Category Archives: Humor

Presenting

Like it or not, sooner or later you are going to have to stand up in front of somebody, or maybe a group of somebodies, and convey some sort of information to them. This is called “presenting”. This event usually occurs when it is deemed that you know more about a certain topic than those in your audience do. Sometimes it is actually the case, and sometimes it is best to study hard and do some research beforehand so that again it can be the case. Regardless, how you perform on this stage, conveying information to other people, can determine a great deal regarding your opportunities to continue progressing in your business career.

Laurence J. Peter is the author of the book the “Peter Principle”. In it he states:

”…that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their “level of incompetence”. In other words, employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another.”

Understand that the ability to cogently present and convey information to others is a baseline, table stakes capability in business. If you are not good at it, you can assume that you are at your current level of incompetence and will remain there until your presentation skills improve.

Also understand that technical competence, or mastery of the topic is only part of the requirement for making successful presentations. In other words, you may know what you are talking about, but that doesn’t mean that you will be successful at getting your point across to others on the topic. I’ll try to go through a few items that you should keep in mind when you are presenting. Many should be obvious, however some maybe not so much so.

Who is your audience?
Believe it or not, this is important. Not everyone is going to be interested in what you have to say. Who are the people in the room that will be listening to you, and why are they there? Your presentation needs to match their expectations. Management will want general trends and overviews. Individual contributors may want more specifics. Sales, engineering and finance all have different expectations regarding the presentations they see. Sales wants to know how whatever you are talking about will help them sell more. If this aspect is not addressed, for them it will be wasted time. Likewise, finance will want to know about the costs, revenue, profitability of the topic. Telling them about how it will help them sell more will at best be only marginally acceptable.

What is the “Thesis Statement” for your presentation?
What is the purpose of your presentation? Why is this presentation important to them? Is it just to report on the progress of an internal company project? Is it a customer product or service presentation as part of an ongoing customer sales engagement? Are you trying to get management to agree to fund development of a new product?

The point here is that a presentation is usually used to convince somebody about something. Whether it is that progress is actually occurring on a project, or that your product is superior to the competition’s, you should have either a specific or implicit thesis, or reason for your presentation. This will help keep you on topic, and again it will help limit the amount of extraneous information that may try and creep into your presentation.

How much time do you have?

As Gary Larson has shown, time is money. People have only a certain amount of time that they can devote to certain activities. You may have the most import, or most interesting topic to talk about, but you will never have all the time that you will feel that you will need to be able to comfortably talk about it.

“One well-known formulation for PowerPoint presentations is the 10/20/30 rule. This rule dictates that you should use about ten slides for a twenty minute presentation, and each slide should utilize thirty point font. In other words, each slide should be about two minutes in length.”
https://www.wikihow.com/Choose-the-Right-Number-of-Slides-for-a-Powerpoint-Presentation

Needless to say, most presentations do not adhere to this information, and as such, most presentations today, in my opinion are often not very good. If you can’t say it succinctly in twenty to thirty minutes with ten to fifteen slides, at most, then you have too much non-critical information in your presentation. Be succinct.

Proof read your presentation. Several times.
With today’s spelling and grammatical checking capabilities, there is no excuse for misspelled words, improper grammar, improper punctuation or improper word usage (their, there, they’re).
End of story.
How can you be perceived as an expert, leader, or in this case imparter of information and wisdom if you cannot deliver the message free of mechanical errors. Having them undermines the intended message.

Simplify everything associated with your presentation.
Not everyone will have your level of knowledge regarding the topic. Specifically define any acronyms you may choose to use. You are presenting slides, not writing a book. Bulletize everything possible. It will help break up the slide. It will make it easier for the audience to follow. It will force you to be concise in what you say. Remember, you are not having a conversation. You are presenting.

Do not read your slides to the audience.
There is a very good chance that everyone in your audience can read. You don’t need to read to them.

“A picture is worth a thousand words” is an English language-idiom. It refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single picture, this picture conveys its meaning or essence more effectively than a description does.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_picture_is_worth_a_thousand_words

Convey the essence of your topic with the slide and let the verbal aspect of your presentation deliver any necessary specifics to fill in the story.

Unless you are specifically presenting a detailed topic, such as tabulated data, or specific engineering or performance metrics, etc, the less verbiage on a slide, the better. As I said, you can speak to the slide to impart the specifics. It also enables you to manipulate your time allotment by speaking more to certain slides and less to others, and still stay within your time allotment.

Respect other people’s time.

Be ready to start on time. Set the standard for answering any questions either during (interactive presenting) or at the end of the presentation. Do not run longer than your allotted time. There may be instances where the consensus is that you should take more time, depending on the topic and audience, but in general, you need to be prepared to finish within your allotted time.

As business continues to get more complex, it is many times an easy trap to fall into in making our presentations also more complex. We have the technical capabilities to edit and manipulate both data and image to the point where we can have far more data on a single slide than can either be presented or understood quickly. We continue to generate more complex data and then use more complex means to convey it.

It seems that both the amount of data per slide, and the number of slides per presentation continues to expand. It takes us longer and longer to present the information, and many times we end up spending time presenting to an audience that has a marginal interest in the topic to begin with.

Presentations of all types are an integral part of business. With the continued acceleration of the velocity of business, we need to be ever more mindful of both the time we spend presenting a topic, as well as the time we spend preparing the presentation on the topic. Shorter and more focused presentations are a far more preferable means to convey and convince than the seemingly more prevalent, long and detailed ones that appear to be in vogue today.

Expertise is more better displayed by making the complex simple and easy to understand than it is by making the presentation more complex, and longer, to match the topic.

Seminars and Webinars

I think we can all agree that one of the fastest growing business segments in the world today, regardless of industry, has to be the seminar and webinar segment. It has to be. Just judging by the relative number of and ever-growing list of empirical data that shows up in my email on a daily basis. I never think of myself as particularly unique within the business world in general, or within my chosen industry segment specifically, so if the expanding number of webinar solicitations is happening to me, it must be happening to others. If my mailbox is any indication of what everyone else is seeing in their mailbox, there must now be a seminar or webinar available for each of us to attend, just about every hour of every day.

When will this all stop?

I came in on a Monday morning to no less than five new seminar and webinar invitations. The first was a Hipaa Compliance educational opportunity, as if I even know what that is. I had to look it up. I guess I could stand to be educated on Hipaa.

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) is United States legislation that provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information. https://searchhealthit.techtarget.com/definition/HIPAA

Okay. Nope, don’t need that.

The next was “Team Effectiveness: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. Nope, I think we are probably already dysfunctional enough without having to go to a webinar about it. I can just look around if I want to see dysfunctionality. I don’t need to pay a fee to see it.

I was concerned that there might be some sort of professional certification associated with that one.

The next was a SCRUM Study webinar. This one actually did propose some sort of certification. For those of you not familiar with this discipline, it is the latest and greatest variant of project management. While possibly intriguing, this one also went into the “Nope” file.

