Leadership and Hillary Clinton’s Email Address

A few days ago I gave my prediction for the 2016 Presidential election noting that I had 85% confidence in my choice.  I did that because Hillary Clinton’s own worst enemy is, well, the face looking back at her in the mirror.  Who else could accumulate such power and prestige, but never get to the top of the proverbial mountain?  The US is more than ready for a women President and under slightly different circumstances, she would have coasted right into the office.

Hillary’s problem is one that a lot of leaders face, she doesn’t appear to surround herself with the most talented people available.  The ones that are there, she doesn’t seem to listen to.  This is a huge problem in the corporate world where the leaders of organizations desire that “total control” aspect of power and proceed to appoint those “yes men” that will act as servants.  That may work in a company of 10 people, but a multi-national corporation or the State Department.  No go.

Again, Hillary’s problem is herself.  Whatever you think of Bengahzi, she did not handle that situation well and it blew up in President Obama’s face.  Nothing like making your own boss look incompetent!  With this email situation, it is every bit the same.  She has acted in a “do as I say” capacity where the rules are defined by her, just not followed by her.  Don’t believe that to be accurate?  Hillary fired the US Ambassador to Kenya, Scott Gration, for several managerial missteps, but most notably using his own personal email.

It goes further – and this may be the smoking gun for Hillary – in that she issued a memo in 2011 that employees could not use their personal email addresses for State Department business.  Why on Earth would you send that memo and then proceed to use your personal email for State Department business?  It is like all the “anti-gay” protesters who are later discovered in the 7-11 bathroom learning about a whole new brand of religion.  It is the “do as I say” culture through and through.

At the end of the day, the thing that bothers me the most is that there appears to be no one in her circle that had the testicular fortitude to say to Hillary “hey, this is a really bad idea.”  It would have been impossible for people to not notice either given that her email address was “funkychik69@theclintonfoundation.org.” Okay, you caught me, this is definitely a fabrication.

Joking aside, the questions we will need to ask ourselves are the following:

  1. Is this a leader we can trust to respect the rule of law?
  2. Is Hillary going to put the best people around her?
  3. Is Hillary going to consider her inner circle’s advice in times of crisis?

Those are just the high-level questions that we need to be asking.  I’m not sure that she will be allowed to run at the end of the day – how horrible would that be for the Democrats.  And, really, should she be allowed to run?  If I decided to use a personal email address at PwC, I would be fired.  Not only because it doesn’t make sense, but because it violates the Data Retention Policies, the Independence Policies, and the Corporate Governance Policies that the organization has set up.

Lastly, I realize that Hillary has decided that she wants her emails to be “public,” which is such a frustratingly smug gesture.  She is attempting to manage this issue from in front, but the only message it sends is one of “I am better than you so I will allow you to see my emails to shut you up.”  I said that Hilary Clinton would be the next President of the United States, I think that is still accurate assuming future legal issues do not prevent her from running.  Time will tell.

 

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Election 2016

I know, I know…it is definitely too soon to start talking about the next Presidential election.  Believe me, there is no one who would rather have the next election not feel like the most critical decision we have ever had to make than me.  Yet, here I am.

If you have started to pay attention to the field of candidates then you know we basically already have our next President.  My prediction (with 85% confidence) is: Hilary Clinton.  Score 1 for the political establishment!  Right?  Nothing says “progress” like Clinton vs Bush for 2016.   For those of you that are just tuning in, let me get you up to speed:

1. The Koch brothers have decided to spend $900m on this next election to get someone from the Republican party elected.  They will absolutely destroy Hilary in the media for all the skeletons in her closet, but at the end of the day, the only guy really worth paying attention to on the right side of the aisle has the last name ‘Bush’ and I don’t think $900m is enough money to convince people that he is different.

Although, “Third time’s the charm” is already a catchy saying…

2. Hilary isn’t getting to the promise land without taking a few punches from the blue corner either.  Bernie Sanders has no shot of actually winning the nomination, but he will force dialog on a number of issues.  The Democrats should have some interesting debates about topics worth debating which is good for the country.

