A One Act Play in Memory of Our Good Friend: Dr. Hana Tomasek – D- 05-25-2020  

Dr. Hana Tomasek:  A Most Remarkable Woman

I am reposting this blog in memory of my good friend Dr. Hana Tomasek who died at 10:45 AM this Memorial day morning (May 25, 2020) from the Coronavirus.  Dr. Tomasek led a life that most of us can only dream about.  She was 85 years old.  Every year on July 4th, Hana would have a wonderful Independence Day Party to celebrate the country that she felt gave her everything that she could possibly want.

We would have a band, dancing, lots of good food and a series of roasts to poke good natured fun at Dr. Tomasek.  She had a great sense of humor and enjoyed the gags.  The highlight of the day though was the speech that Hana always gave to remind us all of her love for America and what a great country she lived in.  Five years ago, I wrote this play for our July 4th party in 2015.  Seems like just yesterday, that we were all sitting on her deck overlooking her beloved lake and drinking Becherovka.

Introduction to the Original Blog Written on June 1, 2015

Once upon a time there was a very remarkable young woman and young man who decided to flee communism and come to the United States of America in hopes of finding a better life.  Leaving their families and at great risk to their own lives they managed to elude the authorities in their home country and find their way to America.  With hardly anything except the clothes on their backs and speaking no English Hana and her spouse found asylum in the USA.  With the help of some good spirited people, they began to construct a new life based on their dreams and abilities and not simply by adhering to the “party” line. 

Hana became a good friend of ours in the late 80’s when we met at Process Management Institute, where Hana was now an esteemed consultant as well as educator at the University of Minnesota. Over the years, we shared many thoughts and ideas together.  Hana was one of the most competent consultants I have ever worked with.  She was wonderful at combining both “high tech” and “high touch” in working with her clients.  She was very capable of applying TQM technology but equally capable of compelling the leaders in the organizations she worked with to make the needed psychological changes to adopt a “new philosophy” as Dr. Deming called it.  TQM was ultimately more a change in attitudes then a change in technology.  A point that Hana was quick to recognize. 

Hana will be 80 years old this July and she had a birthday party this past weekend in honor of the occasion.  I was invited to say a few words about Hana at the party.  A picture of her as a young girl inspired my thinking about what I would say.  I thought of how Hana must have been when she was young. With this in mind, I decided to write the following fictional account of an interview with her as a young girl.  I decided to compose it as a short one act play.  At the party, I asked a good friend Nancy Hoy to play the part of Hana, while I narrated and played the part of the young reporter from Prague. 

A One Act-Play:  The Little Girl with Big Dreams.

The Background and Setting:

The 1948 Czechoslovak coup d’état (often simply the Czech coup) –  was an event in February 1948 in which the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, with Soviet backing, assumed undisputed control over the government of Czechoslovakia, marking the onset of four decades of Communist dictatorship in the country. Czechoslovakia remained as a Communist dictatorship until the Velvet Revolution of 1989.  More immediately, the coup became synonymous with the Cold War. The loss of the last remaining democracy in Eastern Europe came as a profound shock to millions.  For the second time in a decade, Western eyes saw Czechoslovak independence and democracy snuffed out by a totalitarian dictatorship intent on dominating a small country

The play takes place in Prague, 1948.  The Daily Prague newspaper has become a part of the Communist means of controlling the population and is looking for human interest stories.  It has heard of a young precocious girl who is the highest rated student at her school and they have decided to do an interview with her to help show the masses how wonderful life in a communist system can be.

Hana has been notified to expect a reporter from the Daily Prague.  Hana lives in clean 2 bedroom apartment with her mother, father and brother Jan.  Hana sits in a small chair near a larger sofa reading a book and waiting for the reporter to arrive.  It is a small but comfortable and very neat living room with a few pictures of relatives and friends on the mantle.

A One Act-Play:  The Little Girl with Big Dreams.

John:  (Knocking at the door. He is a young man of 25.  Medium height, blond hair. He has been very nervous lately and constantly has the feeling that someone is looking over his shoulder.  He has been warned to stay away from “compromising” subjects.

John:  May I come in?

Hana:  (An attractive looking young girl just turning 13.  Well-proportioned with short brown hair.  Her friends would describe her as elegant and very sophisticated.)

Hana:  Yes, please do.

John:  Hi, I am from the Daily Prague and I am here to conduct the interview with you.

Hana:  Wonderful, let’s get started.  Please sit down.

John:  Thank you. Well, Hana, I will begin by asking you a few questions.

Hana:  It’s Ms. Hana, if you don’t mind.

John:  Sure, Ms Hana.   Well, Ms. Hana, what would you like to be when you grow up?

Hana:  I would like to be President of the United States of America.

John:   (Nervous chuckle noticed by Hana) But you don’t live in the United States of America and even if you did, you could not be president because you were not born there.

Hana:  (Quite composed)  I am going to move to the United States of America and then change the law when I live there.

John:  Well, let’s just say that this might not work out; do you have a backup plan?

Hana:  Of course, I will become a rich and famous management consultant.

John:  But in Czechoslovakia system, only communists can become rich and even they are not allowed to become famous.

Hana:  Then I will go to the United States of America and become a rich and famous management consultant there.

John:  Why do you want to become a management consultant?

Hana:  So I can tell people what to do.

John:  Are there any other reasons?

Hana:  Well, so many companies are so poorly run and they need lots of help.

John:  How are you going to learn about business when you live in a communist system? Wait, I know, you are going to move to the United States of America.

Hana:  Right.  I will learn all about how to become rich and famous when I get to America.

John:  (More nervous now and deciding to change the subject) Could you tell our readers what your hobbies are and what you like to do for fun?

Hana:  I like to study, read and learn about new and interesting things.

John:  Yes, but what do you do for fun?

Hana:  I just answered you.  Maybe I did not understand your question.

John:  Well, like do you jump rope, play doll house or do dress up?

Hana:  What are those things?

John:  (Uncertain where to proceed) Well, I understand you are a very smart young student.  Do you like school?

Hana:    Yes, but recently they changed all the textbooks and they took out all the good stuff about the United States of America

John:  I have not heard about that but maybe it was because they thought it might be lies.

Hana:  Well, I don’t think that people should rewrite history just because they change their minds.  What about facts?

John:  (Quite nervous again)  I think you have a very inquiring mind.  You would make a good management consultant.

Hana:  (Very Serious) Do you know where I could find a good textbook on Management Consulting?

John:  I don’t think we have any of those in the library anymore.

Hana:  Why not?

John:  Well, in a communist system, nobody worries about how the system runs since it is up to the government to decide how things should be run.

Hana:  That does not sound like a very good idea. I don’t think they do it like that in the United States of America.

John:  Well, Ms. Hana, it has been wonderful talking to you.  Our readers will be quite pleased to see how happy and great life in Czechoslovakia is for you.

Hana:  (Very skeptical) May I review your notes?

John:  (Ignoring Hana’s request)  Well,  Ms. Hana, we always like to send our contributors a token of our appreciation.  Would you like a framed picture of General Secretary Joseph Stalin or Defense Minister Ludvík Svoboda?

Hana:  Could you send me a picture of Mickey Mouse?

The END: 

Time for Questions:

What would you do if you lived in a total dictatorship?  Would you risk your lives and those of your family to flee? Would you simply go along as best you could? How would you get started in a strange country where you could not speak the language?  How much courage does it take to start a new life?

Life is just beginning.

Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars – Part 2 of 2

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Why do some people achieve success and happiness while other people flounder on the shoals?  One man/woman becomes Prime Minister or President and their brother/sister becomes a drug addict.  I suppose there are many reasons and many that we can probably do nothing about.  Some things are beyond our power to change.  However, there is one reason that contributes to success and it is in our power to modify or amplify.  I speak specifically of the ideas or concepts in the title of this blog:  Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars.  In Part 1, I talked about the importance of Mentors and Muses.  In Part 2, I will discuss the importance of Role Models and Shooting Stars.

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Role Models:

A Role Model is anyone either real or imagined who provides inspiration to another person that will allow that person to dream about doing things that they never would have thought possible.  A role model allows a child to think about being greater than anyone they have ever known.  Role models lift people up to help them aspire towards being more than they are.  Parker Posey, the little Black girl whose mom brought her to the National Art Museum in Washington D.C. saw a picture of Michele Obama on the wall and thought “I want to be just like her.”  Later on Parker said in an interview that she would rather be president than first lady.  The great English scientist Isaac Newton said in 1675, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”

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A role model is in a sense a giant.  I asked Dr. Deming one night when we were coming back from dinner what he wanted to be when he was in college.  He immediately replied, “I wanted to be just like Walter Shewhart.”  Few people outside of quality control have probably ever heard of Dr. Walter Shewhart but the name of Dr. W. E. Deming is known the world over.  Dr. Deming had stood on the shoulder of a great man and reached even higher than Dr. Shewhart.

