Category Archives: NMS

Modern World “Sharing”

While it was a lifetime or two ago, I learned a ton while doing my MBA.  With all the noise around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, I am reminded of one of the “ah-ha moments” from marketing classes.  In short, marketing was all about gaining and using information to get customers to buy your product or service.  Focus Groups.  Surveys.  Rewards Programs.  That was the one that threw this naive 20 something and had me paying attention…Rewards Programs?  Yes, rewards programs were created to track the customers buying patterns.  They were not created to “reward” me with rebates and coupons, they were there to get me to give them information – what I bought, how much, how often, etc.  In 1996 this was amazing news to me.  It opened an entirely new world of data and behavior, tracking and positioning.  I have never forgotten what I learned and it changed how I viewed the world.

Today we see Mark Zuckerberg being publicly “questioned” by members of Congress.  Optically it is clumsy at best, and often looks like a parent or grandparent feebly grasping at a generation and a world that has left them behind.  It is just bad.  It is bad for Facebook, it has to be wildly frustrating and trying for Mark Zuckerberg, it is certainly bad for Congress (heaven knows they do not need any help looking inept) and in the end it is bad for us as taxpayers.  How much money is being spent on this bit of theater?  And then the money that will be spent to enact laws and regulations, for studies and reports, hearings and findings.  However, what I find myself thinking as the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica saga unfolds is another of those clichés I so love, “live by the sword, die by the sword”.

Professionally and personally I am indifferent when it comes to social media.  It is simply another “thing” that is part of the world.  It has a purpose and a place, but I view it much as I view a hammer, a phone, a wrench or a vehicle.  It is a tool.  I use it as I need it, but am neither emotionally nor financially attached.  And much like anything and everything in this world, it can be used for good and for bad.  It is a tool.  The tool does nothing.  The user does everything.

Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have been open from the beginning about what they do and how they make money.  Facebook created a platform to share information.  Simple.  Note the word share; Facebook never took anything, it received everything.  Much like “rewards programs”, “rebate offers” or the “first one is free”, Facebook was about gathering information and then using said information to drive revenue.  Users give, Facebook takes.  Facebook then sells what users gave.  Plain, simple, and direct.

People wanted a platform to share their stories, their lives, their photos, their likes, their dislikes, their frustrations, their loves, and yes their secrets.  Social media has brought families closer, it has made the world smaller, it has enhanced cross cultural understanding, it has bridged the generational gap, it has opened minds.  It has also served as an echo chamber, a source of vindication and reinforcement for troubled souls the world over and been used to intimidate, bully and harm.  Above all, social media is a tool.  An unimaginably powerful tool that is used to shape and manipulate behavior, for both good and ill.  Sharing information of any sort is a choice.  And with all choices come consequences, and there in lies the cliché.  People want an open, sharing world, they will live in an open and sharing world.  The information you share can and will be used.  Live by the sword, die by the sword.

In the spirit of irony, that cliché, like many, has its roots in The Bible. Matthew 26:52 if anyone is interested. The Bible and the Ancient Greeks are almost always the original source. Funny how that works.

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Filed under Current affairs, NMS, Politics

Can We Learn From History?

Never one to pontificate or preach, especially on emotionally hot button issues, I felt I would be a bit remiss not to share an interesting observation. As a confessed reader of anything and everything, I have to share a very interesting quote from my current reading project:

“Don’t offend the gays and don’t inflame the homophobes. These were the twin horns on which the handling of this epidemic would be torn from the first day of the epidemic. Inspired by the best intentions, such arguments paved the road toward the destination good intentions inevitably lead.”

And The Band Played On – Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic
– Randy Shilts

What struck me as I am reading this absolutely amazing book is how I remember it – I quite literally came of age as the AIDS epidemic raged. Reading about it now, with the wisdom of age and hindsight, the thoughts, beliefs, and missteps by all involved that allowed the epidemic to rage is unbelievable.  Everyone was at fault – no one is beyond blame.  Yet I remember it all so well – it would never affect us in the mainstream – it was a gay, drug addict, or Haitian thing.  Boy did our world change as our eyes were opened.