3. The Republicans, unfortunately for all of us, are going to be debating a number of fantasy topics and generally horrifying the rest of the world with their “beliefs.”  For some moronic reason, page 1 of the GOP playbook features the line “Totally only care about Evangelical Christian voters – we know they would never vote for Hilary – just trust us.”  That means the center-right Republican candidate we actually may need in this country is going to be staying home.

4. Foreign Policy, the Affordable Care Act and Taxes will dominate the national debates.  Not that there is anything wrong with debating these topics, but our country really needs: education and infrastructure spending, not war spending.  John Oliver can get you up to speed on infrastructure if you are looking for a good laugh while being educated about America’s “kick the can down the road” mentality.

I will be talking about all five of these topics in more depth in the coming months.

5. All this focus on the President only distracts us from the elections that really matter: Congress.  Congress has record lows for approval ratings yet very little turnover.  We really need moderate, level-headed representatives in power and not the current crop of humanoids that claim to represent us.  Keep these guys on your radar.

***

This post will be the first in a series of election thinking points that I do.  I wanted to set the table so that we all know what to expect over the next 18 months.  Election 2016 is going to be insufferable, but please pay attention to it.  We need informed voters that are not acting on emotional cues.  Educate yourself on the issues and hold your elected officials accountable.

 

Posted in Curiosity, Current Events, Politics | 1 Comment

Citizens Bank is Failing at Marketing

Nothing screams “disregard our marketing” like an asterisk or a superscript.  Case in point: the Citizen Bank website, right on their homepage.  I had never really noticed this “ad” before, but below the login widget you have this:

Citizens Bank App Ad

Award-winning?  Awesome!  #1?  Awesome!!  Wait…what’s that superscript “1″ for?  That couldn’t possibly mean there was more to the story than meets the eye, right?

Well naturally that’s exactly what it means and when you move all the way to the bottom of the page there is a blurred-out “note” elaborating on this #1 app claim.

Citizens Bank Disclaimer

 

A) That is really difficult to read and given that it is at the very bottom of the page it is likely that no one is going to see it.

B) 12/2013?  With the pace of change in the technology world, this is like saying the following:

The Denver Broncos are the best team in the NFL¹

With the following qualifier:

“¹ Based on the 1998 Super Bowl results”

It just doesn’t make sense to do this.  You are shooting yourself in the foot right out of the gate!  Maybe they should look at the customer reviews and use the app store rating instead.  That would give potential users of the app some great insight into the experiences other banking customers would have.

Well, that’s may be a great theory, but when the most recent review is:

Newest update seems to have broken the app.  Let’s me log in, then nothing happens at all.  No data loads. – 13pj13

Maybe it isn’t actually a great idea.  The original approach is far easier -> rely on an outdated report by a company that no average banking customer has heard of using a secret rating methodology that promotes the business in a way that may not mirror reality.

Business is sweet.

 

 

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Revisiting the 10 Things I thought for 2014

Last year I posted about the 10 things I thought for 2014.  Some of them were reflections while others were observations on where we were going as a society.  I personally like writing, reflecting, and thinking about past thoughts as a way to learn about the future as it moves to the present and then into the past.  2014 was a wild, joyful year for me on a personal level, but we still see a lot of hatred and “arguing for the sake of arguing” in our country.

So let us reflect:

1. Federal Educational Policy – My thought is that we shouldn’t be looking at education in this country from the top down (or in a centralized, Federal manner).  We should instead focus on empowering the State and Local governments to come up with solutions that meet the needs of their constituents.  I still very much believe this is the right approach.  However, 2014 didn’t bring much debate on education at any level.  Bill Nye did debate Ken Ham on creationism vs evolution which was entertaining to watch, but also disturbing that Mr. Ham’s followers consider his performance anything short of a failure on a factual level.  You can also watch Bill Nye’s reaction, if you are so inclined.

