Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Dead Horses


As we head into The New Year, we should all think about this:


• Buying a stronger whip.

• Changing riders.

• Appointing a committee to study the horse.

• Arranging to visit other countries to see how other cultures ride dead horses.

• Lowering the standards so that the dead horses can be included.

• Re-classifying the dead horse as living-impaired.

• Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.

• Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.

• Providing additional funding and/or training to increase dead horse’s performance.

• Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s
performance.

• Declaring that the dead horse does not have to be fed,it is less costly,carries lower
overhead and,therefore, contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy
than do some other horses.

• Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses. And of course….

• Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position.

Monday, December 26, 2016

2016 Over….2017 Over the Top?


Last December I made my predictions and as usual, some were pretty good and some were pretty bad. So how did we do?

The 2016 Predictions:

1. Hillary Clinton wins the election. (I’m not sure any Republican could win a national election these days.)

Enough has been said about this. I didn’t see a Republican winning, much less Donald Trump. And, let’s not forget that Hillary did win the popular vote. But, Trump won where the Constitution says it matters. I lean to the right on most issues, so I’m glad Clinton did not win and I’m glad that the Republicans control the House and the Senate. My prediction on Trump follows below in the 2017 Predictions.

2. The U.S. economy muddles along. The second half of the year is better than the first half.

Pretty accurate with this prediction. I’d give it an A

3. Oil prices stay below $50 barrel.

Just missed it. Oil prices have creeped up over the $50 mark.

4. The Arizona Cardinals beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

5. The Chicago Cubs win the World Series over the Houston Astros.

Cubs Win…finally and I called it. Got the opposing team wrong, but I’m still giving it an A.

6. Jordan Spieth does not win a major this year.

Correct- A

7. “Spotlight” wins the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture.

Correct-A

8. The Supreme Court will rule against the University of Texas’ affirmative action admissions policy (Fisher v. University of Texas)

Wrong- F


9. Terrorists attacks against Western targets will escalate in 2016.

I wish I’d been wrong on this one.


10. Federal Debt will remain at levels above 100% of GDP.

Of course it did.


And now for those 2017 predictions:

1. This one is easy…Alabama wins the National Championship

2. E-commerce retail sales will exceed $450 Billion

3. Oil prices go up a bit but remain under $60

4. The Cleveland Indians beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.

5. GDP growth at 3%

6. Moonlight wins Academy Award for Best Movie

7. New England beats Dallas in the Super Bowl.

8. Going out on a limb here, but the next Supreme Court Justice will not be a white guy.

9. Significant M&A activity in the final mile delivery space

10. Trump gets a lot done in his first year and drives the mainstream media crazy.

On the Chinese calendar, 2017 is the year of the Rooster, more specifically the Red Rooster, also known as the Fire Rooster. Yep, 2017 is going to be interesting.




Saturday, December 17, 2016

Toilet Paper and One More Christmas



“I've learned that life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.” – Andy Rooney


There comes a time when you accept that you’re closer to the end of life than you are to the beginning. That time for me came when I hit 50. But 50 became the new 40, right? So not to worry. And now 60 becomes the new 50. So it’s all good. I call it Baby Boomer Twilight Savings Time (BBTST) or the “dial of denial”. But sometimes even BBTST isn’t enough. People still die, no matter what time it is. And 2016 has been one of those years.

Close to home, my wife’s mother passed away last week and we had the funeral yesterday. My wife was a late in life baby and barely qualifies as a baby boomer. But her older brother and sister and her husband, yours truly; definitely qualify. Even BBTST can’t change the cold reality of losing a parent at Christmas time. To make matters even worse she had previously lost her father on Christmas day. It seemed like only yesterday, but it was actually 21 years ago. My parents are long gone. So her mother was the last of ours. And now we have become the oldest generation and the next in line for goodbyes and flowers. And if traditions mean anything, I guess for at least one of us, when our time comes it will be around Christmas .

And then there was a friend I grew up with who passed away two weeks ago. Based on BBTST he was way too young. But, I guess the disease that took him had its own clock and now he’s gone. Some other friends of ours recently lost a son-in-law in an automobile accident. Earlier in the year we lost a good friend to cancer. And my business partner’s father finally passed away this year after a long battle with illness and disease. He and his baby-boomer brothers are now officially the old folks of that family. And the roll just keeps turning faster.

Which brings us to another Christmas. Christmas at the end of a year filled with the passing of friends and loved ones. And I ask myself, what would it mean if this were all there is? There just has to be more. We were created for more. If not, then we were created for nothing. So I believe and in that belief welcome Christmas. Perhaps more so this year than most. After all, there are only so many Christmases left on my roll.



Saturday, December 3, 2016

Full Employment


While the news is loaded with stories about the lack of good jobs and young college graduates living in their parents’ basement, the reality is that there is a shortage of talent. Employers are having a tough time filling jobs. The unemployment rate for people age 25 and over is now 3.9%. For those with college degrees it’s down to 2.3%. Let that soak in. While economists debate the definition of what level of unemployment effectively translates to “full employment”, the numbers range from 3.0% to 5.5% with 4% being the most widely accepted number. After the Great Recession, there were 6.5 unemployed people for every job opening. That is now down to 1.4 unemployed per job opening!

When you look at the total labor force 16 years of age and over the rate is 4.6% but that number is heavily impacted by high rates of unemployment in the 16-19 year old group. African-Americans, Hispanics and those without high school degrees also have high rates of unemployment. So we do need to figure out how to get these folks into the work force. It’s a big issue, no question.

But, if you are an employer looking to hire experienced, qualified talent; you’ve got a problem. They are out there, but they are working and they are not likely to change jobs without a really good reason. It could be money, job content, company culture, career path, work schedule, location, travel requirements, benefits or any number of things…but they need a reason. And you need to know how to reach them.

What we are seeing at High Road is anecdotal, but relevant. Over the past year, for the first time in my career, we are getting multiple calls weekly from companies that have been openly and actively trying to fill positions. They are running ads with no results. They may be trying to recruit directly on their own or have engaged search firms. No results. We are getting a lot of calls for front line supervisory talent. Fleet managers, customer service reps, load planners. These are positions we’ve traditionally not worked and, frankly, seldom got calls about. That has changed. There may be enough demand now and with companies stepping up to higher compensation levels, we plan to start actively recruiting for these positions.

And the demand for management and executive talent remains strong. That is not to say that there aren’t people out there who are unemployed or under-employed. But if they are mobile, have a stable work history, solid references and reasonable compensation expectations; they can land a good job.

The biggest constraint to economic growth in the U.S. is not going to be our infrastructure, our tax code or our political circus. It’s going to be a lack of employable people.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Come Let Us Reason Together



Back in August I shared my post-convention thoughts about Clinton and Trump (http://www.headhunterpov.net/2016/08/the-next-president-of-united-states-of_2.html).
I was wrong. I did not think Trump could win if he stayed down and dirty. I said that in order to win the national election he needed to rise above the rhetoric that got him the nomination. As it turns out he did, in fact, come up short on the nation’s total vote count. But he won where it counted and Clinton did not. My sense is that the Obama/Clinton coalition got complacent, failed to mobilize enough of their core in key swing states, and thus ended up snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Electoral College system is once again an issue. There are several things to consider. First of all, one cannot assume that the vote count would have been the same if we had a popular vote, winner-take all system. The Electoral College system forces the candidates to invest a disproportionate amount of time and money into a few key swing states. In a national popularity contest, candidates would focus on maximizing their vote counts and might actually spend more time in those regions where they are most likely to get a lot of votes. So we don’t really know what would happen if we did not have the electoral college. The same could be said if we moved election day to Saturday and/or made it easier for people to vote. If campaign financing regulations were different? If there were more debates, or fewer debates or better debates? If the process for selecting candidates in the first place was different (better)? And if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas.

But, I am worried about America. I have serious doubts that Trump is the answer. And Clinton was certainly not. What we have now is a country split down the middle. I am not hearing anything from Trump that makes me feel any better about fiscal responsibility. More spending and reducing taxes doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Whoever had won the election was going to have to fix Obamacare. I’m not sure how you define “fix”. But don’t expect your costs and coverage to return to pre-Obamacare levels under any circumstances. The issues in healthcare are systemic.

Immigration reform is another slippery slope. Do we need tighter border security? No question. Do we have issues with a criminal element that is here illegally? Yep and we need to address that. Do we have of lot of law-abiding hard-working folks who are here illegally just trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. Absolutely. And rounding them up, destroying families and sending them back to wherever they came from might be the correct legal option, but it’s the wrong moral choice. Not to mention that we need this labor force to keep things going. They aren’t many citizens who can or would take on the work illegals are taking, even if the pay were doubled. So fixing the immigration problem isn’t going to be easy.

And then there is Terrorism. More specifically Radical Islamic Terrorism. Muslims are not the problem. We are talking about a specific group that have a twisted view of Islam and are committed to holy war and re-establishing the Muslim Caliphate in the Middle East and beyond. Trump may get rid of ISIS but he’s not going to get rid of the problem. This problem is here to stay for a long time. All we can do is be prepared and fight it as it comes. And ultimately, it’s not a problem that will be solved militarily. I don’t know what the answer is other the Divine Intervention, but that’s another conversation.

