8/26/2013

#13 If I Can't Do It, It Must Be Easy (1998)

rat All Rights Reserved © 1998 Thomas W. Day

The title of this piece, "If I Can't Do It, It Must Be Easy," seems to the strongest of all modern management beliefs. A zillion years ago, good managers said things like "I'd never ask anyone to do a job I wouldn't do myself." Not anymore. Or maybe, and more likely, there aren't any good managers left to say things like that. Today's managers usually don't know what they would do themselves, mostly because they aren't capable of doing much of anything. More often than not, they're proud of this characteristic.

The new pack of MBA-de-educated, fast-tracking managers believe everything from performing a useful function to leading a meeting is a task unworthy of their "skills" (a term left totally undefined in MBAville). If nothing else in our current economy tells us that we're living beyond our means, the vacant lot of management abilities in American companies ought to do the job. It's zombie-land in the offices with windows. A decade ago, we complained about bosses without people-skills. Today, it's tough to find any sort of skills in the executive suites.

Where is Lee Iacocca now that he might actually be useful? Man, I never thought I'd be saying that!

Which reminds me, what do you get when you glue a pair of shot glasses to an executive's ears? An overpriced, unrepeatable Hubbell telescope.

Most companies could lose all of their management staff in a plane crash and not know they were missing for months. The outside world's first clue that the business was unhelmed would be the company's rapid increase in efficiency and profitability.

The perfect beauty of the MBA-to-Management fast-track is that it takes absolutely no ability or experience or any identifiable quality to make the big bucks (other than being tall, attractive, and having good hair). Buy a degree from a prestigious MBA factory and you're on your way to an executive lifestyle, regardless of the disasters you create along your way. In fact, I've seen a few of these dweebs completely hose up a company and get hired and promoted (for a job well done?) to another company in the same industry. What an awesome example of the phrase "poison pill."

In mismanagement's simple world, there is no downside to simple solutions for complex problems. Need to cut costs? Whack out a budget with smaller bottom line numbers. Need to shorten production times? Slash the schedules. Management's blissful ignorance is the total lack of consequences to impossible demands. Someone will either "make it happen" (in the words of the ultimate MBA'er, Captain Picard of the Failed Enterprise) or convince the dim-bulb execs, on the next rung up, that it did happen.

Finally, a side effect to this low-road route to success is that someone has convinced these New Age Mismanagers that any skill they don't have isn't worth having. If God is in the details, these fools are the ultimate atheists. As a dean of Harvard's School of Business once said, "Details? We don't need no stinking details."

The mass of today's executives seem to believe that the difficult part of every task is saying "make it so." These corporate wood worms believe that "seeing the big picture" is some kind of special skill inherited only by the ruling class. "Bring me your poor and wretched ideas, so that I can wave my arms over them and blessed they shall be." Once the arm waving is done, it's back to the golf course, the three-martini lunch, the Waikiki sales branch inspection, or a ten day quality seminar in Paris.

Sometime between ten minutes and a week after making the grand pronouncement, the doofus with the good hair will be back wondering why it "isn't so." The time period has more to do with his recreation schedule than the complexity of the project. No excuses are acceptable. It doesn't matter if you don't have the tools, training, human-power, or time. Since Mr. Corner Office thinks he has performed the hard portion of the task, in his mind the rest of the task is simple grunt work. And you are the grunt.

In a Priority Mail(TM) ad, the Postal Service said it all for me, "The smartest executives all have something in common. They love a no-brainer."

And the rest of us know why.

March 1998

8/19/2013

#12 We Don't Need No Stinkin' MBAs (1998)

rat All Rights Reserved © 1998 Thomas W. Day

U.S. News just published their special on the "best colleges" in the country. that didn't bother me. I can hold my nose and get past the idea that status mills like Harvard and Yale are considered capable of teaching useful information. It does amaze me that hiring track proven morons like Henry Kissinger to teach subjects like "How to Buy Peace with Taxpayers' Money" doesn't have some effect on credibility. I can live with it, though.

While I scanned the magazine in the checkout line, I struck a paragraph that about did me in. I was still gagging as I turned over my credit card to the kid behind the counter and she looked at me like I'd just handed her a "Catch Ebola Free" card. The phrase that nearly killed me said "advanced professional degrees like MD and MBA. . ...." An MBA is a professional degree? Obviously, the term "professional" has hit bottom without a single bounce. I can hardly breathe, just trying to draw parallels between doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists, plumbers, electricians, sanitation engineers, and MBAs.

I don't understand MBAs. I don't know why people get 'em. I don't know why other people hire 'em. I don't know why the rest of us don't avoid working for companies that hire 'em. You'd think, based on history and experience, that "MBA" would be something a person would have embossed in scarlet letters on their prison shirt; or branded on their forehead.

A few decades ago, when I was scrubbing my way toward a night class engineering degree, I often wondered which class would be the one to force the knitting needle through the nostrils and into the brain. From an engineering technician's viewpoint, it seemed to me that engineers were educated to make fundamental errors that doomed their projects and products to mediocrity. Many of the engineers I'd worked with were fairly intelligent, but they regularly made incredibly unintelligent engineering decisions. When I finally found my way into 400-level engineering classes, I discovered that there were very few natural technical people left. The ones who were still around were the guys who had been convinced that "engineering is a good job." Not the ones who were burning to build something.

