Musings on decisions and factors that drive them.
Health Care Reform as weapon
Needed: new rationale
After the fires are out...being ready
An economist acquaintance of mine from Europe used to remind me that economic recessions were a time of cleaning house, making things leaner and better. A time of innovation. Of finding new and better ways to survive, in the long-term.
During tough economic times, the first things to be cut in many large businesses are personnel, training and travel. Also, though not often revealed, is the fact that activities related to long-term planning, are typically postponed or dispensed with entirely. The rationalization has been that these activities are "expendable" at a time when there is "serious fire-fighting" underway "just to survive." Contrary to the sage advice I was given, this "crisis thinking" does not bode well for innovation, or becoming leaner or better. What truly are the chances for survival following multiple cycle swings if this type of thinking dominates?
Economic cycles are reality. Tough times will continue to occur. Long-term planning, if done correctly, accounts for survival during present and future tough times. Tactics pursued for immediate survival, however, don't necessarily position for the long term.
Short-term thinking, because it is a problem-solving mindset, is typically reactive. Long-term thinking incorporates both reactions and proactive actions. It can be about survival, but it is also about positioning. If one's competition maintains this long-term view, it is the competition that will be ahead at the end of each downturn, when one is only regrouping and starting to "plan again."
Therefore, critical to the decisions one makes is a perspective in terms of time. Is one judging one's options in the context of the short-term or the long-term? The simple act of framing a decision in terms of time, would elevate the quality of judgments being made. Finding solutions that satisfy the short-term as well as benefitting the long-term position are better than those serving only immediate survival. And a separate exercise to think in this manner is not required.
"I also don't believe that your company [Comcast] has seen any televisions lately. Calling this huge piece of equipment a 'set-top box' is ridiculous. The top of my television is about 3" deep. Trying to balance a 'set-top box' might be good for an initial giggle, but impossible to do."On the other hand, TV news coverage, expectedly, decided to frame the issue as one in which "seniors" just don't understand the ins and outs of high tech, the "digital revolution" or how to put together assorted pieces of electronic equipment. But, this is not about high tech. Nor about confused seniors. It's about a business decision to make more money. And it's about a clearly successful marketing campaign. The Federally-mandated transition to all-digital broadcasting was merely a convenient and timely catalyst for change. It has nothing to do with this "enhancement." Nor this "enhancement" with it.
From all the articles and brochures I've now read, it appears that Comcast's "enhancement" strategy starts with the removal of access to cable channels currently available. Comcast offers a "free" box so that one can then receive these now-scrambled channels. While unscrambling, the box degrades signals from all channels, including those broadcasting in high definition (HD), to standard definition. If one wants to see what is being broadcast in HD (currently possible without the box if one has an HD TV), one now must acquire, for a fee, a different signal converter box. Additionally, one must subscribe to the more expensive "upgrade" to Comcast's "high definition" offering. Additional costs will also be incurred as one tries to overcome the introduced inability to record shows without first getting other new equipment.
I confess I've always felt a little captive in having to accept the incremental increases to my cable bill over the years. I once looked into satellite TV, but discovered I am "treed out." So, I must thank Comcast for creating a significant enough disruption [something all robust strategies must consider] to cause me to pause and think about what is important to me. I decided to examine my options. I thought, at first, in terms of which television package would be best for me. In all our decision work with our clients, the better starting point is to state the context, the purpose for doing something. One has to get beyond statements about the activity itself, such as "selecting a great TV service," to thinking about what selecting a great TV service would do for one. If I had the best TV service in the world, what would be different about my life? OK. It was a bit of a struggle. What was the reason I even had a TV? So my purpose, after a good deal of thought, was "to enhance the quality of my life." (For those of you who are also exhausted by reality TV, please don't laugh just yet.)
I then wrote down statements of qualities that enhance life for me. Broad brush stroke statements. What were the characteristics of things that have made my life richer, more meaningful? I went on to determine their relative importance to me.
After that, I put down all sorts of options that I was considering, expanding the list to include more than just TV service packages. I ranked all these options in terms of how much they satisfied each of the things in life that enhance its quality for me.
In the end, TV service, no matter which type, fell far short of the other options I had put down. (Of course, each person doing this exercise, would have their own qualities, and their own ranking.)