I was once asked why I did not go to Harvard since I grew up in Rhode Island and Harvard was only 45 miles away.  I laughed with some mild regret.  Truth be told, I never would have thought I could go to Harvard.  No one in my family had ever gone to college.  We had no money.  I did not know a single person who ever want to college.  Years have gone by and I have met many Harvard graduates.  I have no regrets now about not attending Harvard.  My regrets come from never having thought that it was possible that I could ATTEND college.

mandelaI teach part-time as a substitute teacher in two high schools in Casa Grande, Arizona.  Both public schools have a large minority population of Latino’s, African Americans, and Native Americans.  I talk to many of these students when they are seniors about what their plans are after they graduate.  Many of them remind me of myself when I graduated high school.  I had no clue about what I could do or be.  My father wanted me to become a postman like he was, and my mother did not really have any idea or inclinations about careers.  I looked around and in 1964, thought “Well I will join the military and see what happens.”  I had no dreams or goals for my future.  I had no role models when I was growing up.

I think every child should have a role model.  I have heard the arguments against.  Role models always end up being tarnished.  Role models may not present realistic possibilities.  Role models will stereotype kids into traditional channels.  Role models may pose negative characteristics rather than positive.  For instance, if your role model is Billy the Kid or Adolph Hitler, it might not suggest a desirable future.

“All the role models are being exposed and this is good because role models are shit. The quicker we exposed them the better. The whole concept of role models is frightful! You gotta make your own role.”  — William S. Burroughs

But I am not talking about negative role models.  I am talking about positive role models.  A positive role model is anyone with some desirable characteristics or values.  Furthermore, I think we need to educate our children by presenting a variety of role models and not trying to hold up any one role model as perfect or god-like.  We can never imitate or copy anyone else.

I could have taken Dr. Deming as my role model.  Dr. Deming was loved and admired by many, but he was also criticized by many.  A friend of mine from Nigeria told me this old African folk tale:

“Once upon a time there was a father, his son and a donkey.  They decided to go to market one day and purchase some food.  All three set out with the father riding the donkey and the son walking along side.  They soon came to a village and as they passed through the town, the father heard villagers saying, “What a cruel old man, he rides while the poor son walks.”  Whereupon, the father got off the donkey and put his son up to ride.  They next came to another village and as they passed through, again came voices.  This time they heard “What a stupid old man, he walks while his young healthy son rides.” 

downloadThe father decided he would join his son on the donkey.  As they passed through the next village, people shouted “Look at that.  Two people on one donkey.  How cruel and mean.’’  The father deliberated and made the following decision.  He and his son came down off the donkey and picked the donkey up.  They carried the donkey all the way to their final destination and as they entered the village, they heard uproarious laughter and saw everyone in the market place pointing at them and saying “Have you ever seen two more stupid people in your life.  They are carrying a donkey that could be carrying them.”

I will bet that you know the moral of the previous story.  It applies to role models.  There are no perfect people.  We are all defective in one way or another.  You cannot please everyone.  But think about the value that a role model can have.  If you Google role models, you will find lots of lists of the “top” role models for children.  Perusing these lists as I have done, you will admire many people, but you may also be appalled at some of the role models.  For instance, I have found Marilyn Monroe, Justin Bieber and Lance Armstrong.  These are people that I find objectionable for a number of reasons.  Now I have no doubt that if I put my top ten list of role models up, there are some that you would find objectional.  I repeat that there are no perfect role models.  This fact should remind you not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

“We look at the way some kids behave and instantly blame the parents, and more often than not we’re correct. The school bully is often a sign of poor parenting. That’s the immediate cause, but if we search for the root cause we have to dig much deeper than that. What on earth in that kid’s head makes it seem okay to bully people? Why are the parents doing such a poor job of bringing up their children? Probably because they didn’t have very effective role models themselves when they were growing up. It could go back generations.”   ― Karl Wiggins, You Really Are Full of Shit, Aren’t You?

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Shooting Stars:

A shooting star or a rising star is someone whom you hitch your wagon to.  It is someone that you recognize is going places and doing things that you admire.  If you knew someone was taking a trip that you wanted to be on, you would join that person and take the trip together.  A rising star or shooting star will take you to places that you might never have dreamed of going yourself.  You will find many great military leaders, business leaders and scientists who hitched their wagon to a shooting star and later achieved greatness themselves.

12-disciplesPerhaps the most famous example is in the spiritual arena.  Twelve men chosen somewhat randomly hitched their wagons to a shooting star and achieved fame and glory far beyond anything they could have dreamed of.  Today we remember the shooting star and his 12 apostles.  Each of the apostles later went on to their own fame and glory spreading the word of their lord and master.  Sometimes, it is the shooting star that gets forgotten but, in this case, through the efforts of his 12 followers, the name of Jesus Christ rings throughout the centuries in every corner of the globe.

Conclusions:

How do you find a shooting star or a role model?  I will leave you with some advice:

1.  Most important, you must believe that success and greatness is not simply dependent on your own resources and energy. As the Beatles said, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

2.  Nevertheless, as a pundit once said, “Pray to the lord but row for the shore.” You can get all the help you need, but you are ultimately responsible for your own destiny.

3.  Look for role-models that have the values you would like to have. If you are going to select anyone, you must first know what are the key values that you want more of in your life.

4.  List seven of the most important values that you admire in your role model. Put them on a piece of paper that you can review every day.  Each day start by reviewing one value and asking yourself “What can I do today that would help me better exemplify this value?”  At the end of each evening, do a review of your day’s activities.  Ask yourself “How well did I do today on this value?”

5.  Do not be afraid to imitate your role model. You must learn the basics in any activity before you can improvise.  Deming was not ashamed to say that he wanted to be “Just like Dr. Shewhart.”  Great people are never ashamed to admit that they admire other great people.  It is only weak and insecure people who are narcissistic to the point that no one else counts.

6.  As pertains to shooting stars, ask yourself “Who do you know in your career or profession who you think is a shooting star?” In every field that I can think of, you will surely find someone who is better than you are or who has more skills than you have.

7.  Get to know this person.  Remember the saying “Birds of a feather flock together.”  This can be a good thing when you flock with highly intelligent, skilled, ethical, and motivated people.

“Hang On To People That Inspire You. Do Work That Energizes You.” ― Wesam Fawzi

 

 

 

 

Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars – Part 1 of 2

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Why do some people achieve success and happiness while other people flounder on the shoals?  One man/woman becomes Prime Minister or President and their brother/sister becomes a drug addict.  I suppose there are many reasons and many that we can probably do nothing about.  Some things are beyond our power to change.  However, there is one reason that contributes to success and it is in our power to modify or amplify.  I speak specifically of the ideas or concepts in the title of this blog:  Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars.

In 1983, I joined the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).  I was still in graduate school working on my degree in Organization Development and it seemed useful to join a professional organization that represented my career goals.  As a member of the ASTD, I attended monthly meetings and eventually submitted several articles to their magazine for publication.  One of the most interesting projects I volunteered for was to help establish a “Mentoring Program” for young upcoming professionals in the field of Training and Organization Development.  This project together with a Human Resource Development organization that I started for students at the University of Minnesota were some of the high points of my academic career.  Grades did not count for much to me except to get credits that were needed to graduate.  Helping people was truly gratifying.

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Mentors:

A “Mentor” can be defined as: “A trusted advisor.”  Someone with more experience who knows the ropes and takes a less experienced person under their wings to help guide them through the Scylla and Charybdis that are lurking in most organizations.  This can make the difference between success and failure.  I have found myself over my head several times because of not properly understanding a new boss or company politics.  downloadOnce, as a new employee, I was attending my first department meeting with my co-workers and supervisor.  I deemed it prudent to keep my mouth shut and observe.  At the end of the meeting, my supervisor turned to me and noted, “Well, John, you haven’t said a word.  What do you think?  Give me your honest opinion.”  I took her at her word and gave her my honest uncensored opinion.  Big mistake, as I am sure you knew.  Turns out my boss only liked “Honest Opinions” when they agreed with her opinions.  A good mentor would have warned me of this peril before I put my foot in my mouth.

