Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Confidence, Success, Privledge, and Subsidy

Why is it that successful people are successful? What separates Gates, Buffett and Bezos from anyone else? Books have been written, studies have been done. Here's my theory:

#1 - they had the requisites (more about this later)
#2 - they had extremely unusual levels of natural self-confidence in certain areas spurred by an irrational belief in something
#3 - they had a void somewhere deep down inside they could never quite fill up. It feels like hunger they can't satisfy. They run from it and try to hide it, but they desperately fear that everyone can see it. They believe that pursuing their "cause" is the only way to relieve the gnawing self-doubt and gain acceptance in the world.
#4 - whereas they have a strong desire to be accepted, they have a low desire for social interaction (this, incidentally, causes many of them to have family/relationship/friendship problems)
# 5 - they had a certain stroke of luck. Often, that luck was being born of privledge, but there are other lucky turns of events which can give people the opportunity to shine.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What will Tomorrow Bring: HIZ, The One Minute Al-Quaeda Manager, Disenfranchized Americans

A gay/metro men’s store chain called HIZ which basically sells a complete host of women's clothes and accessories rebranded and adjusted to be more manly.

New book: “The one minute Al-quaeda manager” which looks for business lessons from the organic organizations of paramilitary and terrorist organizations

A disenfranchized generation of Americans who are currently in HS/College learning about how shitty government is. Unfortuately, they'll associate it all with Republicans and they'll be too young to really understand what it was like in the Reagan era.

Talk amongst yourselves ....

Colombia is the new Israel

Open letter to all airlines

Want to enhance customer satisfaction without spending a dime? Have FAR fewer announcements. Keep those nasal whiny stewardesses away from the mic unless you can do something to make the PA system less tinny and grating on the ears. Teach them how not to show us with their voices just how much they hate and are bored by their jobs. Do NOT let them say they appreciate correct change. The arrogant bitches are not above making change any more than the guy who sells me my coffee with a smile from his stand on Park Ave. If there's a delay, of course I want regular updates every 10 minutes. No more, no less. But trying to sell me your fucking co-branded credit card while I'm strapped to this beast is cruelty to humans and should be punished.

Oh, and while we're on the topic of seatbelts ... that seatbelt sign… pilots forget it’s on for hours … or, giving them slightly more credit, perhaps they just abuse it in an attempt to err on the side of caution. Unfortunately in the latter case they sabotage themselves by numbing the flying public to the sign and forcing us to go against it based on our own judgment alone without the benefit of weather radar or forecasts. Automate it so the pilots don’t need to have any angst or responsibility for the safety of their ambulant passengers. If my laptop can tell it’s being jostled, so can a plane. Each 5 seconds, the plane would assign a volatility factor. It would then monitor a moving average of that factor over the past 5 minutes or so. If it got above a certain threshold number, “fasten seatbelts.” Once the turbulence stopped and the average drifted back down below a separate, lower threshold, “go to the john.” Add predictive analysis to this if you want, bringing in feeds from the weather computer to anticipate areas of chop. This might even allow you the ability to give a more nuanced indication to your customers of what to expect: Monitor the average over the past 5 minutes plus the predicted values over the next 2 minutes. Inform your passengers of various levels of predicted severity: red means nobody up, not even the crew, orange means crew and a “strong call of nature” are permissible, yellow means you can it in your seat with the belt off and get up for the bathroom or to retrieve something from luggage, and green means no holds barred.

Oh, and hurry up with that Clearstream lane!!

Oh, and most DEFINITELY hurry up with the next SST. It takes me as long to get LAX to JFK as it took JFK, himself, fifty God-damn years ago.

Friday, March 23, 2007

FOLLOW UP: Irri-tainment

Here's the latest in a devleoping thought stream on the linkage of entertainment, individualism, and information.

Why DO we get hooked by the sensationalism of irri-tainment? Why the focus on pop culture? On Celebrity? Yuck.

I suppose number one we’re curious beings, thankfully, or we’d not have evolved as we have. And number two we're social beings. So we’re not just interested in news which has a direct (or potential) impact on us personally – we’re also fascinated by anything impacting our larger community, since historically those of us on this planet today are descendants of humans who succeeded at leveraging their communities to achieve more than they could have achieved alone. Recognizing that of our achievement, perhaps 40% is not due to ourselves, but our communities, we are vitally interested in the long-term viability thereof. We valued them for the protection, achievement, nurturing, and information that they afforded us. We equally value their guidance and self-governing powers. In today’s world, however, we are individually richer and more comfortable than ever before. We thus feel less need for community.