Then there was the “Keto-Burn” Protocol for Weight loss. Obviously spam, but I guess it does say something about our fixation on our weight and the growing obesity problem in the US if there are engines out there SPAMming it to business email addresses.

I personally ascribe to the age old “Eat a little less – Move around a little more” methodology of weight control.

The final one was “Stability Studies – Key steps to design and analyze the results to estimate a product’s shelf life”. Quite possibly a very interesting topic. However, not something that I think could generate appreciable business value over the course of a ninety-minute webinar.

The one thing that all these disparate webinars on all these disparate topics had in common was that they wanted me to give them money (in varying amounts) for the privilege of attending. Each of these solicitations referred to me by name and acted as if we were either long lost family, or possibly recently separated friends. They just needed a little of my money now, and they were sure that they could improve my livelihood, if not world in the future.

The first thought I had was: Are there really any people, anywhere on this planet that will sign up for one of these seminars or webinars solely based on an unrequested email solicitation?

I guess there must be.

Now I can understand how and why people will give money to a Nigerian prince if he sends them an email explaining that if they send him some money today, he will in turn send them a whole lot more money at some future date. Who wouldn’t want to make that investment? I keep waiting and hoping for such an email and opportunity, but at least up to now, to no avail.

But who would want to sign up for a webinar on some mundane or arcane topic, based on an invitation from someone who wasn’t a Nigerian prince?

Unlike the previous generation of direct mail – direct response (DMDR) campaigns, where businesses actually had to spend and invest money on the postage required to deliver their opportunities to the target addresses, all today’s email campaigns need is just an email address to send it to. It seems the internet-based bits that carry the message are essentially free. This means that if anyone, anywhere, for whatever reason ever responds to these campaign requests, and signs up for one of the webinars, there is an immediate positive business value generated to the sender. As I alluded to before, if one person does it, there will invariably be others that do it as well. After all, it essentially costs them nothing to send the invitation.

They are in essence trying to get something from you for nothing.

If they don’t. No problem. All they do is just fill up your inbox. If they do, then eureka, they scored.

A quick check of my Junk Mail / Spam Filter showed that there were no less than eleven other invitations to other events of varying magnitude that I would obviously have been foolish in the extreme to ignore, that arrived, and were diverted, over the weekend. I quickly identified the five senders that got through as spam and they too were now in the junk file. I am hopeful that all future requests from these sources will also be captured there before I have to deal with them again.

Undaunted by this apparent avalanche of cyber-trash that now appears in my email mailbox, I went and did a little research, as I am wont to do. The results are both surprising and unsurprising at the same time.

Contrary to popular belief (at least my popular belief) DMDR marketing campaigns are not dead. They still exist outside of the internet. In fact, there is an industry association set up for it (the Direct Marketing Association, strangely enough) and they continue to provide information and research on both its effectiveness as well as the effectiveness of what seems to be the bourgeoning direct spamming approach.

“Though there has been a reduction in response rate for direct mail over the last ten years, it’s still holding strong. In its response rate report, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) analyzed Bizo and Epsilon data and found that direct mail achieves a 4.4% response rate, compared to 0.12% for email.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2017/08/30/why-direct-mail-marketing-is-far-from-dead/#3c5e2ffc311d

I don’t know if I am horrified or relieved that such an august periodical such a Forbes is dedicating their precious column-inches to topics such as this. Then I remembered that Forbes is now also publishing on-line so the cost per column-inch has also come down appreciably in association with the cost of bits on the internet.

I guess they can now also expect an acceptance and response rate equal to the on-line DMDR people.

I wonder what that may have done to their advertising rates and values. Just a passing thought.

Not surprisingly, the DMA study shows that their preferred method of annoying people with unrequested solicitations via non-email methods, is close to forty times more successful that annoying them with email solicitations. On the surface this would seem to be the preferred method of annoyance.

However, I could not find any information regarding the relative costs of the methodology that they prefer. As I said, the bits on the internet are close to free, while postage for mail delivered by the postal service has a definite finite cost per solicitation. And since bits are basically free, forty times free is still free, so based on this type of cost – benefit logic, I think it is safe to assume that we will all continue to enjoy the multitude of unsolicited opportunities that appear in our email mailboxes for some time. Despite what appears to be a response and acceptance level that seems to be trending asymptotically close to zero.

It just means that the internet emailers need to reach out to forty times as many people as the non-emailers, to get the same number of respondents. And since the emails are essentially free, that is what they do. Hence the deluge of spam emails.

A little further research has shown me that by law, all of these opportunity suppliers, or Spammers for short, must provide the ability for those receiving their messages to be able to opt out from receiving future opportunity notices.
https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/blogs/business-blog/2015/08/candid-answers-can-spam-questions

What I also discovered during this research is that there now appears to be another burgeoning industry opportunity on the business horizon. This one involves services that purport to be able to remove you from these email opportunity lists for you. For just a small fee, of course.

I now fully expect to start receiving email solicitations from these spam removal services, unsolicited of course, asking me to sign up for their service so that I will no longer have to receive unwanted emails from all the other internet people trying get me to attend webinars and seminars, or sell me things like spam removal services.

Gosh, I do appreciate email.

Transformation

Oh, how I long for the days when all we had to worry about was change. We didn’t know or worry about what it was we were changing into. We just knew it was going to be new and different, and hence better than what we currently were. Somewhere along the way, the way we changed, changed on us. Soon we had a changing rate of change in the way we changed. Eventually it was all just considered small change.

Now a days, no one changes. Change is so last century. Change is so passé. Change has changed, yet again. Today, changing is no longer good enough.

Instead of changing, you must now transform.

I think this is now the appropriate time to understand the vast difference in the definitions of these business terms. To the dictionary:

change
CHānj/

Verb: change;
1. make or become different.
“a proposal to change the law”
2. take or use another instead of.
“she decided to change her name”

Noun: change;
1. the act or instance of making or becoming different.
“the change from a nomadic to an agricultural society”
2. coins as opposed to paper currency.
“a handful of loose change”

In case you were wondering, I think I was able to use every one of those change definitions in some way, in the first paragraph. On the other hand:

trans·form
tran(t)sˈfôrm/

Verb: transform;
1. make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.
“lasers have transformed cardiac surgery”

Mathematics Linguistics
Noun: transform;
1. the product of a transformation.
a rule for making a transformation.

(In case any of you are wondering about this mathematic definition for transform, in physics, the Lorentz transforms are coordinate transformations between two coordinate frames that move at constant velocity relative to each other. This is the kind of stuff you learn in any basic mechanics class in physics.)

There you have it.

A change is just a change, but a transformation is a thorough and dramatic change.

I’m glad I was able to clear that up. I like to leave my readers enriched for having read my posts, and this little nugget alone is probably worth the time spent reading, at least up to this point.

