#105 Losing the Passion (2004)

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

In his book, Made in Japan, one of Sony's two founders, Akio Morita, talked about the differences between major American and Japanese companies.  He discounted a lot of the "cultural differences" that were used as excuses for American mismanagement failures.  But he put most of the credit for Japan's success upon the fact that, at that time, most of Japan's great companies were still managed by their founders.  The founders provided the passion, direction, and focus that drives those successful companies.  America's similar example was our semiconductor and software powerhouses.  Folks like Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and, even, Steve Jobs are examples of founders who still provide those valuable assets to their companies.  Morita's suspicion was that, once Japan's companies were handed over to a second generation, they would be no more creative than American corporate disasters.  They'd still be large, powerful, and more-or-less productive, but they wouldn't be dynamic.

One of the great faults in American culture, however, is that many of our company founders turn into second generation impotents before they pass on their inheritance.  Far too many American company execs begin to put themselves in ivory towers before they get out of their garage space.  As soon as the company produces the smallest level of profitability American mismanagers begin to act like they are heads of state. 

That "image is everything" philosophy is partly to blame.  Banks, investors, and even customers expect to see illustrations of power from the folks with whom they do business.  Too often execs fail to realize that pretending to be powerful to impress these fools is not the same thing as actually being powerful.   Posing and pretending gets to be a habit and, pretty soon, that's the only activity the exec is engaged in.  Not long after, the reason the exec exists is erased and the company is drifting without a rudder.  If the company has developed a critical amount of momentum, useless execs may not be a fatal flaw. 

Small business needs active, participatory management.  Hell, all businesses need that kind of management.  Managers provide services to the people they manage so those people can get work done.  When managers are serving themselves, they are pointless resource-wasting energy drains without a reason to exist. 


#104 Trying to be Entertaining (2004)

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

When they're not scary as hell, religious people are mildly entertaining.  Scary, but entertaining.  Since they are more often scary than funny, it's always a good practice to keep your entertainment to yourself.  It has always amazed me how quickly "god's lambs" turn into Satan's vicious attack dogs when they discover that someone isn't taking their hallucinations seriously. 

Honestly, it's not that surprising.  Regardless of the usual religious rhetoric, all group hallucinations need total reinforcement.  Anyone pointing out that the king is naked is likely to be burned at the stake pretty damn quickly. 

Public Television ran a series, recently, on one of the most venal literary characters and one of fundamentalist Christianity's most revered "thinkers"; C.S. Lewis.  From a literary position, Lewis was a scumbag.  He was a friend of J. R. Tolkien, until he heard Tolkien's ideas for Lord of the Rings.  Tolkien was working on his series of books at an extremely slow pace and Lewis realized that the idea was good enough that a mediocre "children's" version of Tolkien's plot, Chronicles of Narnia, would be very popular.  He was right, but his betrayal of his friend demonstrated that his core morality was typically fundamental and fundamentally deficient. 

Outside of his general amoral personal behavior, Lewis was a very simple thinker.  His justification for the existence of an afterlife follows along the lines of other desperately hopeful and ever-fearful humans.  Simply put, Lewis argued that since an "appetite" for gods and an afterlife existed, so did the source for that appetite.  His simpleminded rationale was that hunger exists and so does food, therefore anything that humans desired was led or followed by the existence of the item of desire.  Pretty cool, huh?  Never mind that before Christianity, very few western religions assumed a life after death and almost no non-western religions included that concept.  The appetite for an afterlife isn't a universal concept among humans and a belief in benevolent gods is even less common.  Many, if not most, religions look at the harsh and brutal fact of existence and assume that, if there is a god, he's not particularly fond of humans or innocence.  Several eastern religions, who have far more followers than Christianity, have proposed the concept that life is so harsh that ending the mortal coil and ceasing to exist on any plane is the equivalent of "heaven."  Reincarnation, a life-after-death, is a punishment for a life poorly lived.

Lewis' argument was an extension of the "I think, therefore I'm right" line of psycho-babble.  Sometimes the ruling elite have way too much time on their hands.  When that happens, they begin to believe that any dumbass thought that wanders into their idle brains has "big meaning."  The beginnings of really awful moments in history are often preceded by this kind of event, when the thinker is someone who has political power.  When the thinker is a small-time academic, like Lewis, his thoughts tend to be along the lines of the current majority's group hallucination, if he wants to be thought of as "intellectual" by that powerful group. 

Real intellectuals tend to think outside of the usual mindset.  More often than not, real intellectuals disprove "common knowledge" and current fads.  For their efforts, they are often ridiculed, sometimes burned at the stake, and shunned until enough time has passed for their ideas to be absorbed into the culture.  Small-thought generators like Lewis are immediately popular among simple minds, which is the majority mentality.  Lewis and his clones don't have an original thought to offer, but they say what the majority of folks are thinking in a way that makes the majority feel less common.  Feeling is not the same as being.


#103 They've Always Relied on the Votes of Fools (2004)

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

Tennessee William's Stella always relied on "the kindness of strangers."  Republicans have always relied on the incredibly short memories, small attention spans, and the general foolishness of middle class voters.  So far, it's been a good strategy.  With the Bushies attack on the public education system, the increase in adult illiteracy, and the near complete lack of investigative journalism in major media, the future must look bright to Republican strategists.  There will be no shortage of stupid, uneducated people.