And trade is not going to be resolved by slapping high tariffs on imports. Should we be negotiating better trade deals? Of course. Have we been taken advantage of in world markets? I think so. Deals are being made for political reasons, not economic reasons. We need to be honest about the real costs of those decisions and figure out what to do about the jobs that are lost when politicians give them away. But globalization is here to stay. We have to compete in a global market and “we” means every one of us. The 50s and 60s are gone. Ozzie and Harriet aren’t coming back. Technology and globalization have changed the game and it’s going to keep on changing ever faster. Get on board or get run over.

It seems to me that both sides of the political debate have missed the mark. The answer is not some quasi-socialist dreamland where the playing field is leveled and no one has too much and no one has too little and the government defines what is too much and what is too little. Nor is it unrestrained, capitalist dog-eat dog-ism where the free market will decide how much we can abuse ourselves, each other and our environment. Fortunately, I think the vast majority of Americans are somewhere in the middle. Some lean right and some lean left, but for the most part we want a lot of the same things and are willing to work together. We can’t let the extremists on either side take America away from us.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

E Pluribus Unum


I have not voted yet. But I will vote on Tuesday. If you have not already voted, you should. It’s your right, it’s a privilege and it’s your duty. So go vote. That our options are poor is a another issue. Go vote. Hold your nose and take a long shower afterward if you have to. But go vote. And then get ready for the fallout.

Yes, there is going to be “fallout”. Fallout, backlash, wailing and gnashing of teeth; no matter who wins on Tuesday. We are a nation divided. Maybe not Civil War divided yet, but getting closer. We are divided on some really tough issues: abortion, gay marriage, immigration, gun control, global warming, taxes, law enforcement, race, gender, education, the economy and almost every major issue that impacts life in America. There are fundamental differences with regard to the role of government, personal freedom and human rights.

E Pluribus Unum…Out of Many, One. Can we come together as One Nation? I honestly don’t know. When the definitions of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness are vastly different, then it’s no longer about how to attain those goals. We can’t even agree on what they mean. One thing is certain, come Wednesday morning the losing side will sincerely believe that our nation is headed in the wrong direction. And even the winning side isn’t going to feel much better.


Saturday, October 29, 2016

Turtle Rabbits


What’s ugly, has a hard shell, operates in the dark and digs holes for itself? No I’m not talking about our Presidential candidates. I’m talking about that great symbol of Texas, Dasypus Novemcinctus….the Armadillo. Or as the old Spaniards called it, the “turtle rabbit”.

I live just outside the city limits in what some folks would call “the country”. I’ve been out in “the country” before and I don’t consider where I live to be “the country”. Our road is paved, we’ve got high-speed internet, coop-water, I can get to town in ten minutes and to the DFW Airport in an hour and ten minutes. But we do live on 35 acres and there is a good bit of open land around us. There are cows and horses and chickens. And critters like coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, possums, skunks, etc. Feral hogs are close by and once in awhile you’ll see a deer.

We’ve got a heavily wooded creek running through the property and it is critter heaven. And somewhere in all of the tangled woods and briars and creek bed an armadillo makes its home. One would think that a nocturnal “turtle rabbit” would have better things to do than waddle up every night and destroy my lawn. I keep the yard around the house mowed, watered and fertilized. We like our yard. So do the little things that turtle rabbits like to eat. Therefore, turtle rabbits like our yard. But these tasty little morsels are not easily obtained. Turtle rabbits must work for their supper which means digging for it. So every morning, when the sun comes up, I find a new area with fresh diggings. In the long run it may be good for the soil and perhaps the armadillo is doing me a favor. But in the short run he's making the yard look like hell.

Armadillos are hard to trap and you really can’t poison them. If I wanted to stay up all night I could probably catch him in the act and put an end to it. But, in some weird way I kind of don’t mind their digging around. Trying to maintain a well-manicured lawn out in the country actually seems sort of foolish. We waste water, we spend money on fertilizer, we mow and edge and tend the flower beds and want to make it look picture book perfect to satisfy our own egos. And a hungry armadillo comes along and says thank you by digging it all up. Sometimes God has a way of using the foolish things of this world, like “turtle rabbits”, to put you in your place. And that’s not a bad thing.


“It turned out to be a young Dasypus novemcinctus, a nine-banded armadillo, about the size of a small loaf of bread. Although they were becoming more common in Texas, I'd never seen one up close before. Anatomically speaking, it resembled the unhappy melding of an anteater (the face), a mule (the ears), and a tortoise (the carapace). I thought it overall an unlucky creature in the looks department, but Granddaddy once said that to apply a human definition of beauty to an animal that had managed to thrive for millions of years was both unscientific and foolish.”
― Jacqueline Kelly, The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Selling Out


Our culture has replaced self-discovery with self-construction. Everybody is expected to create and manage his or her own identity. Personal achievement thus becomes the main means of justifying one’s existence. The pressure that this mindset creates is devastating. – Cameron McAllister

Candidates often ask me how they should be using LinkedIn. What sort of information should they include on their resume? Does it make sense to use other social media platforms to promote their professional brand? What sort of “personal profile” should they build that enhances their professional status. In other words if I can create my own brand, how should I do that?

These are good questions. So I answer them. And for the most part, they already know the answers. They just want validation from another source. “The Game” has become one of presentation and promotion over performance. Being noticed is more important than being worth noticing. Ultimately, you must bring value. But value without a brand ends up in a cover band playing at county fairs in the fly-over states. So I get it. You need to put yourself out there and in the right way.

But, at what point does self-promotion become selling out? We bristle at the term “selling out”. No one wants to be a “sell out”. But most of us do it to some degree. And we do it, because IT WORKS. We don’t call it selling out. We call it “getting my foot in the door”. Or “just doing what I have to do”. The world is grading on the curve and we have to keep up. Of course, recruiters know that resumes and linked in profiles tend to be “inflated” and everything is presented in the best possible light. The truth gets stretched and the turds get polished. That’s how “The Game” is played. You’re told not to oversell yourself, but if you don’t oversell yourself you end up being left on the shelf. So everyone does it and everyone expects it to be done.

I can’t tell you where to draw the line between personal branding and overselling. And each person has to determine at what point they go from competing to selling out. But I leave you with this warning...there will come a day when you find out.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

It's Not Debatable...We Need Leadership


After watching what was supposed to be a debate late night, I was reminded of an old poem I once read. Josiah Gilbert Holland penned this little nugget back in the 19th Century. I've edited it a bit. He wrote God Give Us Men. I've changed it to God Give Us Leaders. I also changed a line he had in the original asking God to give us "tall men, sun-crowned". Holland's version was written in a time when women were not even considered for leadership roles. They couldn't even vote. So things have changed and changed for the better in that regard. But his message still resonates and couldn't be more timely.

GOD, give us Leaders!
A time like this demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands;
Leaders whom the lust of office does not kill;
Leaders whom the spoils of office can not buy;
Leaders who possess opinions and a will;
Leaders who have honor; Leaders who will not lie;
Leaders who can stand before a demagogue
And damn his treacherous flatteries without winking!
Great Leaders who live above the fog
In public duty, and in private thinking;
For while the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds,
Their large professions and their little deeds,
Mingle in selfish strife, lo! Freedom weeps,
Wrong rules the land and waiting Justice sleeps.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Sending the Message


It comes as no surprise that I got some flak over my last post of the Marine’s letter to the NFL Commissioner objecting to the player demonstrations during the National Anthem. In fact, it was pointed out to me that these demonstrations have quite a bit of support, especially in the younger demographic, regardless of race. Even some high school and college players have started taking a knee or raising their fist in response to the Star Spangled Banner.

First of all, I get it that black people are upset about the way they are profiled and treated by law enforcement. Do we have a problem in this country? Absolutely. No question. We can come up with all kinds of reasons or excuses. But unwarranted excessive force seems to be applied way too often when law enforcement officers encounter black citizens. Again the underlying reasons are complicated and, if you’re in law enforcement, somewhat justifiable in your mind. If you’re a black person who’s been on the other end of that excessive, unwarranted force it is outrageous and unbearable.

So I get it. I remember back in the late 60’s and early 70’s when a young white guy with long hair driving a VW bug was more likely to have a negative encounter with police than a young white guy with short hair, wearing a cowboy hat and driving a pick-up. Today, if you’re of a certain age, look a certain way and happen to be driving a car that says to police you might be up to no good, you are more likely to get pulled over than if you’re an old white guy like me. The last time I got stopped by law enforcement was two years ago. I was out in West Texas going about 90 mph on an empty stretch of Hwy 82/114 between Guthrie and Benjamin. The Texas Highway patrolman was nice as could be and just warned me to slow down. Do I think that encounter would have been different if I was 25 years old in a sports car with California plates rather than an old white guy with his wife in a Dodge Ram wearing a Texas Tech ball cap? Duh…yeah. Do I think an old black guy in my place would have been treated differently? Maybe. Probably. At minimum there might have been more Q & A with the officer just to make sure there wasn’t something illegal going on. So yeah, I think I got profiled in the best possible way and if I had been black the experience would not have been positive.

So if I am a black person, especially a young black person, even more so a young black male; I am frustrated, angry and fed-up with being presumed guilty of something most of the time. Go on and protest. Vote for change. Make noise and force our nation to address the issue. But, don’t undermine your cause by looting and rioting and destroying property. If you’re a high-profile athlete or even a low-profile high-school athlete; don’t deliver the message in ways that are counter-productive. And disrespecting your country, your flag and your national anthem is about as counter-productive as it gets. If athletes want to wear Black Lives Matter socks and wrist bands, fine. If they wear that BLM t-shirt to the post-game interviews, so be it. It they want to tweet their support for the movement, I say go for it. But do it in ways that build support for the cause, not opposition. You can say and do the right things and still get the message across and get it across even better.

