Wednesday, December 31, 2014

How Much Are You Worth?

How much are you worth?  Well maybe that would depend on the amount of wealth you've accumulated in your lifetime.  Or maybe it's your earning potential?  Or maybe it's your intrinsic worth?  Just how do we define what a person is worth anyway?

The entire healthcare industry, which is dedicated to healing the body and the mind, places a very high value on human worth when you account for the billions worth of infrastructure (hospitals and clinics etc.) and equipment (beds, monitoring devices, diagnostic imaging devices etc.) dedicated to healthcare, and the high qualifications of the people who work in healthcare (surgeons, doctors, nurses, technicians, administrators, etc.).

Religious and charitable organizations, who are dedicated to healing the soul and providing for the poor and needy, place a very high value on human worth when you account for the billions worth of infrastructure (churches, buildings, etc.), the legions of paid and unpaid volunteers, and the direct assistance given to those in need.

Law enforcement and public safety organizations (police, firefighters, rescue etc.) place a very high value on human worth when you account for the billions worth of infrastructure (police stations, fire stations etc.), equipment (police cars, fire engines, ambulances, helicopters, etc.), salaries, and the sacrifices made to keep our society safe.

These are just some obvious examples of the value our society places on human worth.  Unfortunately many people don't see or appreciate their own human worth. They could be unemployed, down and out, poor, homeless, very old, sick, or a war veteran.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that after cancer and heart disease, suicide accounts for more years of life lost than any other cause of death in America.

From God's point of view, each and every one of us is priceless!  And there's nothing we can do (good or bad) which would lessen our value to God.  In fact, God loved us so much that he sacrificed his own Son to redeem us (John 3:16).

You cannot earn your human worth by what you do.  It's a false sense of self-worth when you base your human worth on accomplishments.  Achievements can bring you satisfaction but not happiness or increased human worth.

Further, you cannot base your human worth on your physical attractiveness, talent, fame, or fortune.  There are plenty of famous suicide victims who can attest to this grim truth.  Fame and fortune are just bubbles that eventually burst.

Moreover, you cannot base your inherent human worth on love, friendship, or the approval of others.  Only your own sense of self-worth determines how you feel about yourself.

So what do you have to do to have human worth or improve your self-esteem?  Why absolutely nothing!  You don't have to do anything worthwhile to deserve human worth or have high self-esteem.  You're already priceless in God's eyes.  All you have to do is just believe it!

During my research for this article, I ran across a couple of interesting web sites that I though you'd get a chuckle out of: 1) How much are you worth alive? and 2) How much are you worth dead?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

American Management Explained

A Japanese company and an American company decided to have a canoe race on the St. Lawrence River.  Both teams practiced long and hard to reach their peak performance before the race.

On the big day, the Japanese won by a mile.  The Americans, very discouraged and depressed, decided to investigate the reason for the crushing defeat.

A management team made up of senior management was formed to investigate and recommended appropriate action.  Their conclusion was the Japanese had 8 people rowing and 1 person steering, while the American team had 8 people steering and 1 person rowing.  So, American management hired a consulting company and paid them a large amount of money for a second opinion.

They advised that too many people were steering the boat, while not enough people were rowing.

To prevent another loss to the Japanese, the rowing team’s management structure was totally reorganized to 4 steering supervisors, 3 area steering superintendents and 1 assistant superintendent steering manager.  They also implemented a new performance system that would give the 1 person rowing the boat greater incentive to work harder.

It was called the “Rowing Team Quality First Program”, with meetings, dinners and free pens for the rower.  There was discussion of getting new paddles, canoes and other equipment, extra vacation days for practices, and bonuses.

The next year the Japanese won by two miles.

Humiliated, the American management laid off the rower for poor performance, halted development of a new canoe, sold the paddles, and cancelled all capital investments in new equipment.  The money saved was distributed to the Senior Executives as bonuses and the next year’s racing team was outsourced to India.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Pygmalion effect

In Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a Cypriot sculptor who carved a statue of a beautiful woman out of ivory and named her Galatea.  He fell in love with his statue Galatea and secretly wished for a bride as beautiful and as perfect as her.

Aphrodite, the goddess of love, granted Pygmalion's wish and the ivory statue Galatea turned into a beautiful real woman after Pygmalion kissed her.  Pygmalion and Galatea were married and had a handsome son who they named Paphos from whom that city in Cyprus is named. 

The "Pygmalion effect" is the psychological phenomenon whereby the greater the expectation placed upon people, the better they perform. The opposite of this is the "Golem effect".  It's the psychological phenomenon in which lower expectations placed upon individuals leads to poorer performance.  Both of these phenomena are forms of a self-fulfilling prophecy

Good managers will use the Pygmalion effect to get the best out of their employees.  Good coaches will use it to get the best out of their athletes.  Good Teachers will use it to get the best out of their students.  And good parents will use it to get the best out of their children.  Ironically, economist tend to use the Golem effect when trying to predict the economic behavior of people.  (Go figure?)

When my son was born, a Catholic nun gave me a copy of a beautiful poem that really sums up the Pygmalion effect.  The poem is called Children Learn What They Live by Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D. (1924 - 2005).  The poem really helped me to be a good parent to my children.  And eventually I realized how the same concept could be used for other vital relationships.  So when you read the poem, substitute employees or students or managers or spouses or parents or siblings or friends or colleagues for children and you'll see how the Pygmalion effect can help you change your world for the better.