A good mentor can do a great deal more than simply alert you to pitfalls.  A mentor may share information about his or her own career path and what helped him/her to become successful.  A mentor can provide guidance, motivation, emotional support, and coaching.  A mentor may help with setting goals, developing contacts, and identifying resources that will help you to get ahead.  I personally believe everyone should have a mentor.  In addition to career mentors, there are mentors who may help you with your hobbies or any other activities that add value to your life.  Having a mentor is not all about careers and jobs.

How does one find a mentor?  Some organizations have mentoring programs and match up new employees with seasoned veterans.  A friend of mine at the ASTD and I worked together on the aforementioned mentoring program.  We put together guidelines to help companies establish their own in-house mentoring programs.  I was quite surprised and pleased when at an ASTD awards banquet, we were acknowledged for the mentoring program that we had developed.

Mentors can be formal or informal.  In 1998, I was “adopted’ by an older gentleman named Gordon Backlund when I started working at the Metropolitan Council in Minnesota.  He came up to me after a meeting and announced “I see you know nothing about politics in a government organization.  I am going to teach you.”  I was grateful for his offer.  Gordy taught me a bunch about how to survive and we became good friends in the process.  He was an informal mentor since the organization did not have a formal mentoring program.  It would be great if every organization had a program, but most do not.  In the latter case, it is up to you to find a mentor.  If you care about your success in life as well as in business, you will find a mentor or mentors.  The following is a particularly good video with some tips on “how to find a mentor.”  There are many other good videos on the subject and even some good TED talks on the topic.

Here is a great video on how to find a mentor by Marie Forleo

 

Muses:

A muse in ancient Greece was the name for the nine goddesses who presided over the arts and science.   A muse for me is someone who inspires me.  Since I think of myself as a writer, a muse is someone who can inspire my writing.  A muse indirectly motivates imagesme by giving me support and stimulation to be creative.  I was thinking back over the years that I have been writing.  My first paid article was in 1983.  It was published in a San Francisco Men’s Journal.  My piece was called “The Three Types of Male Intimacy.”  I was paid about 25 dollars.  It was not much but it felt like a start.  I have since published about 40 journal articles, three books and over 600 blogs.  It is a good thing that I never quit my day job since I could barely pay my monthly entertainment bill with the proceeds from my writing.

In 2010, I met Dr. Carolyn Wedin.  She was a retired English Professor Emeritus from the University of Wisconsin.  She had started a writing class in Frederic, Wisconsin.  I joined the class and thus began my honest efforts to become a writer.  I say honest, because until then I had not engaged in professional efforts to improve my writing skills.  Anyone who says that they are a writer, artist, singer, sculptor, musician, or chef and does not engage in some form of professional development is in my humble opinion, not serious about their craft.

My partner Karen has played the piano since she was a little girl.  She plays well enough to be asked to play both piano and organ at church when the regular pianist is out sick or on vacation.  About 15 years ago, we were visiting in Mountain View, Arkansas when Karen noticed someone on the “Pickin Parlor Green” playing a small acoustic wooden lap instrument.  She enjoyed the sound and also thought how easy it would be to pack up and carry such an instrument.  Pianos and organs do not lend themselves to easy carry or transport.  She inquired as to what the instrument was and was told that it was a Mountain Dulcimer, also known as an Appalachian Dulcimer.  Deciding to try one out, she purchased an inexpensive dulcimer on eBay for about 100 dollars.

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Karen tried playing it for a while on her own.  She purchased some instruction books and starting plinking away.  Not having much success, she came to the conclusion that she needed instruction.  She found a good instructor and continued with her until we retired.  We then moved to Wisconsin and Arizona.  Nevertheless, other dulcimer lessons have continued for many years.  We go to at least two music camps each year.  One is in Mountain View, Arkansas and the other is in Bardstown, Kentucky.  We often attend the Minnesota Blue Grass and Old Time Music Association (MBOTMA) summer festival where they offer classes and practice in a variety of instruments.  There is also lots of practice time in what are known as music jams.  These jams are events where musicians self-organize into groups with many different skill levels.  There will be people playing guitars, violins, mandolins, banjos, dulcimers, harps, and numerous other string instruments.

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For several years, Karen was tentative before venturing out into her first music jams.  There is a definite etiquette that one must learn before joining a jam session.  Karen soon found a group of women in Tucson who were called “The Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble (TDE).”  They practice every two weeks and do a few performances each year.  The sessions they hold are both training and practice with a good dose of inspiration thrown in.  Karen has become more confident since playing with the TDE and is now a good enough player to be asked to do solo performances.  Where once she dreaded the thought of playing solo, she now looks forward to the challenge and I suspect, the applause.

But what of a muse?  Do we really need one?  Who was or is my muse for writing?  This past year Dr. Wedin had a series of illnesses and accidents rendering her unable to continue the “Write Right Now” classes that she had started.  Some of her students who have attended them for many years volunteered to take over, but it was not the same.  It is hard to describe Carolyn’s style of encouragement and critique, but I venture to say it is unique.  She inspires without criticizing.  She encourages without demoralizing.  She suggests without demanding.  When you have finished a session with Dr. Wedin, you have new ideas and a renewed motivation to go home and write.

Perspiration or Inspiration: Which is more Important to the Writer? —-A blog I wrote a while ago

 

Missing Carolyn and her inspiration, I went into a downward spiral.  I considered giving up writing.  I had said it all.  There was nothing else left to write about.  I had exhausted all my ideas and creativity.  I was finished.  I was kaput.  My writing days were over.  That was when I realized that Carolyn had been my muse.  She was my inspiration for what I think of as my writing in Creative Non-Fiction.  Part of me knew that Carolyn could not continue teaching.  No one lives forever and all things eventually change.  The Covid-19 Virus will probably put the finishing touches on the writer’s class for this summer: “Oh, what will I do?”

MV5BOWIzZGUxZmItOThkMS00Y2QxLTg0MTYtMDdhMjRlNTNlYTI3L2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc1NTYyMjg@._V1_“I do not know what writing awaits me,

I only know I must be brave,

And I must face a life that dates me,

Or lie a coward, a craven coward,

Or lie a coward in my grave.” 

 (A slight modification from “High Noon” by Frankie Laine)

Taking advice from this old Frankie Laine song, I must find a new muse.  We all need a “little help from our friends” or someone who can guide and inspire us.  They say that the truth will set you free.  I know not about the truth, but I do know that when we understand something it gives us the freedom to make good decisions and choices.  Since I realize how important a muse is to my writing, I must decide how to find my next muse.

Looking at an obvious source for a muse, i.e., the Internet, one finds that most topics treat the subject as an exercise in finding your personal creativity either by looking inward or by researching a range of resources including classes and educational activities.  Searching Google for help in finding an actual real person as a muse, I did not find anything especially useful.  I did find numerous articles like:

  • How to Awaken Your Muse to Spark Your Creativity
  • Learning how to find your inner muse
  • 7 Tips to Awaken Your Creative Muse – Can-do-ideas

By the way, I got the same results on “YouTube” but I did find an interesting song by Them Coulee Boys called “Find Your Muse.”

I don’t want to find my “inner” creativity.  I want to find a real person like Dr. Wedin, who can inspire and challenge me.  Telling me to find my inner muse is similar to telling an athlete to find their “inner coach.”  This is a great idea up to a point, but I am sure that most musicians, athletes, and other artists would much rather find another human being as a coach or mentor.  It is wonderful to be able to talk to someone who has a different perspective and who can talk back.

The search for a muse does not have a single starting point or a definite ending point.  Much like mentors, muses will come and go in the life of an artist. The quest for a muse is like looking for the love of your life.  They may be just around the corner or they may be on another continent.  The one thing I am sure of is that unless you are seeking, you will probably not find one.  There is a Zen saying that goes like this, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I have a feeling that the same is true for finding a muse.  When you are ready, your muse will appear.  But being ready means having your eyes and ears and heart open.  That is what seeking is all about.

In Part 2, I will describe how a Role Model and a Shooting Star can help you in life as well as in your career. 

It’s the Economy Stupid! The Five Myths of Capitalism – Part 5 of 5

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I stated in parts 1-4, that unless we change our attitudes and policies regarding Corporate Capitalism, it will destroy our country, our way of life, our freedoms, and our environment.  Furthermore, we will undoubtedly take some of the rest of the world along with us.  This is a serious accusation and one I do not take lightly.