“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
― James Baldwin


Monday, September 19, 2016

Ooh Rah


Ever since Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem, I've been wondering what to say about it. I know how I feel about it, but it gets complicated. I wanted to make that sure I did not go too far overboard. You see I am an old white guy who has lived a life of privilege and undeserved advantage in this fair land of ours. So how can I relate to the pain certain people of color experience when hearing the Star-Spangled Banner or seeing the Stars and Stripes waving over a sports stadium. And besides, it's a free country, to include protesting in ways that really piss me off.

Well, fortunately a Marine came to the rescue and said it all in a letter to Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League:

Commissioner,

I’ve been a season pass holder at Yankee Stadium, Yale Bowl and Giants Stadium.

I missed the ’90-’91 season because I was with a battalion of Marines in Desert Storm. 14 of my wonderful Marines returned home with the American Flag draped across their lifeless bodies. My last conversation with one of them, Sgt Garrett Mongrella, was about how our Giants were going to the Super Bowl. He never got to see it.

Many friends, Marines, and Special Forces Soldiers who worked with or for me through the years returned home with the American Flag draped over their coffins.

Now I watch multi-millionaire athletes who never did anything in their lives but play a game, disrespect what brave Americans fought and died for. They are essentially spitting in the faces and on the graves of real men, men who have actually done something for this country beside playing with a ball and believing they’re something special! They’re not! My Marines and Soldiers were!

You are complicit in this!

You’ll fine players for large and small infractions but you lack the moral courage and respect for our nation and the fallen to put an immediate stop to this. Yes, I know, it’s their 1st Amendment right to behave in such a despicable manner. What would happen if they came out and disrespected you or the refs publicly?

I observed a player getting a personal foul for twerking in the end zone after scoring. I guess that’s much worse than disrespecting the flag and our National Anthem. Hmmmmm, isn’t it his 1st Amendment right to express himself like an idiot in the end zone?

Why is taunting not allowed yet taunting America is OK? You fine players for wearing 9-11 commemorative shoes yet you allow scum on the sidelines to sit, kneel or pump their pathetic fist in the air. They are so deprived with their multi-million dollar contracts for playing a freaking game! You condone it all by your refusal to act. You’re just as bad and disgusting as they are. I hope Americans boycott any sponsor who supports that rabble you call the NFL. I hope they turn off the TV when any team that allowed this disrespect to occur, without consequence, on the sidelines. I applaud those who have not.

Legends and heroes do NOT wear shoulder pads. They wear body armor and carry rifles.

They make minimum wage and spend months and years away from their families. They don’t do it for an hour on Sunday. They do it 24/7 often with lead, not footballs, coming in their direction. They watch their brothers carted off in pieces not on a gurney to get their knee iced. They don’t even have ice! Many don’t have legs or arms.

Some wear blue and risk their lives daily on the streets of America. They wear fire helmets and go upstairs into the fire rather than down to safety. On 9-11, hundreds vanished. They are the heroes.

I hope that your high paid protesting pretty boys and you look in that mirror when you shave tomorrow and see what you really are, legends in your own minds. You need to hit the road and take those worms with you!

Time to change the channel.

Col Jeffrey A Powers USMC (Ret)
Vista, California




Monday, September 5, 2016

Creative Destruction



A couple of weeks ago I posted an article about “The Declining Return on Humans”. It was a serious follow-up to my tongue-in-cheek take on self-driving vehicles. As I thought about the Declining Return on Humans article, something kept gnawing in my brain. The ideas in that article were familiar and related to other stuff I’d read before. Maybe it was in college or on a long plane ride. But these ideas are connected to old ideas.

After digging around a bit I found it. And “it” is the Theory of Creative Destruction, a theory popularized by the early-20th century economist Joseph Schumpeter. “Popularized” might not be the right word. His version got the most coverage and he gets the credit. But, it wasn’t and still isn’t a very popular idea. At least not in it’s pure form. It’s been adopted and twisted by libertarian, free-marketers as the most direct pathway to progress and the efficient deployment of capital. And it’s always a great excuse for closing factories and putting people out of work.

Schumpeter defines Creative Destruction as:

“The process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.".

If we just stop there, it doesn’t sound all that bad does it? (Unless it’s your job that is being eliminated.) Read Schumpeter’s classic work “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy” and you get the bigger picture. Schumpeter uses a lot of Karl Marx’s ideas (which probably made him even less popular) to build out his theory which essentially says that the ongoing process of creative destruction eventually undermines and inhibits capitalism as we know it.

Schumpeter saw the value of entrepreneurs and innovation. It takes these “disruptors” to keep the economy growing. And with each disruption there are winners and losers. Most of us get that and accept it. Even when we are among the losers. But Schumpeter saw this process as eventually undermining itself. And this was very much in line with the thinking of Karl Marx. Schumpeter concludes that somehow in some fashion capitalism survives or whatever we’re left with is better for having gone through the evolutionary process of capitalism’s creative destruction. Marx had a darker vision and ultimately those who followed him thought it better to kill the capitalist monster before it killed them. Schumpeter essentially saw “Too Big To Fail” looming on the horizon. Capitalism would lead to “corporatism” and a shift in society away from free-market entrepreneurism toward the welfare state. Schumpeter also predicted that “the intellectuals” of our society would lead the way in restricting capitalism and eventually replacing it with some form of socialism. (He’s looking pretty good on that prediction, unfortunately).

However, Schumpeter did not account for “The Elites”. These are the powerful forces in business and government who pull the strings and stay one step ahead of the next wave of Creative Destruction. They are the perpetual winners. If the winds below them are blowing toward socialism and increased government control, no problem. Give the people what they want. When they’ve had enough of that and the pendulum swings the other way, change the game again. The challenge for “The Elites” is maintaining a productive “middle class” that can afford to purchase goods and services whether in the free market (via disposable income) or from the government (via taxes). Even The Elites understand that they cannot just keep borrowing from each other and printing new money to pay for it. At some point someone has to produce something of value. And getting to that point from where we are today will take a lot of Creativity and certainly a fair amount of Destruction.



Monday, August 29, 2016

Actually You Can't


Perhaps we hear it more during the Olympics, but it’s always out there. The great athlete “giving back” and telling wide-eyed youngsters, “You can be anything you want to be if you’re willing to work hard enough.” The award-winning entertainer, who after sharing their story of struggle and years of grinding away behind the scenes finally got their big break and made the most of it. “You can do it. Just work hard at your craft and don’t stop believin’”. (Cue up the classic Journey song now.) The politician out on the campaign trail preaching the gospel of greatness, not just for a few but for all of us. We can have it all and we can have it all right now. Dream Big.

So you may ask, what’s wrong with giving people encouragement? Why not tell the poor kid living in the projects that he or she can be anything they want to be? Why can’t the high school drop-out, single mother living in a trailer somewhere in Southeast Oklahoma eventually be discovered while singing Karaoke on Friday nights at the neighborhood bar? Well, I suppose anything is possible. It’s what keeps people buying lottery tickets. But there is also this little thing called Reality and it’s a bitch.

The kid in the projects who might not be quite big enough, or fast enough, or strong enough, or athletic enough to ever get paid to play a sport can want it badly. He might work extremely hard to get it. But just because he wants it and works hard to get it, doesn’t mean he will get it if he doesn’t have the talent. Same thing for that would be singer belting it out anywhere where they might let her on stage.

But what’s wrong with letting people believe they can climb that mountain? Nothing as long as they are realistic and have a plan B. Fact is, when you tell someone they CAN BE ANYTHING they want to be, that sometimes puts blinders on. Focus and commitment are good things. Blinders not so good.

The Army got it right with their recruiting slogan, “Be All That You Can Be”. That’s a different and better message than “You can be anything you want to be…”. Actually you can’t “be anything you want to be”.
But you can “be all that you can be.” Be the best basketball player you can be and maybe you’ll get a scholarship. If you’re really special, maybe you’ll make a lot of money someday playing basketball. But don’t put all your eggs in one basket (ball). Get an education, stay out of trouble. If you love basketball, maybe you end up coaching. But don’t be stupid and just expect to “get paid” because you’re can put the ball in the basket. And while you’re trying to become the next Nashville super star, it might not be a bad idea to get that GED and check out some alternative career options.

Dream Big? Absolutely. There is nothing wrong with grabbing for the gold. But, you need to keep reality in mind and know where you’re going to land if your arms are just not long enough.

“No man will be found in whose mind airy notions do not sometimes tyrannize, and force him to hope or fear beyond the limits of sober probability.” ~Samuel Johnson


Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Declining Return on Humans


As a follow up to my mini-rant about self-driving cars and trucks, I decided this article is post-worthy. Not to say that I agree with everything he's saying, but he does make you stop and think about the future.

VIKTOR SHVETS: ‘THE PRIVATE SECTOR WILL NEVER RECOVER’

Some very interesting comments are made by Viktor Shvets in this article published by Valentin Schmid over at the Epoch Times. Discussing the overall private sector Viktor points to the further advancement of machines replacing humans to increase productivity.