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Virtuous Capitalism

Virtuous Capitalism
by Bryan J. Neva, Sr.

In an early television episode of the science fiction series Star Trek the Next Generation, the crew of the USS Enterprise recovered an old, unmanned late 21st-century spacecraft carrying the cryogenically frozen bodies of dozens of people.  Rather than have their bodies buried, their families chose instead to have their bodies cryogenically frozen and sent into space in hopes that in the future there would be medical cures for the diseases they succumbed to.  Fortunately for them, the ship’s doctor managed to revive many of the deceased patients using advanced 24th-century medicine.

As the story unfolded, a man who’d been quite wealthy back in the 21st-century desperately wanted to reclaim his entire fortune (hopefully with interest).  But he was astonished to discover that in the 24th-century all forms of monetary economic exchange were now obsolete, and people no longer had to work for money to support themselves because all their human needs were met through technology, which costs nothing!  People only worked for altruistic reasons such as to improve themselves or help society advance.

But this story is only optimistic science fiction and unfortunately, in our lifetimes we’ll probably never live to see that day.  Life’s sad reality is that the natural law of scarcity decides how big of a piece of pie each of us will get in life.  Some will get more, others less, and some will get none at all.  

“Survival-of-the-fittest” is a famous phrase attributed to a man named Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), a contemporary of Charles Darwin.  Spencer was a proponent of a popular 19th and early 20th-century belief call eugenics.  Eugenics is a social philosophy which, among other things, tries to justify economic and social inequality on the basis of inherited traits.  Spencer, and many others of his day believed that if we just allowed the rich to get richer that it would be good for the whole of society because it would discourage the poor from having more children and ultimately surviving.  In the 19th century it was called "laissez-faire capitalism," but today it has been re-packaged under the name "free-market capitalism."

In the 19th century, the economic abuses of laissez-faire, free-market capitalism gave birth to the disastrous economic philosophies of socialism, communism, and fascism.  And when you examine the differences between laissez-faire, free-market capitalism and these opposing economic philosophies one thing you’ll discover they all have in common is their oppression and economic slavery of their workers.  Essentially they’re different sides of the same coin.  On one side, large multinational corporations control the means of production whereas on the other side the government does.  Since the 19th century, most developed economies have regulated capitalism in order to prevent a repeat of those abuses.

The famous economist Milton Friedman (1912 - 2006) of the University of Chicago was a big proponent of an unfettered, laissez-faire, free-market form of capitalism with little government intervention.  In an influential article he wrote for The New York Times Magazine in September 1970 titled The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits, Friedman makes the case that nothing other than the profit motive should drive business decisions.  Not altruism, not the good of employees, not the good of society, not the good of any other business stakeholder should be considered other than what is good for the shareholders (or owners) of the company.  And what is good for the shareholders is simply maximizing profit.

Since the publication of Friedman’s article, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to show that the shift in focus to maximizing profits for shareholders has led to a profit-at-any-price mentality by business managers.  And today many academics, politicians, and pundits believe that we should return to the laissez-faire, free-market capitalism of the 19th century believing it will lead to greater economic prosperity.  They believe that if we loosen the reins of government regulation then businesses will prosper and the economy as a whole will improve.

So is the purpose of business to only make money as Friedman, and many others like him, believed, or is it something more than this?  Do we continue to follow this laissez-faire philosophy or do we develop new ones?  

In the July 30th, 2012 edition of the Wall Street Journal, Charles Murray (of the American Enterprise Institute) wrote an interesting essay called, Why Capitalism Has an Image Problem Murray makes a very good argument that in order to be successful capitalism must be coupled with virtue.  He writes, 

“Historically, the merits of free enterprise and the obligations of success were intertwined in the national catechism.  The freedom to act and a stern moral obligation to act in certain ways were seen as two sides of the same American coin.  Little of that has survived.  To accept the concept of virtue requires that you believe some ways of behaving are right and others are wrong always and everywhere.  Correspondingly, we have watched the deterioration of the sense of stewardship that once was so widespread among the most successful Americans and the near disappearance of the sense of seemliness that led successful capitalists to be obedient to unenforceable standards of propriety.  Many senior figures in the financial world were appalled by what was going on during the run-up to the financial meltdown of 2008.  Why were they so silent before and after the catastrophe?  Capitalists who behave honorably and with restraint no longer have either the platform or the vocabulary to preach their own standards and to condemn capitalists who behave dishonorably and recklessly.  And so capitalism's reputation has fallen on hard times and the principled case for capitalism must be made anew.”

So let’s start by changing our paradigm of the purpose of business.  It should be to satisfy a customer’s needs as well as survive.  When a business consistently and successfully satisfies a customer’s needs then they’ll make a profit and satisfy their own need to survive.  So the heresy I’d like to propose is that profit is a natural byproduct of consistently and successfully satisfying customer’s needs and not the other way around. 