I have already described four of the five myths that are largely responsible for the mistaken policies and laws that have allowed Corporate Capitalism to become a dangerous disease.  A disease that is infecting our government and policies in myriad ways and causing untold damage to our country and the world.

In this blog, I will describe Myth #5 and how it contributes to the problems we are now facing.  Myth #5 is:

What’s Good for Corporate America is Good for the USA:

shanghai-gm-monoply-guy-720x340 (1)A version of this myth is the “Too big too fail idea” widely heard during the “Great Recession” and now during the Coronavirus epidemic.  General Motors was one of the first giant corporations in America and even as late as 2019, it was ranked 13th on the Fortune 500 rankings of the largest United States corporations by total revenue.  In 1952 during his nomination hearing for Secretary of Defense, Charles Wilson (former CEO of General Motors) was asked if he could make a decision as Secretary of Defense that ran contrary to the interests of his former company.  He replied with the now infamous remark YES but that he could not conceive of such a situation: “because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.” — Wikipedia

220px-23_Things_They_Don't_Tell_You_About_Capitalism_cover_artThe foregoing belief in the common interests that corporations shared with America came to epitomize the ideology of Corporate America.  American corporations then used the media and astute public relations to convince the majority of US citizens that they are indispensable, and that the welfare of the average person depended on the welfare of the corporation.  To put it another way, the interests of a giant corporation are claimed to be synonymous with the interests of the average person. “What is good for America’s Corporations is good for You.”  “What is good for Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Exxon, Facebook and Pfizer is good for you.

This belief system, that corporate welfare is synonymous with our country’s welfare, is inevitably betrayed by at least two major factors.  These include: Externalities and Short-Term Thinking.

  1. Externalities (Lack of responsibility)

imagesWhen a company makes and sells a product, it is no longer responsible for the effects of that product on either the buyer or the environment.  Unless evidence can be shown that somehow the corporation either lied or had some kind of criminal intent in the sales process, the consumer and society are responsible for the negative effects that a product or service might have.  For instance, oil companies sell gasoline but are not responsible for the effects of polluting the atmosphere by burning gasoline.  Another example is the packaging that many companies use for their products.  Amazon is notorious for over boxing even the smallest products.  The boxes must then be thrown away or recycled in a landfill.  However, the cost of this recycling is not born by Amazon but ultimately by the taxpayer who must pay for the recycling through taxes or direct payments.  Meanwhile, Amazon makes a great profit by being able to take advantage of tax loopholes and escaping any costs.  These costs are called in economic terms: “Externalities.”

“In economics, an externality is the cost or benefit that affects a third party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit.”  Wikipedia

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  1. Short-term thinking

Corporations will tell you that consumers benefit from the aforementioned transfers of costs.  The consumer pays a cheaper price for the product than he/she would if the total costs to the environment were factored in.  However, this is only considering short-term costs.  In the long term, the consumer/taxpayer pays a much greater cost.  For instance, the pollution in the atmosphere has caused the overall temperature of the earth to rise resulting in global warming.  This warming has destabilized weather patterns all over the earth resulting in extremes of weather:  more frequent tornadoes, stronger hurricanes, longer droughts, greater rain in many areas resulting in flooding.

The impacts of these weather changes have already cost the world billions of dollars.  One study found that: “Climate change could directly cost the world economy $7.9 trillion by mid-century as increased drought, flooding and crop failures hamper growth and threaten infrastructure.”Climate impacts ‘to cost world $7.9 trillion’ by 2050.  This study does not measure the misery to human beings all over the earth in terms of famine, pestilence and the impact of more and more “natural” disasters.

So, what we have here is the typical example of “Short-Term” thinking on the part of our Corporate Capitalistic economic system.  From worrying about the daily price of their stocks, the quarterly dividend, the monthly financial statements and the quarterly financial reports, corporations are guided by short-term thinking.  They will compete for short-term profits at the cost of destroying our environment, our way of living and ultimately our world.  This is the nature of the beast as it is bred and chartered.

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When I was a store manager at the now defunct W.T. Grant Company, we used to get a report each month which showed us our store ranking in relation to the 200 or so other stores in our division.  Our regional management would send these out every month to motivate us to raise our ranking.  Thus, if we were ranked 76th out of 200 in sales and profits, it would behoove us to try to improve.  However, these rankings were more or less random since some stores would always be in the top rank because of their size or other demographics.  Even without changing a single factor in our operation, the next month might see our ranking go up to 50th.  This could simply mean that our seasonal sales had kicked in before some other store areas.  The following month we might drop to 125th out of 200.

Each month brought a great deal of shifting between stores.  One soon learned that these reports were worthless.  We regarded them as a big joke.  They told us nothing except that management was focused on the short-term and that it could not look longer ahead than a month.  I worked for W.T. Grant for two years and left 4 years before they went bankrupt.  At the time of their bankruptcy, they were the largest American corporation to ever declare bankruptcy.

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A number of years ago, the average lifespan of an American corporation was 60 years.  The first list of Fortune 100 companies published in 1954 showed that less than fifty years later more than ½ of these companies no longer existed.  A corporation which is regarded as a person by such ridiculous decisions as “Citizens United” lives considerably less than the lifespan of an average person.  Even that limited a lifespan for a corporation has dropped.  The average age of an S&P 500 company is now under 20 years, down from 60 years in the 1950s, according to Credit Suisse.

Why? You may well ask.  The answer is simple.  For two reasons:  Greed and Stupidity.  Hardly a corporation in America does not create a “strategic plan.”  I have helped formulate and facilitate many a strategic planning session.  The most difficult part of planning is to get companies to think long-term.  Partially, this is due to the extremely volatile nature of business and the competition that companies face.  An even bigger part of the problem is the nature of management thinking.  There are some notable exceptions to this prevalent thinking:

“In Warren Buffett’s 2010 annual letter to shareholders he mentions the advantage Berkshire Hathaway has because it doesn’t focus on short term results”:

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“At GEICO, for example, we enthusiastically spent $900 million last year on advertising to obtain policyholders who deliver us no immediate profits.  If we could spend twice that amount productively, we would happily do so though short-term results would be further penalized. Many large investments at our railroad and utility operations are also made with an eye to payoffs well down the road.  At Berkshire, managers can focus on running their businesses: They are not subjected to meetings at headquarters nor financing worries nor Wall Street harassment. They simply get a letter from me every two years and call me when they wish.”  — Dr. Deming’s 7 deadly diseases by John Hunter

downloadDr. Deming wrote reams about the failure of management to balance what he called the “Problems of Today” with the “Problems of Tomorrow.”  I would typically hear when beginning a consulting engagement numerous reasons why “it could not be done.”  One of the most common excuses was expressed colloquially as “We are up to our ass in alligators.”  Another excuse was “We have too many fires to put out.”  I was fond of reciting Dr. Deming’s comment that, “Putting out fires is not improvement.  Finding a point out of control, finding the special cause and removing it, is only putting the process back to where it was in the first place. It is not improvement of the process.” — Out of the Crisis,  W. E. Deming

I have already mentioned in Part 2 on the Efficiency Myth that most corporations never really understood the idea of continuous improvement.  The focus of management is for the most part, a focus on quick fixes and short-term thinking that can bring quick profits regardless of the hidden costs and externalities.  Thus, the belief that what is good for a corporation is good for its citizens is not just false but dangerous.  To hold this belief is like trusting a rattlesnake not to bite you.  You might think that the rattlesnake is your friend until the day it bites you.  You are no more a friend to an American corporation than you are a friend to a rattlesnake.

41bf5SeawKL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I have sat in many boardrooms for many planning meetings, and seldom did I ever hear an executive worrying about the environment or the hidden costs of externalities.  The oft assumed legal mandate of a corporation is to make a profit.  However, corporate law states that a company does not have to pursue profit maximization at all costs.  This is idealistic though since the tendency in the marketplace and short-term thinking push corporations to ignore other considerations and pursue profits at all costs.  It is also much easier to measure profits than it is to measure a “good” to the environment or a “good” to the social system.  Thus, generally profits will trump other considerations in running an effective business.

Conclusion:

What is to be done?  How do we restore the proper balance of power to ensure that Corporations serve the country and not that the country serve the corporations?

