Friday, January 31, 2014

Taxis: A personal win, however minor

I have a pet peeve with taxi companies when their drivers accept calls that are way out of the district they're in.

I've seen them do it in the car while we're still ten minutes from my dropoff they're scoping the calls and bidding on jobs that are 15 minutes drive from my dropoff point.

It's a sort of "moral hazard" problem where taxi drivers have no incentive to do the right thing because its the company reputation that suffers.

I found this out a few trips ago when I called the company back and they told me that the driver had accepted the job when he was [the other side of town] and shouldn't be too far off now. Great. My email of complaint to the company received a "thanks for telling us, we'll handle it internally and don't expect a response".

So today after 25 minutes waiting I stood on a vantage point that showed the bus coming down the road and the turnin of my street where the taxi would come. A call to the taxi company gave me "he's close he should be there soon" and the race was on. The bus won. The cancellation came at the press of a button.

I'd recommend suburban taxis if you have a way to play a bus off against a cab. Their cancellation service is excellent.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


I was just at a wedding where one of the readings was the serenity prayer. It's been a while since I've heard it.

As I searched I found the second verse, which is pretty good. The whole "living forever with Him" I can take or leave, but "taking the world as it is, not how I would have it" - pretty good.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

--Reinhold Niebuhr

Of course, it's not about bottling it up "serenity now, insanity later" but more about choosing the ditch you're prepared to die in. Saying "this isn't it" sounds like serenity to me.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, January 24, 2014

How to lose your most loyal team players

Over thirty years of being in a workplaces has given me a chance to observe some patterns. Right from my first job in a hardwear store, whenever I'd join a new place I'd notice that some people were shit, and others not. I thought that's just how it was. I've had the privilege of working as a "boundary spanner" - sales rep, market research consultant, trainer - to dozens of industries and picked some things up.

I've realised that some workers are just intrinsically bad; no initiative, motivation or sense of honour. But I think that's only half the bad workers. The other half are made. These people start with a sense of hope and loyalty to their new employer but that gets lost.

One of my good bosses encapsulated it years ago, talking about someone I worked with:

"Unfortunately, X has worked themself into such a place of bitterness and disaffection that it'll be hard for them to come back to being a good part of the team"

The boss wasn't exactly blaming X, and wasn't arguing that the workplace was blameless. That boss reiterated to me one of the great realities of work.

Just because your boss looks like he has a lot of power (because he seems to have power over you) don't be fooled. We're all pawns.

Anyhoo, X was a pain in the ass. And I was happy enough to see them euthenased. Life's great for X these days. My other point.

Find a way to be happy or get the hell out, life is way too short for this shit.

But, if you're an employer and wish to squander the goodwill of your people I've compiled a handy list you might follow. These action points will - with enough time - turn your most valuable employee into a benign mercenary at best. With some real effort you may be able to create a toxic, subversive detractor. With their help.

These guidelines seem to be fairly universal - I've seen them work across dozens of industries.

How to destroy goodwill  in your business.
  1. Remain unclear in what you expect, but be quick to complain when you don't get what you want
  2. Reward those who shirk team responsibilities to kick their own individual goals
  3. Refuse to acknowledge a person's wins, even the small ones
  4. Make it so that anything a person has can be taken from them without warning
  5. Punish failure harshly, but give your people limited power to avoid disaster even if they can foresee it
  6. Alternate between opposing courses of action on a three year cycle and brand anyone who points this out as "negative"
  7. Remain hopelessly disorganised and ad hoc in your own dealings but demand precision and consistency from your people
  8. Be  critical of your people but apply the veneer of "constructive criticism" or collegiality thereby adding insult to injury
  9. Measure a person's success solely in terms of criterion X but make sure their day is full of activity Y
  10. Allow a number of your more incompetent or lazy peoole to assume positions of moderate political or organisational power. Their fear of being found out motivates them to take over the abive responsibilities on your behalf
So there it is. I have to thank an ex MBA student (I just met) for the last one - he saw it in a place he did some casual work for.

You can eliminate all that pesky enthusiasm from within your business by following ten simple tips.  And done properly, it will build a self sustaining culture of mediocrity where no motivated person will want to join you, or at least won't stay long.

Good luck!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

My intro to Chinese businessmen: "Doodies" and the story of Jiang Xiang Zhou

I last saw Zhou delivering bean sprouts to the Chinese grocer at the Adelaide Central Market. Walking past that shop reminded me of him.