Then, I started to think about our world today and what is taking place around us.  I took a bit of literary licence and give you the following for thought…

“Don’t offend the Muslims and don’t inflame the Islamaphobes. These were the twin horns on which the handling of this issue would be torn from the first day of the war. Inspired by the best intentions, such arguments paved the road toward the destination good intentions inevitably lead.”

It is one brief quote, describing very different times and very different events, in very different circumstances, but yet, it seems to hold a lesson…maybe.

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When the Process Becomes Too Hard

As with all things Hollywood, pirates and the high seas just drips of glamor and adventure.  It is the stuff of epic tales of daring do immortalized by the likes of Errol Flynn and Johnny Depp.  Certainly there is an element of crime and punishment, of death and destruction, of cruelty and pain, but that stuff sort of gets lost in the Hollywood hype.  The modern pirates of Somalia remind us of what desperate people do in desperate times – it is neither glamorous nor dashing.  It is crime and death in its starkest form.  It is also becoming a lesson in what can happen when the process becomes too hard, even for “the good guys”.

Ever so quietly over the last two weeks a story has gradually been told of a hijacked Russian cargo ship and the fate that befell the captured pirates.  In short, the Russian Navy was able to retake the ship, free the crew, and capture ten of the pirates.  It was a fairly cut and dry scenario – the Somalis took the ship and the Russians took it back – the pirates surrendering following a brief fight on the cargo ship.  However, it is what happened afterwards that was rather interesting.  It seems the Russians elected to set the pirates “free”.  Free, adrift in a boat at sea.  It is an age-old punishment for pirates and mutineers being set adrift, and apparently something that has comeback into vogue when dealing with modern pirates by more than just the Russian Navy.

Was it the right thing to do – not my call.  Was it the correct or proper process for dealing with captured pirates – apparently not.  However, is there a reason it has become more common – clearly so.  Right or wrong, the “process” when it comes to dealing with captured pirates has become too hard .  The system is broken.  Those out dealing with the day-to-day realities have been forced to make decisions.  Harsh decisions that are none the less real solutions to real problems.  Simple, effective, and permanent.

As leaders it is imperative that we ensure the process never becomes too hard, or is perceived to be too hard, or is just simply broken.  Calling a process fair, right or “just the way we do things” does not mean the process is working.  Efficient and functional processes are the key points for leaders.  Best intentions are not a viable justification for dysfunction.  Putting people in a position where they must make decisions that are based on unrealistic expectations, or asking them to work within a system that is dysfunctional benefits no one.  It is not only unfair, it is a recipe for poor morale.  Eventually events and circumstance will force people to take matters into their own hands.   Ultimately it will become an environment in which no one wins.

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Filed under Coaching, Current affairs, leadership, NMS

Wingmen – The Spirit of the Season

Tis the Season, or so goes the saying.  In our hypersensitive world, far too much time is spent “debating” what to call the season.  Is it Christmas, Hanukkah, the winter solstice, a pagan ritual of the tree, or nothing at all.  Thankfully one thing most do agree on is that the overall spirit of “this time of year” is that of giving, of being with family and friends, and just generally doing more for others.  It is a sort of end of year scramble; the opportunity to make up for being self-centered the previous 11 months.  The Spirit of the Season if you will.

It is ironic, or maybe it is done purposely, but there seems to be a flood of new books released on December 1st.  Call it that other “Spirit of the Season” – consumerism.  However there is one that has risen above the clutter.  Never Fly Solo has hit both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal best seller lists. It is the first release by Rob “Waldo” Waldman, a former Air Force fighter pilot and successful business owner and keynote speaker.  The theme of Never Fly Solo is to support and trust those around you.  To quote the author:

“Trust.  That’s what this book is about.  It’s not about combat or how to apply jet-fighter tactics to beat your competition.  It is, above all else, about building trust in yourself and then building trusting relationships with other.  These trusted partners are your wingmen.”

In short, you cannot go it alone.  It takes a team to support you in your mission, and it takes others to help you see what you are missing.  In fighter pilot lingo, someone else has to “check your 6”.   In the lingo of Waldo – you need to have wingmen – trusted partners in business and in life.

