Better Than the Alternative

A few days ago, the President of the United States fired the Secretary of State via tweet. A cabinet secretary and 5th in line of presidential succession, had to be informed by one of his staffers that he was out of a job. That’s like breaking up with your girlfriend by text. Maturity. Leadership. Such wonderful qualities to admire in real time.

I have been a staunch critic of president fatty boomba-latty. No doubt there. I engage in personal insults, not because I think it is appropriate behavior for constructive debate, but because our president is only capable of debate via insult, just like a 10 year old boy on the playground. That’s our leader’s contribution to the nobility of political discussion. That’s the guy now corrupting the party of Lincoln, Reagan, Buckley and Will. I criticize because I am mature enough to admit mistakes. Our party made a whopper by nominating this joker. Yet to the notion that the country made a mistake in electing him over a very flawed person in Hillary, all I ever hear in response is, “It’s better than the alternative.” So let’s think about that morally equivocating opinion… is it really better?

Hillary may be corrupt, same as Trump, but no one would ever accuse her of being a misogynist or racist. “Grab em by the pussy”, “very fine people”. Check and check. As far as ‘character’ goes, short of being a criminal, is there anything worse?

I am told that we wanted a competent businessperson in the White House. I did too. Trump-led companies have filed for bankruptcy 4 times. (Not including steaks, airlines, and a fake college). He did so after financing casinos with tons of junk debt in 1991, 1992, 2004, 2009. How much of an idiot do you have to be to lose money on a casino? I mean the business model itself, is guaranteed to make money. Look when he got in trouble, after market downturns. So he brags on the upswing, and then has no ability to manage on a turn. The market is flying right now, Trump was dealt a winning hand. Did Obama do it? No. The business cycle did, and you can be damn sure it will turn down sometime soon, it always does.

Does it really make any difference right now who is leading this economy?

Well let’s see, when demand is high and business is booming, is that when you cut prices? Name one business with a 1:1 debt to revenue ratio, a negative 5% gross margin, and a sales curve up and to the right that intentionally lowers prices? Nope before you say it, Amazon doesn’t have insane debt and might not be tax-profitable but has positive free cash flow. Lowering their prices has a strategic growth component. Apple NEVER lowers prices. But we’ve got a tax cut! Woohoo! That’s sure to spur growth to an unheard of 4% when we are at a peak growth of 3% while still running a $1T annual deficit. Who’s left to ‘grow’ when we are already at full employment and cutting immigration? And if it takes years for growth to materialize, you really think the economy will stay at 4% when we are in the second longest growth cycle in US history?

Better than the alternative, because now Democrats are the party of fiscal restraint and Republicans are the party of debt and spending…on a cement wall and a parade. Um, what? How did that happen to my “conservative” Republican Party? Oh yeah, a New York Democrat conned us and thinks we should go to Mars.

No “easy” Obamacare repeal. But a healthcare strategy of “no one will be dying in the streets” yet he can shoot someone on 5th ave, isn’t that a self contradiction? No immigration deal. No foreign policy strategy or philosophy (but a big button). Undid net-neutrality.  (“The best people”…) Science leadership that doesn’t believe in science. Education secretary that doesn’t seem to know anything about educating. A drained swamp replaced by executives building fancier swamps on first class tickets, conference tables, quiet rooms and multi-millionaire spouses that insult their Instagram followers, because those are the little people.  Trade wars are good – NOTE: Every history & economics professor at Wharton should be ashamed, did they even teach Smoot-Hawley?

So if the theory is that Mr Orange Oompa-Loompa is better than the alternative, let’s look at the hypothetical results. Assume a 4 year mistake with either candidate. What is the consequence of the “alternatives?”