Below are a pair of Google based graphs of the use of the words “Change” and “Transform” over time. (I didn’t realize that Google had a function like this, but I think it is pretty neat, and will probably use it again in the future.) As you can see, the use and popularity of “Transform” has grown rapidly in recent times. I attribute this (although I have no way to directly measure it, but based on the nominal usage that of “transform” that I hear, I would believe it to be true) to the vast increase in the use of the word “Transform” in all written documents, articles, presentations, etc., etc., etc. associated with business in the last few years.

And as you can also see “Change” has been a generally more widely used term (with some recent growth – probably due to the number of people looking up and defining the difference between “Change” and “Transform”) until recently, where “Transform” appears to now be the more preferred descriptor (at least when it comes to business).

Change

Transform

One thing that can said about business: When it finds a new term that it likes, it will definitely over-use it.

Despite the similarity of the definitions, I do think that there may be some subtle differences in the connotations that each word evokes. Change, at least to me, speaks of moving from what you are, into some as yet undefined state. As I noted earlier, you may not know exactly what the change will entail, or what the end state of the change is, but you do know it will be different.

Transformation, again at least to me, speaks of moving to a little more defined end state. There is a target and a method to the change, or at least there should be. It implies that the target result of the thorough change is known and the while the required steps to get there may not be fully defined, at least the end state is.

Or at least it should be. The key is always going to be trying to convince those that you want to transform that you really do have an idea of what you want them to transform into, as well as plans for the steps to get there.

Knowing what you want to transform to, but not knowing how to get there, would seem to be only slightly better, if at all, than knowing and expecting to change, but not knowing what it is you will become.

Wow, I think I may have just propellered off into existentialism on that last discussion of change and transformation.

However, this discussion could help answer the question: When do you Transform, and when do you merely Change? I think the answer lies closer to the idea that you transform when you have an idea about what you want to become. You transform from an analog to a digital company. You transform to a cloud based solution.

It just doesn’t have the same ring, or gravitas to say you are changing to a digital company, or you are changing to a cloud based solution.

You change in response to a stimulus acting on a business. You transform in anticipation of the stimulus acting on the business.

I went and searched on the keys to changing. Aside from a lot of musical notation associated with when to use the tonic and how to change keys, most of the statements associated with change centered on two words: Courage and Fear. The courage to change and the conquering of the fear of change.

Perhaps that is the reason for the current popularity associated with Transform instead of change. People seem to need Courage to change, while I don’t nearly so associate Transformation as a courage requiring activity. People need to conquer their fear of change as a prerequisite to a successful change. Again, it would seem that the connotation of transformation does not invoke nearly as much fear in the participants.

It would seem that Transform is now the public relations equivalent of Change. More of a kinder, gentler version of change. It has all of the good aspects of change and not nearly so much of the bad. It would seem that changing (or transforming, if you prefer) “Change” to “Transform” is much along the same lines as when the United States Federal government changed (or transformed) the Department of War into the Department of Defense in 1949.

It functions much the same, but it just sounds better.

Again, perhaps because transformation implies a more directed process and end result, where change appears to be a little more undefined and open ended. And few in business like to be the one that is the first to venture into an as yet open ended and undefined future.

Engineering Solutions

There can be no question that engineers are one of the cornerstones of any successful technology oriented business organization. It doesn’t matter if they are hardware, software, electrical, mechanical, chemical or even civil engineers. Their role and importance cannot be overstated. We need to be very clear about that. I will try to walk the fine line of discussing the work of engineers in business without sliding into the realm of picking on engineers in business. Wish me luck.

It has been said:

“With great power comes great responsibility”

The origin of this quote is attributed to two wildly different sources: Voltaire, the eighteenth-century philosopher, and Uncle Ben, the Spiderman character, not the instant rice one. Both are acknowledged as saying something close but not quite like this, hence the somewhat open-ended attribution.

If I have a choice I’m going with Uncle Ben. Just because I haven’t seen that many entertaining movies about Voltaire and the French Enlightenment. However, I am sure that Marvel Comics will eventually get around to it. Probably after Thor – Thirteen, or some such time.

Mark Twain however, is widely acknowledged as the source of this quote:

“To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

I believe the modern technology equivalent of this statement is now:

“To an engineer, every question looks like it needs an engineering solution.”

Herein is where we get to the topic of engineering solutions. Engineers have a great power and responsibility when it comes to finding solutions to today’s customer based technological opportunities. A solution usually cannot be created, or implemented without them. Somebody usually has to put them together, and that somebody is usually an engineer.

Engineers have been trained starting in school to create the best solution. It usually entails a single variable. The strongest solution. The highest. The most secure. The longest. The tallest. Very seldom is there a scale or constraint added where there is some sort of trade off versus another variable. This can have a tendency to be the mindset that engineers use when creating real world solutions.

But even in this high technology, engineering dependent environment, it must be remembered that engineering is only part of the solution, not the entire solution. We are no longer in a time where a president can challenge a country to reach a goal, and the engineers can spend whatever is necessary to reach it. Doing things because they are difficult is a great challenge, but doing them within a budget is even a greater challenge.

About this time, I will have lost all readers that have an engineering degree, an engineering role or even just an engineering predilection. To mention that there are items other than engineering that are important to customer solutions, in their eyes can border on blasphemy. Unfortunately, that is the business world that we now live in. I have talked about this evolution before. It is the transition from the best solution, to the solution that is good enough. This idea is likely to drive engineers crazy.

Little things like money, time and resources must also be taken into account when creating a customer centric solution. This is because, contrary to standard engineering thought, the customer does not necessarily want the best engineered solution. They want the best solution that matches their money, time and resource constraints.

Engineers must be continually reminded of these real-world business constraints: money, time and resources. Otherwise it is not uncommon for them to develop the ultimate engineered solution, that is wholly implausible or unimplementable in the real world. It may be the best technical solution, but there will be very few that can afford to buy and implement it.

When engineering customer solutions, it is best not to think in terms of “absolutes”. Words like the “greatest”, “most” and “best” need modifiers otherwise engineers have a tendency to take them as literal objectives and work to them accordingly. This can result in some of the most elegantly over-engineered solutions imaginable.

Pareto Analysis is a statistical technique in decision-making used for the selection of a limited number of tasks that produce significant overall effect. It uses the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) the idea that by doing 20% of the work you can generate 80% of the benefit of doing the entire job. (https://www.projectsmart.co.uk/pareto-analysis-step-by-step.php)

Many think that it was the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto who created the Eighty – Twenty rule. To a certain extent this is somewhat true. Pareto first observed that 80% of income in Italy was received by 20% of the Italian population. However, it was management thinker Joseph M. Juran who actually suggested the principle and its far wider applications. Because of Pareto’s observation and work, the technique was named for him. (https://www.entrepreneurs-journey.com/397/80-20-rule-pareto-principle/)

Business, in all its simplest forms, is about investment and return. How much you put in versus how much you get out. This is the basis for employment decisions (if the company thinks that a person will generate more value for the company than the company will have to pay that person in compensation, then the company makes the hiring decision), and it is that way in purchasing decisions (amount paid versus expected return), and it needs to be that way in generating customer solutions.