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I think it will require the following major actions:

  1. We must overturn the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United
  2. We must change corporate law to do the following:
    1. Place size limits on corporations
    2. Place limits on the number of companies a corporation may acquire
    3. Regain citizen control by changing the corporate charter
  3. We must place limits on the exercise of lobbying
  4. We must stop corporate donations to political candidates
  5. We must place limits on the hiring of corporate executives to manage and oversee the government agencies that regulate their industry

There are many other things that can be done if we as citizens recognize that we have the power to take control of corporations.  We have the power to insure that they are acting in the public interest and not the other way around.  Madison Avenue has convinced Americans that what is good for Corporate America is good for the USA.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is time we take back our power.

“Corporate social responsibility is measured in terms of businesses improving conditions for their employees, shareholders, communities, and environment. But moral responsibility goes further, reflecting the need for corporations to address fundamental ethical issues such as inclusion, dignity, and equality.”Klaus Schwab

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Who Am I?  I Don’t Really Know!

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“To be or not to be?  That is the question”, said Hamlet.  But what is the answer?   Do you remember when you were in high school and everyone asked you “What do you want to be, when you grow up?”  Being that I did not have a clue, I simply ignored the question.  I suspect that millions of high school kids every year at graduation time get deluged with this question.  Personally, knowing how I felt about it, I make it a point “never” to ask any kids “What do they want to be when they grow up?”  Of course, some kids are smarter than I was, and they have a ready-made answer: “I want to be President of the United States.”  “I want to be an Oscar winning movie star.”  I want to be a quarterback in the NFL.”  “I want to be a Nobel Prize winning scientist.”  I was never any good with a comeback, so unfortunately, I never thought of any of these impressive responses.  Years have gone by and I still do not know what I want to be when I grow up.

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A few years ago, I was tempted to start a group for people over sixty who like me did not know what they wanted to be when they grew up.  Misery loves company as they say.  Sadly, too many of the people who I thought would qualify for my group had either died or retired.  The rest wanted to keep working and were not interested in finding their true selves.  I suspect that if they did quit their work, they would no longer know who they were.

images (1)As years have gone by, I have learned from the sages (who profess to know these things) that “being” is more important than “doing” in terms of defining who we really are.  In other words, just because I work as a management consultant or educator, that job title does not describe the real me.  The real me exists apart from what I do to make a living or to earn a paycheck.  I discovered that It would take an epic journey of soul searching to find my real being, the real me.  Ever since I learned that I needed such a quest to know my true inner self, I have been struggling to find out who I really am.  I am now 73 years old and I am still wrestling with this question.

When you meet people socially for the first time or you go to any party or get together, what is the first question that you get after you are introduced to a stranger?  It is of course: “What do you do?”  I now puff up my chest and reply: “I am busy being and not worrying about doing.”  No, that is a lie.  I wish I could say that, but usually I say the standard “Blah, Blah, Blah.”  Depending on my mood, I am either a management consultant, an educator, or an unpaid blogger.  The last job title usually sees my interrogator sidle slyly away with the excuse that they want to get another drink.  Seems bloggers are pretty low on anyone’s list of people “I must meet.”

220px-Σωκράτης,_Ακαδημία_Αθηνών_6616Socrates said that “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  These words were reportedly spoken at his trial for corrupting the youth of Athens.  Socrates believed that living a life where you unthinkingly obey the rules of society and never stop to examine what you actually want out of life is not worth living.  I believe that Socrates was thinking too much.  It is relatively easy to know what one wants out of life.  I want happiness, money, good health, good love, good sex, good food, interesting friends, a challenging and meaningful job and a perhaps a few exceptional children or two to round things out.  I am not sure what else I would want if I delved into the issue any deeper.

I think that the problem with even a cursory examination of one’s life is never about knowing what we want.  That is easy.  The difficult part is getting it.  How do I get money?  How do I get good love?  How do I get a meaningful and challenging job?  How do I get obedient disciplined exemplary children?  Each of these is a million-dollar question that involves a more elusive quest than finding than the Holy Grail.  It would be easier to find Genghis Khan’s buried treasure than to find happiness that does not often dissipate with the morning dew.

Socrates also said, “Know thyself.”  However, Socrates was not the first to make this claim.  The phrase “Know thyself” was a motto inscribed on the frontispiece of the Temple of Delphi.  On the bottom of the temple was a second motto that proclaimed: “All things in moderation.”  I am particularly good at the moderation edict, but I am still working on the “Know thyself” part.

Through assiduous reading from many self-help psychology books, philosophers, and spiritual prophets, I assumed that I had to separate being from doing before I could eventually find my true self.  I needed to unwrap myself from what I do and focus on “being.”  That is when I discovered another barrier to my quest.  I call it the paradox of the Mobius Strip versus the Two-Sided Coin.  A different way of thinking about this issue, might be in terms of East versus West world views.

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Allow me to explain this more.  If being and doing are thought of as two sides of the same coin (More of a Western conception) then we must balance each one separately.  Each one could be thought of as discrete parts of our lives.  Sometimes, I be and sometimes I do.  I be when I do not do, and I do not do when I be or something like that.  Could I keep them separate?  That was the puzzle that occupied my efforts for many years.  I could never solve it.

download (1)On the other hand, what if we are not faced with a coin here but with a Mobius Strip.  So there are not two sides but only one side.  Unlike a two-sided coin, there is no division in a Mobius Strip.  This is more of an Eastern perspective on life.  Thus, being rolls into doing without any breaks and doing rolls back into being.  Life is simply be-do-be-do-be-do.  If this is what life is really about, then trying to separate the two ideas is simply impossible.  When I do, I am being and when I am being, I am doing.

Can I be kind, without doing kind?  Can I be a good person, without doing good deeds?  Can I be a management consultant without doing any consulting.  Can I be a writer without doing any writing?  Can I be a lover without making love?  Can I ever separate being from doing?

To paraphrase Ecclesiastes: “Confusion of confusion.  All is confusion.”  I do not know who I am or what I be or if I should be instead of do or if I should do instead of be.

If only, I were a rich man!

“The most important men in town would come to fawn on me!  They would ask me to advise them.  Like Socrates the smart one or Solomon the wise one.  ‘If you please, Dr. Persico.  Pardon me, Dr. Persico.  What is the difference between being and doing Dr. Persico?  Should I BE first Dr. Persico and then DO or should I DO first and then BE, Dr. Persico?’  Solving problems that would perplex a genius or a wise man.  And it won’t make a damn bit of difference if I am right or wrong, cause when you are rich, they really think you know!”  — (Paraphrased from The Fiddler on the Roof)

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So now I return to where I first started.  I will conclude this short excursion into exploring who or what I am with the continuation of Hamlet’s soliloquy that I started this missive with.  Indeed it seems a very fitting and perhaps cautionary way to end this short excursion into the meaning of my life.

Says Hamlet:

“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep;

No more; and by a sleep, to say we end

The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks

That Flesh is heir to?”

 

 

It’s the Economy Stupid! The Five Myths of Capitalism – Part 4 of 5

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I stated in my three previous blogs that unless we change our attitudes and policies regarding Corporate Capitalism, it will destroy our country, our way of life, our freedoms, and our environment.  Furthermore, we will undoubtedly take some of the rest of the world along with us.  This is a serious accusation and one I do not take lightly.  I have been a business educator in higher education and a management consultant to some of the top corporations in the world.  My opinion is not based just on theory or observations.  It is based on the in-depth work that I did with over 32 companies during the time I was actively consulting.  There are many good people working in corporate America but as Dr. Deming once said “You put a good person in a bad system and the system will win every time.  There are Five Myths of Capitalism that are largely responsible for the mistaken policies and laws that have allowed Corporate Capitalism to become a dangerous disease infecting our way of life and causing untold damage to our country.

In my previous blogs, I described the first three myths.  In this blog, I will describe Myth #4 and how it contributes to the destruction of our country.  Myth #4 is:

4.  Corporations are Efficient and Always More Efficient than the Government

In 1986, I was hired by Process Management Institute (PMI) to help merge organization development with statistics.  I had just finished my Ph.D. degree in Training and Organization Development from the University of Minnesota.  Lou Schultz, the CEO of PMI had started the company about three years before I joined.  The company was founded on and sold the methodology and philosophy of Dr. W. Edwards Deming.  Lou had met Dr. W. E. Deming when Lou worked at Control Data (CD).