I have been fortunate to have known Waldo for many years.  I have truly seen the evolution of the “Wingman“, of his business, his career, and of course his book.   However one thing has been clear since I met Waldo all those years ago – he is an above-board class act.  With the release of Never Fly Solo everything came full circle.  The message is clear, we all knew it, but it took a guy like Waldo to put it into words.  Support and trust others.  The support you receive in return will be 10 fold what you give.  In short, be a wingman – Tis the Season.

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Filed under leadership, NMS

Of Decisions and Repercussions

When do you speak up and when do you toe the company line? One of those life questions and a dilemma no one wants to face, but an all too likely scenario everyone, leaders, managers, and individual contributors alike, have or will encounter.  Sometimes it will be little things – not too public and not too dramatic.  Right and wrong are easy to discern and the course of action is clear.  The repercussions are minimal.  And sometime it just might be a huge, public, multi million dollar, life changing issue.  The potential repercussions massive, a truly defining moment in life.  How you answer that question will speak volumes about you, your character, and the company for which you work.

General Stanley McChrystal came to one of those moments, and he made his decision.  He went public and went outside the chain of command by speaking out about the course of the war in Afghanistan.  He put it all out there – his professional reputation, his livelihood, the respect and confidence of his peers, superiors and subordinates.  He violated two fundamental principles of the military and government – he violated the chain of command AND he questioned the civilian leadership – you just do not do those things.  We are watching play out in a very public setting the realities of making one of those major life decisions.  None of us will ever know all that went into his decision, but rest assured we will all see the repercussions of his action.

Was he right in going outside the chain of command? Not my place to judge. What I do find myself wondering is “what if”. What if a senior military officer would have stepped forward at some point during Vietnam?  What if no one ever spoke out about the tobacco industry?  What if there was no Whistle Blower protection laws?  What if someone who worked for Madoff asked a question, any question?  What if…

When is speaking out the right course, the ethical course?  When must you toe the company line?  Does your “first hand” knowledge trump the decisions of your leadership, or is it just your ego talking?  Are you speaking out or are you complaining?  Is there a greater good that you are not seeing at your level?  Does your senior leadership have better strategic vision than you?  Is silence the right course?   Is speaking out worth the personal cost?  Heavy questions.  Questions every leader must reconcile in their mind.  We all have or will face these sorts of moments.  Some will be quiet, relatively easy, painless decisions.  Some might be painful, public and costly.  Watch and learn from the experience of General McChrystal.  No one knows what will happen, but I can assure you it will be interesting.


Filed under Coaching, Current affairs, NMS

With time comes clarity…and accuracy

One of the pirates pointed an AK-47 at the back of Phillips, who was tied up and in “imminent danger” of being killed when the commander of the nearby USS Bainbridge made the split-second decision to order his men to shoot, Vice Adm. Bill Gortney said.

Thus read one of the initial postings on CNN’s website when the story broke of the freeing of Captain Phillips of the Maersk Alabama off the coast of Somalia.  By now the story has been told and re-told, analyzed and reviewed, and is quite possibly in pre-production for a made for TV special movie presentation.  However, there is still one last lesson here to be learned.

A quick reading of the above statement seems to intimate that the crew of the USS Bainbridge were the snipers.  One thing I knew immediately when I read that article was that there was more to this story.  The crew of a US Navy ship is an amazing team of skilled technicians and engineers, sailors who are highly trained in all facets of shipboard operations – true professionals and a credit to the service and country.  One thing they are not is highly skilled marksmen, that I can assure you.  I was one of them in a prior life.  There are two things the vast majority of sailors do not do well – march and shoot with precision (at least small arms – missiles are different).

However, as details emerged and time passed, the real story came out – it was Navy SEALs who were the marksmen.  Again, just as I knew there was more to the story, I was awfully confident in what that story would be.  The magnitude of what everyone involved in that operation were able to achieve is absolutely staggering.  Everyone had a role and all roles were interconnected.  True team work by a true team of professionals.

In the end, it is wise to remember that the story is never fully told in the beginning.  With time comes clarity.  Details and truth will emerge with time.  Sometimes it is not easy to be patient, but in the end the opportunity to act will become available and the course of action will be clear.  When facts are in hand and the picture is clear, and that moment arrives, one must be ready and willing to act.

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Filed under Coaching, Current affairs, NMS