If companies were only in business to make money than anything they did to make more money would be all right.  For example, if a business did not honor their warranties they’d leave their customers with defective merchandise or poorly performed services.  Customers, in turn, would stop buying from them.  If a business consistently mistreated and indiscriminately fired their employees, they’d have a hard time keeping their employees and getting new people to work for them.  And what if businesses wouldn’t pay their bills?  Suppliers and creditors would stop doing business with them.  If a company’s only business is making money without considering the consequences to its customers, employees, suppliers, and creditors then it won’t be in business for long.  To survive, a business has to strike the right balance between making money and satisfying their customer’s needs.

So if you think about it, businesses aren’t really in business just to make money; they’re really in business to satisfy their customer’s needs.  And if they’re consistent and successful in satisfying their customer’s needs, then they’ll earn a profit and the firm will thrive and survive.  If a business doesn’t make a profit it’s an indication they’re not successfully satisfying the needs of their customers.

Unfortunately, over the past three to four decades publicly traded companies have been more fixated on only satisfying the needs of their owners, short-term investors, and managers at the expense of their customers, employees, suppliers, creditors, and distributors.  And all the businesses that have behaved unethically, immorally, dishonesty, and illegally over the past few decades are just a reflection of the American business culture today.  Just as the crime-rate in a city is a general indicator of the health of a community, so the crime-rate in business is a general indicator of the general health of the business in our society.  Where corporate scandals are high, so are greed, profit-at-any-price, and unfair dealings with customers, employees, suppliers, creditors, and distributors.

For the most part, companies meet the community’s moral, ethical, and legal standards because it is in their own best interest to do so.  The consequences of breaking laws or being sued by consumers are higher than the cost of doing the right thing in first place.  Laws are generally made to criminalize what is wrong but do not legislate what is right.  There are unenforceable standards of right and wrong.  Some examples would be that murder is a crime, but no law can be passed forcing someone to love their neighbor.  Embezzlement is a crime, but no law can be passed forcing someone to be generous with their employees.  Perjury is a crime, but no law can be passed forcing someone to be consistently honest.

In the same way, many companies have rules set out in inspiring mission statements, guiding principles and value statements, but when push comes to shove their real mission and goals are to meet the shareholder's earnings expectations and to drive management bonuses (which are usually based on short-term profit goals).  And many times this is done at the expense of the other stakeholders (customers, employees, suppliers, creditors, and distributors) who really do add the most value to their organizations.

So companies focus on short-term profitability while keeping regulatory and liability issues in their peripheral vision. They avoid doing what is absolutely wrong, but their corporate culture does not focus on doing what is right.  Corporate America, in general, has become greedy and short sighted because most business leaders have lost their moral and ethical way. Without a moral and ethical foundation, people naturally choose what makes them feel good, or look good, but not always what is good.  They choose the least painful or the most profitable solution, and they use situational ethics because they have no absolute standard of what is right or wrong. There are only acceptable or unacceptable options in any given situation.

By developing a more virtuous form of capitalism by following tried and true moral and ethical guidelines we can define standards of conduct that will prevent moral and ethical lapses in business.  Just as the founding fathers of America applied Judeo-Christian values to our Constitution, yet separated religious organizations from civil affairs, so too can businesses apply these same Judeo-Christian moral and ethical teaching to create a culture of doing what is right while not infringing on anyone’s personal religious beliefs.

Fostering a business attitude of consistently and successfully satisfying customer’s needs is a legitimate profit strategy because it helps companies focus on what’s really important: their customers, employees, suppliers, creditors, and distributors.  These are the stakeholders who really do add the most value to a company.  If a company satisfies the needs of these important stakeholders it will ultimately be more profitable, and this will satisfy the needs of the other important stakeholders: the owners, investors, and managers of a company.  And society, in general, will benefit from a thriving business.  Warren Buffett said it well, “If a business does well, the stock eventually follows.”

It’s essential that a company makes a profit otherwise it will go out of business and not survive.  Rather than narrowly focusing on profits, companies should focus instead on satisfying the various needs of its primary stakeholders: the customers, employees, suppliers, creditors, and distributors.  Doing this will not only make a company more profitable, it will produce much better results, prolong its life, and provide its employees and managers with a more fulfilling livelihood.

Profit, after all, is a natural byproduct of consistently and successfully satisfying customer’s needs.  Over the long run, working and doing business in an honest, ethical and moral fashion will be more profitable and professionally rewarding.  Whereas giving in to short-term, expedient solutions is actually more expensive in the long run than doing the right thing in the first place.

If living in a utopian world like that of the fictional 24th-century Star Ship Enterprise is something we all dream of, then changing our paradigms on the purpose of business will bring us one step closer to realizing that dream.   

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Day - the True History by Fred E. Foldvary

The Thanksgiving Day that millions of Americans celebrate, with turkey and stuffing, is a myth. The true history was forgotten long ago, and even most of the history books have it wrong.

The Pilgrims landed in 1620 and founded the Colony of New Plymouth in what is now Massachusetts. They had a difficult first winter, but survived with the help of the Indians. The usual story in the history textbooks relates how in the fall of 1621, the grateful Pilgrims held their first Thanksgiving Day and invited the Indians to a big Thanksgiving-Day feast with turkey and pumpkins.

There was indeed a big feast in 1621, but it was not a Thanksgiving Day. This three-day feast was described in a letter by the colonist Edward Winslow. It was a hunting party with the Indians, but there was no Thanksgiving Day proclamation, nor any mention of a thanksgiving in 1621 in any historical record.