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Lou was a manager at CD when sometime in the early 80’s Control Data hired Dr. Deming to help them implement his famous quality improvement process.  Lou realized that Dr. Deming had something that America needed, and he decided to leave Control Data and start a consulting firm.  The focus of this firm would be to help bring the Deming Philosophy to businesses in the USA.  Dr. Deming helped Lou in many ways by encouragement and referral of potential clients.  Lou assisted at more than 60 of the 4-day seminars that Dr. Deming had started after he was featured prominently in a TV documentary on quality.  Dr. Deming’s popularity soared after the NBC White Paper TV documentary called “If Japan Can, Why Can’t We” was broadcast.

“If Japan can … Why can’t we? was an American television episode broadcast by NBC News as part of the television show “NBC White Paper” on June 24, 1980, credited with beginning the Quality Revolution and introducing the methods of W. Edwards Deming to American managers that was produced by Clare Crawford-Mason[ and reported on by Lloyd Dobyns.

The report details how the Japanese captured the world automotive and electronics markets by following Deming’s advice to practice continual improvement and think of manufacturing as a system, not as bits or pieces. Crawford-Mason went on to produce; in collaboration with Deming, a 14-hour documentary series detailing his methods through lecture excerpts, interviews, practical demonstrations, and case studies of companies that adopted his methods.”  — Wikipedia

Dr. Deming started a series of four-day seminars to teach his philosophy and methods.  These seminars were a mixture of experiential activities, teaching, discussion, lectures and always Dr. Deming talking about what management did not do right and what they should be doing.  At the time, he had created his famous “14 Points for Management” which together with his statistical philosophy formed the basis for the four days of activities.

IMG_8176-540x405Dr. Deming would do two or three of these a month all over the USA.  He continued these four-day seminars until about six months before he died at the age of 93 in 1993.   Dr. Deming always required help at these seminars since as many as 500 people would usually attend.  I was fortunate enough to help out at four of these seminars.  After getting to know Dr. Deming fairly well, I brought several consulting clients to his home in D.C. to discuss with him personally his ideas on what we were doing right and wrong.  Dr. Deming was always very candid and blunt.  This endeared him to some people, while it turned other people off.

But it is time to get back to the point on corporate efficiency.  I worked with over 32 different clients in my years at PMI and my later independent consulting work.  I worked with clients in government, in military, in non-profit and in for-profit sectors of the economy.  I worked with industries in mining, trucking, healthcare, manufacturing and education.  I published two books on quality and over fifty papers for seminars, journals and presentations.  I did a monthly column for a noted quality journal and did some pro-bono work for various organizations.

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The crux of my client work was to facilitate what we called a quality transformation.  From a system that emphasized production quantity and inspection to a system that emphasized process improvement and quality.  Quality was never a final end state but always a quest for continuous improvement.  Improvement not to meet client expectations but to exceed them.  Deming often pointed out that clients and customers often did not know what they wanted.  “No customer” he would say “was clamoring for a handheld calculator in the seventies.  You must always innovate and delight the customer with new products and new features as well as meeting existing expectations for quality products.”  Dr. Noriaki Kano summarized some of these quality ideas in his famous “Kano Model.”  I had the good fortune to attend one of his seminars in Tokyo while I was on a two-week study mission to Japan in 1993 to visit Japanese companies and study their methods firsthand.  My trip was a joint venture between PM and Komatsu Corporation.  I brought along several clients and we had about 15 participants in all.

“Customer expectations?  Nonsense.  No customer ever asked for the electric light, the pneumatic tire, the VCR, or the CD.  All customer expectations are only what you and your competitor have led him to expect.  He knows nothing else.” — W. Edwards Deming at his Seminars

Later on when I left full-time consulting and went into college teaching, I started using a variety of models to educate my MBA students.  One I was fond of using was a metaphor of a coin to emphasize what a business must do to be successful.  “On one side of the coin is efficiency and on the other side is effectiveness.  An organization must deliver both of these elements to prosper and be successful,” I would preach.   I would then go on to say that traditionally, we think of businesses as being efficient but not necessarily effective.  Efficiency is doing things right while effectiveness is doing the right things.  In other words, business strives to use inputs as efficiently as possible to create a product or service where the value added is greater than the combination of inputs used.  If it does this and has a product or service that is wanted or needed by customers, it will make a profit and stay in business.

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When it comes to “effectiveness” or doing the “right” things, we have a concept here with highly subjective connotations.  “Right” for a business might be doing what they think is best for their customers or their bottom line.  However, doing what is best for a customer, might not meet the needs of other stakeholders.  For instance, customers may desire cigarettes but the negative impact to society as reflected in externalities can be very “un-right” to the rest of the population.  An externality is any difference between the private cost of an action or decision to a business or agency and the social cost.  In simple terms, a negative externality is anything that causes an indirect cost to society.  In the case of cigarettes, this cost is reflected in a number of ways including lost wages, medical costs and insurance costs.

maxresdefaultBy the way, when we think of government organizations it is usually as being much less capable in the efficiency area and much more focused on effectiveness or doing the right things for society.  I suppose that is one of the reasons why it is so easy to ridicule government.  Senator Proxmire was famous for his “Golden Fleece Awards “in which he belittled government agencies for their waste and lack of efficiency.  I have worked or consulted in many government agencies and I have to admit that “efficiency” was often sorely lacking.

Some critics point out that there are negative repercussions from too much emphasis on efficiency.  (HBR, January-February 2019 Issue: Rethinking Efficiency) They argue that organizations need to balance efficiency with resiliency.  One critic noted the problems with Deming’s emphasis on efficiency could lead to sub-optimization of the organization.  It is clear that this critic never read much of Dr. Deming who always emphasized that an organization needed to be looked at as a whole and not piecemeal.  Over emphasis on any one part of an organization could result in a decline in another part.

“Management of a system requires knowledge of the interrelationships between all of the components within the system and of everybody that works in it.” — Dr. W. E. Deming, “The New Economics”

Now you might be agreeing with me that business is not always effective.  However, you may still want to know why (or prove my claim) I say that business efficiency is a myth?  What do I base this assertion on?  I am going to provide three reasons for my claim and explain each of them.

  1. Most corporations do not understand or pursue continuous improvement

For a business to be truly efficient it must focus on the continuous improvement of all operations including people, materials, methods, equipment and information.  The cost of all inputs continually rises and when costs go up and other factors of production stay the same then efficiency declines.  The core of the Deming Philosophy was “Continuous Improvement.”

“Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.”  — W. Edwards Deming, “Out of the Crisis”

Many of my clients understood this basic message of the need for continuous improvement, but as I was told by one Japanese management consultant, “You Americans are short-term thinkers.  You worry about the quarterly dividend, the daily stock price and your quarterly financial reports.  In Japan, we do not think quarterly, we think centuries.”  Thus, it was easy for US companies to embrace this message in the late eighties and early nineties when it seemed that everywhere you looked, they were losing market share to the Japanese.  The “Japanese Miracle” was eroding the economic competitive of US business and companies in the US flocked to Dr. Deming to tell them how to emulate the Japanese.

“The pay and privilege of the captains of industry are now so closely linked to the quarterly dividend that they may find it personally unrewarding to do what is right for the company.”  ― W. Edwards Deming, “Out of the Crisis”

The Japanese had assimilated the continuous improvement message of Dr. Deming since it was not really that foreign to their basic worldview.  So what if it took a few years or even decades, the Japanese could be patient.  Unfortunately, American management did not have the same patience.  Quality went gung-ho throughout the US in the nineties.  American corporations bragged about reaching or nearly reaching parity with the Japanese on many measures of the exalted Six Sigma standard of quality.  But Americans have always adored technology and the quick fix over labor inputs and long-term improvements.  The steam engine, the assembly line, the computer and robotically automated processes were all technological advances that have helped the United States become the major economic power in the world.  There is no doubting the positive advances that technology has made in terms of productivity and efficiency in the US.

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The trouble with only relying on technological advances for the next leap forward is similar to a ball team that only relies on home runs rather than base hits.  The base hits may not be as grand as hitting a home run, but they are the key to winning the game.  When computers, automated processes, robots and the Internet started to really proliferate in the US business world, you could start to see the fascination with continuous improvement wane in the eyes of many managers.

