Whats Wrong with the Democratic Party?

night mare

It’s been a year now since the bad dream or worst nightmare in the history of this country burst upon us.  For many of us, we still cannot believe it happened.  Never in America has a man with so little character and absolutely no qualifications to be president been elected to this office.  In my lifetime, I have seen several presidents whom I did not think were good presidents.  Nixon and Romney come to mind.  I thought Clinton should have been impeached over the Lewinsky thing.  I thought Reagan’s Star Wars Initiative was the height of stupidity.  Neither of the wars started by the Bushs did one thing to make either America or the world safer.  But the new president takes stupidity, arrogance and downright evil to new heights.  Every day, Americans wake up to a new Trump tweet declaring our hatred and belligerence to the rest of the world.  If there was ever a great depression, it is the feelings that many Americans now share about the fate of their country.

I wanted to start a blog this week without going into another political diatribe or rant as some would call them.  I know we all get tired of the unremitting bad news from the papers, radios, TV, Internet and incessant analysts that surround us like flies on poop.  Bad news sells and in our 24/7 daily schedule of unceasing commercial bombardment, we now must hear bad news from any part of the world and not just our own local geography.   If a mother murders her babies in Angola, we will see it on the front page of our local news.  If a young woman is raped in France, we will be treated to a torrent of trending stories until they get tired of the story or catch the perpetrator.  News is now not only 24/7, it is global as well.

Shortly after Trump was elected, the analysts started to figure out why Hillary lost.  I think I counted over 20 different rationales for her losing.  Everyone had their theory.  The idea of multiple causality seems to have eluded many as each pundit hawked their own explanation.  I won’t bore you by subjecting you to the list.  In a complex answer, each of these theories would be weighted and we would find that some carried more weight then others.  Among the weightier was the issue of racism.  Nevertheless, no single cause contributed entirely to Hillary’s defeat.

One issue is still important today.  There is no longer any reason to worry about Hillary’s email server or about her seeming lack of warmth.  These problems are water under the bridge.  The problem though that is still substantial and that must be addressed concerns the problems within the Democratic Party itself.   If the Democrats want to regain their former influence with Americans, they must do more than fight Trumpism.  They must also stand for something.  The Democrats may be looking better today but that is only because the Republicans and Trump look so bad.  The Democrats were once seen as the party of the working class and the champions of the underprivileged.  They clearly lost this mantle in the years leading up to the Trump debacle.  The Democrat Party has three big challenges:

  1. Moral cowardice
  2. New ideas and creativity
  3. Championing all classes as well as the working class

quote-a-coward-is-incapable-of-exhibiting-love-it-is-the-prerogative-of-the-brave-mahatma-gandhi-10-58-44

Moral Cowardice:

John F. Kennedy wrote a book called Profiles in Courage.   It was about senators who defied the opinions of their party and constituents to do what they felt was right and suffered severe criticism and losses in popularity.  One of the famous stories in Profiles in Courage concerned Senator Sam Houston.  He was pulled from a train by an angry mob of constituents and threatened to be hanged because of his vote.  He steadfastly faced the mob and explained why he voted the way he did and why he would do so again.  Stories like this are rare and while that makes them inspirational, it also makes them sad.

We have a US Senate with 100 members and a US House with over 400 members.  On any given day, most of these men and women are more concerned with their poll numbers than what is good for the America people.  Partisanship has become the norm in Congress with both sides mutely aping their leadership’s call to “back their party.”

I remember well the drum beat to the first Iraq War called Desert Storm in 1990.  A year before the invasion, I could hear the calls going out for an Iraqi Invasion.  I looked for some logic for this war but could not find it.  I waited for my political leaders to counter Bush’s need for an invasion.  Almost everyone in Congress sat mutely by while Bush and his cohorts planned the invasion.  Gradually, they found more and more reasons to invade Iraq.  Gradually, the religious leaders jumped on board to support the administration.  Billy Graham declared it a justified war and held hands with George H. W. Bush while he pretended to agonize over his already foregone decision.  And still I waited and wondered why so few Democratic leaders challenged this war.  Where were the Democrats?

