Life Is Like A Sailboat

Planning is a critical aspect of making progress toward your goals.


As they say;

If you fail to plan, plan to fail. 


However, planning is subject to life–and life happens!


One colleague of mine compared it to a sailboat, and our dialogue went something like this:

You set out on a course. But the wind and ocean current takes you here and there. Even as you try to steer the boat with the sails and rudder, sometimes you land on Gilligan’s Island!


Hence, life is like a sailboat.  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

White Lie, Black Truth

No this is not another civil or human rights post, although I like writing those as well. 


Rather, this is about how we use our words to help and not hurt others. 

“White Lie, 

Black Truth”

Yes, we all know that it’s wrong to lie (it’s even in the 10 Commandments). 


Except, of course, when we need to tell a “white lie” in order to keep someone’s feelings from getting hurt.


For example, I may not like your new haircut, but when you ask me glowingly what I think, instead of telling you how it’s too short or whatever, I tell you, “Yeah, it looks great!”


Then, there is the “black truth.”


That’s when we swallow hard and tell the  truth to someone, even though it may hurt their feelings, it’s ultimately for their good. 


For example, your child may be going of course with their lives, and while you don’t want to hurt their feelings, you know you need to tell them the truth in order to help them course-correct.


Telling lies or truth can be hurtful to people, but a white lie isn’t really bad, because it’s used to protect someone’s feeling, the black truth, is also not so dark and foreboding, because there are times when you need to get past the superficial, be real with someone, and tell them the hard truth in order to help them in a very practical sense. 


That’s one of life’s most difficult lessons, that not everything is black or white. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Strategy, Strategery, Stratego

Strategy.jpeg

Like the all knowing eye…


Strategy is our way of trying to forge a coherent path ahead. 


Of course, as humans, we are imperfect and don’t know what we don’t know. 


But whether we call it strategy, strategery, or stratego, the goal is to have a method to our madness. 


We can’t just rely on luck, gut, intuition, or subjective whim to get us wherever. 


Having no strategy is brainless following or aimless wandering. 


Strategy means your thinking ahead what you want to achieve and then at least trying your best to accomplish something. 


Ample course corrections allowed and encouraged, as needed. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Just Can’t Bear To Think

Whether though endless work, family activities, exercise, computer time, or whatever, people have a hard time just stopping to think. 

According to the Washington Post, a study in Science shows that people would rather do just about anything–including administer electric shocks to themselves–rather than having to just think for a little while. 

Fully 67% of men and 25% of women chose electric shocks over sitting and thinking for just 6-15 minutes!

People are “desperate for distractions”–whether through social media or smartphones and more.

This is why many ancient practices such as Buddhism, martial arts, yoga, and other disciplines teach meditation–sitting silently, without distraction, deeply in thought. 

People are afraid to stop their endless running, rounds of chores and activities, hustle and bustle, and just think about what they are actually doing and where they are going.

Sitting alone with yourself–you have to confront you!

  • Fears and anxieties
  • Life problems of all sorts
  • Mistakes and personal inadequacies
  • Bad habits and even dangerous addictions

Keeping yourself endlessly busy is an enabler to avoid sometimes painful reflection, introspection, and even necessary self-help. 

While you often hear that doctors recommend a certain amount of activity to keep physically healthy, I believe that similarly, mental and spiritual guidance would be for carving out time for physical inactivity and instead focusing on meditation and reflection. 

Perhaps, this is one reason that the Sabbath (kept in various ways by religions around the world) is so important to the mind and soul–it is a time to stop the work and daily mundane activities and instead focus on your spiritual side. 

Contrary to what you might think, refraining from all the activity may be one of the hardest things to actually do, but stopping and thinking (instead of just continuously doing), confronting yourself, and making life course corrections can be some of the most rewarding. 

Can you stop and think for just 15 minutes or do you need that next fix of compulsive distraction? 

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Performance and Transparency – 2gether 4ever

Performance and Transparency - 2gether 4ever

Really liked this performance measurement and transparency at Home Depot.

Here are their store performance measures prominently displayed.

Not a high-tech solution, but every measure has its place and metrics.

– Looks at friendly customer service.

– Tracks speed of checkout.

– Measures accuracy of transactions.

This lines up well with the management adage that “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

Some pointers:

– Identify, collaboratively, your key drivers of performance

– Determine whether/how you can measure them efficiently (i.e. qualitatively, quantitatively)

– Set realistic, stretch targets for the organization

– Communicate the goals and measures, 360 degrees

– Regularly capture the measures and make the metrics transparent

– Recognize and reward success and course correct when necessary

– Reevaluate measures and goals over time to ensure they are still relevant

Wash, rinse, repeat for continuous improvement. 😉

(Source Photo: Dannielle Blumenthal)

Economics, Pendulum Style

Economics, Pendulum Style

To combat the recession of 2007, the Federal Reserve initiated an aggressive policy of Quantitative Easing–purchasing federal debt en masse to flood demand for Treasuries and lower interest rates to near zero to stimulate the economy.

As of June 2013 the Feds balance sheet has swelled to over $3.4 trillion in assets of treasury debt. What happens when the Treasury has to repay those trillions?