Hillary- 4 more years of partisan stagnation. We probably would have gotten foreign money repatriation done. But not much else economically. When the economy is going well, keep politicians out. Janet Yellen extended, that’s essentially the same as Jerome Powell. Merrick Garland is in, but please remember that Roberts wrote the Obamacare decision, and in the height of partisan angst 2014, the court was unanimous (aka 9:0) in its decisions on 66% of the 72 cases with only 10 finding along a 5:4 “party” split. Yes this was the highest mark ever but also remember that SCOTUS only adjudicates poorly written laws…right now Republicans hold both houses of Congress. Oh and Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed by Reagan…oops. Back to my point, with Hillary we keep the house and senate and probably win some more state houses in ’18. Likely take back the presidency in ’20 (Kasich!). Basically, nothing happens policy-wise, but Hillary is actually more hawkish on the Middle East, Russia, and North Korea than Trump. Even Lindsay Graham would agree.

Trump – the White House is a disaster. The number one quality of a leader is clarity of vision and communication. 4 communication directors in a year translating Doublespeak. Security clearances are a joke. Daily flip flops and self-promoting of his dementia as intentionally not specific because why indicate competence when you can claim victory for blind luck? Trump wants differences of opinion but anyone with a different opinion is publicly humiliated and their office maligned. Groupthink? That stuff works great. At the end of 2 years we will have a Democrat house and senate. At 4 years another $5T of debt, the US lost all political capital with our allies (God-forbid we need one of those silly international coalition things), every immigrant and minority community hates the GOP, yet we are loved by racists and neo-nationalists (and there was much rejoicing), Russian meddling in elections condoned by the president himself, while sanctioned by the Treasury (huh?), and a 100% chance that a Democrat is elected in 2020… and again in ’24.

Let’s imagine you were playing chess and you made a bad move, and you started losing. But you see that you can sacrifice your queen and check-mate your opponent for the win. Is the sacrifice of the queen for the sake of the win, better than the alternative of a loss? Look at 2018 and 2020 and tell me how “the alternative” is worse. Remember that every decision (and its subsequent justification) has a future consequence. You can sell your soul to the devil now and live like a king for a few years, but rest assured, part of that deal means going straight to hell. Your “alternative” should be regret, self-realization and a commitment to fix the problem.

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Faked Out, By “News”

Trump Headline

A few months ago, our awesomely moronic president sent a personal note to Rich Lowry handwritten on his published article.  Lowry then tweeted the image with a note that Trump probably didn’t read the article.  In it, Lowry was critical of Trump’s brashness, in spite of ‘Trumpism’ aka populism being popular.  It was not flattering.  Duh.

I thought this was particularly funny because Trump had fallen victim to fake news.  He thought the title of an article was good, when actually the content was not.  In this case, the link-bait titled version of the article (Original title = There Is No ‘Without Trump’) is another form of fake news.  Since we know Trump doesn’t read, you could just as easily write an article “Trump Saves the Government” which he would probably love.  But the article could be about how he hasn’t done any bureaucratic reform because he is so incompetent and can’t hire anyone to serve in senior positions.  The title is grammatically correct, but is slanted towards letting supporters share it, without reading the text. Fake News?

Recently, this kind of stuff struck closer to home.  This is a lesson in how Facebook sucks and has the ability to shape hearts and minds.  In my case it’s funny.  With the election, changing hearts and minds by targeting untrue stories with link-bait titles to unsuspecting consumers, can shift opinion.  It can change your voting choice.  That ABSOLUTELY DID AFFECT THE ELECTION.  And fake-news is the cause.  Do paid ads also affect public opinion?  Yes, but they cost a hell of a lot more, and that is why the FEC made the candidate actually stand up and say “My name is xxx and I approve this message.”  And the press, which Trump condemns for having the audacity to criticize him, points out falsities in ads, and then they come down.  No metering infrastructure exists in Facebook, because the Zuck used to insist they were not a news platform.  OK brau.

How easy is it to fool someone?

It’s no surprise that I like snow, winter and cold.  Sara, on the other hand, likes the summer and hot.  So one day we were joking about how we had the wrong birthdays.  My July 27, is great for her.  And her Jan 16, is perfect for me.  If I want to celebrate by going skiing- done.  If Sara wants to plan a beach day- score.  We decided that we should just switch when we celebrate our birthdays and then see how people react.  Step 1, change Facebook.

Sara changed her profile on the 15th.  I switched mine on the 16th.  Some close family and friends played along jokingly, but I still got 23 messages and a few texts saying “Happy Birthday”.  I don’t fault anyone.  Hell I would have done it too.  Facebook told me so.