The Macquarie strategist’s brutal assessment of the world economy is fascinating, but not for the faint of heart
Do you feel something is wrong with the United States and the global economy? Despite a respectable recovery and low unemployment, many people aren’t happy with their current economic situation or their outlook for the future. From rising prices for basic necessities or schooling, to harsh competition and low pay for lower income jobs to negative interest rates—the poor and the middle class all have their problems to deal with. Experts in the government or central banks are trying to manage a suboptimal situation but cannot isolate the problem, let alone offer solutions. Or maybe they know what’s wrong but don’t want to talk about it because the truth is too shocking.

Enter Viktor Shvets, the global strategist of the investment bank Macquarie Group. He not only dares to think outside the box but also isn’t afraid to openly voice his opinions, which are fascinating and shocking at the same time.

“The private sector will never recover, it will never multiply money again,” he told Epoch Times in an interview. His main theme is the “declining return on humans,” which means that in today’s digital world, normal humans don’t grow productivity fast enough to justify more jobs and higher wages as the machines are taking over. It takes time to line up machines, and this time we are replacing humans altogether."
— Viktor Shvets, global strategist, Macquarie Group

“There is no productivity on a global basis. Secular stagnation, technological shifts, monetary policy, all are suppressing productivity growth rates,” he says. But what about technology making humans more productive? Shvets says this was true in the first and second industrial revolution where displaced jobs such as horse-cart drivers eventually morphed into higher tech and higher productivity ones like the taxi driver.

However, in this, the third industrial revolution, machines are not augmenting humans, they are replacing them. The self-driving car will completely eliminate the driver. And even in the previous more mechanical industrial revolutions, it often took decades for productivity growth to recover and for jobs to come back, only after higher productivity sectors dominated the majority of the economy.

“We are now on the sharp end of the technology S curve. It started in the late 1970s, it’s picked up in the last 5-10 years, productivity growth rates go down not up.” he said.

And not only lower skilled jobs like taxi drivers are concerned. Just look at the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, where you can barely see a human “specialist” trader anymore. The machines in New Jersey have taken over the trading.


Of course, there are companies and sectors where machines augment people’s productivity, but they are in the minority and also always tether on the edge of machines replacing humans completely. One example is Amazon, where one employee generated $1 million in sales in the second quarter of 2016.

“Parts of the economy become extremely competitive, the rest becomes far less competitive. Walmart’s two million employees are less productive than the few hundred thousand people working for Amazon,” said Shvets. Walmart’s revenue per employee was $220,000 at the end of the second quarter of 2016.

As a result, total productivity growth has been negative in the United States for at least a decade and according to the Federal Reserve Board of San Francisco. The so-called Total Factor Productivity fell almost 2 percent annualized in the second quarter of 2016.

LEVERAGE

In order to counter falling productivity, households, companies, as well as the government have taken on unsustainable amounts of debt to keep consumption going.

“When the economists say we can continue to leverage, as we have done in the last three decades, it lacks understanding of the balance sheet. Even at zero interest rates, at a certain level of debt, you go bankrupt because the private sector loses confidence in the system,” said Shvets.

"This is the phenomenon of a balance sheet recession, where you have to shrink the whole balance sheet of the economy in order to restore confidence in the system and return to private sector business cycles. Japan is the most famous case; its balance sheet recession is now 25 years old. But also the United States and Europe essentially have the same problem.
Since the beginning of 1980, total debt in the United States increased by a factor of 14 to $63.5 trillion, while GDP only increased by a factor of 6.2.
The debt is not spread evenly, we still live in a tribal world, and it’s easier to start a war than to forgive debt."
— Viktor Shvets, global strategist, Macquarie Group

Shvets says the world should have actually delevered or paid down the debt to return initiative to the private sector, but thinks people could not accept the levels of pain associated with it.

“You could eliminate the impact of the overcapacity through deflation. Nobody is prepared to accept that we might have to wipe out decades of growth just to eliminate leverage. Banks go, there are defaults, bankruptcies, layoffs,” he said.

He thinks the Biblical debt jubilee, where slaves would be freed and debt would be forgiven every 50 years is a nice idea that would also work today if it weren’t for entrenched special interests.

“The debt is not spread evenly, we still live in a tribal world, and it’s easier to start a war than to forgive debt,” Shvets said.

Global central banks with their easy money policies of negative interest rates and quantitative easing are working against a debt deflation scenario, with limited success, according to Shvets.

“That was the entire idea of aggressive monetary policies: Stimulate investment and consumption. None of that works, there is no evidence. It can impact asset prices, but they don’t flow into the real economy,” he said. “Remember, the people at the Fed and the Bank of England are not supermen, they are people with an above average IQ trying to do a very difficult job in a highly complex environment.”

Both overleveraging, easy money policies, and technological shifts are responsible for increasing levels of income inequality across the globe, another hallmark of the previous two industrial revolutions. Fewer people control more of the wealth. According to the World Bank, the U.S. GINI coefficient, which measures inequality, rose from 37.7 in 1986 to 41.1 in 2013. In China, it rose from 27.7 in 1984 to 42.1 in 2010. The higher the coefficient, the higher the concentration of income among a group of people.


THE RISE OF THE STATE

So if the private sector won’t recover until most of the debt gets written off, which won’t happen because neither the people nor the √©lite want it to happen, who is left to pick up the slack?

“Nobody has visibility; private sector signals have died. The private sector has no idea what to do. The more aggressive the public sector becomes, the less visibility the private sector has. They don’t spend and invest the way they should,” said Shvets. According to him, the state will just take over, it’s only a question of how.
If you are dominated by the public sector, then investment in the traditional sense is no longer possible."
— Viktor Shvets, global strategist, Macquarie Group

“You are essentially in the world where public sector signals dominate,” he said, like the global central banks who are moving markets more than earnings or trade data. “If the private sector refuses to multiply the money, then the state will do that.”

This move toward the state has its own issues, however.

“The public sector doesn’t have cycles like the private sector. Investment theory evolved around cycles. If you are dominated by the public sector, then investment in the traditional sense is no longer possible.”

Business cycle theory centers around the expansion and contraction of money and credit as well as business activity, earnings, and stock valuations. If money and credit are abundant, businesses invest and expand, hire people, and consumption picks up so company profits improve. Stocks tend to rise in tandem with an expansionary cycle.

This is not true for the state, where public investment in infrastructure and central banks printing money create a super cycle with a huge bust at the end. The S&P 500 is trading at an all-time high despite the second most expensive valuations since the 1999 stock market bubble. And despite the fact total S&P 500 earnings fell during every reporting period since the third quarter of 2015. The market is banking on the Fed to turn on the money spigot again at any time.

“The public cycle is aligned with politics. People always avoid radical solutions, so they are doing a little bit here a little bit there to keep the Humpty Dumpty on the wall,” said Shvets.

"Eventually, if the private sector doesn’t recover and the state assumes more power, Shvets thinks countries will move toward fascism and communism again, just like in the 1920s and 1930s whose economic framework is comparable to today’s. The state will decide where capital goes."
— Viktor Shvets, global strategist, Macquarie Group

“Younger people like communism because it is inclusive, paints a bright picture of the future, nobody believes it, but it looks good and young people don’t have anything to lose. Older people tend to be more racist, less inclusive, protectionist, anti-immigration, rather than believing the bright future of everyone holding hands together in a sunny place,” says Shvets.
Either way, the outcome could be similar to the 1930s in Europe and the United States. Less globalization and more power to the state.

“The pendulum is definitely swinging towards the state and the state will decide where capital goes,” said Shvets. One way or another it will have to take on most of the private sector debt, maybe through the nationalization of banking and insurance industries. “It’s impossible to see how you can unwind the economy’s debt load any other way.”

None of the new trends can be described as inspirational or uplifting, but the Macquarie portfolio reflecting the themes has bested the MSCI World Index by almost 30 percent since the beginning of 2015.

“The biggest theme is declining return on humans, the replacement of humans, biotech, augmentation of humans, opium for the people, like computer games and gambling,” Shvets said.

Then there are themes catering to geopolitical risk and potential regional war or civil uprisings, like detention and prison centers, weapons, and drones. Another theme supports the aging demography in the West, so companies holding hospitals, funeral operators, and psychiatric institutions should do well.

On the positives, Shvets notes technological disruptors like Amazon and Google. All those companies should be independent of the government and long-term structural shifts. “They go on no matter what.”


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Uber This


“It is only when they go wrong that machines remind you how powerful they are.”– Clive James


They say we’ll have self-driving trucks within five years. Uber taxis are now available in San Francisco and are scheduled to start up in Pittsburgh. Drones will soon be delivering your pizza. I’m sure this is the future. But I’m not sold on it yet. It’s not that I have an issue with technology. I’d love to have an Uber robot or just about anyone who doesn’t talk, drive me around as long as they drive the way I think they should. And robot truck drivers are probably not inclined to be texting, while trying to eat a cheeseburger and pee in an Big Gulp cup while rolling down the highway at 78 mph. So that might be a good thing. And there is the whole driver shortage and hours of service stuff that pretty much goes away when you can just build a driver right into the vehicle.

So in theory the idea of robot driven cars and trucks would seem like a positive step forward for humankind. I have this one little problem though. I’m sort of a control freak. I mean I don’t even like to use cruise control. My wife on the other hand uses every technology she can get on a car. Cruise control, lane change warning, auto braking when she’s too close to the car in front of her, and those annoying directions (“turn left in .5 miles…turn left in .2 miles…turn left in .1 miles…turn left now…rerouting”…and on it goes. I hate that.). I like having certain information. Tell me about traffic problems, tell me about road construction, but then let me do my thing, my way. (Ok, so I may have issues).