I'd be amazed if anyone ever went into an MBA program because she was burning to create a great company that provided great services or products. MBAs start their college careers aiming at "a good job" (lots of money and no work) and end their business careers making sure that nothing is left for whoever comes after them. The only other "profession" I can think of that resembles MBAs is "politician."

Just about every mid-sized-to-large company in the USA is being overrun by MBAs. (Very few small companies can afford MBAs, since their purpose is to survive and provide their owners with a profit.) Engineers are getting an MBA as their "advanced degree." Lawyers are adding an MBA to their credential list. Accounting, Human Resources, Computer Science, science, and even Fiz-Ed majors are collecting an MBA to tack onto their business cards. I'm pretty sure, we're all supposed to be impressed by this addition to the list of their expertise.

I'm not. I spent half of my life in college. I fought my way through administrative obstacles in five different schools. I never, ever, not once, heard a college student say, "When I get outta here, I'm gonna start up a business and run it just like this college. I never had better service. Never met more competent administrators. This place is a model business! I wish my school sold TV's, I'd never see the inside of a Best Buy ever again." Nope, I never heard that kind of statement one time in 25 years of attending college. I'd be amazed if such a stupid idea ever crossed anyone's mind.

What I want to know is, if colleges are the polar opposite model for how businesses should be run, how do colleges have the gall to teach "Business Administration?" Isn't this a lot like asking a white supremacist to teach cultural diversity? Why would anyone with a worm-sized brain have any interest in someone who was taught how to run a business by a college? God knows, but big business does have a strong lemming tendency. When one brain-dead MisFortune 500 company gets a little press for a really moronic idea, the other 499 jump off the same cliff without a moment's consideration.

One of the primary things I've learned from whoring myself across seven states and five industries is, when it comes to managing a business, "if these idiots can do it, anyone can." Or, as William Goldman said about the film industry, "nobody knows anything." This has never been more true, than since MBAs started taking over the world.

March 1998

8/12/2013

#10 Revenge and Clear Blue Skies (1998)

All Rights Reserved © 1998 Thomas W. Day

Here in Minnesota, a lot of math-impaired citizens are celebrating Hubbie Humphrey's kid's defeat of Big Tobacco in one of our state's famous kangaroo courts. The numbers, at least, are impressive. Right away, a whole bunch of lawyers are getting a half billion dollars for winning this suit. Twenty years from now, when a billion dollars will buy a nice, slightly used, Nissan minivan, the citizens of Minnesota will finally have had the pleasure of seeing all of their share of the tobacco settlement sucked up and blown away by the usual state government incompetence and corruption. Whatshisname Humphrey is crowing about how this is a "blow for public health" and waving that flag in his bid for the Minnesota governor job.

I want to make sure you aren't being fooled. It's my job.

First and most important, nobody really cares about public health. That's a universal, unless you count the people who are already sick and stuck in hospitals where they can't vote. Since they can't vote . . . draw your own conclusions. If the public health were an issue, these government goofs would have made smoking against the law as soon as doctors and scientists told them smoking caused fatal diseases, thirty years ago. Instead of using tobacco sales to produce billions in "sin tax" revenues, tobacco would have just joined the long list of illegal drugs and its users would have gone underground. That didn't, and hasn't, happened.

The tobacco lawsuits aren't about reimbursing the public savings accounts for the medical costs of tobacco addiction. If they were, state and federal governments would have saved all the tax money they were collecting on tobacco to use for those costs. As usual, for the last fifty years, the government has been throwing a party for itself with that extra "revenue" (a bureaucratic word for money stolen from the public).

The public bans of smoking aren't about protecting public health from second-hand smoke, either. The fumes spewed by internal combustion engines, factories, and the smoke blown by the media and government officials has be at least as toxic as tobacco smoke. Nobody's getting sued for that. Non-smokers have been choking on second-hand smoke for a couple hundred years and, until there was money to be made, no one gave a damn about our discomfort or asthma attacks.

Get it straight. The lawsuits are about money. The militant anti-smoking activity is about revenge.

For almost 100 years, smokers have had the upper hand. I can remember going to concerts where the smoke was so thick that the stage lighting only showed you where you would see the band, if the air wasn't opaque. Smokers have probably cured more alcoholics than AAA, keeping non-smokers from being able to taste beer or mixed drinks weaker than Everclear. Smokers have driven non-smokers from political conventions, bars, public bathrooms, business offices, and their own homes. When you think about it that way, it's possible that smoking created independent politics, bottled beer, pissing in the alley, home businesses, and outdoor recreation. Anyway, non-smokers have been looking for a way to get even since the invention of the match.