The history of the colony was chronicled by Governor William Bradford in his book, Of Plimouth Plantation, available at many libraries. Bradford relates how the Pilgrims set up a communist system in which they owned the land in common and would also share the harvests in common. By 1623, it became clear this system was not working out well. The men were not eager to work in the fields, since if they worked hard, they would have to share their produce with everyone else. The colonists faced another year of poor harvests. They held a meeting to decide what to do.

As Governor Bradford describes it, "At last after much debate of things, the governor gave way that they should set corn everyman for his own particular... That had very good success for it made all hands very industrious, so much [more] corn was planted than otherwise would have been". The Pilgrims changed their economic system from communism to individual enterprise; the land was still owned in common and could not be sold or inherited, but each family was allotted a portion, and they could keep whatever they grew. The governor "assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end."

Bradford wrote that their experience taught them that for society as a whole, communism, or sharing all the production, was vain and a failure:

"The experience that has had in this common course and condition, tried sundrie years, and that amongst Godly and sober men, may well evince the Vanities of the conceit of Plato's and other ancients, applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of propertie, and bringing into commone wealth, would make them happy and flourishing, as if they were wiser than God."

Their new incentive-based economic system was great success. It looked like they would have an abundant harvest this time. But then, during the summer, the rains stopped, threatening the crops. The Pilgrims held a "Day of Humiliation" and prayer. The rains came and the harvest was saved. It is logical to surmise that the Pilgrims saw this as a was a sign that God blessed their new economic system, because Governor Bradford proclaimed November 29, 1623, as a Day of Thanksgiving.

This was the first proclamation of thanksgiving found in Bradford's chronicles or any other historical record. The first Thanksgiving Day was therefore in November 1623. Much later, this first Thanksgiving Day became confused and mixed up with the shooting party with the Indians of 1621. And in the mixup, the great economics lesson was forgotten and then discarded by the time the Plymouth Colony merged with the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.

The Pilgrims recognized that the land itself would be their common community property, but that it is proper for the fruits of the labor of each person and family to belong to those who produced them. This was the great economics lesson about incentives that the Pilgrims learned, a lesson that so impressed them that they commemorated it every year thereafter. This should have been the day we remember their vital economics lesson, but this lesson was later forgotten in the mixup with the shooting party with the Indians!

This bitter lesson would be learned all over again by the people of the Soviet Union and other command economies, where socialism and communalism of production failed again. Fortunately the Pilgrims, a smaller community in simpler times, were able to switch quickly and realize the great prosperity that comes from applying the two principles of individual enterprise: sharing the benefits of land, and keeping what you individually earn.

Thanksgiving Day should be remembered not just as a day when we give thanks for our abundance, but more deeply and historically why we have this abundance. In our Thanksgiving Day celebrations, let us therefore tell one another the true origins of the thanksgiving and the great economic lesson that the Pilgrims hoped we would remember.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Noblesse Oblige by Allen Laudenslager and Bryan Neva (March 2013)

This Blog was originally published on Thought Leaders on March 13, 2013.  The longer I work, the more I see good people who are promoted into positions of authority in organizations slowly give into the temptation of pride and privilege. They forget their obligations and squander the opportunity given them to serve others in their organization and improve the corporate culture. 

“Noblesse Oblige” is an old French phrase that literally translates as “nobility obligates.” It means that those who have power and authority, or who are privileged, rich or famous have a moral responsibility to display honorable, charitable, and exemplary behavior towards those less fortunate or to those dependent on them.

In other words, whoever claims to be noble must conduct themselves nobly. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. summed it up nicely when he said: every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.

The idea of “Noblesse Oblige” was created out of enlightened self-interest. The nobility had serfs who were dependent on them for land to farm, a place to live and protection from bandits. In medieval times all the land belonged to the nobility; the enlightened noble recognized that while he owned the land, without someone to plant and harvest the noble had no income. Seeing to the wellbeing of his serfs was his “noble obligation.”

The good old days of companies treating their employees as their most valuable assets have been set aside in favor of expecting them to work harder for the same pay and fewer benefits. In place of rewards they’re told they should be glad they still have a job. Corporate management has developed an entitlement mentality (like the old French nobility) by remembering their privileges (power, prestige, perks, and pay) but forgetting their obligations to their employees.  So what does this mean for you?

Loyalty always starts with the person who has the power and authority and is earned not given. Power is the ability to grant or withhold rewards, and authority is the power to influence the behavior of a person with less power. And there’s no authority without a counterbalancing responsibility.

Some use their power and authority altruistically; unfortunately, many others use it capriciously or unfairly. Lord John Acton (1834—1902, British historian and moralist) famously wrote: Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So what tends to happen is that those in power begin to believe their own press releases and act as if their power is a natural right and their authority is to be unquestioned. After all, they must be right or they wouldn’t have been granted the authority in the first place, right?

The key to avoiding falling into the entitlement trap is simply by learning a little good ol’ fashioned humility. Start by walking over to your company’s customer service center and imagine there’s no one there to answer the phones, to take orders or to solve problems. You’re not going to sell anything.

Next, walk down to your company’s shipping and receiving department and watch the employees loading and unloading trucks. Now close your eyes and pretend that those workers aren’t there… your products are just sitting on the docks and the trucks are not getting loaded. How much money will you make if you don’t ship your products to customers?