Customers are not blessed with infinite resources. As I have said, in many instances they cannot afford to pay for what may be considered the “best” solution. Time and money always come into play for them. How much must they pay for each solution? What definable value does the solution generate (reduced costs, increased sales, etc.)? When would they expect to see these returns (the sooner the better)?

Engineers are excellent at the quantifiable. It is the nature of their work. However, if left unchecked they do have a tendency to view costs, time and resources more as “variables” instead of “constraints”. This is where business and leadership reinforcement is required.

When working with engineers, boundaries and constraints are a necessity. An upper limit on costs must be set. This can be in the form of a specific number (The cost cannot exceed…) or a derived relationship (the customer requires a pay-back period of….) based on costs, value generated and specific time frames. This will enable the engineer to modify various combinations of these business variables, but also provide a limiting constraint on the solution.

This customer pay-back period can also be used to help generate the value limit as well. If as Pareto has asserted that first eighty percent of the value can usually be derived with the first twenty percent of the effort, then it should follow that each additional amount of engineering effort (or any effort for that matter) will only provide a continually decreasing return. If the desired customer pay-back is based on returns and time, there is a limit as to what can be engineered within the constraint. Only so much can be done before the cost or pay-back period are exceeded.

It should be noted that not all engineers are so single-mindedly focused on engineering solutions. I have had the opportunity to work with several who understood that good customer solutions are the result of many, sometimes opposing forces in the solution creation process. These are the engineers that have recognized that real world issues and solutions have both a cost and a value associated with them.

A few final comments and observations on the engineering of solutions:

The optimist will look a glass that is half full of water and say that it is indeed half full.

The pessimist will look at the same glass and say that it is in fact half empty.

The engineer will look at it and say the glass is twice as big as it should be, and will set about trying to engineer a smaller glass that will be much more efficient in the holding of that specific amount of water.

Before they are allowed to do that, it is best to check to make sure that the customer wasn’t all that thirsty to begin with, and the amount in the glass is all the water that they wanted at this time. It might actually save more time, money and effort than the solution the engineer would create.

There are probably many engineers that would like to argue this point of view. I have found that for an engineer, the next best thing to trying to engineer the best solution to a problem, is to argue about what is the best engineered solution to a problem. For those of you that have not had the opportunity to argue with an engineer, this is a good time to remember the following quote:

“Arguing with an engineer is a lot like wrestling in the mud with a pig, after a couple of hours you realize the pig likes it.” (anonymous).

Strategery

I think the time has come to coin a new business term. It needs to sound vaguely familiar and reasonably important, otherwise it won’t be very useful. It has to resonate with an ongoing application in business. It must identify a function that almost everyone is aware of on some level of consciousness. It needs to be a term that we can all get behind and utilize to its fullest potential. Based on these requirements, I hereby submit the new business word: Strategery.

The last person to attempt to coin a new word with any amount of success, was Stephen Colbert during his first edition of The Colbert Report on television in 2005. While I do not claim to have even a small percentage of his ability to identify trends and needs in the lexicon, I will soldier on even in the face of these personal shortcomings. He was so successful that his new word has even made it to Wikipedia. If that isn’t a measure of success, then I don’t know what is.

Colbert coined the word “Truthiness”. And the Wikipedia definition of Truthiness (as supplied by Colbert) is:

“truthiness refers to the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true. I don’t trust books.”

Of course the public seized on truthiness as truth.

The definition was then further refined and was officially in the mainstream media when in 2006 Dick Meyers of CBS news stated:

“Truthiness is a quality characterizing a “truth” that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively “from the gut” or because it “feels right” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.”

From inception to mainstream media acceptance in one year. Think about just how far ahead of the curve Mr. Colbert was with truthiness. Today I believe the support for an individual’s concept of truthiness comes in the form of what are now called “alternative facts”. From truth to truthiness and from facts to alternative facts. He was correct. It just feels right.

Now back to my turn at the plate.

The word “Strategery” was initially was coined for a Saturday Night Live sketch, written by James Downey, airing October 7, 2000, which satirized the then presidential candidate George W. Bush. It actually became a term that was used during the Bush presidential years, but as those years have receded from memory, unfortunately, so has its usage.

But not anymore.

I think in every business discipline, and in every economic realm, there are those shaman like individuals and groups that every organization has, that purport to be able to divine the next industry fundamental shift that is currently residing just beyond the visibility of the event horizon and is destined to be the next game changing event. They claim to be the Visioneers who sound as though they are able to see beyond the future, and who seem to have no discernable role other than that of forming opinions, and possibly writing industry papers about what is out past the most distant of 3 and 5 year business plans and lies in the darkness beyond. These are the people who practice the art of “Strategery”.

The art of Strategery is to purport to look so far out into the future as to be almost useless, but to be able to make it sound as if it is most important.

In this case the word “Visioneers” comes from the 2008 movie of the same name. The movie is set in a dystopian near-future where a Corporation is driving out a culture of independent thought and intimacy. The corporation claims success is achieved by its strict philosophy of mindless productivity and teaches that productivity equals happiness, and the business logo (a middle finger) is the standard greeting in society. Credits again to Wikipedia.

The true art of Strategery is that the Visioneers that practice it can never be wrong. By continually keeping their focus on items that are out beyond the event horizon, and the next industry shift, they can never be directly tied to the current industry events and business performance as they actually occur.

A very good example of this “can’t be wrong” sort of Strategery can be seen in any of the various stock market prognosticators. During any sort of an extended stock market run, either up or down, there will be those that are espousing a “contrarian” point of view. They are the ones that say during a Bull market that a Bear market is coming, and vice-versa.

And they are usually correct. The markets do move in cycles. That’s why they have the names Bull and Bear Markets, and they usually do follow each other. They would only be of value if they could truly predict the point where the market will turn. Most of the time they can’t and will only be able to claim success once the event is long in the rear-view mirror, and they are on to the next pre-event horizon prediction.

Probably one of the first and most famous Visioneers to practice Strategery was Nostradamus. He cataloged all of his divinations and future predictions in a book, purporting to span across hundreds of years, and did it in such a way that no one could tell which event he was foretelling until long after the event in question had actually occurred. In short no one knew what he was talking about, and still don’t until well after the fact. To this date, almost 500 years later, he has not been wrong, but the usefulness of his predictions is generally thought to be non-existent as they have not been recognizable until well after the predicted event has occurred.

A good example of this is that Nostradamus is usually credited with accurately predicting World War II, but the accuracy of his prediction was not generally recognized until several decades after World War II occurred, at which time its usefulness does become questionable.

Technology based organizations are not immune to Strategery either, and in fact they can be a hot bed of such a questionably valued activity. It is easy to spot the Visioneers within these organizations as they will be the ones utilizing the phases such as cloudification, virtualization and Internet of Things amongst others when describing whatever they feel is the next big thing that they will be at the forefront of the charge on.