2. Food – Always an interesting topic.  I did a lot of reading about food this year and my habits have certainly evolved.  The best book I read on the topic was American Catch by Paul Greenberg - one which I highly recommend if you are interested in eating seafood or the American Seafood industry.  I am still firmly in the camp “we need to eat better as a society” and will continue to be for 2015.

3. Alex Rodriguez – Nothing really needs to be said here.  The guy is planning on being back for the 2015 season and that is a black spot for the MLB.  The NY/NJ media should be fun to watch if today’s article is any indication.

4. The Economy is ImprovingDid it ever!  The economy is growing faster than we expected that it would at this point.  How will it do in 2015?  That all depends on where you believe the fall in oil came from: over supply and an industry that wants to move product or falling demand.  I am trending toward oversupply.  The high price of oil drove a significant  amount of investment which is now flooding the markets, OPEC is trying to throw their weight around to starve out US producers and green energy projects.  I think our 70%+ consumption economy is going to continue to improve.

5. Public Relations – No change here.  There are still too many companies taking the easy way out when it comes to their issues.  Lack of Accountability is a huge issue in our society and underpins a number of other issues.

6. Always Being Offended – Social Justice Warriors (“SJWs”) have essentially made up 5,000 new descriptive words over the past year to describe every sort of ailment, condition, and characteristic possible.  Everyone is offended by everything these days.  One that comes to mind is the Shy Bladder Group which got upset at Rob Lowe’s DirectTV ad.  Really?  The Shy Bladder Group? I don’t think DirectTV or Rob Lowe were concerned about the 6 members of that group when they made the commercial.

7. The Top 40 Countdown – I think this could be an undiscovered contributor to both ADHD and the collapse of the music industry.  How people can listen to these stations, the terrible production quality, or the repetitive nature of the “songs” is beyond my comprehension.  I am a big radio guy too, can’t get enough of a good radio station.

8. Under 30s Should Have a RothIRA – I have mine and I love the tax advantages of it.  Post-tax money that grows tax free (on the investments).  Open one, get a good index fund or a no load, low expense mutual fund and watch your retirement grow if you are concerned about picking individual stocks.  Yes you should do this in addition to your 401k plan.

9. Focus – I’ve been going back and forth on this point because of the nature of the world.  I like disconnecting and focusing on one project at a time, but everyone else is so scattered it makes it really difficult/annoying.  I am going to keep trying, but this may be a losing battle as I can’t control my friends, family, clients, bosses, or colleagues.

10. Keep Reading – I read a significant amount this past year and I am better for it.  I am slowly populating my reading list with what I am taking off the shelf and I hope that you check it out.

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M31 (the Andromeda Galaxy) is awesome

Light pollution and gases in the atmosphere steal our ability to see some pretty amazing stuff with the naked eye.  No example is more impressive than the Andromeda Galaxy (Coded: M31).  This galaxy is considered the sister galaxy to the Milky Way (our Galaxy) because it is the closest spiral galaxy to us (at a mere 2.5 million light years).

If you look at this picture, taken by Ted Van in August 2012, you can see a smudge/large object pretty clearly.  To take this picture, Ted escaped the light pollution of his city by going into the rural woods and used a long exposure setting on his camera.  The result is impressively gorgeous.

Using better equipment and processing software, this is what the galaxy would look like if our eyes were able to take in the light this galaxy gives off with the right amount of resolution. Jaw dropping, isn’t it?

 

Makes you wish we could.

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Procedural Error? $300m Fine. Kill People and Lie? $35m Fine.

Maybe it is just me, but I think the glaring issue between the fine Hyundai Motors got for a procedural issue in calculating MPG (a cool $300 million) and the fine that General Motors received for failing to recall cars that killed people (only $35 million) lay in where each company is from.