The Second Gulf War was not a repeat of the First Gulf War.  It was an even worse unmitigated disaster.  Trillions of dollars spent, and nothing accomplished except to make some private war contractors rich.  Where were the Democrats?  They seemed to be out looking with the Republicans for the so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction that Saddam had supposedly stockpiled.

I had a button many years ago that said on one side “Democrats: The Party of Wimps” and on the other side “Republicans: The Party of Greed.”  I do not know who printed this button but thirty years ago, the writing on the wall was clear.  The Democratic Doves feared the Republican Hawks.  Better to be labeled a Hawk than a Dove.  The term liberal was once a term of pride but under the Democrats it became associated with wasteful spending and half-baked solutions to social problems.  Bleeding heart liberal has now become a term despised by all.

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New Ideas and Creativity:

I live in two counties.  Both are predominantly Red Republican strongholds today.  However, my county in Wisconsin was once a Democratic stronghold.  Wisconsin was once a great bastion of Democratic ideas.  It was a state that was proud to have produced such champions of the underdog as Fighting Bob La Follette, William Proxmire and Senator Gaylord Nelson.  If anyone had ever told me that Wisconsin would have gone Red, I would have said they were crazy.

Now many of my “old” friends and many of my acquaintances in Wisconsin (A state I have lived in on and off for nearly twenty years now) are old line Democrats.  I confess I would rather have Democrats for friends than Republicans these days.  We share many of the same values even though I have never and will never be a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party or any other party.  I take pride in voting as an independent and not someone mindlessly following some party.

I have been each year for the past seven years to the local county Democratic Fundraisers.  Each year, I have listened to Democratic speakers who are jostling for political positions with hopes of defeating the Republican incumbents.  In some cases, more recently they have succeeded.   I can only hope this trend will continue but I am dubious.  My skepticism comes from looking at the people I see running.  Generally, they are well intentioned.  Some might even have the moral courage I want to see in leadership.  However, too many of the candidates that I have seen are either stuck in ideas from the past or lack new ideas that would bring some creativity and innovation to the Democratic Party.

Our political system not only needs new people, we need new ideas.  The same old ideas that worked in the past will not work in the future.  We need forward looking people that can challenge the existing system by promoting innovative ideas that do more than just support the status quo.  Our education system, our health care system, our prison system, our military system, our legal system, our infrastructure system and even our electoral system are all in need of more than reform.  They all need a complete restructuring.  These were systems designed for the 19th and 20th Century.  We need systems for the 21st and 22nd Century.  It is folly to think that simple reforms or piece meal patches to these systems will fix the blight and decay endemic in them.

I see too few of the emerging Democratic leaders as having a vision beyond fighting Trumpism.  That is clearly a start, but we need more than just reaction to Trump we need pro-action in our politics.  We need positive ideas.  We need new ideas.  Good intentions are not enough.

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Championing All Classes as well as the Working Class:

Once upon a time, the Democratic Party was known as the champions of the working class.  They stood up for unions, higher wages, income parity and equal opportunity.  The working class was once the class of high school graduates.  Today, more than one-third of the adult population in the United States has a bachelor’s degree or higher.  The average earnings in 2016 for those ages 25 and older whose highest educational attainment was high school were $35,615.  The average earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree were $65,482 compared with $92,525 for those with an advanced degree (Census.Gov).  The composition of the American workforce has undergone a long evolution from the agricultural era though the industrial revolution to the new information era.  Definition of working class has continued to change as social structure has changed in the age of computers and the Internet.

As educational levels continued to increase, aspirations by Americans continued to increase.  Whereas once perhaps most Americans saw belonging to a union and retiring with a pension after 30 plus years to be the epitome of working life, that vision became obsolete.  The typical worker today sees themselves as a college educated salaried worker whose interests are more aligned with their company then with any union.

My father worked for the Post Office for over 30 years before retiring.  He never thought it was a fun job or an interesting job.  For my father, it was a job that paid the bills, had good benefits and would enable him to retire with a good pension.  My father’s aspirations and attitudes towards work were like most of his generation.  The idea of being passionate about your work would have been a joke to my father and his peers.  Times have changed dramatically.  Workers today want to believe in their work and their companies.  Workers want their jobs to be challenging, rewarding and fun.  The old days of waiting to enjoy life until you retire are dead.