If you hear:
“The Internet of Things will utilize Big Data to push Virtualization to the Edge.”
There is a very good chance that you are in the presence of a Visioneer practicing the art of Strategery.

How could you prove that statement wrong? How could you prove that statement right? When could you prove anything of value even remotely associated with that statement? Who would actually say something like that?

It appears that value is truly in the eye of the beholder.

However, a true practitioner of the art of Strategery would have probably uttered that statement years ago when those phrases were first coined, not now when there is the potential for some substance and measurability behind them. Today’s master of Strategery would more like be talking about the future next big things, which will include phrases such as robots and machine learning, not so much a virtualized system but virtual reality, and the objectification of experience. (As provided by Pocket-lint: http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/132555-what-comes-next-after-we-re-done-with-the-internet-of-things-intel-gives-us-some-clues)

I understand some of the value that Visioneers and Strategery bring to businesses. I am a little concerned that as the speed with which change is occurring in business increases, so seems to increase the number of people who purport to see Nostradamus like into the future to tell us what will come after whatever is next. And while it may be interesting to speculate on whatever comes after whatever is next, it seems that the commitment of ever larger amounts of precious resources to visioning it creates an increasing risk to the business environment.

The problem for me seems to be that when we have so many people who claim to be so focused on what is so far out in the future, we run the risk of falling into the “Chasing the next shiny thing” syndrome. We tend to devalue whatever we are doing today, or what we plan to do tomorrow because it doesn’t sound as cool as what we think we will be doing in a couple of weeks.

I understand the risk of not having Strategery and that is not what I am advocating. In the past all societies and organizations that had shamans, seers and Visioneers had a very limited number of them. That was part of the mystique associated with them and what made them interesting. Today we seem to be generating entire organizations and processes around them.

Now it seems that we are well on our way to the justification of another overhead group which by its very nature does not lend itself well to any utility or value measurements. If we are going to do it, we might as well have a new name for it: Strategery.

Little Things

Usually I start off one of these articles with a specific idea in mind. I try to examine a topic or a specific facet of business that I find interesting and provide my take on it. I end up trying to make a point or infer a position, and I also try to make it a little entertaining, at least to myself. I have been told on multiple occasions that it is not uncommon for me to miss that entertaining objective for others. Today I am thinking I might change things up and try a little different approach to things.

None of the topics running through my mind really seem worthy of their own entire article. However there doesn’t seem to be a way to banish them from my thought process in favor of a perceptibly higher priority topic. They continue to pop up and present themselves in various forms, apparently clamoring for my attention. It appears that the only solution is to run through them all and let them be sorted out on their own.

Fridays

Is it just me or does anyone else notice a perceptible drop in attendance at the office on Fridays? I understand all that has been written about the benefits of flexible hours and virtual offices and the like. If that was truly the cause of this phenomenon I would expect a little more even distribution of lower office attendance days across the rest of the work week.

I have seen the new television commercial where the “boss” proclaims much to everyone’s amusement that “Wednesday is the new Thursday”. That’s fine, but I definitely must have missed the memo where Friday has become the new Saturday.

On a related topic, I don’t seem to have much sympathy either for those who are ever more frequently complaining about having to attend calls or meetings on Friday afternoons. The last time I checked Friday was still part of what has been so quaintly and colloquially referred to as the “work week”. You know, that eight to five, Monday through Friday thing?

This is especially interesting to me since the latest information from Gallup.com is that the average work week is no longer forty hours, but closer to forty seven hours. That would mean that instead of just working eight to five Monday through Friday people are on average also working eight to four on Saturdays.

So I guess the conundrum to solve here is that people are working more hours and the business offices have lower attendance on Fridays. With all the additional hours being worked I am not so sure that more is actually being accomplished. Interesting. Maybe this one does deserve more thought and research. I’ll have to think about it.

Spam

I passed a milestone a little while ago. I am now averaging more than two hundred spam emails a day on my corporate email account. That is correct. Across a typical eight hour day I am now receiving a spam email every two and a half minutes. I must really be popular with the spammers. I don’t know why. I never respond regardless of how tempting they tell me their offer is.

What is a little more than disconcerting to me is that both my email system and my computer recognize that the junk emails are spam, and regardless of what setting I use to try and stem the ever increasing flow, nothing seems to work.

Now my system lets me know that they are spam, as it continues to present them to me:

picture3

If the system knows that they are spam emails, why doesn’t it just get rid of them, or better yet, block them from even being presented. This number does not include the approximately fifteen other emails that did go directly to my junk email folder because I had already individually blocked the sender of previous spam emails.

As an aside I went out to www.todayifoundout.com and looked up the origin of the term “spam” as it relates to emails. This is what they had to say:

“The real origin of the term comes from a 1970 Monty Python’s Flying Circus skit. In this skit, all the restaurant’s menu items devolve into SPAM. When the waitress repeats the word SPAM, a group of Vikings in the corner sing “SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, lovely SPAM! Wonderful SPAM!” drowning out other conversation, until they are finally told to shut it.
Exactly where this first translated to internet messages of varying type, such as chat messages, newsgroups, etc, isn’t entirely known as it sort of happened all over the place in a very short span of years, in terms of the name being applied to these messages. It is, however, well documented that the users in each of these first instances chose the word “spam” referring to the 1970 Monty Python sketch where SPAM singing was drowning out conversation and SPAM itself was unwanted and popping up all over the menu.”

“Drowning out all other conversation…” That sounds about right.

Spam Calls

As if spam emails are not enough, it seems I am now getting more and more spam phone calls as well. They are coming in on both my personal as well as business phones. These calls seem to have also spiked in frequency most recently.

I initially tried to be polite when I told them that I wasn’t interested in whatever it was that they were sure that I wanted to talk about. They just kept going on with their spiel. I would then be forced to hang up anyway. I then tried being a little more “forceful” in communicating my desire that they should never contemplate calling me again. Despite my directly questioning their intellects and species orientation, this didn’t seem to work either.

I have settled on what I think is a good solution to this particular business problem. When I receive a spam call, I simply answer the call, lay the receiver down and go on doing whatever it was that I was doing when the call interrupted me. The auto dialing system then connects the call to a person on the other end and I can eventually hear someone start speaking, and then realize that no one is listening. Eventually they hang up and go away.

Since these auto dialing spam phone call shops are predicated on the efficiency of the system, this method disrupts their entire process. I think that they then put me on some sort of a “do not call” list as the number of repeat offender calls from these places seems to be reducing. The only problem is that there seem to be so many new ones popping up to take their places.

I don’t want this to seem like some sort of scree or disconnected rant today. Business is obviously changing. How people work, where they work and what they do has changed. I have noted in the past that I am not so sure in many instances if these changes have been for the better. Working more hours from a virtual office, does not in itself indicate any sort of an improvement to me. It does however seem to be instrumental in generating what is now a forty seven hour work week.