In its 2018 Human Capital Trends report, Deloitte found that 47% of business and HR leaders were concerned that modern collaboration tools weren’t actually helping businesses achieve their goals. Between chat windows, project management tools, meeting alerts, and emails, workers find themselves in a constant state of reactive busyness—rather than proactively focusing on meaningful work.” — The Productivity Myth by Ben Taylor, March 19, 2019

O, they still have their quality departments and their six-sigma training but too many companies have gone back to the old standard of “Its good enough” or “Well, we are meeting expectations.”  The drive for continuous improvement has slowly but inexorably dissipated since the early nineties.   US Corporations have once again gone back to the idea of looking for the home run.  Too many hope to find this home run in mergers and acquisitions with new companies that display the dynamism lacking in their older established corporations.

“Since 2000, more than 790,000 transactions have been announced worldwide with a known value of over 57 trillion USD.  In 2018, the number of deals decreased by 8% to about 49’000 transactions, while their value has increased by 4% to 3.8 trillion USD.”  — Institute of Mergers and Acquisitions.

You may well ask then, “How successful are these mergers and acquisitions in terms of adding value for the corporation or even more so for the customers?”  One study done by the Harvard Business School in 2015 found that between seventy to ninety percent of all M&A’s failed.  In my opinion, too many companies want to grow quickly hoping either for an increased economy of scale or to obtain the creativity that has been weaned out of their now bloated bureaucracy.  Too many US companies have abandoned the idea of continuous improvement as too time consuming or too slow.  Hoping to hit more home runs, they would rather focus on a spectacular breakthrough rather than on a slow incremental improvement strategy.  It is strange and sad, that US companies feel it is an either-or trade off.  Either we work on continuous improvement or we work on hitting home runs.  The best strategy is to focus on both.  Few games are ever won by simply using a single strategy.

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2. Goals of short-term profits often lead to long-term losses

For the sake of so-called efficiency, employees are laid-off, training budgets are cut, salaries are frozen, pensions are renegotiated, employee perks are downsized, key processes are outsourced, and supplies are purchased on the basis of low bidder.  My sister always says, “Buy cheap and weep.”  Too much of American industry assumes that cutting costs in the short-term will lead to long-term profits.  Nothing could be further from the truth or more short-sighted in thinking.

Minimizing costs in one place can often lead to maximizing costs in another. Only management is responsible, and I mean top management, for looking at the company as a whole, to minimize total cost and not the cost here or there or there… must get departments to work together. That is difficult in the face of the annual rating… because they get rated on their own performance. — Dr. W. E. Deming

One of Dr. Deming’s 14 Points called for eliminating performance measures for employees and MBOs for management.  I have seen little evidence since Dr. Deming died that companies have made much effort in either area.  Admittedly, you can go on line and find dozens of companies that claim to have streamlined or improved their performance management/appraisal systems but they are still useless since they measure the wrong thing.  Dr. Deming taught that 90 percent or more of the problems in a system or variation in any process are caused by the system and not by the individuals.  Managers work on the system and are thus responsible for making changes and taking out barriers to efficiency that prohibit work from being more productive.  Unless these changes to the system are made, any attempt at measuring or encouraging worker performance or goal setting are ludicrous.  Goals should be set for the system based on realistic measures of its capability but not on individual employees.

 “People with targets and jobs dependent upon meeting them will probably meet the targets – even if they have to destroy the enterprise to do it.”  — W. Edwards Deming

3. Inefficient business practices are epidemic in most organizations

When I started consulting in 1986, it was not unusual to find corporations with 10 or more levels of management.  The chain of command was epidemic in most US companies.  The old idea of “span of control” was imbued in the management practices that guided most businesses.  This large bureaucracy of span of control and chain of command rivaled the inefficiency found in most government organizations.  I could go into dozens of other examples of inefficient business practices, but one will suffice.

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In 1998, I was hired by the Metropolitan Council in Minnesota as a Principal Strategic Planner.  The Metropolitan Council was a regional government agency and planning organization in Minnesota serving the Twin Cities seven-county metropolitan area.  This area accounted for over 55 percent of the state’s population.  My job was to help streamline processes at the Metropolitan Council Division of Environmental Services (MCES) and to help the division improve its delivery of key services.  The MCES was responsible for the management of eight wastewater treatment plants in the seven-county metropolitan area.

Over the years, various teams that I established undertook many processes and successfully improved them.  Always looking for new ideas and areas to improve, I struck upon the idea of doing more on-line meetings and also allowing more employees to work from home.  Both of these ideas were fully supported by existing technology in 2000, but I made little headway in establishing these ideas.  These two ideas ran counter to traditional management philosophies of command and control.  We had entered the 21st Century, but our work processes were still dictated by 20th Century ideas and beliefs.

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When I left the Met Council in 2001, I joined the American Express Technology Division (AET) of American Express Corporation.  I literally jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.  I had wrongly assumed that they would be more progressive than the Met Council and much to my dismay they were even less progressive.  It was difficult to get my manager to allow either myself or co-workers to work from home since “How would I know what you are doing” was a prevalent theme.  I gave notice only six months after joining American Express.

So now we are in the middle of a world-wide crisis caused by a virus.  The internet has allowed millions of workers to “work from home.”  Many of these Gig workers had been allowed some latitude in working from home but for many of the new Internet workers it was a new and pleasant experience.  However, it took a Pandemic catastrophe to free up the thinking of too many managers in terms of “How will I know what they are doing.”  Such a thought seems ludicrous in the extreme to anyone with a half grain of common sense.

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Unfortunately, many work processes in organizations are still mired in 20th and even 19th century beliefs of how work should be done.  These inefficient and archaic ideas stop many corporations from being nearly as efficient and productive as they could be.  The bottom line is that the vaunted supremacy of private for-profit corporations over government entities is vastly exaggerated and overrated.

I want to end this long blog with a stern reminder.  Few companies have demonstrated any ability to take on the “effectiveness” dimension of government agencies with better results than the government has shown.  Private for-profit charter schools and colleges have been disasters.  Private run prisons are not fairing much better.  They have continued to show a propensity for a lack of cost-effectiveness, security and safety concerns, poor health conditions, and the potential for corruption (see “The Problem with Private Prisons”).  In terms of the privatization of wastewater and water treatment plants, one study of household water expenditures in cities under private and public management in the U.S., came to the following conclusion, “Whether water systems are owned by private firms or governments may, on average, simply not matter much.” — Wikipedia

It hardly seems likely that many people in the US would like to see fire departments, police departments, the military and many regulatory agencies turned into for-profit entities regardless of how efficient they may claim to be.

 

Deconstructing Fairy Tale Enigmas and Conundrums

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Once upon a time there was a town that had a rat problem.  It decided to hire a Pied Piper who could lure the rats away from town with his magic flute.  Okay, you probably know the rest of the story.  He got rid of the rats, but the town managers refused to pay him.  So the Piper got out his magic flute and lured all the young children away.  They were never seen again.  Incredibly sad.  But is it plausible?  Let’s examine a few questions here:

  1. What kind of a flute could lure both rats and children? Wouldn’t the frequencies Rattenfaenger_Herrfurth_Pied-Piperrequired be different?  Could children hear the same frequencies as rats?
  2. Where did he take all the rats? What would stop them from coming back again?
  3. Why did he steal the kids? Why not lure the town managers away?  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get rid of our politicians that easily?
  4. Most importantly, what happened to the kids? If they survived, how would the Piper feed hundreds of kids?  If they did not survive, how did he kill them?  Would the Piper really have been nasty enough to murder hundreds of little children?  And if he did, who would ever hire him again?

Lots of questions but we simply accept the story as it is told.  And that my friends is the problem.  We go through life simply accepting fairy tales without ever questioning them.  For instance, the Trickle-Down Fairy Tale.  This tale says that if we give lots of money to the rich, the money will somehow work its way down to the poor.  Most poor people I know believe this fairy tale.  Most poor people are still waiting for it to happen.

Deconstruction is defined as “A method of critical analysis of philosophical and literary language which emphasizes the internal workings of language and conceptual systems, the relational quality of meaning, and the assumptions implicit in forms of expression.”  I am going to use this concept loosely to look at several old and new fairy tales.  We will look to see if we can find the obvious truths that we take for granted.  Searching for the truth often requires us to cast common myths and assumptions aside and pursue the dangerous and mysterious.  I am going to apply deconstruction to the enigmas (“A person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand.”) and conundrums (“A confusing and difficult problem or question.”) that are inherent in most fairy tales.