The workers in America are different than they were twenty or thirty years ago.  The Democrats forfeited their allegiance to the American worker and allowed the Republicans to become the champions of the American worker.  From coal miners to computer programmers, from trailer parks to gated communities across America, once proud Democrats have become Republicans.  The sad part of the story is that the Democrats did not seem to raise a finger to stop the migration.  They did little or nothing to prevent it from happening.  They allowed the Republicans to become the standard bearer of wealth and prosperity.

Unfortunately, few workers realized that their Republican champions were more about privileges for the elite than sharing the wealth.  Or that gains for the upper class would come at the expense of other classes in this country.  The concept of Trickle Down is alive and well in the Republican Party.

Conclusions: 

Democrats need to build a new party.  Trumpism is a short-term aberration.  Euphoria might be high right now for Democrats who see Trump as the best thing to ever happen for Democratic candidates.  With one of the lowest popularity ratings of any president in history, Trump will help insure a wave of Democratic Party victories.  However, it can be nothing but short-sighted folly to mistake the present disgust for Trump with a disgust for Republican principles in general.  The Republican Party became strong because they offered the American people a vision of society which promised a better life for millions of them.  Unless Democrats can come up with a compelling vision of society that addresses a wide spectrum of workers, the Republicans will regain power once their debacle with Trump is over.

Time for Questions:

How do you decide who to vote for?  Do you belong to a political party?  Why or why not?  What do you like about political parties?  What do you dislike?  What changes do you think we need to make in the political system in America?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”  — GEORGE WASHINGTON, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796

“If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.” — DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, speech, March 6, 1956

 

Day 320 of the Calendar Year: Crazy Time.

For the next 45 days until the New Year of 2016, I am going to post some blogs on the subject of Time and its implications for our lives.  I will post one a day for each day of the remaining 2015 year.

craziness_is_like_heaven_by_nicolelynnroberts-d56r5zxCrazy time today often has a very negative connotation. We think of the crazies in our world and the damage they often do. We try to figure out what made them crazy or what ticked off their crazy streak. We wonder “How could anyone do something so bizarre? What made them do such things?” However, being somewhat crazy and having some crazy time can have other connotations. For instance, many of us are straitlaced and very uptight. We are constantly trained to think about our duties, responsibilities and obligations to others and ourselves. There comes a time when we all need to let go of these “duties” and to be somewhat “crazy.”

Here are four definitions of the word crazy:

1. Mentally deranged; demented; insane.
2. Senseless; impractical; totally unsound: a crazy scheme.
3. Informal. Intensely enthusiastic; passionately excited: crazy about baseball.
4. Informal. Very enamored or infatuated (usually fol. by about): He was crazy
about her. (www.dictionary.com)

No one wants the first definition to apply to them, but the second definition has often been applied to geniuses and entrepreneurs.  The third and fourth definitions can probably be applied to all of us at one time or another.  Who among us is not crazy about something? Thus, craziness is simply a state of being that others do not share at that time. This definition can also be considered the essence of nonconformity. Those who dance to their own drummers seldom share the same state of being that others do. Thus, going a little crazy might be good not only for our spirit but also for our creative side.

Who among us would venture out and do anything really unique or different if we were not willing to flaunt convention and ignore practical reality? In fact, craziness might just be the sine qua non of the adventurous and spirited.

The answer I found is you stay away from the people who make fun of you, and you join these ad hoc groups who understand your craziness. — Ray Bradbury

Time for Questions:

Have you ever been called crazy? Why? Do you ever indulge in activities that others think are crazy? What would your life be like if you were just a little more crazy? What if you danced a little crazier? Acted a little crazier? Dressed a little crazier?

Life is just beginning.