I’m sure our little joking experiment in birthday swapping will come back to bite me one day.  Some orange fat guy, who can’t speak is full sentences is bound to build an entire political persona based on demanding to see my birth certificate and that my campaign is lying to “the people”. What a fake-news scandal that will be.

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Not a Good Fit

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In June 2016 I decided to change jobs within Fidelity.  I had been working in the same group for a number of years.  I felt stuck and thought that I needed to try something different.  The company is good about encouraging associates to see different parts of the firm as part of career growth. I didn’t find exactly what I wanted, but some change felt better than no change.  I took a leap out of technology and moved laterally into a “business” role as a Director of Capacity Management.  Our team was tasked with understanding workforce supply and demand for a large (1500) operations division.

While not particularly exciting, I tried to make the best of my role.  As part of our charter, I developed a comprehensive model to understand work effort and efficiency in several teams.  I tried partnering with the managers and leaders to show the value of data and actionable insights in the results.  But they wanted a slick front end with visuals and fancy charts. A pilot/prototype/POC is not meant to be pretty, it is meant to narrow and quantify how well something works.  You don’t build out the solution until you know your MVP is ready to be scaled.  But at some point, you know you should build for scale.

I remember an all-hands meeting in late 2016 discussing goals for the next year.  I had my Excel models and my day job had morphed into data entry and manually scaling (copy/paste) each model to new groups making it ‘production-like’.  I had designed a conceptual model of how to build a database to scale support of my results (and the rest of my team) across all 20-some groups in the division.  I asked one of the leaders in my vertical, “What is our devspend for next year to build out these models?”  Reply: “What is devspend?” I admit, at this point, I became disillusioned.  We aren’t even planning for all of these little desktop solution POCs to be migrated to something production capable?  We aren’t trying to create scale?  Why are we hiring new people and growing the team instead of leveraging technology?  I was frustrated, and for the first time ever, I stopped feeling invested in my work.

Months passed and my manager and I discussed ways I could get engaged.  Our reporting platform was Tableau, and of all the new technologies that I want to learn, this was not one.  I used to have a team that built OBI reports based on my designs.  Now I needed to rebuild 5 POC Excel models in 5 separate Tableau workbooks?  I tried to learn some, I really did, but I just couldn’t do it.  This was not what my job was supposed to be.  And while I did a few little things to try to steer my role in a more strategic direction, the Tableau thing would not quit.

In late 2017, it became obvious that I was not a good fit for this job and that there were no feasible resolutions to the mismatch.  I have to say that my managers and Fidelity went above and beyond, in giving me the opportunity to openly look for something new and transition to something else.  Alas, it was not meant to be.  I couldn’t get anything within the company that really made me excited to work.  This was a disappointment as I really enjoyed my time and legacy at Fidelity.  I recorded this video as a goodbye to my friends there.

I read a fair number of business texts, but this last role punctuated 3 lessons better than anything I have read…

  1. No matter how good the product, the customer has to want it.  I had graphs of throughput showing negative performance changes of teams over time.  Only one of 5 groups even cared.  People either believe in data and managing metrics or they believe in their gut. I couldn’t sell it.
  2. Leadership matters.  When senior leaders focus on people, governance and control, that percolates down to the managers.  In operations, your focus should be on process and technology.  You can’t change the direction of the ship without the captain at the helm.
  3. Every job is a tech job.  In an attempt to show how my daily lessons learned could make us smarter, I wrote a paper about how we should think about using people and technology.  I have come to the conclusion that every person in every job should always be thinking about technology and how to make themselves more effective.  This could be anything from logistics to big data to automation.  There are no solely “business” jobs anymore.

With 2018, I am starting out on a new adventure as Founder/CEO of a startup, TheMissionZone, which will start off as platform for more exciting corporate training solutions.  The future looks brighter and is a better fit for me, who I want to be, and my place in this world.  Best of luck to Fidelity and all my friends there.  Stay tuned.

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Talk About the Weather

All New Englanders who complain about the weather will tell you, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes.” I’m sure everyone across this country uses the same cliche line… except Arizona.