To say that I am a defensive driver would be an understatement. I am all about 360 degree awareness. And I guess I should embrace any technology that expands and enhances my defensive driving ability. But part of my defensiveness comes from not being a very trusting person. And it’s nothing personal. I love people. Well, I might have exaggerated a bit there. Let’s just say, I like most people and with God’s help I try to love all people. But I’m not perfect and no one else is either. Including the folks who manufacture and program self-driving vehicles. So I am not ready to trust them yet.

I may end up being the last guy standing on a corner somewhere waiting for a taxi that actually has a human being behind the wheel. And while I’ve had some bad rides with some really bad taxi drivers, I’d still rather take my chances with a bad human taxi driver than an automaton.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Talent Pool






If you've been trying to find talented people for your organization you can appreciate the reality reflected in the above graphs. The first one is the unemployment rate for people over 25 years of age with a college degree (2006-2016). The second one is the number of private sector job openings over the same time period. In mid 2009 we bottomed out at 1.7 million job openings. We are now at 4 million and for most of 2016 have been slightly over that level. Now to be clear, that is all private sector jobs, not just those requiring a degree. But the point made is still valid. Despite a tepid economic recovery, there are a lot of jobs to be filled. And the 4 million level is higher than it was even before the Great Recession.

The unemployment rate for those with college degrees (first graph) peaked at 5% in September 2009 and pretty much stayed at or near that level through 2010. That number has been cut in half, down to 2.5% and has been at that level for the past 12 months.

These are average numbers covering a big map, a number of jobs and a lot of people. You may be an employer who is not yet feeling the squeeze. Or you may be an employee who is not yet feeling "the love". But the signs are clear. If we're seeing these trends in a flat economy, what happens if we start growing? And for that matter, how much can we grow without talent?
The companies that are going to win over the next 10 years will be the ones who attract, develop and retain talented people. If that's not your number one priority, you're already falling behind.

"The first rule is not to lose. The second rule is not to forget the first rule" - Warren Buffett


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Next President of The United States of America


In the aftermath of the Republican and Democratic conventions, one thing is clear…our two party system is FUBAR. If you don’t know what that means, look it up. This too shall pass and when it’s all said and done, more will be said than done. Which is probably a good thing. But the next four years will be interesting. If Trump keeps shooting himself in the foot or his tax returns reveal some bad stuff, Clinton will win in an epic landslide. If Trump can get his mouth and his campaign under control and there are no ugly skeletons in his financial disclosures, he’s got a puncher’s chance. If Clinton keeps getting hammered on the Clinton Foundation, emails and Benghazi; Trump has a chance. And if there are more negative revelations about Clinton shenanigans, Trump has more than a chance.

But, my money, not necessarily my vote, is on Clinton. Trump is starting to scare too many people. And Trump is starting to anger too many people. Clinton already has a lot of people mad at her and the idea of Hillary Clinton as President, scares some folks as well. But those columns are pretty much filled out. Trump is rapidly adding to his detractors. The negatives for him are going up faster than the positives. It’s not looking good for The Donald.

People mostly vote in their self-interest. And they usually base their political leanings on a very select and limited number of key issues. Once they’ve dialed in on the candidate or party that is most likely to support their position on their most important issues, then they are inclined to agree or at least not strongly disagree with their candidate or party’s position on all of “the other” issues. Trump and Clinton have their core supporters. The key to winning the election is the undecided “moderate middle”, those who’ve not yet decided who to vote for or whether to even vote at all.

If Trump is smart he will focus National Security, “Big government” and the Economy. He needs to be careful with immigration and trade. The undecided moderate middle isn’t as concerned about immigration as the far right. “Building The Wall” isn’t going to get Trump many new votes. To the extent that immigration is about protecting us from terrorism or violent felons, it’s a point worth discussing. Otherwise, drop it. Same with trade. Sure it plays well in certain pockets of America where folks think their jobs have been unfairly exported to other countries. But the reality is that we live in a global economy and a lot of people’s jobs depend on participation in the global economy. We probably do need tougher negotiating on trade deals and have given up too much in the past. But, I don’t think it’s an issue that’s going to move the “moderate middle” votes to the Trump side. Trade is an important part of the economic discussion, but the way it’s being discussed now is not very productive.

Instead talk about National Security, which really means dealing with terrorism, mainly Radical Islamic terrorism. Now you’ve got people’s attention. The Obama track record, and by association Clinton’s, is one that Trump should hammer on. This whole issue of what to do about terrorism is of major concern to most Americans and there is a strong sense that the Clinton/Obama approach has failed. This needs to be a part of every Trump message and he needs to stay on point with it. And he should be careful not to overplay the “you can’t trust Hillary” card. Let others beat her up over emails and Benghazi. Trump needs to move to higher ground and stay there for awhile.

Secondly, Big Government. Most folks NOT on “the left” tend to see government as NOT the answer to their problems. The idea of “tax and spend” , more regulations, more government programs and more “free stuff” for certain groups does not find much favor with hard-working, tax-paying citizens. Trump needs to go after the track record of Obama (Obamacare for example) and the Clinton proposals which include several planks from the Sanders “free stuff” platform.

Lastly, the Economy. Trump doesn’t have to say much here other than to point out the anemic economic recovery under Obama and that we are just keeping our heads above a recession. Over-regulation and failed programs such as Obamacare contribute to it. If you must talk about trade, do it here and in the appropriate context. This is also the place to talk about education, training and infrastructure. All keys to economic performance. Those hard-working, tax-paying citizens in the “moderate middle” will listen.

But, alas, I don’t see Trump getting “on message” and certainly not staying “on message”. The Donald has proven himself to be a loose cannon. And then there are the tax returns. If he doesn’t release them, it’s over. If he does release them, it’s probably over. No telling what sort of snakes and spiders are crawling around in those returns. We get the leaders we deserve and by the Republicans allowing Trump to become their presidential candidate, they have handed the crown to Hillary Clinton. The real question is can they recover by 2020?

(And as you may have guessed by now, I am in the undecided moderate middle, sort of. I will not vote for Clinton. So that part is decided. I probably won’t vote for Trump. I may vote for Gary Johnson as a protest or I may not vote at all.)


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Another Texas Summer


“If I owned Hell and Texas, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell.” General Philip Sheridan

About this time every year, I wonder why I live in Texas. It’s hot and it isn’t going to cool off much for at least another 6 weeks. And, so far, this hasn’t even been a bad summer. We’ve had some rain and up until recently, the heat has been tolerable. But, it’s still a Texas summer and it always wears you down. By late August you’re basically a zombie.

This time of year Colorado and New Mexico fill up with Texans trying to escape the heat, if only for a few days. Texans love the mountains. The mountains are beautiful and, more importantly, they are cool. I used to live in Western Montana and being in the mountains is good for your soul. Even when it’s cold and your tired of winter. And in the summertime, it just doesn’t get any better.

So why does a Texan who has a choice come back and live here? It’s too hot in the summer time. The cities are overcrowded and the traffic is terrible. Yeah, there may be no state income tax, but property and sales taxes are sky high. There’s a lot of crime and it’s a dangerous place. Why are all of these companies relocating to Texas and why do all of these non-Texans want to be here? I guess because it’s Texas.

Texas is like a big, beautiful, bad woman that excites you and makes you uncomfortable at the same time. She’s the one you’re always leaving or coming back to. That’s just who she is. Thank God for air-conditioning.


Friday, July 8, 2016

One Heart At A Time


Our nation is in a bad place right now. At the extremes, we see it played out in Minnesota as a white officer of the law shoots an innocent black man sitting in his car with his girlfriend and a child in the backseat. And, just when we think this is the worst, an angry young black man guns down white policemen in downtown Dallas. Not that long ago, another angry young man, this one white; walks into a church and kills nine black people who were there for prayer and bible study. The list could go on and on. This is madness.

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Solzhenitsyn was right. The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And we now live in a world where that line is too easily crossed. We have lost our way. Our hearts are dark and darkness is where we are headed. Every issue is now reduced to US vs.THEM. It cuts across politics, religion, race, economics and social issues. It’s all or nothing. If we disagree then one side has to destroy the other. There is no trust. Only fear and paranoia and anger. And all of that leads to violence and a people slipping further into the darkness. If positive change is to come, it must start with our hearts. And this means you and me. One heart at a time.



Saturday, June 25, 2016

Mid-Year Thoughts and Commentary



“Suppose our failures occur, not in spite of what we are doing, but precisely because of it.”- Dallas Willard


_The economic forecast for 2016 was for more of the same. Slow or no growth, bobbing along just above recession levels. That certainly seems to be the case. My sense is that it’s a bit worse than expected and the outlook for the second half of 2016 and 2017 is becoming more negative.

_We will experience more “Orlandos”. Whether a function of religious extremism, homophobia, racism, easy access to high capacity firearms, mental instability or a combination of these and other dysfunctions… in today’s world violence is the result. We can take steps to control it, to limit the carnage. But those who hate and choose to kill people will always figure out ways to get it done.

_Brexit is a big deal, but not surprising. Just over 50% of the folks who voted in the UK would like to build a wall and turn the clock back. My prediction is that there will be another referendum and next time just over 50% of the voters will choose to remain in the EU. And the chaos will continue.

_The Baylor situation says a lot about our culture. That the leadership of any university, much less a Baptist, bible-thumping, born-again bunch of true believers would go so far down the rabbit hole of sports worship that they end up covering up sexual assaults, protecting the guilty and ignoring or even trying to intimidate the victims is an incredible and terrifying story. How many more Baylors and Penn States will it take to change the prevailing win-at-all-cost, protect-this-house-no-matter-what mindset?