It’s easy to think of all these workers as not being important because almost anyone could do these types of jobs. Answering the phones or loading and unloading trucks are cheap but also very critical. In other words, the labor costs are inexpensive but the work is valuable.

Now extrapolate these examples out to your entire organization. How much value are all your other employees contributing to your long-term success? Who really produces and who is overhead? Enlightened self-interest should tell you that without workers you’d have no income.

So while you may not be willing to pay much for a person working in customer service or shipping and receiving, enlightened self-interest should tell you that a relatively low paid employee might be critical to your long-term success and you should begin to treat that worker with the respect their contribution, not their cost, deserves.

Friday, November 14, 2014

No Man is an Island by Allen Laudenslager, A voice in the wilderness

No man is an island

No man is an island

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne

An emotionally satisfying poem, but what the heck does it mean to business? It means that your business, in too many ways to list, depends on the businesses around it and on your suppliers and customers.

A climate of success helps you to succeed while a climate of collapse makes it much more likely that you will fail. We have uncountable examples of towns that relied on a single economy. The farm and market towns of the midwest that were supported by the small family farms died with the advent of industrial farming.

Those large farms were operated by so few workers that all those support business that made the town exist weren’t needed.

We know of cases where small stores closed thru loss of business diverted to big box stores. Part of the problem is that the profits from a local store tend to stay in the community while the profits from big box stores tend to be aggregated in the financial centers of big cities.

This phenomenon constitutes a cash drain that eventually strips that small town of its cash and unless there is a constant influx of fresh cash then the community goes broke and the residents leave for richer ground.

If the cash is in the financial centers then that is where the cash gets spent and that’s where the jobs are. As the people collect where the money is those small towns slowly die out. Just like the gold rush ghost towns when the gold ran out.

We are witnessing the same thing on a national scale. As more and more products are made in far flung places the cash is being transferred from the developed nations to the developing.

The key here is that people who don’t have jobs can’t buy your product no matter how cheaply you can make it.

I can buy a life jacket for around 12 bucks but what is its value? If I don’t go out on the water I wouldn’t buy it at any price. When the boat sinks I might pay $100 for that same life jacket. If I don’t have even a single dollar, then I CAN’T buy that life jacket even if the boat is sinking under me.

The point to all this is that if you minimize your workers profits to maximize your  own, then they have less to spend with you. While it’s true your workers can’t buy enough of your product to keep you in business that money does circulate.

If your workers can’t buy from the local burger stand, the people who work in the burger joint can’t buy your washing machine or dish soap.

Every job you and your industry transfer to some far-away factory is one less local customer for your product. And when that transfer is to chase that last fraction of a percent of profit but is making your potential customer base smaller, are you really coming out ahead?

Once again, you are absolutely correct when you say that your business can’t make that big a difference and by yourself you are right. Add your choices to all the others making the same kind of decision and we have the current lingering recession.

Living proof that recessions are self-generated self-fulfilling  phenomenon. If business cut employees and/or salary/benefit packages than employees spend less and there are fewer sales.

Reminds me of an old Kingston Trio song, Desert Pete:

“You’ve got to prime the pump, 
you’ve got to have faith and believe
You’ve got to give of yourself 
before you’re ready to receive.
Drink all the water you can hold, 
wash your face, cool your feet,
Leave the bottle full for others, 
Thank you kindly, Desert Pete”

Allen Laudenslager, a voice in the wilderness, SATURDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2014

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Physicians last words on money, success, and finding true happiness

Dr. Richard Teo, who was a 40-year-old millionaire and cosmetic surgeon from Singapore with stage-4 lung cancer, spoke to a class of first year dental students about his life experience on January 19, 2012.  He passed away on October 18, 2012.  This transcript is from a video posted here. 

Hi good morning to all of you. My voice is a bit hoarse, so please bear with me. I thought I'll just introduce myself. My name is Richard, I'm a medical doctor. And I thought I'll just share some thoughts of my life. It's my pleasure to be invited by prof. Hopefully, it can get you thinking about how... as you pursue this.. embarking on your training to become dental surgeons, to think about other things as well.

Since young, I am a typical product of today's society. Relatively successful product that society requires.. From young, I came from a below average family. I was told by the media... and people around me that happiness is about success. And that success is about being wealthy. With this mind-set, I've always be extremely competitive, since I was young.

Not only do I need to go to the top school, I need to have success in all fields. Uniform groups, track, everything. I needed to get trophies, needed to be successful, I needed to have colours award, national colours award, everything. So I was highly competitive since young. I went on to medical school, graduated as a doctor. Some of you may know that within the medical faculty, ophthalmology is one of the most highly sought after specialities. So I went after that as well. I was given a traineeship in ophthalmology, I was also given a research scholarship by NUS to develop lasers to treat the eye.

So in the process, I was given 2 patents, one for the medical devices, and another for the lasers. And you know what, all this academic achievements did not bring me any wealth. So once I completed my bond with MOH, I decided that this is taking too long, the training in eye surgery is just taking too long. And there's lots of money to be made in the private sector. If you're aware, in the last few years, there is this rise in aesthetic medicine. Tons of money to be made there. So I decided, well, enough of staying in institution, it's time to leave. So I quit my training halfway and I went on to set up my aesthetic clinic... in town, together with a day surgery centre.