Nothing I read about grief seemed to exactly express the craziness of it; which was the interesting aspect of it to me – how really tenuous our sanity is.  — Joan Didion

Reflecting on Music, Variety and Risk-taking

I love music and I love the numerous varieties of music in the world from hip hop to classical, from Norwegian music to Chinese music, from Blue Grass to opera.  Like food, I have never met a music I did not like.  Of course, that does not mean, I have never heard a particular piece of music that I did not like.  Music is like anything else, there is good music and there is music one does not care for.  Karen plays music and is always more fond of learning a new instrument or taking part in a music jam, choir or sing-along.  She is a participant while I am an observer.  Alas, I have no talent in the musical arena and so I content myself with listening.

However, I think my listening style may be somewhat unique.  While others sip deeply from a fine piece of music, I enjoy listening to the same piece played by many different musicians and in many different styles.  I can sit for hours listening to the same piece played by an assortment of artists with a myriad of instruments, vocals and rhythms.

I find the creativity in how a piece can be played and the many different ways that a piece can be played to be fascinating.  I have sat and listened to the Ave Maria played by fifteen different artists and each one brings something different to the song.  I have listened to more versions of Carmen than I can think about.  From Bizet’s traditional Carmen, to the American Carmen Jones to Beyoncé’s Carmen, each version has its own virtues and vices.  Music makes the comment that “Variety is the spice of life” to be an absolute truth.  Today, I would like to illustrate this aspect of music with a song that I fell in love with called Malagueña Salerosa.   A short background on the song courtesy of Wikipedia:

Malagueña Salerosa also known as La Malagueña is a well- known Huasteco or Huapango song from Mexico, which has been covered more than 200 times by many performers.

The song is that of a man telling a woman (from Málaga, Spain) how beautiful she is, and how he would love to be her man, but that he understands her rejecting him for being too poor.

If, like me, you enjoy the lyrics to a song as you listen to it, the following is the English translation:

Graceful Malaguenan

What beautiful eyes you have,
beneath those two eyebrows
beneath those two eyebrows
what beautiful eyes you have!

They love to watch me
but if you don’t let them,
but if you don’t let them,
not even to blink.
Graceful  Malagueñan.

I long to kiss your lips,
I long to kiss your lips,
Graceful Malagueñan.
And to tell you, beautiful girl,

that you are stunning and bewitching,
that you are stunning and bewitching,
like the pureness of a rose,
like the pureness of a rose.

If, for being poor, you look down on me,
I agree you are right,
I agree you are right,
If, for being poor, you look down on me.

I don’t offer you riches.
I offer you my heart,
I offer you my heart,
in exchange for what I lack.

Thus, to illustrate my observation about variety and the endless ways that one can find variety in the world (for that is the real message of my blog), I have selected three versions of Malagueña Salerosa.  The important point which I see over and over again is that there is an endless variety in the world.  There is no limit to imagination, innovation and creativity.  Even the same song, can be performed endlessly and never be boring.  People often wonder why they should write on a subject when it seems that there are a thousand books written on any topic you can think of and perhaps now an additional million blogs.

My answer is that every one of us has a different and unique way of looking at the world. Your biography, your story, your view on ethics, your views on management or your views on child raising will be unique.  Just like your DNA is unlike any other DNA in the world, it is impossible for you to be a carbon copy of anyone else.  Even if you wanted to, you could not exactly copy anyone else.  So why bother to try?  The excitement we all bring to the world lies in learning to be ourselves.  It is a job I have been working on for over sixty years.  I sometimes think that there is a conspiracy out there to deny us the originality that we all possess.  We must struggle against the chains of conformity which are everywhere we turn.  Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery or the path to millions of dollars but it surely is not the path to creativity and innovation.

My three versions of Malagueña Salerosa include what I might say vocally is a “perfect” version sung by noted opera tenor Placido Domingo.  His delivery is masterful, his ability to hit high notes and low notes beyond mortality.  I have listened to Domingo and Pavrotti many times and while I enjoy both, I think Placido’s voice achieves a clarity unlike any other tenor alive today.  So please listen to a least a little of his version of Malagueña Salerosa before you continue reading:

Can you imagine a performance more hauntingly beautiful than that you have just heard by Placido?  If you wanted to copy or surpass his style and delivery, I would say it would be impossible.  That is why, our only choice in life is to be ourselves and enjoy our own uniqueness.  We must do what we have a passion for and do it as well as we can.  We can always improve ourselves but we can never be another Placido.