It isn't easy to find a way to get even with a smoker. They're obviously suicidal, so most threats are empty. They were clearly born in a smoke-filled, carpet-burnt barn, so threatening to tell their mothers isn't going to carry a lot of weight. Anyone who smiles and says "excuse me" after burning a hole in your knee with stray ashes won't be affected by Ms. Manners' quotes. If you aren't afraid of being beat up by a revolting smoker, you have to be afraid of their revolting mouth odor. Personally, I'd rather lose teeth than inhale smokers' breath. There's nothing left for non-smokers to do but to bring out the heavy weapons: lawyers.

In my young, impressionable, dumb as a rock days, I believed that lawyers were "a bad thing." Not anymore. A year ago, a real estate lawyer saved me from having to live under a rock. Without lawyers, comedy would be dead. The only way to hear a politically incorrect joke, these days, is to make the victim a lawyer. In the medical business, no one listen to patients unless they talk through a lawyer. But best of all, my wimpy asthmatic lungs are being saved from premature mechanical replacement by a pack of multi-millionaire Minnesota lawyers with nothing but good intentions and God on their side. I've changed, see? Now I'm old, impressionable, and dumb as a rock. Change is good.

A few short decades ago, Libertarians, Republicans, and teams of business interests and personal freedom fanatics would have shouted down the anti-tobacco campaign. Not anymore. It's payback time. Smokers are outnumbered, almost 5 to 1, and non-smokers are taking back the air we breathe. We're saying, "To hell with your free choice. I want to go anywhere I want to go, without having to breathe burning tobacco. You are banished to the smoking section of the darkest alley in town." By the time this is over with, tobacco company execs will be moon shining Virginia hillbillies, hand-rolling cigarettes in back of tarpaper shacks. Smokers will have to find a way to spontaneously combust, seconds after stuffing a fag into their mouths, to keep from being arrested. Even then, the ashes will get a littering citation.

That's the way I see it. Change is good. Smoking is bad. It's a simple world. This is a "personal space issue" that has nothing to do with building a safer, kinder, gentler world. It's a good thing most lawyers are also fat people. Otherwise, I'd worry about being their next target. Ever sit next to a sweaty, fat guy on an airplane?

May 1998

8/05/2013

#9 What We Are Paid For (1998)

rat All Rights Reserved © 1998 Thomas W. Day

After 30 years of what many people would call "full employment," I finally figured out one more aspect of corporate life. Just call me "slower than a California environmental cleanup."

Twenty five years ago, I noticed a nasty connection between unpleasant, high-paying jobs and a self-destructive, self-reward system that closes off the worker's escape options. When I was young and much smarter, I vowed to avoid falling into that trap. But, either the trap has been reset much more cleverly in recent years or I've grown a lot dumber in my dotage.

Back when I was a newly educated, struggling to survive on slightly above minimum wage, electronics technician, I was often tempted to give up the struggle and become a meat cutter in a packing plant. As "skilled" beige collar labor, I was earning about $2.00 an hour. As an unskilled, unionized, packing plant employee, I would have made $8 to $11 an hour. $4,000/year vs. $22,000/year (before overtime). Seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it?

It wasn't that clean a decision then and it isn't now, believe it or not. There was a lot of economic turmoil in the 1970's. Jobs were hard to find and easy to lose. A big section of the country was in a killer recession-depression and there seemed to be no way to predict when it would end. It was tough to imagine it might ever end.

I had no trouble imagining the collapse of unions and union jobs, though. I'd done some work, installing automated manufacturing systems, in a packing plant and had experienced, first hand, how desperate those people were to hang onto their over-paid, unskilled jobs. I also knew men and women who worked in packing plants. I saw the piles of expensive toys, big houses, and new cars they bought (on credit) to reward themselves for suffering their miserable days at work. The more they rewarded themselves, the deeper in debt they went, and the more locked into their awful jobs they became.

So I stuck out my attempt to find a trade (electronics engineer) and become skilled (and mobile) labor. For the most part, I stayed on that track and was happy about the attempt, until I stumbled into the medical device business in 1992. I think, at that moment, I moved into the 1990's "knowledge worker" category. I'm pretty sure that "knowledge worker" is the term that Management uses for "idiot who sold his/her soul for a mindless, repetitive, skill-less, pointless, overpaid clerical position." The meat-packing job of the 90's.

I think the "overpaid" and the "skill-less" parts are most important. I'm pretty sure I can teach a monkey to use a Mac or a Win95 PC. I'm also sure I'd have to give a monkey a lot of peanuts to get him to stick with it. Just like a "knowledge worker."

Here we are, finally, at the point.

As Cubicleville "knowledge workers," we are mostly paid to tolerate boredom and repetition. In exchange for a little extra cash, we often give up practical, employable skills, and the freedom of knowing that we can easily find similar, equal paying work anywhere in the country. We exchange owning a trade and a secure future for a few extra dollars, today, and the insecurity of knowing that we'll be starting over from scratch if we ever change jobs. Because one thing is forever true: any skill or knowledge that you have and don't use, you'll lose. So think about this, when you take a crummy, mindless job for a little extra cash, you're going to need that money later when you're starting over in an unskilled, entry-level job. The "knowledge" you are working with is not worth knowing.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

February 1998