I am not sure what the business benefit of generating spam is. I guess it can be considered the electronic replacement for Direct Mail Direct Response (DMDR) marketing and since there is now no cost for postage it seems to be running amok. I don’t think I have ever seen or heard of anyone responding to that stuff although a DMDR response of one to two percent was the expected target. I guess the logic is that if the volume of junk mail is increase by an order of magnitude then the response will increase proportionately as well.

Still, sending me ten requests for the thing I didn’t want once isn’t going to improve things.

Generating spam of any kind should be a punishable offense, at least in my opinion. Living in Texas the idea of dragging spammers through cactus or horse whipping immediately comes to mind as a suitable punishment. No need to get too medieval on them, at least for the initial offense.

I think that’s enough disparate business topics for this session. I’m sure I’ll have more to discuss in the future.

Walls

Believe it or not walls can be an interesting topic. I think I have probably written about them before. They are often taken for granted, but where would your roof be without them? On the floor, that’s where. Walls are always being metaphorically built up or broken down. Sometimes it’s not even metaphorical. Mr. Reagan told Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down” his wall. One of our current presidential candidates promises to build a new wall as his solution to illegal immigration. Pink Floyd told us that “all in all you’re just another brick in the wall.” Even this country’s national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner mentions walls.

In case you are wondering, “ramparts” is a fancy word for the walls of a fortress, which in this case was Fort McHenry, the bombardment of which by the British was Francis Scott Key’s inspiration for his poem which eventually became the lyrics for the national anthem.

Needless to say walls are an important aspect of our everyday lives. It is possible that nowhere else are they more important than in the office environment. Many of us have become dependent on the walls in the business world for any number of multiple reasons, some of which many of us are not even consciously aware of. With all of this focus and dependency on walls for the maintenance of the very fabric of the business world, I for one would like to know why it is now all the vogue for businesses to try and do away with them in our office environments.

In the past you could walk into almost any office environment and get an idea of the relative rank and importance of just about anyone in it. You would just look at the height of the walls surrounding each individual’s work area. Low walls meant low status, higher walls meant higher status and walls all the way to the ceiling meant an office instead of a cube. Everybody wanted an office. With a real door.

But not anymore.

In these days of cost cutting and the desire for hyper efficient utilization of every precious corporate resource, some smart guy (or girl) must have stood at the edge of one of the corporate cube farms and had an epiphany:

What do we need all these walls for? They really don’t serve any purpose other than to delineate the supposed working areas for the cube farm denizens. Since they only provide the illusion of privacy due to the fact that they don’t reach all the way to the ceiling and everyone can hear everything each other is saying anyway, why don’t we just remove the illusion of privacy all together and get rid of the walls.

Think about how much additional space will be freed up that was just being taken up by these essentially non-functional walls. Where there were once walls, there will now be more people. And since there will no longer be any walls to delineate a work area, we can give everyone even less space to work in and they probably won’t even notice. Our efficiency and space utilization numbers will go through the roof. We can call it the “open office” concept, and claim that it is the latest and best thing. We will save money by cramming more people into the same space.

Senior management will be pleased.

Gone will be the days of speakerphone utilization as no one will want everyone within a twenty foot radius to be included in on their call.

Gone will be the ability to utilize the computer or surf the web for any purpose other than company business as everyone will be able to see what is on the screen.

Gone will be the messy and expensive to maintain desk phones since no one will be able to guarantee that they will be sitting in the same spot each day that they are in the office so each phone can no longer have a consistent phone number. People will need to become versed in the usage of soft-phones and especially headsets if they want at least half of their phone conversations to remain relatively private.

The incremental indirect benefits just go on and on. The brave new world is here, and it is even more efficient in the utilization of office space.

Wow. Well, maybe not.

While the open office concept will allow companies to pack their employees ever more tightly into a given space (think traveling in economy coach instead of regular coach or coach plus on your favorite airline – except without the complimentary peanuts or soft drinks) at least some of your business communications (especially with customers) will require some privacy. Hence there will be an increased demand and a respondent increased supply of conference rooms.

These new open office conference rooms will now also be new and improved as well as designed for people to take and make private calls in. They will not be designed to meet in for any length of time as they too will be smaller. They will no longer be designated as conference rooms but will now become “huddle rooms” or “call rooms”. They will be great. Just don’t try to have a meeting of more than two people in them as it might be a little close.

Also don’t mind the queue outside of them as people wait for their turn to make a call.

There have been rumors that companies may in fact try to double the number of conference rooms associated with the open environment concept. This means that instead of the obligatory two standard sized conference rooms per floor, capable of allowing as many as ten or twelve people to hold a meeting, there could now be as many as four huddle rooms possibly capable of allowing as many as two people to meet.

This will now create a competition to see who can get into the office the earliest. Those that get there first will obviously claim ownership of a huddle room for that day. It will become their de-facto office for the day. However, those that pursue this course of action would be advised to bring their lunches and not make any trips to the bathroom as any perceived vacancy would probably result in the removal of their belongings from the room and someone else staking a claim to it.

Ownership of a huddle room will be viewed as the proverbial nine tenths of the law, especially when it comes to any amount of privacy in an open office environment.

I’m not really sure what the question is that the open office environment is the answer to. I suspect that it is what I have already postulated, namely if a company can remove all of the office and cube walls that are just taking up space in their expensive office environments, they can get more people in the same space and achieve a higher efficiency, at least on paper. I have not had the opportunity to work in one yet so I couldn’t truly say that it will be better or worse.

I have however had the opportunity to visit other offices and customer environments where it has been implemented. It is definitely different. I can see its allure for business. To be honest I can also see that by putting people in such close proximity to each other that it could almost force people to work together and collaborate.

I have long been a proponent of having people work together in the workplace as opposed to the virtual office idea. I don’t know what the reaction will be when people are pushed so closely together in the coming open office concept environments. I guess that as this change proliferates in business we will probably all eventually get the opportunity to see.

Big In China

I think we are all aware of the position that China now holds in the economic world. It is the most populated country on the planet with approximately 1.37 Billion inhabitants. It has the second largest economy (behind the United States) as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at $9.3 Trillion per year. China is also the leading manufacturing nation in the world responsible for the production of approximately 22.4% of the goods manufactured on the planet. I think you see where I am going here. China is an important player in both the economic and political global landscapes. So, imagine how I felt when I logged into my Blog to read the comments my last couple of articles engendered and saw a plethora of comments that originated in China.

I was ecstatic. I had made it. My work had gone global.

I have blogged about business and sales leadership for several years and have generated more than two hundred articles. I enjoy writing them and try to draw on personal experience as well as direct observation in creating them. I get paid nothing for writing them and do it only because I enjoy it and consider it a great outlet.

I have also had the opportunity to work in China and at one point managed a joint venture with a Chinese partner in Tianjin, China. Tianjin is a reasonable sized city about an hour and a half by highway east of Beijing, China’s capital city. A reasonable sized city in Chinese terms translates to a population of approximately 14.7 million people. It is both an amazing and interesting place. I enjoyed it a great deal.