You know the irony is that people do not make heroes out average GP (general practitioner), family physicians. They don't. They make heroes out of people who are rich and famous. People who are not happy to pay $20 to see a GP, the same person have no qualms paying ten thousand dollars for a liposuction, 15 thousand dollars for a breast augmentation, and so on and so forth. So it's a no brainer isn't? Why do you want to be a gp? Become an aesthetic physician. So instead of healing the sick and ill, I decided that I'll become a glorified beautician. So, business was good, very good. It started off with waiting of one week, then became 3weeks, then one month, then 2 months, then 3 months. I was overwhelmed; there were just too many patients. Vanities are fantastic business. I employed one doctor, the second doctor, the 3rd doctor, the 4th doctor. And within the 1st year, we're already raking in millions. Just the 1st year. But never is enough because I was so obsessed with it. I started to expand into Indonesia to get all the rich Indonesian tai-tais who wouldn't blink an eye to have a procedure done. So life was really good.

So what do I do with the spare cash. How do I spend my weekends? Typically, I'll have car club gatherings. I take out my track car, with spare cash I got myself a track car. We have car club gatherings. We'll go up to Sepang in Malaysia. We'll go for car racing. And it was my life. With other spare cash, what do i do? I get myself a Ferrari. At that time, the 458 wasn't out, it's just a spider convertible, 430. This is a friend of mine, a schoolmate who is a forex trader, a banker. So he got a red one, he was wanting all along a red one, I was getting the silver one.

So what do I do after getting a car? It's time to buy a house, to build our own bungalows. So we go around looking for a land to build our own bungalows, we went around hunting. So how do i live my life? Well, we all think we have to mix around with the rich and famous. This is one of the Miss Universe. So we hang around with the beautiful, rich and famous. This by the way is an internet founder. So this is how we spend our lives, with dining and all the restaurants and Michelin Chefs you know.

So I reach a point in life that I got everything for my life. I was at the pinnacle of my career and all. That's me one year ago in the gym and I thought I was like, having everything under control and reaching the pinnacle.

Well, I was wrong. I didn't have everything under control. About last year March, I started to develop backache in the middle of nowhere. I thought maybe it was all the heavy squats I was doing. So I went to SGH, saw my classmate to do an MRI, to make sure it's not a slipped disc or anything. And that evening, he called me up and said that we found bone marrow replacement in your spine. I said, sorry what does that mean? I mean I know what it means, but I couldn't accept that. I was like “Are you serious?” I was still running around going to the gym you know. But we had more scans the next day, PET scans - positrons emission scans, they found that actually I have stage 4 terminal lung cancer. I was like "Whoa where did that come from?” It has already spread to the brain, the spine, the liver and the adrenals. And you know one moment I was there, totally thinking that I have everything under control, thinking that I've reached the pinnacle of my life. But the next moment, I have just lost it.

This is a CT scan of the lungs itself. If you look at it, every single dot there is a tumour. We call this miliaries tumour. And in fact, I have tens of thousands of them in the lungs. So, I was told that even with chemotherapy, that I'll have about 3-4months at most. Did my life come crushing on, of course it did, who wouldn't? I went into depression, of course, severe depression and I thought I had everything.

See the irony is that all these things that I have, the success, the trophies, my cars, my house and all. I thought that brought me happiness. But i was feeling really down, having severe depression. Having all these thoughts of my possessions, they brought me no joy. The thought of... You know, I can hug my Ferrari to sleep, no... No, it is not going to happen. It brought not a single comfort during my last ten months. And I thought they were, but they were not true happiness. But it wasn't. What really brought me joy in the last ten months was interaction with people, my loved ones, friends, people who genuinely care about me, they laugh and cry with me, and they are able to identify the pain and suffering I was going through. That brought joy to me, happiness. None of the things I have, all the possessions, and I thought those were supposed to bring me happiness. But it didn't, because if it did, I would have felt happy think about it, when I was feeling most down..

You know the classical Chinese New Year that is coming up. In the past, what do I do? Well, I will usually drive my flashy car to do my rounds, visit my relatives, to show it off to my friends. And I thought that was joy, you know. I thought that was really joy. But do you really think that my relatives and friends, whom some of them have difficulty trying to make ends meet, that will truly share the joy with me? Seeing me driving my flashy car and showing off to them? No, no way. They won’t be sharing joy with me. They were having problems trying to make ends meet, taking public transport. In fact i think, what I have done is more like you know, making them envious, jealous of all I have. In fact, sometimes even hatred.

Those are what we call objects of envy. I have them, I show them off to them and I feel it can fill my own pride and ego. That didn't bring any joy to these people, to my friends and relatives, and I thought they were real joy.

Well, let me just share another story with you. You know when I was about your age, I stayed in king Edward VII hall. I had this friend whom I thought was strange. Her name is Jennifer, we're still good friends. And as I walk along the path, she would, if she sees a snail, she would actually pick up the snail and put it along the grass patch. I was like why do you need to do that? Why dirty your hands? It’s just a snail. The truth is she could feel for the snail. The thought of being crushed to death is real to her, but to me it's just a snail. If you can't get out of the pathway of humans then you deserve to be crushed, it’s part of evolution isn't it? What an irony isn't it?

