit from it.

It will happen. It will work for them, I suppose. It's their version of success

It's a game that jars against everything I read about dynamic, creative organisatons. At about the time I was exposed to that culture of secrecy I joined the social media club, whose tag is "if you get it, share it". I knew that the whole world wasn't being selfish with their energies.

It seems worse to me when one accepts money for the work and then the money disappears for a long time. It reminds me of the time I took a $120 bottle of wine to a dinner party and the host locked it in a cabinet. Anything -industry journals, popular press, radio shows, a blog, twitter - is better than disappearing for three years with your gift. In some domains, however, it'll get you a stern letter from a lawyer.

So I was heartened to see Seth Godin's blog called "The sad irony of selfishness" and it also gives a little insight to what really drives the mindset.

Sharing your money, your ideas, your insights, your confidence... all of these things return to you. Perhaps not in the way you expected, and certainly not with a guarantee, but again and again the miser falls behind.

I choose to believe that. I have to believe that. I have enough evidence that it's the right way. I also note that Seth states that these things often return in a way you don't expect.

At this odd tract of my life, [metaphorically] sitting quietly in the garden, I have the chance to see the ways these things are returning to me, which is an adventure all its own.

On a little side (but related) note. Michael Clarke recently declared his cricket team when he had a score of 329 runs. Bradman's record is 337. But I think Clarke thought to himself "I've got another triple century in me, I'll come back for the record some other day".

So he unselfishly took a good decision for the team. Sometimes making apparently illogical decisions is a sign of confidence, that you have more than one shot in the locker.

A nice early 2012 example of leadership.

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Leatherbound 28: Good and Evil exist in us all

A little histrionic in my message to my kids, 15 years ago.
But is does remind me of the two wolves.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fate has tossed me a bone, maybe

I'm at a "turbo-charge your research" workshop which has really amounted to a time management one. But the outtake is good. And I think fate has tossed me a bone, maybe two. There's less of the frenzied demand on my time regarding emails, committees, policy debates, workload issues. Things that other people think are important.

Sitting quietly in the garden
The metaphor I use is the (few) times I have just lay in a hammock in the garden. After about ten minutes I see birds I've never seen, heard sounds I've never heard, find solutions I'd never considered.

Somebody, yesterday, asked me if I'm looking for jobs. My answer - a little. But mostly I'm just sitting in the garden. My ex employer has helped, by tossing me a heap of paying work - excellent - and over the last week I have had three really valuable things just emerge. All of which I've chosen to say "no" to, for now.

I think I will sit quietly a little more often.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Doing it right

Nobody would notice, and this would work without a washer, maybe for as long as I need it to.

But as I get older I just see the value in doing stuff right. Like putting a washer under a wing nut.

So it's just a trip out to the shed. Find a washer. No big deal.

And the result is like chalk

And cheese

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Friday, February 10, 2012

"Natural attrition" or "salting the soil and pulling out the plants"

In thinking about the very unfortunate situation with Holden's Elizabeth I recall how Defence Science and Technology Organisation decided it would reduce the numbers of technical and manufacturing staff in late 1980s. I was winding up an apprenticeship in electronics and wondering what might lie next. Even did the first course of an engineering degree.
Back to GMH: if they're not selling the stuff then it's not their job to make cars they don't have sales for, and there's less need for workers. Bugger. 140 I hear.

As an aside it accords with some of my earlier rants about the sales and marketing people having a very solemn duty to generate the cash flow in, and provide livelihoods for the people in the business. It's a gladiator's role, it should not be about fluff and it deserves respect from around the business.

So businesses often have to cut numbers, but I've seen it done in some damaging ways. The scariest word (I would guess) to a line manager would be to hear the words "natural attrition". It's anything but natural.

Reducing staff numbers by natural attrition, to use a gardening metaphor is like salting the soil and pulling out your productive plants. I understand. Public opinion and union pressure means one needs to tread carefully.

But three things make a blithe "natural attrition" strategy a little silly:

Salting the soil
In many places I've seen morale go so low that there's a "why would anybody want to work here". Perhaps it's a method of change but surely that costs.

Pulling out your plants
Good people start looking around and leave. Under that type of situation, the good employees seem to develop an attitude reminiscent of Bruce Willis in "12 Monkeys" where he says "all I see are dead people". Let me explain.

Bruce is James Cole tough guy in the future. The world was wiped out by a plague and Cole is sent back in time to stop it happening. In one of his trips to the pre-apocalyptic world he gets into a fight. His female protagonist back there says "you killed him" but Cole, knowing the future, says "all I see are dead people"


Under the shadow of "natural attrition" the good people keep their resumes up to date, duck out on lunch hours to attend interviews and worse, back at work, might lose empathy for the team push. As when mowing down zombies in those movies "the poor guy, he was once a person".

Not tending the weeds
Some people will be prepared to tough it out. Some of them will be great people, close to retirement or constrained in some other way. They will be unhappy, but hopefully quiet, and will keep doing a good job. Other people may just choose to stay because they have few options outside. They are likely to be unhappy too, hopefully quiet and possibly ineffective. And so whatever production you need to do is now being done by unhappy people waiting out their time or unhappy people who might not be good at their job.

So when I hear the words "natural attrition" I imagine a downwards spiral in the quality of people on the floor, for a number of reasons. If you're looking for major structural change (like getting rid of all your technical and manufacturing staff, as with DSTO) it'll probably work. But often companies try to use "natural attrition" as a means to reduce their staff without changing the feel of the place. If your trying to do that on anything less than a five year time frame, you'll fail.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Leatherbound 27: "Ping" has two meanings

My story to my (as then) unborn children in 1997 about the two factors about firing a shot across the bows of a rival. One is that it exposes your position and two is that it can be suicidal:

Friday, February 3, 2012

Moneyball was an inspirng story of brains and toughness

Brad Pitt looking more like Robert Redford than ever:

Building a team as a general manager with a $40m player budget where the going spend was $120m.