Remember six years ago, when the House and Bill Clinton were arguing about the definition of "sex?"  Leno and Letterman had a field day with almost-funny jokes on that subject.  Today, the Bushies and the world community are debating the definition of "torture" and the right wing comedians are missing in action.  So is the American press, Congress, and the American public.  That situation pretty well sums up Republican morals; sex among consenting adults is bad, institutional torture of randomly selected Arabs is good. And it works for them, because they're getting away with it and the odds are pretty good that Bush and CRAP will be re-elected in November and they'll get away with even more.  Get it?  They're relying on good old American stupidity.  Make a big deal out of nothing, ignore the really big stuff, and hope nobody is bright enough to see the contradiction.

You have to wonder what sort of moral behavior you would have seen from GWB before he was "reborn."  If he's this evil under the guidance of his god, how awful did he behave when he was on his own?  I guess, if you're an Alfred E. Newman look-alike, you have buckets of inherited cash, and your oily smirk convinces the average moron that you're a "nice guy," you can get away with treason, murder, theft, and any number of national and international crimes.  Now that's an inheritance!

The Republicans ran on a platform of conservative economic magic and they promptly put the country into a tailspin of debit spending, unemployment, and social manipulation.  In a few years, they'll be blaming all of their misdeeds on Clinton and the Democrats and the sheep who wear Republican buttons and plaster bumper stickers on their rusting pickups will be parroting that line in bars around the country.  Like Nixon said, if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes fact.  That only works if you are lying to fools, but there is no shortage of that commodity. In fact, they reproduce like rabbits and their children are usually dumber than the originals.

Does it not seem like degeneration to you when the country's leaders move from arguing whether a blow job is "sex" to arguing if stripping, humiliating, beating, physically and psychologically intimidating prisoners is "torture?"  That pack of Washington Republican neo-con wimps would break down and give up every national secret they know if they were deprived of limousine drivers.  But the Bushies and Rush and the other right wing pussies pretend that their untrained, unsupervised, scared-shitless prison guards are just enjoying college "pranks" and their pet sheep voters buy into another Big Lie.  Obviously depending on the stupidity of others is a fairly safe bet. 

One of the two last great Republican Presidents (Teddy Roosevelt was the other), Lincoln, miscalculated when he said "you can't fool all of the people all of the time."  You don't have to fool all of the people, you just have to fool the majority all of the time.  These days, you can do that.


#101 Focus is Everything (2004)

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

Most small businesses die from lack of focus.  One of the keys to business success is finding what you do well and doing it well.  Lots of small companies fail because they don't have a specialty, a skill that the company performs exceptionally.  Lots more fail because they forgot what it was that they knew how to do in a misdirected search for something different to be doing. 

For example, a company that builds a great kitchen widget decides that kitchen widgets are never going to be big dollar items, so the management wanders off in search of another widget market that provides more net profit.  The folks back in manufacturing are still cranking out kitchen widgets, but nobody's running the show.  Asking employees to care more about the company's direction than the owner's are willing to demonstrate is a logical fallacy and, pretty soon, the company's kitchen widget market starts to deteriorate.  If the execs continue to search for a brighter, shinier place to play, the employees who can find a better managed place to work will head for higher ground.  After all the talent has left, the product starts showing the effects and established customers look for a better supplier. 

Often, this collapse of corporate momentum causes the execs to start wandering around with more urgency.  They may try moving manufacturing overseas, which usually results in more competition when the overseas manufacturing company discovers they can build and market the product they were expected to produce. 

IBM tossed computer manufacturing to the Far East with this clever management technique.  Once, the only company (other than Compaq) able to build a quality personal computer, IBM decided to safe a little manufacturing money by moving all assembly to Japan.  A few years later, Sony, Toshiba, NEC, and a host of Japanese manufactures were building and selling their own computers.  IBM, however, was forced out of the market because they didn't have the manufacturing or design skills necessary to build personal computers.  They had trained their competition and, then, got their butts kicked.  Meanwhile, IBM's foolish, misdirected management was still looking for a market where their limited skills could produce a higher profit margin. 

A couple of decades back, I worked for a mid-sized company that built a particular pro-audio product.  In the company's past, every time the company started to do well the CEO would want to "branch out" into another area of the industry.  Nobody in the company had any experience with actually using pro audio products, so the "branching" usually required a lot of consulting with potential customers and acquiring of engineers with expertise in the anticipated new market and products.  Lots of resources would be wasted with a predictable result; a mediocre product and the distraction from the one product we knew how to design and build.  The company ran through this cycle three times in the ten years I worked there.  Each time, the distraction drained the company's productivity and set profitability back dramatically.  Twice, the new market products were sold off to either a customer or one of the engineers who were brought in to develop the product.  Both times, the buyer built a solid position in the new market and a new business was launched at the expense of an established business. 

For the first few years in the company's growth period, these distractions did minimal harm to the overall business.  We had momentum, our competition was mostly brain-dead and dying, and the core products were very good so we didn't lose much of our base market with these distractions.  In the last decade, lots of new competition has appeared (lots of it from Asia) and the company's growth has stagnated in the last five years.  The reaction, predictably, has been to flail about looking for a richer market and a new product line.  They have a wide collection of new products that are falling flat in the market and the core products are losing ground.  It's a new world of competition, too, and the momentum appears to be shifting away from their base.  It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years. 

Lots of strong American companies have shot themselves in the foot when they lost focus.   There isn't much an employee can do about fixing executive focus.  The best we can do for ourselves is to watch what they do, if they're looking away from the action, it's time to polish up the resume.