They also had some really amazing golf courses there.

In any event, when I checked my Blog comments I had twelve to fifteen comments that originated in China. These comments were sprinkled in amongst all the other very useful comments that were designed to inform me that I could buy cheap Uggs shoes, or cheap Louis Vuitton bags, or replica Cartier jewelry and all manner of other cheap products with ease since I had my own web site.

There were also several comments informing me that for some sort of nominal fee all manner of individuals would undertake the here to fore herculean task of driving more traffic to my web site since that was the obvious reason that everyone who was anyone would have a web site. It seems that traffic to your web site is the way people keep score of your success on the web.

I actually think it is associated with how you can monetize the value of your site, but since I did not start Blogging for any real monetary reason, I don’t pay too much attention to these solicitations.

In amongst the veritable blizzard of internet generated detritus were these pearls of Chinese comments on the almost indescribable value of my business and sales observations and musings. I thought this was very cool. What was even more interesting was that they were rendered in my comment section in the original kanji script.

There was カナダグース レディース who said:

“カナダグース-レディース/]カナダグース レディース”

Which according to the infallible Google translator application either means:

“You are truly a gifted and insightful business individual”
or,
“Please buy our surplus cheap dog food as it is now safe for consumption by your precious pet.”

I guess it depends on the dialect they are using.

I don’t know about you but I know which one of those translations I am going with.

There was also ヴィヴィアン ピアス (no relation to カナダグース レディース – I think…) who also opined:

“ヴィヴィアン-ピアス/]ヴィヴィアン ピアス”

Which is also has two possible translations, again according to Google translate:

“The wisdom of your comments is a thing of beauty”

Or possibly,

“We offer cheap Louis Vuitton bags and many people who can increase the traffic to your lowly, largely ineffective website.

There were many other similar comments. These were just a random sample of the ones that I received from individuals based in China. As I said it was gratifying to receive such excellent recognition for my work on an international scale.

For many years I had heard that China was an important and emerging market. They were part of the “BRIC” set of countries that were viewed as the important markets of the future (“Brazil, Russia, India, and China”). I think that it is safe for me to say that based solely on my personal web based interactions with China that they are no longer an emerging power when it comes to internet based comments and solicitations. They definitely appear to have already arrived.

Now if I can just get these strange programs offering dog food and assistance with driving web traffic to my web site off of my PC that I seem to have gotten when I tried to reply to the obviously intelligent comments that my new admirers in China left for me.

Flying Fourth Class

Please take note of the following comment as it is one that I would never have thought that even I would ever say. Starting off like that ought to get your attention. I have been told by those that know me that they are continually surprised by what I say. I have also been told that I have a tendency to go ahead and say what others were thinking but decided not to say. These events seem to occur when the buffer between my brain and mouth is either overloaded, or I have decided to just not engage it. As you might guess on occasion I have gotten in trouble for what I have said.

So, with that kind of a build-up, here goes:

I sure miss the good old days when I could fly coach.

For those of you who are not fully versed in the class warfare that is occurring daily in our skies, let me try to elaborate. I will focus my comments primarily on international flights since it appears that it is on these flights where the new “under-class” has appeared.

At the very top, the acme, the apex of the travel class hierarchy is “First Class”. They usually sit at the very front of the plane. They get on first. They have no baggage limitation rules. Flight attendants throw rose petals in the aisles in front of them as they walk to their seats. They get the good booze, and as much of it as they want, without ever having to ask.

It is a mythical place where they get to sit, as they are a mythical people who can afford the exorbitant prices required to sit there. People who sit in first class normally carry a scepter when they get on the plane. They wear capes and cloaks that are lined with real fur. If one is ever caught wearing faux-fur they are immediately removed. It took a special dispensation to allow the pilot of the plane to be able to walk through first class to get to the flight deck so that he could in fact fly the plane.

The next class of traveler in the pantheon of sky people is “Business Class”. This title is a misnomer. Very few if any “business people” can actually afford to sit in business class. Business class is only slightly less expensive than first class. I believe this slight price reduction is because that in business class you do not get the complimentary manicure and pedicure that is normally associated with first class.

Business class is usually populated by only the captains of industry. The CEOs, the movers, the shakers, the people whose corporate jets are either down for maintenance, or don’t have the flight range capability to actually fly the required ten to twelve hours needed to cross major oceans on international flights. People in business class normally have perfect teeth, expensive clothes and great tans.

The business class seat in principle is very similar to the first class seat in that it has the capability to be fully reclined into a bed where the weary traveler can sleep away the duration of the flight. The primary difference is that it is not in the very front of the plane, and it is separated from first class by a curtain. This curtain is a metaphorical iron curtain as there is normally a guard stationed there (in the guise of a flight attendant) to keep any would be social climbers from trying to use the first class toilet.

I still don’t know what the first class toilet looks like. I have heard rumors that in addition to an actual commode it also has a bidet, and one of those attendants that hands you rags, towels, and mints.

This brings us to the next set of seats; Coach Class. Instead of the four seats across that you have in first class, and the six seats across that you have in business class (all of which recline fully flat into beds) you now have nine seats across in coach class. These are the normal airline seats that we are all familiar with. They have been fully padded and engineered to be as physically uncomfortable as is possible, without actually being charged with some sort of cruelty crime. Coach seats don’t recline so much as they lean back, a little.

Coach class is nominally populated by mere mortals: People who are either trying to get somewhere, or get home after having been somewhere. Occasionally you will see newlyweds in coach. You can readily identify them as the will be the only ones smiling as they take their seats in coach. He will also be the only man that will help a woman put her carry-on bag in the overhead bin.

Nothing is complimentary in coach. You must buy your own booze and snacks and the flight attendants will only grudgingly give you a choice of inedible chicken or unappetizing pasta for your mandated meal. Digestive medications are premium priced and extra in coach. The experienced coach traveler brings their own snacks and drinks with them on board the plane.

This brings us to the new under-class in air travel: “Economy Coach Class”. Yes, it is true. Enterprising airlines have created a new lower class of coach. A while ago I would not have thought that it could be possible, but just as physicist Steven Hawking was able to create a unified theory of black holes and string theory, airline theoreticians were able to conceive of a passenger class that was lower than coach. Once thought of, it was only a matter of time before its practicality was empirically tested.

Instead of the nine seats across that are present in coach class, economy coach class has ten seats across the plane. Yes, it is true, ten seats. How can they do that you may ask? The simple answer is that they made the seats narrower, since it was impossible to make the aisles narrower and still have the drink cart pass through. Now for the average person whose shoulders are narrower than their hips this may not be too much of an issue. However there are some of us whose shoulders are in fact wider than their hips. We are the people who are now learning to sit forward in a chair from the waist down and sideways in it from the waist up.

Think about trying to hold that position, let alone sleep in that position for any number of hours.