There I was being trained as a doctor, to be compassionate, to be able to empathise; but I couldn't. As a house officer, I graduated from medical school, posted to the oncology department at NUH. And, every day, every other day I witness death in the cancer department. When I see how they suffered, I see all the pain they went through. I see all the morphine they have to press every few minutes just to relieve their pain. I see them struggling with their oxygen breathing their last breath and all. But it was just a job. When I went to clinic every day, to the wards every day, take blood, give the medication but was the patient real to me? They weren't real to me. It was just a job, I do it, I get out of the ward, I can't wait to get home, I do my own stuff.

Was the pain, was the suffering the patients went through real? No. Of course I know all the medical terms to describe how they feel, all the suffering they went through. But in truth, I did not know how they feel, not until I became a patient. It is until now; I truly understand how they feel. And, if you ask me, would I have been a very different doctor if I were to re-live my life now, I can tell you yes I will. Because I truly understand how the patients feel now. And sometimes, you have to learn it the hard way.

Even as you start just your first year, and you embark this journey to become dental surgeons, let me just challenge you on two fronts.

Inevitably, all of you here will start to go into private practice. You will start to accumulate wealth. I can guarantee you. Just doing an implant can bring you thousands of dollars, it's fantastic money. And actually there is nothing wrong with being successful, with being rich or wealthy, absolutely nothing wrong. The only trouble is that a lot of us like myself couldn't handle it.

Why do I say that? Because when I start to accumulate, the more I have, the more I want. The more I wanted, the more obsessed I became. Like what I showed you earlier on, all I can was basically to get more possessions, to reach the pinnacle of what society did to us, of what society wants us to be. I became so obsessed that nothing else really mattered to me. Patients were just a source of income, and I tried to squeeze every single cent out of these patients.

A lot of times we forget, whom we are supposed to be serving. We become so lost that we serve nobody else but just ourselves. That was what happened to me. Whether it is in the medical, the dental fraternity, I can tell you, right now in the private practice, sometimes we just advise patients on treatment that is not indicated. Grey areas. And even though it is not necessary, we kind of advocate it. Even at this point, I know who are my friends and who genuinely cared for me and who are the ones who try to make money out of me by selling me "hope". We kind of lose our moral compass along the way. Because we just want to make money.

Worse, I can tell you, over the last few years, we bad mouth our fellow colleagues, our fellow competitors in the industry. We have no qualms about it. So if we can put them down to give ourselves an advantage, we do it. And that's what happening right now, medical, dental everywhere. My challenge to you is not to lose that moral compass. I learnt it the hard way, I hope you don't ever have to do it.

Secondly, a lot of us will start to get numb to our patients as we start to practise. Whether is it government hospitals, private practice, I can tell you when I was in the hospital, with stacks of patient folders, I can't wait to get rid of those folders as soon as possible; I can't wait to get patients out of my consultation room as soon as possible because there is just so many, and that's a reality. Because it becomes a job, a very routine job. And this is just part of it. Do I truly know how the patient feels back then? No, I don't. The fears and anxiety and all, do I truly understand what they are going through? I don't, not until when this happens to me and I think that is one of the biggest flaws in our system.

We’re being trained to be healthcare providers, professional, and all and yet we don't know how exactly they feel. I'm not asking you to get involved emotionally, I don't think that is professional but do we actually make a real effort to understand their pain and all? Most of us won’t, alright, I can assure you. So don't lose it, my challenge to you is to always be able to put yourself in your patient's shoes.

Because the pain, the anxiety, the fear are very real even though it's not real to you, it's real to them. So don't lose it and you know, right now I'm in the midst of my 5th cycle of my chemotherapy. I can tell you it’s a terrible feeling. Chemotherapy is one of those things that you don't wish even your enemies to go through because it's just suffering, lousy feeling, throwing out, you don't even know if you can retain your meals or not. Terrible feeling! And even with whatever little energy now I have, I try to reach out to other cancer patients because I truly understand what pain and suffering is like. But it's kind of little too late and too little.

You guys have a bright future ahead of you with all the resource and energy, so I’m going to challenge you to go beyond your immediate patients. To understand that there are people out there who are truly in pain, truly in hardship. Don’t get the idea that only poor people suffer. It is not true. A lot of these poor people do not have much in the first place, they are easily contented. for all you know they are happier than you and me but there are out there, people who are suffering mentally, physically, hardship, emotionally, financially and so on and so forth, and they are real. We choose to ignore them or we just don't want to know that they exist.

So do think about it alright, even as you go on to become professionals and dental surgeons and all. That you can reach out to these people who are in need. Whatever you do can make a large difference to them. I'm now at the receiving end so I know how it feels, someone who genuinely care for you, encourage and all. It makes a lot of difference to me. That’s what happens after treatment. I had a treatment recently, but I’ll leave this for another day. A lot of things happened along the way, that's why I am still able to talk to you today.

I'll just end of with this quote here, it's from this book called Tuesdays with Morris, and some of you may have read it. Everyone knows that they are going to die; every one of us knows that. The truth is, none of us believe it because if we did, we will do things differently. When I faced death, when I had to, I stripped myself off all stuff totally and I focused only on what is essential. The irony is that a lot of times, only when we learn how to die then we learn how to live. I know it sounds very morbid for this morning but it's the truth, this is what I’m going through.