_Trump vs. Clinton. You just can’t make this stuff up. It’s crazy-time in politics. I don’t like either one of them, but at the end of the day, I’m thinking about future Supreme Court appointments. We know there will be one for sure and most likely one more during the next President’s first term. There could even be a third. Yep, it is a big deal… a very big deal.

_Even in a sluggish economy it’s hard to find qualified people to fill jobs. The big question for the next 20 years is going to be “Who’s going to do the work?”

_E-commerce is re-defining the supply chain. The old ways of bringing products to the market: showing, selling, buying and delivery…they are changing. E-tail has arrived.

_Healthcare, education and infra-structure. We better get about addressing these three issues or all the rest of it won’t matter much. Unbelievable that we cannot seem to figure it out. We can’t just throw money at the problems, but it’s going to take a lot of money. It’s also going to take better plans and better management. Two things at which our government totally sucks.

_On a positive note, the U.S.A. remains the best place on the planet, warts and all. God Bless America.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Extremism


What this Muslim has to say in the aftermath of Orlando should be on the front page of every newspaper and the cover of every magazine...

"One of the reasons we got here is because there is a huge disconnect in too much of the Muslim world between what we want to see, and what we're actually capable of bringing about. Much of the Muslim world is dominated by violent, oppressive governments, some of which spend liberally to support their interpretation of Islam. Sadly, they have enough cash to crush more compassionate and intelligent alternatives."

For the full article go to http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/12/opinions/orlando-shooting-moghul/index.html

Saturday, June 11, 2016

What Is (__________) Worth?


A few weeks ago I introduced a decision-making model that focuses on Motivation, Options, Risk/Reward and Recovery (MORR).
I think it works better than a list of Pros and Cons or the old Franklin T. Life’s choices are rarely “either or”. And if you do not clearly understand you own motivations, you’ll tend to overlook options, underestimate risks and overestimate rewards. Then there is the whole concept of Recovery. What does it take to recover if things don’t work out? If you are honest with yourself and go through this process of evaluating choices, I’m convinced you’ll make better ones. I’ve learned the hard way. Believe me.

But there has to be something else at work here. Values. Your motivation, the options you are willing to consider, the calculation of risk and rewards and what you might be willing to do in order to recover from a poor choice….all of these are dependent upon your values. Your values determine “what’s worth it”. The most undecided candidates are always those who are struggling to balance conflicting values. The specific issues and questions vary, but they all really go back to one big question: How much value do you put on money and career? And it gets complicated because what you do about “money and career” has a major impact on everything else you value. Some of those impacts are positive and some are negative.

I think it’s worth noting that younger candidates seem to be asking “the big question” a lot more often these days. And this has major implications for employers. Work-life balance is a huge issue for Millennials. What sort of work they do, where they do it, who they do it for and how much time they spend doing it are equally if not more important than money or career. Most Millennials are not willing to just do whatever it takes for money, career advancement or even plain old job security. Over time they will be forced to adjust their work-life balance expectations to the realities of the marketplace. But, make no mistake, the marketplace is being forced to adjust its work-life balance reality to meet some of those expectations.

Are there still companies out there that demand everything from their employees? And are there still people out there willing to sign up for that. Of course. One of the most successful, Amazon, is known for being a grinder and they seem to be finding enough willing “grind-ees” to keep their amazing enterprise thriving. But there is a shift in attitudes toward work. More people are asking the big question….”What is __________ worth?” You have to fill in the blank and you have to decide. Those decisions will be driven by your values. And I mean your real values. Not what you tell your family and friends. Not what you want to believe about yourself. Your true values will be revealed by the choices you make. And those choices may be wrong, but they always tell the truth about what __________ is worth to you.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
― Mahatma Gandhi


Monday, June 6, 2016

Ali


“Forget about likes and dislikes. They are of no consequence. Just do what must be done. This may not be happiness but it is greatness.” – George Bernard Shaw

I’m old enough to remember when a lot of people (mostly white people) did not think Muhammad Ali was great at all, much less the greatest. My dad loved Cassius Clay the boxer, but Muhammad Ali the draft dodger, not so much. Even though the old man thought the Vietnam War was a big mistake and had an almost Oliver Stone-ish idea that it was all about money and politics, he believed that if you got drafted you served. If not with a gun in your hands then at least in some way. Dodging the draft was not an option.

I disagreed with my dad when it came to Ali. There was a revolution going on in the late 60’s and I was inclined to agree with the revolutionaries. There was a lot wrong about this country back then, just like there is a lot wrong about it now. The civil rights movement was necessary. Protesting the Vietnam War was necessary. And challenging the establishment is always a good thing, especially if you’re still young and hopeful that there must be a better way. Ali symbolized all of that and he was willing to sacrifice his best years as an athlete for what he believed in.

Ali eventually went back into the ring and proved himself to truly be the greatest of all time. He also became a global ambassador for peace and justice. After he was stricken with Parkinson’s he became even more beloved. Had he remained healthy and outspoken, who knows how things might have turned out. Muhammad Ali was special. He was large enough for a unique time in history. A world champion who took a stand on the most important issues of his day and paid the price. RIP Champ.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Choices....Don't Bet The Farm....


Last week I introduced the M.O.R.R. idea when it comes to making decisions (Motivation, Options, Risk/Reward and Recovery). Now we start looking at real life scenarios and what went wrong.

And I cannot think of a more timely real life event than what’s been going on at Baylor University. Unless you’ve been in a coma or hiding under a rock, you know that Baylor just fired their head football coach, demoted the president and the athletic director has been sanctioned and placed on probation. The story has been developing for over a year. On more than one occasion, Baylor football players have been accused of sexual assault or domestic/dating violence. Two players have actually been charged and found guilty. Several other young women have come forward and told how they were assaulted by Baylor football players. But when they reported the attacks, Baylor leadership tried to cover it up. The Baylor Board of Regents hired an outside law firm to investigate. Their report confirmed the young women’s allegations and went even deeper. All of the details have not yet been made public, but those which have been published are damning enough. Coaches personally investigating the attacks and attempting to intimidate the victims into silence. Complete disregard of legal statutes and doing just about everything wrong in order to “protect the program”. It’s bad, real bad and there will be more to come.

So what were they thinking? Putting morality aside for the moment and just looking at this pragmatically, what went wrong? First off, the Motivation, protecting the program, is not wrong. Most often, people are motivated by worthwhile goals and objectives. I can’t fault Baylor for wanting to “protect the program”. Since Art Briles became Head Coach in 2008 he has turned the program from a perennial doormat to a conference champion. “The Program” has enjoyed unprecedented success under Briles. It’s put Baylor on the map and brought in a lot of money. Nothing wrong with wanting to protect it.

But, then we come to Options. From a moral standpoint, just do the right thing. But again, even putting morality aside, just follow the law. It’s the smart call. Following the law usually tracks pretty close to the right thing or at least starts pointing you in the right direction. On the other hand, you can choose not to follow the law. Do what Baylor did and try to handle it “in house”. In other words, cover it up.

Then there is that whole Risk/Reward thing. The Reward part of following the law is pretty darn good in the long-run. However, in the short run, you may take a hit. The program might get a black eye. So there’s the risk. Go with the cover-up and if you get away with it, the reward is pretty sweet. The program stays clean and the march toward a national title someday continues. However, there is a big risk associated with this option. If you get caught, all hell is going to break loose. Guess what? You got caught and it did.

Lastly, Recovery. And this is a biggie. Are you choosing an option that comes with a potentially unrecoverable outcome attached. Had Baylor chose to follow the law and do the right thing, perhaps the program gets some bad press and might have to be more selective in the types of players they recruit. Maybe you don’t win quite as many games for awhile, but you’re still pretty good and will recover over time. Maybe you never win a national title because you’re Baylor and you’re in Waco. But, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Baylor could not have recovered had they handled this the right way from the beginning. But, they chose the high reward (no bad press, keep recruiting bad guys who can play good football and someday, just maybe win it all) and high risk option (if we get caught it sinks the ship.)

So we ask ourselves, why would someone choose an option that essentially comes with a deadly downside risk when there is a better, more pragmatic and certainly morally upright alternative? I think it’s because they think they are bulletproof. At some level, the Baylor head coach believed that even if the cover up was found out, he would survive because of the success he had brought to the university. In addition, I think he and others involved in this cover-up, actually thought their way of handling this was better and for the greater good. The mind has a way of rationalizing bad choices by making them seem like good choices. We tend to not like making bad choices intentionally knowing they are bad. So we convince ourselves that what we’re doing is for the right reasons and, therefore, even if we get caught, it will somehow be OK. And then it’s not.

The lesson here? Don’t bet the farm. Be honest with yourself. If things go wrong, what are the consequences? Is it worth it in the long-run?

“We can’t allow our hearts to be louder than our reason.” – Sons of Anarchy

Monday, May 16, 2016

M.O.R.R. Better Choices



Do you take the job? Do you hire that person? Big questions. Important questions. As a Headhunter, I spend a lot of time discussing these questions with candidates and hiring authorities. And, this may come as a surprise, but usually I’m not saying “Take the job” or “Hire that person”. After many years in the industry as a candidate, as a hiring authority and now as a Headhunter; I’ve learned the hard way that good decisions are made for good reasons; and too much emotion clouds good reasoning. Sometimes you get lucky and make a good “emotion-based” decision, but most of the time that formula doesn’t work out in your favor.