I’m kind of tired of people complaining and arguing about the weather. But what I think is the real problem is that the weather isn’t bad, it just has bad timing.

I love New Hampshire. This state has a little of everything. Hiking trails, snow-mobiling, mountains, skiing, lakes, the ocean and even close to the big cities. It’s a great place to live and we get all 4 seasons with abundance.

Enjoying the natural splendor of the Granite State and the fact that we have 4 seasons means that we need the weather to be timed just right for activities to be epic. And here is where the weather starts to suck.

  • It will be in the low single digits for a week and dry as a bone, then spike into the 30s and rain. Ruining the chance of a powder day
  • Yes we have days in the 90s but they happen in May when the ocean is still in the 50s or in July right after 2 days of rain so your pool is cold or in late September after you pack away the A/C.
  • Hot days in August never have waves.
  • We have long droughts that kill the flowers and then 6 inches of rain over 2 days.
  • A gorgeous fall day in the 40s perfect for tailgating will have 30 mph winds that ruin my ability to have a bonfire.
  • When we do get snow, the end almost always turns to rain, and then freezes solid, leaving an inch of painful crust on the top that forces resorts to break out the groomers (corduroy sucks).

I’m sure people can think of lots more examples. Maybe it’s just because having 4 seasons means that you can’t specialize in any of them. Meaning that the weather makes life a big long tease. Worse, it makes it so that I have to pay attention to the weather and in the absence of my friend Jim K, I have no patience to learn that science. (ALL web-sites and apps suck).

Being a Granite Stater means that we are passionate about the land and our first-in-the-nation stance with politics and debate. I guess that combination makes it that much easy to argue and complain about the weather and just about everything else for that matter.

Hello, I’m sorry, I lost myself

I think I thought you were someone else

Should we talk about the weather? …

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A Productive 1:1

handshake

I have had very few one on one meetings with managers that I felt were really useful.  I only started having 1:1 meetings when I joined Fido.  And so seeing no other working model, I started to believe that they were useless.  I just finished the Ben Horowitz book The Hard Thing About Hard Things and I have revised my thinking.  The one on one is critical to my notion of making the company a family; you have to keep open lines of communication.  A 1:1 forces two people to stay in contact.  I would also include structure to the meeting so that we cover certain things essential to the personal side of the relationship.  I still believe that the subordinate owns the meeting and is responsible for its success, but structure is always good.

Here are the components of my ideal 1:1 meeting…

  1. Greet each other and shake hands.  One of my favorite Supreme Court traditions is that whenever they sit for cases, each justice greets each other with a handshake first.  The simple acknowledgment of respecting the other person in a two-way partnership, is profound.
  2. Family and what is happening with your life – A manager can’t help you be successful in work as part of your family, if she doesn’t know what else is going on with your family.  This should go both ways.  Sharing is caring.
  3. Status update.  This is bottom up.  All-Hands meetings are meant for top-down communication.  Only discuss items that are problematic and need to be discussed in confidence.  A good manager should be ‘on the floor’ and tuned into the general state of affairs.
  4. Progress on goals – Detail from a big picture how you see your progress on goals and learn how that impacts your manager’s progress on their goals.
  5. Criticism of manager – A manager should ask direct questions; How am I keeping you from being successful?  I am hearing these ‘rumors’… what do you think?  How should I fix things?  The employee should feel empowered to give direct, critical and actionable feedback.
  6. Culture – Employees are living in the culture that management fosters.  There should be frank conversation about how things ‘feel’ vis-à-vis the intended tone of the organization.  Is the behavior of leadership affecting the business and the workplace?  How can it be improved?  Can leadership and staff form a better partnership?
  7. Feedback on employee’s performance – This should always be ongoing and candid.  Detail how the employee needs to improve.  What is the perception of their Effort level.
  8. Future – What should the employee be doing to meet goals, set new goals and succeed with the company.  Is their career progressing as desired?  Is the company and your role moving in the same direction of your goals?  How could we shift that?
  9. What can we both do better over the next week.  Both parties agree on 2 objectives and EXECUTE

Obviously this is more content than 30 minutes per week.  I would block an hour and just use whatever is necessary.  Even if the content is “no update” it gives people an opportunity to check in and reconnect.