The next version is a more traditional version of Malagueña Salerosa played by three Mariachis.  This version has an authenticity that somehow I find lacking in Placido.  I can see this as being the “real” version that was song by the love-struck young man as he tried to win her love.  While Placido excels on the vocals, this version gives us a stronger set of instruments and more of the true Latino flavor that I find missing in the Placido version.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_1qHNc-vNk

The third and final version of Malagueña Salerosa is by the Mexican rock band Chingon.  They contributed the song “Malagueña Salerosa” to Quentin Tarantino’s movie Kill Bill Volume 2 and a live performance by the band was included on the film’s DVD release.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iM0JVDqLYnE

You of course, will have noticed after listening to Chingon that they had no intention of imitating Domingo or any strolling Mariachis.  Their style is a blend of Rock, Mariachi and Ranchera, but they put their own stamp on it with their singing, tempo and beat.

I am not an expert musician and I could not begin to tell you why or exactly how each of these three versions differs from each other.  But while I may not be able to explain it, I can feel it as I am sure you can as well.  Like a good wine or a good meal, I may not know how to explain what I taste but I certainly know what I like.

I dread the thought of doing anything over and over and over again, unless it is for the sake of practice and to develop technique and ability.  Why continue experiencing the same thing, when I can savor and experience so much variety in the world?  Variety is one of the things I value most in life.  It has taken me years to be able to see how unique the world is.  No same old, same old, unless we are trapped in our minds and routines.  The world offers a smorgasbord of treats and excitement to those who are open to challenge, change and risk.

I leave you with one last short (1.5 minute) video which you must see.   If you have ever been afraid to experience something different, to go somewhere foreign or to listen to a new style of music, this video will help you to reflect on a life lived with no risk.  It is very effective at portraying the fear of risk but also the upside joy that risk can bring.  It is called Always Dare:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJ2WbDahaaM

“No pleasure endures unseasoned by variety”– Publilius Syrus, 1st Century BCE

Time for Questions:

What variety do you experience in your life? Do you live a life open to variety?  How do you find “new” things in your life? What are your thoughts about going someplace new?  Listening to some new music?  Would you be willing to try raw oysters, truffles or pickled pigs feet?  Have you ever tried any of these?  Why not?

Life is just beginning.

 

 

 

Management Secrets from the Iditarod.

Someone once said that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”  Having been in management since 1970, I would add that “metaphors” are equally malignant when it comes to disseminating business advice.  No doubt you have read:

  • Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun,
  • Leadership Secrets of Jesus
  • Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell
  • Leadership Secrets of the Bible
  • Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham
  • Leadership Secrets of Hilary Clinton
  • Leadership Secrets of Abraham Lincoln

There are 392 books listed on Amazon.com wherein the phrase “Leadership Secrets” is part of the title.  You can even find “Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus” if you still believe in him or her.  Each of these books uses what I would phrase as a series of metaphoric devices to show you that the “Secrets” of whomever can readily be applied to modern management practice. With so many secrets extant, is it any wonder that managers are bewildered when it comes to understanding what good management practice is?  By the way, if “Secrets” are not your bag, then you should go to my next blog, which will cover the “Seven Attitudes of Killer Managers.”  No pun intended!

Well, this is your lucky day.  It just so happens I have a set of management “secrets” derived from a bunch of dogs.  No, I am not kidding!  In all sincerity, if you are still looking for a metaphor for your next HR meeting, here it is:  “Management Secrets from Iditarod.”  The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is one of the most grueling and difficult races in the world.  It traverses a distance of over 1100 miles over some of the roughest most desolate terrain in the world. It is run annually in early March from Anchorage to Nome. A Musher and a team of 16 dogs, of which at least 6 must be on the towline at the finish line, cover the distance in 9–15 days or more. Teams frequently race through blizzards causing whiteout conditions, sub-zero temperatures and gale-force winds which can cause the wind chill to reach −100 °F (−73 °C).