In looking at my results, I wondered how much Comcast has examined the role of the Internet as a threat to their own video offering. And would Comcast care that adopting a stray pussycat would be better in my life than any of their TV service offerings? Probably not. Maybe they would care if a substantial number of people also cancelled the video portion of their cable service, keeping only the Internet. In that case, what are the chances we'll see some sort of "enhancement" to that offering?
The US budget deficit made headlines by hitting $1 trillion on Monday. A number that is nearly incomprehensible. One wonders how long it will be before such a figure will become commonplace. Have we just seen the economic equivalent of the Roger Bannister 4-minute mile?
In response to this news the NYSE was up 185.16 points and the S&P up 21.92. This could, of course, swing wildly in the other direction tomorrow. "Outlook good."
The unpredictability of leading economic indicators, as well as their general disconnect with more tangible daily realities, increases one's reluctance to make investments with any remains of decimated funds. With futures fraught with uncertainty, options that once seemed wise or safe remain dismal. Interest rates certainly don't inspire one to put one's savings in a bank. For many baby-boomers key financial decisions must be made soon. They do not have the luxury of time to heal their economic wounds. Yet, no entity or person seems trustworthy or reliable enough to consign with one's future. How can one trust in what one does not find sane or at least moderately predictable?
Larger economic recovery solutions must address the varying needs and anxieties of multiple constituencies so that all can survive (if not thrive). Viewpoints differ, depending on one's age, education, personal comfort and economic position. If one is younger than 50, if one has training in economics, if one has a stable and sufficiently generous salary, then the volatile market and the burgeoning deficit might not seem quite as despairing as they are to persons well beyond fifty, facing retirement, confronted with little chance of recovering nest eggs built over decades, compounded by the potential loss of the so-called safety net of social security.
It is not that one view is right and one is wrong. Solutions just are, and always will be, assessed from different angles. Each perspective has its own reality. More robust solutions will account for this fact. Finding common ground is essential to selecting solutions affecting a broad range of constituents. Understanding and honoring the differing values of each constituency is critical. "Yes."
Feeding the nanny state on the Fourth
I'm not a real fan of the Fourth of July. Not since my university days when I worked evenings and weekends in a big city hospital ER to earn tuition money. A parade of disasters would occur each and every Fourth. Facial injuries, burns, blindness. A great many were self-inflicted injuries. But not all. Most resulted from the "it-won't-happen-to-me" mentality of not just children, but more reprehensibly, of adults who insisted on showing off with fireworks. It's been decades since my ER days, but my general attitude towards fireworks handled by amateurs hasn't changed a whole lot. Perhaps the only significant shift is my viewpoint. I worry more about the persons on the receiving end of others' negligence or bravado.
Nine houses were set ablaze in the Seattle area this Fourth due to mishandling of fireworks. Last year there were two houses near my neighborhood that caught on fire. In this region, some types of fireworks (much more explosive than sparklers or Roman candles) are "legal." And, legal or not, they can be deadly if mishandled. TV coverage of this past weekend's tragedies indicated that this "legality" somehow excused those who set off the fireworks from any responsibility for the injuries to others and their property. [I don't know how true this is. We drive cars, which are legal. But when we drive irresponsibly, we are liable for our manner of handling the car, i.e. the legal item.]
Many argue the "remedy" to these Fourth of July debacles is simply to ban fireworks. While initially inclined to support this direction, I also wondered why we must always pass a law, a regulation, or a fine to instill a sense of responsibility in persons for their actions. My English friends refer to this as "the nanny state."
We come round to the overarching purpose of what is hoped to be achieved by our actions. If this purpose is not the purpose of all those involved or affected, then actions pursued or suggested will not be "owned" or respected. It is imperative to integrate differing viewpoints into a simple, clear framework for discussion of possible options. Hence, we combine "to allow festive pyrotechnic enjoyment" with "while ensuring the safety of persons and property." A ban is but one suggested solution. A ban on unlicensed pyrotechnical amateurs could be another possible solution. Penalties for mishandling fireworks is another. Stiffer penalties for purchasing illegal fireworks. Penalties on persons manufacturing and selling illegal fireworks. Training in the proper handling of pyrotechnics. Working a few shifts in a big city ER. There are more possible solutions and there could be a combination of actions providing an even better approach. But it all starts with working on the overarching framework for the decision. Then one would weigh the options in terms of how well they address the purpose. It many not altogether prevent our becoming a "nanny state," but there will at least be some thought to selection of more viable "nanny" actions.