Two people cannot be productive if they are not connected in a way that makes them more effective as a team.  The goal is that the team dynamic enables you to be more productive than the sum of your parts.  I remember how Tom Brady and Deion Branch used to talk about how they could read each other’s intent based on a look or a nod.  Great teams don’t just happen, you have to cultivate them.  At the base of it, a team is a collection of one on one relationships.  You don’t have to follow this outline, but be sure to connect to that person one on one.

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Startups in NH

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It’s been about two weeks since I completed the Startup Fundamentals class through AlphaLoft.  This is an organization committed to the startup ecosystem in NH.  They do some great work and provide a lot of services for free.  I give them a big thumbs up.

At first, I wasn’t exactly sure what I would get out of the sessions.  I follow the startup scene and blogosphere and I would consider myself to be fairly well educated on startup concepts.  Listening to the business presentations from my peers on the first night, I was a little taken aback by the fact that some were not “startups” in the sense of the word that invokes impressions of a highly scalable tech product looking to find product:market fit and a sustainable business model.  Sure some of us were, but others were more suited to what would be described as a “lifestyle business.”

Much of the discussion/lecture content was review for me.  But what was invaluable were the discussions with the rest of the team about our ideas; riffing on options and giving each other feedback.  Some of it was validation and other was direct criticism.  Most of us handled it well.  After all, we were sitting in a room designed to grow businesses, not all of that is painless.  I got some really great critical feedback.

For a long time I have advocated for startup concepts to be applied in other areas.  Incumbent “big business” is a natural target.  Steve Blank seems to be focusing on that demographic in recent years (government too).  I have tried to advocate the benefits of experimenting, product design, MVP, customer focus and other concepts with little success.  I find this sad because top management gets it and we hear the same concepts espoused by our leaders, only to be squashed somewhere in the middle before being put into practice.  Good luck to them if they continue that behavior.

But the really enlightening thing for me with this class is how Startup concepts actually SHOULD be applied at a micro level to a whole bunch of companies not in the traditional mold.  That includes the lifestyle businesses that are often ignored as not being ‘scalable’ or ‘high-growth’.  I started to see that even in these cases when you apply new concepts, sometimes you learn even more about them, just from the new perspectives.  Yes this seems like a no-brainer.  But when all of your content comes from so-called ‘experts’ it is easy to forget that there are other perspectives whose insight could be more useful.  In my case, reading books and blogs did not offer the same wisdom as having an in-person conversation about working through even the most basic of ‘fundamentals’.

Sharing the Startup ethos across other areas of the NH economy is going to benefit our community in ways that we don’t see yet.  The point is to grow the ecosystem and then create scale in the ecosystem itself.  It will be interesting to see how this eventually merges with old school institutions like the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club.  I am excited to be part of our evolving community of entrepreneurs and I hope to add value back to the platform as soon as I can.

Thank you to Alpha Loft, Josh Cyr, and the rest of my classmates for an eye-opening 6 weeks.  See you all in the trenches.

Let’s get started!

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Getting Wicked Smaht

I’ve been listening to Podcasts for years now. Over the past year there has been an explosion in popularity as the advertising strategy and market has expanded. Where there is money there is a way.

Podcasts are an exceptional way to gather knowledge and make better use of time. I listen when driving, exercising, household chores and doing house projects. The real genius is that you get to hear from people that don’t normally comment on the world in a way that reaches the general public.

My list of podcasts has grown over the years and I have dropped a few here and there. Sometimes people ask me what I listen to, so I made a list on the page here. I have categorized each and will keep it up to date as I add new shows. As of today, I subscribe to 62 and listen to about 85% of them each week. Yes that is a lot of time. But we all spend a lot of time doing stuff that could be enhanced by listening to podcasts.

I can’t stress enough how important I think it is to stay connected with the world. Podcasts are a great – and free – way to do that. Give them a shot, you’d be surprised how much smarter you get listening to people talk.

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