Saturday, May 29, 2010

Purple Hearts and Roses

Last year I had the privilege of attending an event which honored wounded veterans from our community. My own father, long since passed away, was a WWII veteran who was wounded in action. So this event had special meaning for me, especially when his name was read. In honor of these heroes I wrote “Purple Hearts and Roses”.

They gathered at the Methodist Church.
To honor and read those names.
It is the Heart that brings them together
The Heart, it is all that remains.
They wear their wars on their faces.
Every battle, some won and some lost.
These people know the truth about fighting,
For they have paid the costs.

The greatest generation sits up front.
Old men, some waiting to die.
Fears once felt again remembered,
Yet courage still fills their eyes.

They read the names of the departed.
And place a rose for the fallen Heart.
Each drop of blood is sacred
Each rose sets them apart.

They play “Taps” at the Methodist Church.
A salute to the dead and the dying.
Purple Hearts stand together in silence
With roses these Hearts are crying.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Creativity and Being

According to a new survey of 1500 CEO’s conducted by IBM’s Institute of Business Value, creativity was identified as the most important leadership competency for the successful enterprise of the future. Creativity… that’s nice. I wonder what these CEO’s really mean by creativity, especially in the context of business leadership. Creativity can mean a lot of things: innovation, new ideas, new approaches, invention, or the worn-out phrase “thinking outside of the box”. But rest assured, when a CEO talks about “creativity” they mean doing things differently or doing different things which will increase the value of the enterprise. Here’s the challenge: creativity in business always requires change and change is mostly resisted, not embraced. From my experience in the transportation industry, both as a manager and now as a headhunter, creativity can be a slippery slope for those first in line with new ideas.

So how does one go about creating and implementing new ways of providing transportation, logistics or supply chain management services? First of all, understand that in this space, it’s about execution and efficiency. Nothing says it clearer than Better, Faster, Cheaper. (Cheaper has always bothered me, so let’s say “of more value”.) Think about some of the game changing, creative innovations and business models which have revolutionized the way we move stuff: Containers, stack trains, the Interstate highway system, the Fed Ex model for moving parcels and small packages, the Wal-Mart logistics model for retail, just to name a few. The ways technology is being applied to everything from equipment operation, to inventory management, to freight network optimization. Someone sometime had the idea and the vision and the drive to make these things happen. In some cases, it was someone else’s idea and someone else’s vision and perhaps even some other one’s drive that ultimately brought about the new way of doing business. But the common thread here is that the new way is Better, Faster and “of more value”.

If you have new ideas about how to design, package, purchase, sell, handle, pick-up, transport, inventory, distribute, deliver and/or install stuff; always put that new idea to the test. Is it better, is it faster and, more importantly, is it of more value to my customer than the way we do it now? And all of that still doesn’t get it done, unless you can sell it to the decision-makers and stakeholders. New ideas take time, resources and support (financial and otherwise). Thinking creative is easy. Being creative…now that is the hard part.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Will you still need me? Will you still feed me?

A recent study noted that during this decade, in the United States, the 65-74 age group will grow by 44% and the 55-64 age group by 40%. The pool of people 45-54 will drop by 8% and the 35-44 group by 4%. Those of us who are in (or will soon be in) the older groups expect to work longer. We have for some time. Either we cannot afford to retire or we do not want to retire. Whatever the case, the reality is that our economy cannot afford for us to retire. This is not just an issue of Social Security and Medicare running out of money. It's an issue of who's going to do the work? And can the older folks do the work that needs to be done? As a work force, what skills are needed and who has those skills? We can talk about older folks working longer, but if they do not have the requisite skills, it's a moot point.
And while at a macro level younger people may understand that our economy needs these older workers, at the personal level a younger worker would just as soon see the old folks step aside. Especially if the old folks are ahead of them. My sense is that many older workers will stay in the workforce, but will be forced into low pay, low skill jobs. If you are, or are soon to be, an older worker, my advice is to figure out what you want to do and prepare to do it. If that means going back to school or learning new skills, start now. We can't all be Wal-Mart greeters.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Keeping it Negative

I am a pessimist by nature. In the darkest days of the Great Recession of '08-'09, I took consolation in the fact I had predicted (as I always predict) that hard times were coming. However, by the end of 2009 against my nature, I was somewhat optimistic.
I actually thought we would see an economic turnaround. I even made the mistake of saying so and then, as if to remind me of my rightful place under the dark cloud of negative thinking, January and February turned out to be like most Januarys and Februarys...cold and economically unspectacular. By mid-March, I was convinced that 2010 would be flat at best. We were still at least a year away from a rebound. Time to hunker down and gut it out.
Then something began to happen. Business improved. Demand for our customers' services increased...a lot. Suddenly, there is a shortage of capacity. There are opportunities to get rate increases. Our customers are actually starting to hire people. They are even willing to use search firms again. The clouds have parted, the sun is shining, happy days are here again....
But I'm not falling for it. I know that it's just temporary. Something will happen. Oil will go to $200 a barrel. Inflation will go crazy. Another "bubble" will burst. Whatever it turns out to be, Murphy's Law will prevail, things will go wrong and all will suffer. Now having lowered my expectations and returned to my natural state of pessimism, I can enjoy the economic recovery knowing that it too shall pass.