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Cinderella:

Once upon a time there was a lonely and mistreated girl named Cinderella.  Cinderella is a popular fairy tale with its stereotypical evil step-mother and beautiful but hapless heroine.  Cinderella lived with her two stepsisters and her evil stepmother who made her life hell.  But along came a fairy Godmother who turned things around for Cindy.  Throw in a handsome prince, money and a giant castle and you have the stuff of a fairy tale that still thrills young girls and would be princes.  But I have a few questions:

  1. Ok, I will give you the fairy Godmother with superpowers to transmute organic material into other organic material (mice to horses) as well as pumpkins into a carriage. But if she has such powers why can’t they work past 12 Midnight?
  2. What was Cinderella’s plan after the prince fell madly in love with her? Was she going to get anything else from her stepmother to help with next steps?  It does not 618bdeaaba384270870seem like there was any long-term strategic plan here.
  3. Do you really think that the King would let his heir apparent marry a commoner, no matter how beautiful she was?  If that was the case, why couldn’t the fairy Godmother give Cinderella a million bucks or at least make her a princess?
  4. Where would Cinderella learn palace etiquette? Would she be accepted in court with the manners of a scullery woman?  I doubt it.  I think divorce would have been pretty quick.
  5. What about the poor stepsisters?  So they were ugly.  Doesn’t this story smack of discrimination on the basis of looks and beauty?  Where was the Godmother for the two ugly stepsisters?  Seems to me that they were the ones who needed the most help.  All Cindy needed was a makeover and a gown, but the two sisters needed extensive plastic surgery.

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Anybody Can Be President in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave:

This is a wonderful fairy tale.  It is one that we all grow up hearing and ultimately believing.  “In the USA, anyone with drive, passion and a vision can be President of the USA.”  But let’s be realistic.  Looking at the statistics, we see that:

  • 44 out of 45 Presidents have been white
  • 45 out of 45 Presidents have been male
  • 36 out of 45 Presidents had a net worth in today’s dollars of >$1,000.000
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been Latino
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been Asian
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been female
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been Native American

Not since Harry Truman (1953) have we had a president worth less than one million dollars net worth.  Now if there are 328,000,000 people in the USA and we subtract from the total amount of people living in the USA those with little chance of becoming President, (I list each of the above characteristics that do not seem to play well with one’s odds of becoming President) we can see how many people really do have a chance of becoming fulfilling this fairy tale.

328.2 million people in the USA (2019)

-76.29 million Black and White men under the age of 35.  (Must be at least 35 to be President.)

-73.29 million Black and White women under the age of 35

-85.1 million Black and White women over the age of 35 (Not good odds since none have made it yet)

-27 million Latino women

-15.4 million Latino men under the age of 35 (Not excluding Latino men over 35)

-9.7 million Asian American women

-4.66 million Asian American men under the age of 35 (Not excluding Asian American men over 35)

-3.2 million Native American women

-1.77 million Native American men under the age of 35 (Not excluding Native American Men over 35)

I have not forgotten LGBTQ people, but I have not found a way to eliminate them by ethnicity or gender from the general census data.  I did not subtract Asian American, Latino or Native American men over the age of 35 who I think may still have a better chance of being president than a woman.  African American men over the age of 35 are also included since their probabilities are now somewhat higher since President Obama’s election. 

Subtracting the groups that are not likely to see a presidency in the near future we are left with:  31.79 million men over the age of 35 who have a chance of being president.

We will assume that you will likely need to be a millionaire to be elected President.  5.8 percent of the US population are millionaires.  Let’s estimate that between 3 to 4 percent of all millionaires are either males over the age of 35.  The rest of the millionaires being either female or males under the age of 35.  Then we multiply 31.79 million x 5.8 % to find the Final Total number of people in the USA who may rightfully feel that they have a chance to be president.  Trumpets please.  The final number is:

1.113 million

Thus, if you are born in the USA, and you are a male over 35 who is rich your chances of becoming President are about 1 in a million.  White males will no doubt continue to hold an advantage for the foreseeable future.  Well, at least that is better odds than winning the lottery.  However, the lottery pays a lot more.

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Goldilocks and the Three Bears:

Once upon a time there was a mischievous and naughty little girl named Goldilocks.  Goldilocks was spoiled rotten by her parents who gave her everything she wanted.  They named her Goldilocks because of her bright yellow hair.  One day Goldilocks decided to go out for a walk in the woods.  She soon came upon a small cottage and decided to peek in the windows.  She was a very nosy child.  Upon looking through the window, she spied a table with three bowls of hot porridge just sitting there.  She did not see anyone inside and decided that she was hungry and that she was entitled to a bowl of cereal.  She held the belief that everything belonged to her and that included the porridge.  She tried the door and upon finding it open, she entered the home.

Have you noticed that Cowboy Stories, Comedy Romances and Fairy Tales all have happy endings?  For the rest of us, it’s death and taxes.

At this point, I am sure that you remember the rest of the story.  She eats three bowls of porridge.  Do you think she was maybe obese to begin with?  She breaks the little bear’s chair when she tries to sit on it.  Proof that she was too fat!  And then messes up all the bear beds and finally gets caught by the bears when they come home.  At this point, Mama bear would probably have messed up the kids face for messing with her nice clean beds.  But as far as I know, Goldilocks gets out alive and runs home where her parents continue to spoil her rotten.  So a few questions to deconstruct things if you will indulge me.  I will give you the anthropomorphic bears as a gift even before we begin.

  1. How did a fat kid get so far into the woods that she found a bear den or cottage?
  2. Where did the bears purchase their furniture and porridge? Do fairy tale bears shop at the same stores as humans?
  3. Bears can run at speeds upwards of 30 mph, how come they could not catch Goldilocks?
  4. Why were the bears eating porridge? Is that a traditional bear food?
  5. If the bears lived that close to other human dwellings (Assuming a fat kid could not walk too far) how come no one warned Goldilocks about the bears?
  6. What is the moral of this story anyway? Spoiled kids should not mess with bears or eat porridge that does not belong to them?

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The United States of America is the Greatest Democracy on Earth:

This is one of my favorite fairy tales.  According to this story, there was this exceptional group of people who banded together to form a more (and almost) perfect nation where democracy ruled.  It would be a government of the people, by the people and for the people.  According to the Fairy Godfather, who was named Thomas Jefferson, everyone in this country would be free except: Black People, Indian People, LGBTQ People and Women.

This country would be based on a democratic form of government where each person had one vote (Except Black People, Indian People and Women).  Representatives would be fairly elected and would make great and wonderful decisions for the people based on their superior knowledge and intellect.  Democracy would be a rule of the majority with CONCERN for the minority.  Thus Black people could continue to be happy down on the old plantations, women could continue to stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen and Indians could happily walk many miles to their new homes on the reservations.  What a great place America would be.

There was only one snag though.  Jefferson said that you could not really have a Democracy without two things:

  1. An educated citizenry who could make informed decisions.
  2. A free press which would keep people informed.

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Now, in the fairy tale, voters are all given equal opportunity to vote.  There is no voter suppression, Jim Crow laws or gerrymandering.  A vote is a vote is a vote.  Also in the fairy tale, the government is “for the people” not “for the Corporations.”  Representatives are looking out for the best interests of the people and not big business.  There are also no bad guys in the fairy tale.  These are the things that make the fairy tale so great and insure a happy ending.  In real life we have the greedy lobbyists, the corrupt politicians, the sycophantic followers and the corporations who buy votes.  Real life does not have happy endings.

But before we finish with deconstructing this fairy tale, we must say something about Jefferson’s two conditions for a democracy noted above.  In the fairy tale we have great public education systems where people are taught to think for themselves and to be able to tell lies from the truth.  In real life of course, schools do not teach critical thinking and students cannot distinguish lies from truth.  However, they are excellent at finding the right answers to exam questions.

Turning to the issue of a free press, in the fairy tale, we have courageous journalists who seek out the truth and who will print it regardless of the consequences.  In the fairy tale, journalists are motivated by a desire to inform the public and to ensure that information about critical issues is widely available.  In real life, most journalists are hacks whose major skills involve writing good clickbait lines to draw you into an extensive amount of advertising designed to make money for the corporations running their newspaper.  Profits and not information are the motivators in real life for newspapers and media.

So there you have it.  I have deconstructed some major fairy tales.  If you live in the USA, I am no doubt sure that you have read or heard of all of these.  Just to be clear, I love fairy tales and the fantasies that they give us.  Without fairy tales, we would have to live in the real world 24/7 and who could do that without going out of their minds?

“There must be possible a fiction which, leaving sociology and case histories to the scientists, can arrive at the truth about the human condition, here and now, with all the bright magic of the fairy tale.” — Ralph Ellison

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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