Don’t let society tell you how to live. Don’t let the media tell you what you're supposed to do. Those things happened to me. And I led this life thinking that these are going to bring me happiness. I hope that you will think about it and decide for yourself how you want to live your own life. Not according to what other people tell you to do, and you have to decide whether you want to serve yourself, whether you are going to make a difference in somebody else's life. Because true happiness doesn't come from serving yourself. I thought it was but it didn't turn out that way.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Managers vs. Leaders by James Colvard

We often talk of management and leadership as if they are the same thing. They are not. 

The two are related, but their central functions are different. Managers provide leadership, and leaders perform management functions. But managers don't perform the unique functions of leaders.

Here are some key differences:
·       A manager takes care of where you are; a leader takes you to a new place.
·       A manager deals with complexity; a leader deals with uncertainty.
·       A manager is concerned with finding the facts; a leader makes decisions.
·       A manager is concerned with doing things right; a leader is concerned with doing the right things.
·       A manager's critical concern is efficiency; a leader focuses on effectiveness.
·       A manager creates policies; a leader establishes principles.
·       A manager sees and hears what is going on; a leader hears when there is no sound and sees when there is no light.
·       A manager finds answers and solutions; a leader formulates the questions and identifies the problems.
·       A manager looks for similarities between current and previous problems; a leader looks for differences.
·       A manager thinks that a successful solution to a management problem can be used again; a leader wonders whether the problem in a new environment might require a different solution.

Multiple functions, limited resources and conflicting demands for time and resources, require management. It involves setting priorities, establishing processes, overseeing the execution of tasks and measuring progress against expectations. Management is focused on the short term, ensuring that resources are expended and progress is made within time frames of days, weeks and months. Leadership, which deals with uncertainty, is focused on the long term. The effects of a policy decision to invest in staff development, for example, might never be objectively determined or, at best, might only be seen after many years.

Management involves looking at the facts and assessing status, which can be aided by technical tools, such as spreadsheets, PERT (program evaluation and review technique) charts, and the like. Leadership involves looking at inadequate or nonexistent information and then making a decision. Leaders must have the courage to act and the humility to listen. They must be open to new data, but at some point act with the data available.

Management's concern with efficiency means doing things right to conserve resources. Leadership is focused on effectiveness - doing the right thing. For example, the military must manage its resources well to maximize efficiency. But in waging war, the military's critical responsibility is to be effective and win the war regardless of the resources required. Getting a bargain does not reflect effective leadership if it means losing the war. Good management is important, but good leadership is essential.

The public sector develops a lot of good managers, but very few leaders. Government focuses too much on abstract or formal education, rather than experience. The Senior Executive Service has provisions for mobility and development through experience, but they are rarely used.

Developing Leaders
Developing managers and leaders involves stages of understanding, not prescriptively, but conceptually.

Phase 1 is higher education or academic training that focuses on abstract learning, in which solutions to problems are provided in textbooks.

Phase 2 applies that abstract process to the actual workplace, in which there are often no right or wrong answers. This is the critical phase in which a future manager or leader develops the confidence to make decisions without knowing the right answers. This requires attempting tasks that are challenging, so that success will demonstrate competence.

Phase 3 involves social and political dimensions, as a performer moves from working independently to working with others as a supervisor or member of a product or process team. It is no longer enough to simply know the facts, since the process now includes others and involves subjectivity.

Phase 4 replaces simpler tasks that involve teams or small groups with complex tasks that involve independent, but often interrelated, large groups. In this pivotal stage, managers accept responsibility for things outside their expertise and rely on someone else to provide the facts. The manager may have more authority, but has become more dependent upon others. This might be the time to get more formal training, such as seminars or academic programs in management, to develop skills that weren't addressed in earlier education. There is no turning back after this transition from performing objective tasks to subjective decision-making and problem solving.

Phase 5 separates leaders from managers. The management role changes from maintaining an organization's values to creating them. Leaders establish the principles upon which their subordinates formulate policies.

Building on Strengths
Becoming a leader requires understanding oneself. There are many tools available, such as the Meyers Briggs profile, to help with that assessment. Recognizing personal characteristics is important in learning how to deal with others, recognizing strengths and weaknesses, and adopting an appropriate leadership style. An extrovert must learn to listen more and talk less. An introvert must speak up more and get heard. A manager who is more comfortable knowing all the details and giving explicit orders should not adopt a participative management style, but rather recognize the limitations of an authoritative style. Adopting a style that is inconsistent with one's personality not only creates stress but it often leads to failure.

Leaders also must understand their professional traits. One useful tool is the 360-degree feedback survey, which allows managers to get the perspectives of their bosses, peers and subordinates. Such a total view is valuable because managers tend to assess their behavior in terms of their intent, not the effect.

Today the federal system, both its structure and processes, is changing. New agencies, such as the Homeland Security Department, are being formed. The federal personnel system is being modified significantly. Outsourcing has become a household word in the government. Civil servants are going to a new place, and it will take leaders - not just managers - to get them there.

Article was printed in Government Executive, July 7, 2003

James Colvard, deputy director of the Office of Personnel Management under President Reagan, later was associate director of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. He teaches at Indiana University.

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