Musings on decisions and factors that drive them.

Rubric, purpose, context

Can we at least agree on what we are trying to achieve?

Thomas Friedman writes of the need for Obama to define a "a clear, simple, repeatable narrative to explain his politics." Friedman refers to this needed statement as a "rubric" (a statement of purpose or function).  It is this latter label that reveals the true value of such a statement.

A context or purpose is essential to a plan or strategy.  As a framework for suggested actions, it allows one to see clearly the actions' relative value in terms of achieving higher level objectives. It is more than just a means for "spinning" messages, or of preventing the possibility that actions will be "easily obstructed, picked off or delegitimized by opponents and lobbyists."  Although these may be some side benefits of having a clear purpose to frame one's actions, they should not be the primary intent.

Friedman has actually roughed out a good starting point for organizing the thinking in Obama's national plan.  Its purpose (depicted on the left in the illustration), the broad brush strokes of fairly high level objectives (in the mid section), and a general reference to tactical actions suggested to achieve the objectives (depicted on the right).

This outline should be taken a step further.  The key would be to weight the objectives (those in the middle).  Many people would argue that "All are needed.  They are all important."  This is not disputed. All objectives are on the list because of this very truth...they are all needed.  Health care, energy independence, education, infrastructure, national competitiveness.  However, there is still a relative priority, a relative importance to undertaking improvements to them.  Determination of this relative importance comes by comparative analysis of each against all others, in terms of the context and additionally considering in that comparison the current known status of each as well as the time frame of the plan.

Once relative priority of the objectives is defined, the next step is to assess the more tactical actions being suggested against all objectives.  Typically, one action will have been developed in terms of one objective. However, an action could serve multiple objectives. The critical nature of any action is determined by its influence upon supporting the achievement of more than one objective, factoring in the relative importance of each of those objectives.  It is the cumulative merit that makes some actions those that are the "king pins" of one's plan.

Most persons might think that this type of prioritization work would take days.  It doesn't.  It can be done in hours. Others will argue that politics will never allow this to work.  One can understand the frustration of Senator Evan Bayh leading to his recent resignation.  The key is of course, to have a willingness by a group to commit that time (hours), to be open for reasonable discussion, and to be respectful of others' thoughts.  We have seen the most divided groups find common ground, and elevate their work because of their ability to serve a greater purpose. Agreement on purpose is the beginning of the execution of a plan in which everyone is functioning as a team, which is why having such a statement is vital.

Pyrrhic solutions

The cost of bad behavior
For the past month, I confess that life, as depicted by the news, began to feel too much as if it were "looping." The subjects and even the actions seemed all too familiar: bankers' bonuses, stalled health care "reform," natural disasters with delays in help arriving, partisan politics as usual, even debates over multi-millionaire TV talk show hosts.  The formulaic daily dose of greed, politics, and pain, "offset" by one "feel-good" story a night, was almost too much.

It is difficult to listen to all the pundits' "interpretations" of what everything means, especially when such interpretations rarely get to the heart of the matter.  A colleague of mine once told me how she had a boss who would continually say (after she had commented on something in a meeting), "What Sandra means is..."  Finally, she turned to the group and said, "No, what Sandra meant was..."  (Yes, she left the job shortly thereafter.)  I wonder that the news media, speaking to the public, does not see that they are interpreting the public to the public?  We don't need to be told what we are feeling.  And there isn't just one set of feelings that the nation collectively feels.  A poll that determines who is simply for or against an action or person does not reveal the motivations or the feelings around that judgment.

The recent winning of a Republican Senate seat in Massachusetts became a boon to all sorts of interpretations, one of which centered on "why the American public is angry." As if there is but one tangible or tactical "reason," such as "Obama should be focusing more on job creation." [A simple test of the validity of this singular conclusion: How does one explain the large number of employed persons that are angry? How many persons with jobs have put job creation at the top of their lists of priorities?]