The Iditarod race requires organization, training, recruitment, resources, preparation, strategy, stamina, and leadership.  While there are no products sold, endorsements play a major role in helping the teams finance their competition. Thus, branding and image play are key to a team recruiting backers who are willing to shell out at least $20,000 dollars to support the team.

While, I think many metaphors often strain the envelope of credibility, I think the Iditarod really offers an interesting insight into how a key resource in any organization should be recruited, selected and trained.  I stumbled upon this insight while reading USA Weekend from March 8-10, 2013. On page 2 was a short article called “You Can Do It To!”  This article was about Lance Mackey who has won the Iditarod Championship 4 times since 2007.  In 2007, Lance became the first person to win both the Yukon Quest and Iditarod in the same year. This feat was considered almost impossible by many and is considered one of the most impressive feats ever by a musher and he was nominated for a 2007 ESPY Award based on his performance.

Now here is the key part.  How does Lance treat his dogs?  Well, he could use the one of the tried and true management strategies such as:

  • Kick ass and take names.

Treat your employers coolly. Stay distant so they will respect you. Make them know who the boss is early on. Never fraternize with your employees or they will take you for granted.  Surround yourself with ass lickers and people who will never threaten your position.

  •  Hire the best and smartest guys in the room.

Remember Enron and Ken Lay?  This is talent management at its best. Only recruit MBA’s and only MBA’s from Harvard or MIT or Stanford.  Be sure you adequately screen your recruits for competitiveness and a Machiavellian attitude.  Beware any who took too many courses in ethics.

  •  Reward, reward, reward and incent with bonuses, stock options and perks.

Nothing works like the carrot. If you want to get the most out of your employees, you need to reward them and shower them with performance incentives. A good performance management system is key to getting the most out of your employees. We all know that a good employee works for the financial rewards and that if you want to increase productivity, you must increase financial incentives.

  •  Fire the bottom twenty percent, promote the top 10 percent and warn the other 70 percent that their jobs are on the line.

This is the well-known GE or Jack Welch method.  Just look at how successful GE was!  Indeed Jack Welch has been called one of the most successful managers of all time.  He has also been called a few other names which I won’t mention here. Needless to say, it is results that count and not how a few slackers feel when they get their pink slips.  Just keep on promoting the top ten percent and get rid of those do-nothings in the bottom twenty percent.  Those employees who are left will work so hard to keep their jobs, productivity will go through the roof.

So, DRUM ROLL!  Which method does Lance Mackey use with his dogs?  I will use his own words to describe his method and let you decide which category his strategy fits in.

Lance has a very simple attitude and method with his dogs. Speaking about his dogs, Lance says We live in a barn together and hang out.  They are my best friends.”  He specifically states that he does not pick his dogs for speed or strength but for a good attitude, a willing appetite and cooperation.

How many managers do your know who could say that about their employees?  How many employees were selected for cooperation and attitude versus being the best and brightest?  How many managers hang out with their employees?  Lance’s strategies go against all the best management wisdom.  Lance truly has a relationship with each dog on his team.  His concern for his dog goes well beyond simply winning the race. He has said that his relationship with his team is more important than his winning.  When winning is the “only” thing, what does that do to our relationships with our employees?

I don’t want to make too much of this simple metaphor here. I suppose I could write a book called “Leadership Secrets of the Iditarod Dog Race” but I think there are enough “secrets” out there. My goal in writing this was to challenge some conventional thinking in respect to how we think employees need to be treated.  If dogs can be treated better than people are in most organizations, what does that say about our Human Resource practices?  Maybe we should start a new practice called DR for Dog Resources and start treating our employees as well as Lance treats his dogs.  Maybe then, productivity would pick up and the floggings could stop.

Ok, time for questions:

What will it take to change our paradigms for treating employees?  Are you friends with your employees? Do you believe it would be too dangerous to fratenize? What if you hung out with your employees? Are you afraid they would take you for granted?  What if you selected employees without regard to degrees and credentials?  Do you only promote the top ten percent?  How do you decide who the “bottom” ten percent is?  What if you eliminated your “Performance Management” system and instituted the Deming System of Management?  Do you know what Deming promoted? Do you realize that your current system is probably more Taylor and less Deming.

Life is just beginning.

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