Not only did the make the seats narrower, they also did away with all of that excess knee room that members of the coach class basked in. By arranging the rows so that your knees actually touch the seat in front of you, airlines achieved the twin goals of adding more rows (and hence more paying customers per flight) to the plane as well as taking your mind off the fact that unlike coach seats that “lean” back, your economy coach seat is now best described as “tilting” back, just a little bit. It can only tilt back just a little bit because the person sitting behind you also has their knees firmly pressed against the back of your seat. There is not much choice other than to sit straight up in economy coach.

It wasn’t too long ago that business travel, and travel in general might have been considered interesting and borderline enjoyable. As companies continue to work at finding ways to reduce costs, airlines have continued to work at ways to increase the revenues and margins that they are losing as businesses cut their travel related costs. The result is economy coach class: The underworld in the traveler class hierarchy. The class where the only difference between passengers and luggage is that it appears that luggage is handled in a more human and professional manner.

With that being said, I will now wedge myself into my ten across narrowed seat, turn my torso sideways so as to not invade my seat neighbor’s space, tilt my seat back the maximum seven and one half degrees from vertical and attempt to sleep in close proximity to at least two hundred and fifty others for the next ten hours.

Gosh, I love to travel.

Feeling Inferior

I like to read. My son says he would prefer to wait for the movie. Any movie. Seeing as how he is still only fifteen years old, I don’t think that there is much that I can do about that right now. What I can do is control what I read. I was under the misguided idea that occasionally I should read articles, magazines and books written by and for successful people, who like to tell us other presumably less successful people what we should do to become more successful, just like them.

I don’t think I am going to do this anymore.

Every time I read one of these success missives, I can’t help but feel inferior. It has a tendency to either depress me or drive me nuts.

I’ll demonstrate by example:

I got an email notification that my college alma mater (of all things) “liked” an article on one of those professional networking sites. I take being a mighty Lobo alumnus of the University of New Mexico very seriously so I thought it best to go check out what my alma mater deemed important enough to actually like. I clicked on the link in the notification.

Via the magic of the internet I was immediately whisked to the site of some business and technology e-zine with the appropriately titled article (and I am paraphrasing here as I don’t wish to have to provide attribution)

“27 Things that People Who Are More Successful Than You Do Every Day – Including Weekends – Before They Leave Work, That You Probably Don’t Do Which Explains Why They Are Successful And You Aren’t”

You would be surprised how close to the real title that paraphrase is.

As I said, I like to read. I read for information and enjoyment. I also believe it is something of a dying art. I mean why read when you can text or IM or as my son does, watch the movie anyway? But that is not the point. The point here is that I was already at the site. I consider myself to be reasonably successful. I have not ruled the world but I have done moderately okay. I figured I would peruse the first few topics of the list of successful attributes purely out of self interest and compare what the list said successful people do with what I do and see how much similarity there was.

Big mistake.

After furiously reading through the entire list with ever increasing disbelief to see if there was anything at all that I did at the end of the day that even remotely resembled something that a successful person was purported to have done at the end of the day, I came to the crushing conclusion that I am not fit to leave work at the end of the day, let alone work anywhere.

In case some of you have not experienced the joy that accompanies an epiphany that springs from reading an article like this, let me provide an example as a means of explanation. Most of us know how to sign our names. There are probably a few of us who don’t, and due to the penmanship challenges associated with the inability to sign their name these people are hence genetically selected to become doctors. Over time we have all probably evolved our “signature”.

Now take the pen that you normally sign your name with, put in the other hand (the hand that normally holds the paper while the first hand signs your signature) and now be told that all successful people are ambidextrous and in order for you too to be considered successful you should immediately be able to use that other hand to sign your signature as quickly, clearly and effortlessly as the first hand.

Give it a try. See how that works for you.

You now have only the slightest of inklings how it feels to read these articles about the habits, traits, customs, manners, dispositions, styles, fashions, penchants and proclivities of successful business people.

It depresses me that I don’t seem to have any resemblance at all to these so called successful people. It depresses me that I don’t spring out of bed at four o’clock in the morning prepared to shampoo the dog and rotate the tires on my wife’s car, and jog six or eight miles while thinking great world changing thoughts, all before going into the office like successful people are being depicted as doing. I am crestfallen that I don’t seem to be the appropriate whirl wind of activity in the last ten minutes of my business day closing off to-do lists, clearing my desk while simultaneously creating a workable plan to solve world hunger as I prepare to do battle with the other presumably unsuccessful souls on my commute home from the office.

It further concerns me that almost all the people that I know that I would consider to be successful also seem to have nothing in common with the ideal successful person that these articles describe.

In the past I have discussed how happiness cannot be derived from the actions and relative performance of others. I guess the corollary here is that feelings of depression and inferiority in the office should also not be the result of the actions and relative performance of others either.

Unfortunately that approach does not seem to sell articles, magazines and books. Nor does it seem like a very good way to drive people to specific web sites where their eyeballs can be assaulted by both an article describing in detail why they should by inference not consider themselves to be successful as well as those advertisers that are on that site who have specifically tailored their self-help ads to those people who after reading the article are now feeling so insecure about their relative worth and success in business.

What this epiphany does open up to me is the idea of a new opportunity to address a whole new segment of the self help article, magazine and book market. It is the segment of the market that is for the business person that is at least in part moderately successful, and wants to feel good about what they have accomplished. Think about that for a moment. Doesn’t everyone want a little recognition, reinforcement and reaffirmation that they have in fact been doing things well?

Think about the titles for these articles, magazines and books that could be generated, based on this new and previously untapped market approach:

“From Good to Better”
“Twelve Habits of the Moderately Successful”
“Congratulations on Making it to the Office on Time”
“How to Get Back From Lunch in One Hour”
“Speakerphone Etiquette in the Cube Farm”
“The Art of Aiming Low and Meeting Your Objectives”

The list could go on and on.

I understand that in this day and age that it is hyperbole that sells. As another example, in the past it used to be enough to just report the news. Now we seem to have a never ending stream of talking heads that are associated with one end of the political spectrum or the other that are now presenting their “version” of the news. Everything now has “spin” and now screams for our attention. I think the same is now the case for the plethora of business “self help” articles, magazines and books that are vying for our attention.

Each of these new and improved lists of elements associated with success seems to be more outlandish than the previous. As I noted before, based on these items it is hard to understand how I or anyone else is or can ever be considered successful. Hence the source of my concerns over these feelings of inferiority.

I think the bottom line is that when you take everything into consideration it is still things like drive, determination, attention to detail, effort, honesty, knowledge, experience, cooperation, preparation and maybe just a smidgeon of luck that are some of the determining factors in success. These concepts are not particularly exciting and don’t promise any secret short cuts to success. Maybe that explains why there doesn’t seem to be a market for a book titled:

“Be Smart, Work Hard, Perform Well and Move Ahead”

Perhaps another answer to being considered a success is to write a book that tells other people what they should do in order to be considered a success.