I have a note on my desk that simply says M.O.R.R. For me it’s a reminder about making decisions. It’s pretty much common-sense stuff, nothing earth-shattering. It’s definitely something that I should have applied more often and much earlier in my life. The saying goes that good judgment comes from bad experience. True enough. I guess it just takes some of us longer to catch on.

So when it comes to making decisions, what is M.O.R.R.?

The “M” is for Motivation. What is motivating you to make this decision? How powerful is the motivation and what’s driving it?

The “O” is for Options. What are your alternatives? It’s never just A or B, Yes or No, an “either or” choice. Even if you think you’re choosing between two alternatives, there’s always the unknown behind door number three, or four, or five….

The first “R” is for Risks/Rewards. This is critical. What are the risks associated with each option? And what are the Rewards. You have to look at both sides and the probabilities of each. The risk of saying no to a potential high reward outcome is always something to consider. And sometimes the reward for a high risk opportunity aren’t worth it. How do you know what to do?

And the final “R” is for Recovery. If it turns out badly, can you recover ? What will it take for you to recover? This “R” also minds me of Russian Roulette. A game from which the loser cannot recover. Something to think about as you weigh your options.

Over the next few weeks, I will look at different scenarios based on actual situations. What went wrong, what went right and how things might have been different…if only….(wait for it)….someone had made M.O.R.R. Better Choices.


“While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions” – Stephen Covey

Friday, May 6, 2016

God Help Us


Back in February on the eve of the Texas primary, I said “God help us if either Trump or Clinton lands in the White House”. And now here we are. Anything can happen between now and the conventions or before the election in November. But, it pretty much looks like a Trump vs. Clinton match-up.

I’m inclined to predict no way Trump can win. But, not in a million years would I have predicted that he would be the Republican nominee. So who knows? Clinton is not bullet-proof and she has a lot of baggage. There are also a lot of pissed-off people in this country who are fed up with professional politicians. Thus, we have Trump. And even a professional politician like Bernie Sanders, who is out of the mainstream, has been surprisingly competitive in his race with Hillary. He can’t win it. Nevertheless, it’s amazing how many people have voted for him and favor his far-left agenda.

I always say people do whatever they think will work. It’s may often be short-sighted or just flat out wrong. But we all tend to do whatever we think will work. The corollary to this is that people tend to reject whatever they think is NOT working. Again, they may be short-sighted or just flat out wrong. But when things aren’t working, we want change. And the more it’s not working, the bigger the desired change.

We now have a 24/7 news cycle that is always spinning. Contrary to what Bill O’Reilly says, there is not a “No Spin Zone”. Frankly, there is not enough real news to fill all of the 24/7 multi-channel programming capacity. So what are called “news” shows really become editorials. Throw in thousands of bloggers and tweeters and other assorted dart-throwers and we are constantly reminded of how our nation is really screwed up. The argument comes down to who’s to blame and how do we fix it?

The Left and The Right seem to agree that The “1 Percenters” are doing great and then there’s the rest of us. If you’re a young person dealing with massive student loan debt and questionable job prospects, Bernie Sanders is looking pretty good. If you’re a coal miner who’s been laid off, Donald Trump is your guy. If you’re a white construction worker in the Southwest who’s competing with Hispanic labor (some legal and some not so much); Donald Trump’s “Wall” sounds like a great idea. If you’re an Hispanic-American whose parents or grandparents have been here for thirty years (illegally) and someone is threatening to send them back to Mexico, you’re going to fight hard to keep that from happening. If the local factory closed and moved production out of the country and now you’re working two part-time jobs just to make ends meet, “Make America Great” and “Bring Jobs Back to America” are the t-shirts you’ll be wearing.

The Presidential election will come down to voter turnout, “the un-decided” and a few key states. The Democrats and the Republicans have their core constituencies. Even if they don’t particularly like their candidates, they will vote their party conscience or at least against the other side. Sander’s followers will vote for Clinton. The ABT (Anyone But Trump) Republicans will vote for Trump. Can the respective parties get their people out to vote? That’s the question. Those straddling the fence, “the un-decided”, will vote (or not vote) according to their most important issues of self-interest. And because we have this ridiculous Electoral College system, it will come down to a handful of states. In the end, Clinton will win. But don’t be surprised if The Donald makes it close.





Saturday, April 9, 2016

Bigger Fish


Once again conservatives are putting themselves on the wrong-side of an issue that should not even be an issue, Religious Freedom. I’m conservative on a lot of issues, but this is one where I have to side with the progressives. I understand the conservative position on this issue. I can see where a fundamentalist Christian caterer might not want to work a same-sex wedding. And the idea of sharing toilets with a transgender person is creepy for sure. But the truth is public toilets are creepy no matter who’s using them. If you really thought about the people who’ve been sitting on that toilet seat, you might just take a walk in the woods. And if you’re going to be consistent with your religious purity when it comes to weddings, best not work one where the bride and groom have been test driving the each other’s genitals before marriage. Once you open the “religion” door it’s tough to close. Where do you draw the line between belief and bias?

I also understand how a business owner needs to protect their business. Is it ok for a restaurant to have a dress-code? Should a search firm be required to recruit people for a company that’s known for being a terrible place to work? If I’m a hotel owner can I refuse to hire someone with Tourette’s Syndrome as my concierge. The hypothetical scenarios can go on and on. Some are legitimate questions and some become ridiculous. Franklin Graham wants to protect women and children from sexual predators using public restrooms. It’s more likely that a child will be molested in church by a priest or a youth minister than in a public restroom by a drag queen. So I don’t worry much about that, nor should the right Reverend Graham.

Recently there was a situation in one of our local restaurants. Three lesbians were refused service. I’m not sure how they were identified and I’ll refrain from the usual jokes about softball, Birkenstocks and K.D. Lang. The restaurant owner’s defense was that “these people” made the “regulars” uncomfortable. Screaming kids or old people who slurp their coffee out of a saucer make me uncomfortable. Let’s give them the boot, how about that?

It’s time that conservatives move on and get over it. We may not agree with a customer’s lifestyle choices, appearance or attitude; but within reason (whatever that is by today’s standards) serve them with a smile and take their money. There are more important things in life than worrying about who’s sleeping with who or who was the last person to sit on that toilet seat.


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Lonesome Dove Remembered



“Yesterday’s gone on down the river and you can’t get it back”
– Gus McCrae, from Lonesome Dove written by Larry McMurtry.


As you know if you’ve read my posts over the years, I’m a big Lonesome Dove fan. This week I had the opportunity to attend the Lonesome Dove Reunion event in Fort Worth (http://lonesomedovereunion.com/reunion/), “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pay homage to the film’s lasting legacy and celebrate with the artists who helped create this award-winning Western.” It was the first time the cast and crew had been together in 27 years.

Five years ago I wrote a short piece about the significance that the book and the mini-series holds for me:

Lonesome Dove has been with me since 1985 when I read the book for the first time. As a native Texan whose roots go back to the frontier days, the story grabbed me and I literally inhaled Larry McMurtry’s novel over the course of a summer weekend (getting a wicked sunburn in the process). The fact that he borrowed so liberally from Texas history and real events and real characters did not bother me one iota. Most of Texas history and all the hoorah is part fiction anyway so why not use it.

Then I saw the mini-series and heard the music. They go together you know. God said so. By the time the mini-series came out, I was living outside of Texas for the first time in my life. And Lonesome Dove became my touchstone and my connection to home. A few years later I moved to Montana. Driving across the Montana state line from Wyoming and listening to the soundtrack from Lonesome Dove is as close to a heavenly experience as one can ever hope to have on this earth.

I just about wore out that soundtrack for the next few years as I spent weekends exploring the best places in the Last Best Place. And they are right, Montana truly is the Last Best Place, but it was not my place and with a few detours along the way I finally made it back to Texas. With a new Lonesome Dove soundtrack and the latest digitized version of the mini-series, I continue to enjoy and relive the story. It is the perfect tale about imperfect people in a world that is so beautiful and yet so cruel that it comes as close to the truth as one can get with fiction.

As John Graves wrote in his classic Good Bye to a River….”I am unabashedly and unapologetically a Texan”. Lonesome Dove makes me feel only more so and in a good way. I’ve had conversations with people from other places who say they love Lonesome Dove. I nod and smile and affirm its greatness and its accuracy in portraying what Texas and the Old West for that matter, once was (or at least claimed to be.) But, I also know that no one loves the Lonesome Dove story more than a Texan. And no other Texan could possibly love it more than I do.


The Reunion event in Fort Worth was special. To hear the actors, producers and the director speak about the film and what it meant to them professionally and personally was quite moving. One of the supporting actresses really got to me. I’d forgotten that Margo Martindale was in Lonesome Dove. She played a prostitute in Ogallala. Since then she has gone on to great success as an award-winning character actress. I did not know that she was a native Texan, from Jacksonville in East Texas. When she spoke about what Lonesome Dove meant to her and got to the part about being from Texas, she choked up and started to cry. Maybe she was just acting, but I don’t think so. There was not a dry eye in the room. All of us understood what she was trying to say and there are no words. You just have to be a Texan to understand.