Moreover, we are for the first time faced with more information than we can process. In fact, whereas historically, paying attention to something necessarily implied that you reacted to it, we’re now so busy just in-processing info that we never get around to reacting to the majority of it, especially when the needed reaction benefits the overall community more than it individually benefits us (such as helping a neighbor repair his damaged house). Plus, we’re newly able to cast our social nets without respect to geography due to communication and transportation technologies. We are thus testing the very outer limits of our ability to socialize, to “belong” and contribute to reliable and useful communities. Often we fail and community suffers. Because these things are new, we’ve not evolved with the ability to properly filter – to train our attention solely on that which is relevant to us, to more precisely and also selectively define the communities to which we choose to belong such that our own socialization capabilities are not stretched too thin or otherwise rendered ineffective. Necessarily, as community members fall down on their contributions individually, the overall community becomes less useful to each member and consequently loosens, compounding the problem of community viability. We thus forge ahead constantly absorbing as much information as we find ourselves physically capable at every moment, too quickly to associate much of any emotion to it beyond overall fear, and thus diminishing the memory’s later recall-ability. We hear and remember facts without learning lessons. As an aside, this carries the effect of leading us to repeat our mistakes. Should we take time out to truly cogitate over some new fact, we are promptly interrupted with a new one. Our brains have evolved to value new facts over old, and thus it dutifully drops the ball of cogitation on the earlier fact in order to in-process the newer. The former never gets revisited and thus the time spent cogitating is wasted, a lesson not entirely lost on our brains.

Our brains have also, however, evolved to connect with and care about those we see commonly. We build/perceive community and begin to show an interest in things impacting those people. Perversely, our physical world has become so horrendously anonymous that this natural inclination is left numb and unnecessary. What are the chances of the dude at Best Buy remembering you (much less anything personal about you) 6 months later when you go in to buy a TV? Whereas this used to be a big-city-only phenomenon, and one moreso observed in the likes of Moscow than the US, it is today pervasive in every anonymous suburban paradise. Californians, in fact, once citizens of the Wild West, now exhibit only the thinnest veil of interest in ANYone outside their immediate household. Yet their community-building synapses continue to fire desperately. More often than not, this urge settles upon those we see most frequently who, ironically, are usually far far away, yet brought close by the wonders of tele-media. Put explicitly, our brains begin automatically to create community with news anchors, politicians, and actors. Celebrities.

Once brought “in” to our community, any news about or words from these people catches our attention and begins to take up space in our memory and our cognition. We begin an unrequited one-way relationship of caring for these people who have no direct impact on our lives to the preclusion, at the most extreme, of those proximal who could requite or otherwise provide us some benefit. Whereas it is possible to gain insights from such one-way relationships, they indeed comprise false communities and are a net drain on our lives.

To be considered, therefore, is whether one should consciously focus on building community with those around each of us rather than these faux-amis. With the powers of telecommunication and transportation, we might be successful not at delimiting geographically but based on true benefit. For example, is it more valuable to me to try for a communal bond with the Best Buy guys or with peers in my industry who live across the country? In either case, to the extent that all members of the community truly commit to actively contribute to the community, the two options both have potential value to me. However, vocational commonality may indeed be more valuable to me than mere geographic and thus the latter would be a better choice. On the other hand, because we have not fully neutralized the impact of distance on community, the latter community will also cost us more in terms of effort.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

FOLLOW UP: Woe-is-Europe

Europe continues to be subpar. More than ever since the US stopped funding the continent (Marshall followed by Cold War support) young Europeans are unsure of attaining even their parents’ levels of affluence. It is unclear whether this slow bleeding over decades has taken its toll on the “family money” of the continent, but most likely so. Only through prescience or a complete flight from European investments could they have preserved. Too much, far too much bureaucracy. Far far far too much focus on sensationalism, on news-tainment or the one I like better recently irri-tainment (media so in-your-face and horridly insipid that you can’t stop watching it) especially of the European scandal-tainment variety so well perfected by the Italians to avoid looking at their real problems of impotence, lack of innovation, inability to compete with anglo business models. Meanwhile the Vikings continue to perk in spite of their oppressive socialist staightjacket. One must ask ones self: just how damn productive, innovative, and rich could they have been (or could they become) were this mantle lifted? After all, the apparent source of all the global flows of productivity is in the vicinity of the north pole. People appear to get less productive the further they are from that groundswell. Yet the US is not more than a decade from the European curse. Given an increased (even just maintained) focus on lack of personal responsibility, on socialistic regulation, we’ll be right behind them in the donkey-train leading down to economic stagnation.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Measures of Management

As a line worker, your contribution is easily measured. Assemblies per hour. Forms moved from "inbox" to "outbox." Daily trading P&L. As a manager, however, your contribution is nebulous. Imortant, contributory, difficult, yes. But easy to measure, generally no. Yet managers are perhaps the biggest fans of productivity metrics. Reporting. Dashboards. These are the same people who have to sit their own staff down periodically and explain why their bonus isn't what the other guy's is. Unfortunately, when measuring themselves (or the managers reporting to them), the de-facto metric is simply calories burned. How many hours they were active for the business and how hyper they were during those hours. How many people they talked to, conference calls and meetings they popped into, and emails they read. How many fires they fought. How many tasks they assigned. All of this measures activity, but managers are compensated more than line workers, not just because they work harder. They are compensated for their rare ability to make good decisions. In my days as a manager, I've always measured my contribution in the number and dificulty of good decisions made per day. Retrospectively bad decisions should count for zero, but those decisions that were neutral to good should be multiplied by their difficulty factor, which in tern is a combination of several components including % of necessary information available, amount of analysis done, parties to be satisfied, and value at risk. The result of this calculation gives us a "business contribution factor." Sum this BCF across time and you get a standardized measure across all managers of the organization which is comparable. Moreover, plot it over time for all your managers and you can build yourself a "manager of managers" dashboard to monitor how each is doing. As managers develop, their BCF should appreciate just like a good equity.