I was selling expensive plastic packaging in the mid 90s. Our phone sales person said "I have this person on the phone - I can't understand him but he has a horizontal form fill/seal machine and wants to oack 'doodies'".

As a good sales rep I decided it was better to meet him face to face. That's when I first met Jiang Xiang Zhou from Guangzhou. Zhou (as he told me to call him - pronounced 'chow') had bought a heap if equipment to grow bean sprouts, a container of Tofu, and some rice noodle manufacturing and packaging equipment.

Zhou's heavy accent meant that I was hearing the word 'doodies' when he was talking about noodles. Embarrassment and loss of face. My bad.

As Zhou persisted through one setback after another (Australia can be a tough place to do business) I came to see him as a friend. And he me. I ate my first durian with Zhou and his brother. They offered me some sage advice not to overindulge in durian and beer at the same time - the fermentation can explode your guts especially if you sleep on it. Perhaps not, but I've always been wary.

Then I left Cryovac and never did business with him again. But he seared a respect into me for Chinese businessmen and the "can do" attitude I saw.

So when I saw Zhou at the Central Market four years ago it was about meeting an old friend. And given that almost everything I do these days involves China in some way, I owe Zhou a debt of gratitude.

And my subsequent hundreds - no, thousands - of students with Chinese roots have benefited.

I think Zhou moved the business to Sydney soon after I last saw him, and quit manufacturing. But I'm glad I met him.

A night at the cricket, managing myself

A full stadium and allocated seating. A boisterous crowd. All the things I dislike.

I was determined to not be "that guy" who cracks the shits at the irritating but benign kids behind.

Managing myself, I had a good night. So did Jonah.

Eric Clapton in a Jug Band

I just heard this on the radio and picked his voice, but this vid shows exactly what music is about. A bunch of people all joining in with different skills, reveling in the fun and joy of creation.

And while thinking about Clapton I always come back to "Tears in Heaven" which he wrote after the tragedy of losing his four year old son in an accident. I can't watch the whole song.

Losing a kid. God, spare me that.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Magic moments - take em when you find em.

On new year's eve my great friend, Will, put the idea into my son's head that it'd be nice to go to the Big Bash League for an Adelaide game. I was on board with the idea.

It fell through with Will, no biggie but just didn't happen. I asked for Jonah's best friend to come with us but he had already been going with his dad and grandad and by the time he changed his mind we had bought our allocated seats. Same with Will.

The upshot. Jonah and myself are going to have a dad/son night out. However these things come to you, they can be a blessing. I'm really pumped for it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, January 20, 2014

In life as in skydiving, stepping clear of a mess can be important

My thoughts have turned to a recent pair of "Starcrest" skydives that a few friends made while I was bedridden in November. Starcrest is a fairly advanced endorsement, where you have to dock fifth or later to a ten way skydive. The skydives tend to be carnage. Four experienced skydivers form the base and people going for their rating then try to dock to it.

In the base you're a sitting duck, waiting for your friends to try to "get on"

It's fun and you're all friends. But in the vid below, watch the guy in the red pants in the base. He's a national champion and knows how to fly safe. Watch how he holds it together, flies the base as long as he can but as soon as it goes to shit, he lets go while the whole thing goes down the funnel. The guy in the blue - in the base - didn't quite have the opportunity to escape the carnage.

Even more self sacrificing is this other one. Laura in her yellow rig, docks and then someone pulls her down from behind.

Laura lets go of the formation instantly so that she doesn't take everyone out. Laura is an experienced skydiver and a class act. I've watched her calmly flying alongside me as I try to wrestle a formation back onto its belly.

See all the fun of the Starcrest and Laura calmly letting go at 0.49 below.

So sometimes skydiving is just a distilled version of life. Hang on, try to hold it together for as long as you can but to fly safe be prepared to let go and rejoin the formation once it has got its shit together. Judging just when the formation is about to disintegrate and when there's nothing left for you to do - that's a skill.

And don't take other people out just because you're going down.