So it was a great experience, but also bittersweet. As Robert Duvall noted, they had not been together as a group in 27 years and would not gather again. Some have already passed on and others are sure to do so in the next few years. Ricky Schroeder, is a 46 year old man, no longer “little Newt”. Danny Glover is an old man now, still with a great voice, but had trouble hearing and seemed a bit out of it. Tommy Lee Jones, wasn’t there, reportedly due to some medical condition or procedure. (Most of the group didn’t seem to mind. Clearly he was respected as an actor, but you got the sense that they all thought he was sort of an asshole otherwise.) For many of the cast and crew, Lonesome Dove was not just the highlight of their careers, it was the ONLY highlight of their careers. That one shining moment, brought back briefly for a few days in Fort Worth to the applause of hardcore fans who still remembered them.

For me the most memorable anecdote was when D.B. Sweeney (Dish) told about Robert Duvall ambling into the lunch tent one day, always in character as Gus McCrae, and announcing that this was going to be the “Goddamn Godfather of Westerns.” And I think he was right. It all came together. A great novel, written by a Texan. A great screen play (also written by a Texan, Bill Wittliff). An exceptional cast and crew from all over the world. And, an audience that hungered then and hungers now for a story that captures and then breaks their hearts.



Saturday, March 19, 2016

Hollywood and Heaven


Even as more and more Americans identify as having no specific religious affiliation and Christianity is increasingly viewed as being intolerant, homophobic and politically too far to the right; the entertainment industry is producing more Biblically based movies and television shows. Perhaps they have found a loyal and hungry audience of intolerant, homophobic, right-wing Christians who want to see their favorite Bible stories in HD. Or, maybe we Americans are still a fairly religious group. Or, maybe it just depends on the polls and the questions being asked. While it is true that an increasing number of Americans now fall into the “None” category when it comes to religious affiliation, and our culture certainly reflects a value system more aligned with secular humanism than a Christian worldview; the vast majority of Americans still believe in God and agree that at least some of the Ten Commandments make sense.

Of course, there are a lot of very serious believers out there, especially across the South and in the Heartland as evangelical fundamentalism in all its various forms continues to grow. These folks love to watch so-called Bible based movies and television shows if for no other reason than to pick out errors and call out examples of twisted liberal bias. And although their numbers are dropping, there are still a number of “mainline-denomination” Protestants and good Catholics who will watch high-quality Biblically themed productions. Then we have the people who “check-in” as Christians but aren’t all that “fundamental” or “orthodox” in their beliefs. Nevertheless, they still claim to believe in Jesus and hope they have a ticket to heaven. This group needs a break from watching The Bachelor, Game of Thrones and RuPaul’s Drag Race. So watching a dramatized version of Bible stories is a convenient way of putting in “religion time” without having to actually read the Bible. And it certainly beats getting dressed up and dealing with those people who want you to give them money or join their church. Bottom-line, there is a big audience for this genre.

Frankly, I’m glad to see more movies and television shows that are based on the Bible. Even if they take dramatic liberties and don’t get it exactly right, some viewers may stop for a moment and think about life’s big questions. Where did we come from, why are we here, how should we live and what is our ultimate destination? For me, Christianity offers the most coherent and consistent answers to those questions. Are the answers perfect? No. Do I still have doubts from time to time? Yes. But, if there is a better Way, I’ve not found it.

And when it comes to Bible-based movies, the one that touches me the most is one that starts with a Bible story and then is all “what-if” fiction for the balance of the movie. Barabbas was made back in 1962 near the end of another movie industry religious revival period . I did not see the movie until the late 70’s. It was late on a Friday night, and let’s just say I had not been at a prayer meeting. Watching the movie in black and white on a small portable television with the intense focus that one has in that weird zone between being drunk and passed out, I found myself identifying with the movie’s conflicted main character, Barabbas. Anthony Quinn’s performance is one of his best. But neither he nor the movie ever got much recognition. Perhaps after The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur audiences were ready for something different. Or maybe the story just made people too uncomfortable. Barabbas, the story about a man whose place on the cross was taken by Jesus. Certainly one movie worth watching during the Easter season.

“Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” Matthew 27: 20-23

Friday, March 11, 2016

Step Away From the Smart Phone


I'm just doing my part here by sharing an article that recently came my way.


Why People Check their Tech at the Wrong Times (and the Simple Trick to Stop It)


By Nir Eyal


Chances are you’ve experienced the following: You’re with a small group of friends at a nice restaurant. Everyone is enjoying the food and conversation when someone decides to take out his phone — not for an urgent call, but to check email, Instagram, and Facebook.
Maybe you’ve witnessed this behavior and found it unsettling. So what do you do? Do you sit idly by, thinking disparaging thoughts? Or do you call out the offender?
For years, I accepted ill-timed tech use as a sign of the times. Sherry Turkle, an author and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, diagnosed the situation succinctly: these days, “We expect more from technology and less from each other.”
I used to do nothing in the face of indiscriminate gadget use. Now, I’ve come to believe that doing nothing is no longer O.K. Staying silent about bad technology habits is making things worse for all of us.

Social Antibodies

Paul Graham, the famed Silicon Valley investor, has observed that societies tend to develop “social antibodies” — defenses against new harmful behaviors. He uses the example of cigarette smoking: smoking in public became taboo over the span of just one generation after social conventions changed. Legal restrictions played a part, but a shift in the perception of smokers — from cultured to crude — laid the groundwork for public support of smoking bans. Similarly, the remedy to screen indiscretion may be developing new norms that make it socially undesirable to check one’s phone in the company of others.
Like cigarettes, our personal technology use can become a bad habit. People enter a zone when they use their gadgets. Checking email or scrolling through Facebook can be intoxicating and disorienting. Tech makers design these products using the same psychology that makes slot machines addictive. The variable rewards built into apps make time pass quickly, and can make people oblivious to what’s happening around them.
“Most people I know have problems with Internet addiction,” Graham wrote in 2010. “We’re all trying to figure out our own customs for getting free of it.” Ironically, despite his awareness, Graham has poured millions of dollars into addictive sites and apps, including Reddit and the gaming companies Machine Zone and OMGPop.
To be clear, I’m not pointing fingers. Like Graham, I am conflicted. My book, “Hooked,” is a how-to guide for building habit-forming products. I wrote the book in hopes that more companies could utilize the techniques used by Facebook, Twitter, and the like to make their products more engaging. However, the byproduct of making technology better is that sometimes it’s so good people can’t seem to put it down.
The trouble, as Graham points out, is that “unless the rate at which social antibodies evolve can increase to match the accelerating rate at which technological progress throws off new addictions, we’ll be increasingly unable to rely on customs to protect us.” In other words, if we don’t build social antibodies, the disease of distraction will become the new normal. But how do we develop and spread social antibodies to inoculate ourselves against bad mobile manners?

At Work

One solution is to take an explicit approach. At almost every corporate meeting I attend, someone (typically the highest-paid person in the room) starts using his or her personal technology. The behavior is toxic in many ways: it sends a message to everyone in the room that gadget time is more important than their time; it distracts people who assume the boss is sending work their way; and, perhaps worst of all, it prevents the person using the device from participating in the discussion, which means the meeting wasn’t worth having in the first place.
The best way to prevent this waste of time is for someone senior to mandate a “no-screen meeting.” In my experience conducting hundreds of workshops, the discussions declared device-free are by far more productive. Setting expectations up front is equivalent to administering a distraction vaccine.

Among Friends

In other situations, being explicit isn’t as easy. Take the dinner-party scene described earlier. Unlike in a corporate setting, no one at a dinner is the boss, so no one has the inherent right to enforce a device-free fiat. For a while, “phone stacking” — in which people tossed their phones in the center of the table, and the person who first reached for his phone during the meal had to pay for everyone — was sort of a thing, but it never took off, because the whole exercise felt punitive and patronizing. Most people already understand that using their gadgets in an intimate social setting is rude. But there’s always that one person who doesn’t.
So what’s the best way to get the transgressor off the phone? Embarrassing him in front of others isn’t a good idea, assuming you want to stay friends. A more subtle tactic is required. The goal is to snap the offender out of the phone zone, and to give him two options: either excuse himself to attend to whatever crisis is happening, or put away the tech. Over time, I’ve hit on one way to effectively call someone out while keeping things cordial: Ask a question.
Posing a direct question does the person a favor by pulling him back while sending a clear message. The technique works like a charm. For one, the unexpected question elicits an entertaining reaction — sort of like what happens when you hold someone’s nose when he’s dozing off. He gasps and sputters, but in this case it’s not your fault, because you, as questioner, can play dumb. “Oh, sorry, were you on your phone? Is everything O.K.?” If there really is an emergency, the person can excuse himself, but more often than not, he’ll tuck it back into his pocket and start enjoying the night.

Let’s do Something

Asking a direct question and declaring device-free meetings are simple tactics that spread social antibodies. Though personal technology clearly isn’t tobacco, it’s important we know that our devices are also designed to keep us hooked. By better understanding the psychology behind our technology, we can put it in its place.
Now is the time to take a stand. Fight fire with fire by sharing articles like this one on social media. Set limits, and don’t resign yourself to being ignored. The idea is not to disavow technology completely, but to encourage people to appreciate its power, and to be aware when its power over them is becoming a problem. In the end, technology should serve us — we should not serve it.

Nir’s Note: What do you think? How do you make sure you, your colleagues, and your friends don’t get distracted by technology. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and *please share this essay if you found it interesting.*

Nir Eyal is the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and blogs about the psychology of products at NirAndFar.com. For more insights on changing behavior, join his free newsletter and receive a free workbook.