Who is the Treasury going to borrow that money from and at what interest rate?

Just like raising demand for Treasuries lowered interest rates, increasing the supply of Treasury debt to pay back the Federal Reserve will make interest rates go way up the other way.

Rising interest rates makes borrowing more expensive–e.g. buying a car with an auto loan is more expensive, buying a home with a mortgage is more expensive–and inflation can skyrocket.

But what is worse is that despite the recent slowing of the growth of the national debt, many economists calculate the total US debt at a whopping $70 trillion when you include the host of unfunded liabilities including social entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, as well as government loan guarantees (mortgage, student loan, etc,), deposit insurance (i.e. FDIC(, and the money owed to the Federal Reserve.

What is really sad about this is that the entire wealth of American families in this country is guess what–also $70 trillion–which means that we are essentially a bankrupt nation:

Family assets of $70 trillion – Family liabilities of $70 trillion = a big fat 0 in the kitty!

To pay back the $70 trillion, it is not realistic that we will simply “grow our way out” of this fiscal mess with a GDP growth rate over the last 20 years of a mere 2.6%. Also, we will likely not confiscate people’s assets to pay off the debt, rather we will print money–lots of it–so that we end up paying back the trillions of past debt in much devalued future money.

Heads we win, tails you lose!

The problem is that devaluing the dollar will mean that American family savings will become worth less as well–with the risk, at the extreme, of wiping out mass amounts of savings altogether.

Despite sequestration reducing the rate of our debt growth, the aging baby boomers with the resulting liabilities for their care will soon escalate the debt problem once again.

David Walker, a former U.S. Comptroller has warned about our national debt problem as well as many prominent economists.

Like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other, the spendthrift ways of the past will by necessity lead to penny-pinching in the future, and inflation rates of near zero since 2007 will lead to hyperinflation after 2014.

It reminds me of the story of Joseph in the Bible, with the 7 lean years follow the 7 fat years (in Egypt that time)–this is not just providence, but common sense economics.

Good times will come again when there is a return to the mean and the pendulum hovers near center, but the swings until then can be wide and scary.

Of course, like taking your medicine, the earlier we start to course-correct our nation’s finances, the sooner we get healthy again. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to zzz zzz)

Government By Decision

What Is Your Decision?

I saw this bumper sticker on a pole in Washington, D.C.

It says “Puppet for President 2012” and I don’t know whether this was referring to Democrats, Republicans, Independents, or whoever.

But it did make a statement about the perceived ability of government to lead and perhaps that someone is “pulling the strings.”

Governance is the act of administering, managing and of course implies leadership and decision-making.

Yet what is driving the American people crazy is that our government seems for all intensive purposes broken, almost paralyzed.

Current reading are of political stalemate, problems that are too big and complex and the compromises too painful after years of excess, where indecision reigns supreme, and with that the popularity of government is at all time lows–10% for Congress and 36% for the President.

Here’s a basic example written about today in the Wall Street Journal: despite a drop in first class mail over the last decade (thanks to email and texting) from 100 billion to fewer than 70 billion pieces of first class mail and cumulative losses from 2006 to March 2013 of $41 billion, we still can’t decide whether to cut Saturday mail delivery that could save over $3 billion a year alone.

Other examples of government indecision are almost too numerous to name:

– Should we intervene in Syria’s civil war that has taken more than 100,000 lives and displaced millions?

– When should we take action against Iranian nuclear facilities that violate nuclear non-proliferation and threaten world peace?

– How should we handle militant Islamic and Al Qaeda threats that don’t seem to dissipate?

– What do we do about the mounting federal deficit with a national debt approaching $17 trillion that is still rising about $2 billion a day!

– With fiscal cliffs, debt ceiling, sequestrations, and cuts to the U.S. credit rating, can we find our way forward?

– What should we do to get people back to work with an employment level of 58.6%, still around the lowest in the last 30 years?

– How do we reign in entitlement spending that needy people depend on, but where nearly half (49%) of Americans households today receive transfer payments, and entitlement spending has risen to $2.3 trillion annually and now are over 60% of entire federal outlays.

– How do we improve morale of the U.S. middle-class when only 33% think their children will be better off than their parents?

– What should we do about so many hanging issues out there–immigration reform, spiraling health care costs, improving our education system, balancing surveillance and privacy, and much more?

However, the ultimate question really is whether no decision is better than a decision?

With no decision, the problems continue to escalate until they sort of magically go away on their own (they are “overcome by events”) or more ominously, they reach epic crisis proportions.

With a decision to act, we may make good decisions that positively impact the situation or we may make bad decisions that have a negative impact, but even with a bad decision, we can monitor the effects and course-correct until we show true improvement.

Decisions often mean winners and losers–and no one wants to lose anything–and there are lobbyists and special interest groups–and no one wants to be voted out of office…so what do we do?

Oh no, I can’t decide!

The reality is that we will will have to make hard decisions or they will be made for us–we will either be the masters of our own fate of the slaves of our indecision.

We can take back control and fix what is broken or wallow in despair and disrepair.

We can act now or kick the can down the road and have much more painful decisions later.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)