For some of us, anger is not as much about the surface issues, as it is about how those issues are being handled in terms of behavior.  We have watched an enormous waste of time and money by our so-called representatives, in accomplishing nothing.  We have watched our hard earned dollars be given to those who have no compunction about taking from us, but not giving back.  Issues themselves (such as health care reform) are overshadowed because of manipulation by some, and the weakness of others in pushing back against such manipulation, with at least a reprimand.  Nor does it sit well when attitudes are clearly dismissive of the public's intelligence (yes, there is always the "low end of a bell curve," but even at that end no one wants to be belittled). No one likes to be told that they can be "sold" (in a PR sense) something they are being forced to buy.

Defining issues, prioritizing them and seeking tangible solutions are all important.  It is behavior during the process of finding the solution that becomes more important. Courtesy. Respect. Civility. Any decision that involves more than one person depends on these behavioral qualities. How one felt, how one was treated, will be remembered long after a problem has been resolved.
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Happy New Year!

We're taking off for the holiday, and will be back posting more musings in January.  The best to everyone.  Warm holiday wishes.  Have safe journeys, if traveling.

Disfiguring a Queen

Many of us love large ocean liners. United Arab Emirates' real estate developer Nakheel purchased the venerable and long-serving Queen Elizabeth 2 from Cunard Line with the intention of creating a "stationary hotel" in Dubai. The original Queen Mary was converted in such a manner and now rests in Long Beach, California.

For those wishing to experience some of the luxuries of a time gone by, this type of hotel with a nautical flavor definitely appeals. One can feel a part of the many who journeyed across oceans in this particular type of splendor. She looks like a ship, floats like a ship and really is a ship.

So why buy a ship, a true maritime icon, if one plans to lop off a critical piece of its distinctive appearance, (in this case, her majestic red funnel) and replace that with a "glass penthouse?" Other than for one nightly occupant to boast to his friends and colleagues that his personal wealth enables him to stay in "the most exclusive hotel room in Dubai," this dismembering move certainly will not attract other potential visitors to the ship. And for that "lucky" person who stays in a part of the ship that was never intended to be any aspect of its accommodation, just what is the point?
It is clear that criteria of attraction to this formerly great ship becoming a hotel simply have not been examined from the majority of potential customers' points of view:

  • Seeing and experiencing the ship just as she was in her glory.
  • "Cruising" with none of the dangers encountered at sea.
  • Being where so many celebrities and world-famous people have enjoyed themselves.
  • Being part of the thousands who walked the same companionways, sat in the same lounges, and dined in the same restaurants.
  • Having an experience that cannot be equated to anything a land hotel can offer.

Of course, these criteria will be in addition to experiencing the numerous luxuries found in land-based hotels.

The key comes in determining which are more important in the context of attraction to a maritime icon. It is perhaps the lack of knowledge of relative merit of these types of criteria from a customer viewpoint that has led to the proposed sad disfigurement of this particularly beautiful ship.

When leadership fails

No vision or decisive action

Anger continues to grow towards world leaders around the globe. We see it following so-called free elections. It surfaces at climate conventions. In piazzas in Italy. We feel it in our own living rooms as we sit and watch CSPAN cover an inept U.S. legislature. We see so-called representatives blatantly disregarding the desires of the majority of a population wishing to have better health care.

Suggestions for helping resolve the world climate crisis are nothing more than pathetic near-term solutions having inconsequential long-term effect, amounting to nothing more than "spin."  With such puny measures, coupled with the arrogance of those arriving in their private limos and jets, there may not even be a "long-term" to worry about. The suggested half-measures of buying credits while allowing pollution, condones behavior known to be unacceptable, and favors the rich.  Money is not going to turn down the world's thermostat. Money is not the cure. It is the problem.  Businesses believe they will lose money if there are any measures of substance taken to resolve our climate issues.

And the anger over health care?  Polls vary slightly, but all indicate that the majority of  the U.S. population wants to have a "public option" for health insurance (but not a government-run system for health care delivery).  The legislature does not appear to be listening.  Seemingly willing only to serve the interests of the private insurance industry, they are constructing a nightmare of mandated coverage, policed by the government on that industry's behalf.