  • His first brave step was to think differently,
  • second he backed an unknown nerdy kid,
  • third he faced down the entrenched system (of scouts using their intuition)
  • fourth he stayed true to his vision - traded "important" players they wanted to keep
  • fifth he worked closely with his people and they knew they could count on him
This is not a story about baseball. It's a story about a guy who saw the future should be done a different way, and he broke the mould. Billy Beane still hasn't won a series yet since 2002 (budgets do count for something) but two years later the Red Sox did, because he changed the game. Left the dinosaurs behind.

It inspired me because it reminded me that often the people who make the biggest differences are derided for it. That sometimes there's a good reason for saying 'I reject your model" but nobody will thank you for it.

Moneyball was a good movie.

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Some amazing moments at golf yesterday

A ripping fairway drive towards the hole, sadly rolled into the water after 170m but even with the penalty I picked up the par 5 with a 12ft putt.

170m drive off the tee onto the green, then a 2 best ever putt for birdie:

And quite simply, guys over 60 who help me realise there's nothing new in this life.

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Batting average: an ode to Frank van Ekeren and Rod Davis

Working for a company that sold $200m of plastic packaging to the food industry (in the 1990s) needed a cool head. Many a time my colleague would had knives thrown at (his feet) by impassioned business owners, my phone could easily ring at 5am with a production manager screaming at me because his 300 workers were idle and he blamed me.

The customer's stock in trade was to threaten their $2m of business if a particular pet project of theirs wasn't delivered, if I couldn't convince our production planners to shunt Unilever or Murray Goulburn for me.

Daily mistakes, lies or accidents, mostly out of my control. These guys had cool heads, "if you can keep your head when all around are losing theirs and blaming it on you".

(From Rudyard Kipling's "If")

And then sometimes I'd make a mistake. Sometimes it cost us a lot of money. Sometimes it cost the customer a lot of money. Sometimes it embarrassed the crap out of my boss. And that boss, with his cool head, would just glide over the top of it. Other times we might scream at each other.

But Frank van Ekeren was an old print production planner who worked in the Fawkner plant. He had to marshall the half formed ideas of his sales reps, their customers, and his art department into something that could run on a flexographic printing press. He helped me understand.

"it's batting average, mate. You score as many runs as you can when you're at the crease. You'll get out, because that's what the game is. Bradman would get out, Border gets out, but it's important to score as many runs as you can before you get out."

I thank God, now, for doing my apprenticeship in operations with such a cool bunch of guys. Show me the person who never gets out and I'll show you the person who never stands at the crease. Show me the person who never makes an expensive or embarrassing mistake and I will show you the person who never does anything.

But is nice to be surrounded by cool heads when one has the misfortune to get out.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Singapore, under far more pleasant circumstances

I'm surprised I haven't developed a Pavlovian dislike of Singapore, but I haven't. Since about this time last year my visits to Singapore have been coupled with immense amounts of unpleasantness back at home.

It certainly affected my work. Some students didn't like me on some recent visits, although I'm confident the learning outcomes were there.

These days I rarely get those emails, and I can deal with them. So I approach this weekend's MBA teaching with excitement, and a sense of possibility with none of the distractions of last year.

A whole bunch of new challenges but they, too, are associated with opportunity. And 2011 will soon be nothing other than an interesting story as 1991 now is, for me.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Who killed strategy?

I'm sitting in a pretty nice presentation about strategy and the old chestnut came up: "what is harder, strategy or implementation?"

I have my own thoughts about that but don't wish to offer a "shoot from the hip" argument here.

But if people are arguing that operations (implementation) is harder than strategy it could be because - often - the operations people are labouring for an enterprise that doesn't really know what it is, or where it wants to go.

As Shelley Dunstone has been saying - perhaps implementation is hard when strategy is bad.

I think rumours the death of strategy have been greatly exaggerated. But if it has been killed then who's responsible?

My answer: Strategy has been killed by the people who've used it as a place to hide.

People who turn up to work and instead of calling a customer, delivering a product, taking a hard chat to an employee or any number of other productive tasks - they say "I'm working on strategy".

Or when a clever idea comes from the floor and gets cut down with "it's not our business - its not consistent with our strategy" but the naysayers have trouble saying exactly what that strategy is.

Strategy - the big picture planning - is very important. And it deserves better than to be used as a way of ducking a day's work. That's what has trashed the reputation of "strategy" as an activity and led to rumours of its death.

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Tweeting a Wednesday

My third day out of contract but still doing about 140% of the teaching for my erstwhile employer. I get the chance to unabashedly tweet an eclectic weekday. They won't all be like this, I do need to get a f/t job one day, maybe, but this one will be a little fun.

I hope you don't choose to unfollow.

But I will go to a breakfast of the Adelaide MBA alumni - it may be a swansong or continued networking, but I owe it to go to at least one more. I have a Skype meeting with education giant Kaplan in Florida and our nice Adelaide based program director to plan to roll out our highly successful market research course as an online offering. I'll punch away some emails to the two MBA courses I'm running in tri 1 in Singapore and Adelaide then I'll run up to Mount Barker hit some balls around 18 holes with some great old friends. I don't even know exactly who'll be there, but these guys have kept me sane.

This is the 7th hole, we normally get to it by about 2.30 and yes, I've always been off the clock when I've been here. Ask my ex boss Barry who would get the midnight leave requests.

So my twitter buddy Prakky was running a hashtag called #workwed last year. A search indicates it might not still be running. But I'll be thrashing it today.

I hope you don't choose to unfollow.

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