No skydivers were harmed in the making of these two videos.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sometimes God is helping, but we can't see it

I'm loving watching "The West Wing"

President Bartlett is talking with his priest about whether or not to commute a death sentence:

  • Bartlet: Anyway. I looked for a way out, I really did.
  • Father Cavanaugh: “’Vengeance is mine,’ sayeth the Lord.” You know what that means? God is the only one who gets to kill people.
  • Bartlet: I know.
  • Father Cavanaugh: That was your way out.
  • Bartlet: I know.
  • Father Cavanaugh: Did you pray?
  • Bartlet: I did, Tom. I know it's hard to believe, but I prayed for wisdom.
  • Father Cavanaugh: And none came?
  • Bartlet: It never has. And I'm a little pissed off about that. I'm not kidding.
  • Father Cavanaugh: You know, you remind me of the man that lived by the river. He heard a radio report that the river was going to rush up and flood the town, and all the residents should evacuate their homes. But the man said, “I'm religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.” The waters rose up. A guy in a row boat came along and he shouted, “Hey, hey you! You in there. The town is flooding. Let me take you to safety.” But the man shouted back, “I'm religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.” A helicopter was hovering overhead and a guy with a megaphone shouted, “Hey you, you down there. The town is flooding. Let me drop this ladder and I'll take you to safety.” But the man shouted back that he was religious, that he prayed, that God loved him and that God will take him to safety. Well, the man drowned. And standing at the gates of St. Peter, he demanded an audience with God. “Lord,” he said, “I'm a religious man, I pray. I thought you loved me. Why did this happen?” God said, “I sent you a radio report, a helicopter, and a guy in a rowboat. What the hell are you doing here?” He sent you a priest, a rabbi, and a Quaker, Mr. President. Not to mention his son, Jesus Christ. What do you want from him?

Keeping the pets cool

I have a spray setup that goes every hour for five or ten minutes. Halie now knows to sit under it and it's set up so the mist drifts back across the bird cages which are shielded from the exhaust of the aircon by that corrugated iron. So the mist keeps the ambient temp a little lower around the aircon intake.

Why no water restrictions now?

About five years ago there existed a moral panic in SA. If you chose to have a garden or water your lawn you were a pariah. There were all sorts of complex water rationing processes for Adelaide residents, despite metropolitan Adelaide only using 4% of the state's water and paying more than twice the price that the irrigators pay.

I have no baggage on that; my water is transported, treated and continuously available.

But back when the moral panic was on, I was even then bored with it. It made good economic sense that we suburbanites used plenty of water - at least to the government. So I ignored the crap.

I have a smirking satisfaction that now when the government has gone quiet on water use in the city (they really need to repay that desal plant) my life has gone to a stage where I don't care so much about my garden. And last quarter's bill was a record low. Contrary aren't I?

Still on a 46 degree day I have been out this morning helping my garden get ahead of the heat. I don't want it to die completely.

But I do wonder where all the hand wringers are, about "sensible, sustainable watering". Funding must've been cut for it.

Of monsters and men: a wild ride

A rollicking pop song, with disconcerting lyrics:

But the lyrics have a sweet interpretation:

The song tells the story of a couple that has survived life’s trials and reached an old age together. They are now fighting a losing battle as the female struggles with some sort of mental disorder, be it Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, or depression. Both of them are struggling with the woman losing her grasp on reality and the knowledge that one way or another they will soon be completely separated. One of the main lines of the song “Though the Truth may vary, the ship will carry our bodies safe to shore” tell that even though they may both seen the world differently they will both end up in the same place. One day they will both be on the other side and together the way they used to be.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Your "green" cotton bag - make sure you use it another 130 times

I'm often bewildered by the way that "seeming" is more important to some people than "being". And in carrying a cotton or hessian bag we're seeming to care. I just found this chart that puts a pretty solid argument. But I am a little nervous on the source and haven't read the 120 page full report so I suggest some skepticism is in order over the picture painted below.

But the argument is that a cotton bag needs to be reused 131 times before it breaks even with the old thin plastic (now illegal) HDPE bag for greenhouse footprint. If I use my flimsy bag as a bin liner you need to reuse your cotton bag over 300 times.

Still at least the LDPE bags that Coles and Woolies charge 15 cents for only need to be used nine times to break even on greenhouse gases. Surely we get nine uses out of all those bags don't we? Still, use it as a bin liner and I'm sure we don't need the full nine uses at the shops.

I don't care, I'm cool with the printed Coles and Woolies bags - they're fine. But it was all about cost shifting - the supermarkets just removed an expense item and turned it into an (admittedly low margin) revenue item.

Still, if we're carrying a cotton or a hessian bag we must be doing good, right?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Go Gentle: A nice song from a dad to his girl

I saw it on TV the other day. I really like the song.

Robbie Williams introduced it as a song he wrote for his daughter, who's about a year old. Now whenever I hear it I think of my own girl, Mia. That can't be bad. She's on the right here, with her lovely cousin Jaede.