No proposed solution has directly dealt with the fact that the key reason most Americans lack insurance is because rates, set by this industry, are simply not affordable.  Currently, neither premiums nor "shared costs" (those not covered after one's premiums are paid) are within the reach of those who are "uninsured."  It is why they are uninsured.  This seems obvious. However, in both House and Senate bills, suggested premiums, deductibles and uncovered amounts will be based on "industry input."

Amanda Knox may have done "suspect" cartwheels in a police station in Italy.  But does anyone, other than Howard Dean, think that the insurance industry isn't doing a few cartwheels of its own at this point?

Climate and health care issues directly and deeply touch all world populations.  Currently, there is too much focus on finding short term "solutions" and then "spinning" them to gain acceptance.

People are tired of platitudes and politics.  We need someone to be bold and lead.  Leadership does not mean sitting on top of the heap. Leadership is not positioning, or a photo-opportunity, or great individual press coverage. It is not throwing money at someone else and telling them to go solve their problems with it.  It is impelling others, through both inspiration and action, through both articulated dreams and decisive deeds, to take actions themselves that align with the better vision for all.

Leadership must answer to the population it serves, be it national or global. To poorly paraphrase Nietzche: "To command is nothing, if no one obeys."  A corollary: "To follow is nothing, if no one is leading."
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Dreams, Downfalls and Redemption

Planning for more than a wing and a prayer

It is said that, when loosely categorized, there are but seven plots in the world, which could be broken down into 100 or so sub plots.  "News stories" of late might indicate we are obsessed with but one.  "Rags-to-riches" and the much more lucrative variation (from the standpoint of tabloids), the "rags-to-riches-to-rags" theme.

Media coverage of sports figures and celebrities has succeeded in exploiting this theme.  There appears to be an endless spectator market for celebrity carnage.  It starts with first feeding the general population's need for hope. Then it transitions to tapping the more pernicious pangs of envy, envy of the very thing once loved.  Think of Susan Boyle, and most recently, Tiger Woods.

In industry-specific magazines, there is often a similar approach to business coverage. Companies are well loved at their beginnings as the scrappy start ups who are making it big.  In time, however, as they continue to succeed, their images change. The very term "big" shifts from one of admiration to one depicting everything that is believed to be wrong with being large (e.g., bureaucracy, inability to listen, believing one's own press, being out of touch with the customers).  Think of depictions of Microsoft, Google, and Boeing over the years.

Today, Boeing's Dreamliner flew for the first time.  (A beauty to be sure, reflected in classic wet Seattle runways.)  The past few years' press coverage has dwelt on problems at Boeing, and the many delays associated with the Dreamliner.  Now, we are told that this plane could change everything.  Here is yet another rendition of the rags-riches theme: the rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-redemption variation.  A number of commentators asked if this first flight would be big enough to overcome the negatives associated with the Boeing image of the past couple of years.  It does feel as if we might witness the industrial version of Cinderella Man.

In a story, of course, the author chooses the plot, the starting point, the ending, and the duration of the story. The story's conclusion has been set before we even begin it.

An organization or company obviously wishes to write its own story.  A good plan to drive towards a desired conclusion (vision) is the best one can do.  If done successfully the story never ends. The plan is always recreated and extended, always envisioning the unknown, the future.  A good strategy does not just deal with today's problems or options.   It anticipates those of the future.

Anticipation can be reached through trends, and more powerfully through pure imagination, pure speculation.  Assumptions about the future should be clearly documented.  Confidence levels in the assumptions need to be indicated. Their relative importance to conducting one's business successfully ascertained. Any effect if one were to be wrong in the assumption should be anticipated.  The combination of confidence levels, importance and downside effects provides a means to create cushions for critical future actions.

Although the public may devour a good rags-to-riches-to-rags story, the question is whether a company can survive being the protagonist of such a story.  Good planning helps a company from becoming tabloid or industry-media fodder, avoiding heavy dependence on one item, one product, or one action to make a comeback.  One cannot always have a successful Dreamliner first flight in one's pocket.
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