Hyundai is a Korean company and General Motors is a US company as well as a darling of the US Government.  It is a sad day when politics and connections trump justice.  I know that the Clean Air Act allows for large punitive damages, but spare me the procedural bullshit, if the US Government wanted justice to prevail, they could have gone after GM with the same force that is typically reserved for users of Napster or the Pirate Bay or, if you’re into it, educational materials.

Cronyism at its finest.  It’s too bad Eric Holder decided to resign as the AG, he was so freaking effective I am not sure how this country will move forward.

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Great Laugh For the Morning

See More on http://xkcd.com/154/

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If you could get rid of one aspect of your job, what would it be and how would you do it?

Putting this question out to the team gets people thinking, almost instantly.  Capture some of the initial ideas, but also ask your team members to thinking about different pain points that they experience on a regular basis and have them bring those issues to the next meeting.  I recommend this because everyone reacts differently and you don’t just want the loud, jump-before-you-say-go types getting all the airtime (as much as people like me, who demonstrate those traits, would prefer it!) so give your more analytically minded team members some time to think.

Once the population and scope of issues is designed, start working through some of the proposed solutions.  Obviously time and money are going to be roadblocks for some issues, but maybe there are other solutions that can be implemented in a more expedited fashion.  The key exercise here is to get your people thinking about being more efficient and more effective with their job responsibilities.  Everything should be on the table when it comes to reducing the low-value activities that your team has to work on.

Important Note:  Formalize these ideas on a tracker and set some deadlines around the creation and implementation of the solutions.  Review these regularly as a manager and in every team meeting.  Hold people accountable and drive results.  Getting these ideas going are great, but if “theory” doesn’t transform into “action,” you won’t make any progress.

With these job improvement projects in flight, look for opportunities to track and reward positive impact.  Always remember that there are two main goals when going through an exercise like this, create long-term capacity without increasing expenses and move individual roles toward higher impact outputs (an away from low-value, mundane responsibilities).

Your team members will benefit from these improvements and look at you, their manager, as the reason their individual job got better.  That is a significant win-win for all parties.

I would love to credit this photo, but it seems everyone is using it without sourcing.  Please let me know @drewthall if you are the owner.

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Ebola and our Hospitals

With the announcement that a second healthcare worker has been diagnosed with Ebola in Dallas and that this same individual was on a flight from Cleveland to Dallas the day before she showed symptoms, I think it is an appropriate time to call for some changes to the way our healthcare system works.  Some simple, common sense would go a long way toward fixes the ills that have begotten this world class institution.

First, healthcare workers need to stop wearing their scrubs on public transportation.  I am not going to go as far as declaring this the stupidest thing I have ever seen, but it is an easy top five in my book.  On what planet does it make sense to subject yourself to the cesspool of disease that is public transportation right before you enter a sterile environment.  I mean, its not like using non-sterile equipment or wearing non-sterile clothing could cause any infections….or it could definitely cause hundreds of thousands of infections a year killing tens of thousands of people.

Second, if a patient has been to West Africa or knows someone from West Africa or can even broadly identify West African countries on a map.  ASSUME they have been exposed to the Ebola virus and take the conservative treatment route.  This disease causes all sorts of horrible things to happen to you, I’m pretty sure no one is going to be angry if you take extra precautions.  I mean shit, we don’t let gay people give blood still, but we are not worried about people who may have a disease that is killing 50-80% of its victims in weeks?

Third, hospitals, why are you not driving awareness?  Why is it even remotely possible that a story can come out claiming 85% of nurses do not feel prepared to deal with Ebola.  We have had months to prepare for this!  Being unprepared is no longer an excuse.  There were only three deaths at the Boston Marathon bombing, in part, because there was a network of doctors prepared to deal with injuries.  Obviously they were not expecting terrorism, but it still worked out really well for a lot of the victims.  Imagine if there weren’t tents of doctors and hospitals close by.  How many more would have perished?

Being prepared and using common sense works.  At this stage, we should be calling for the heads of any Hospital leaders that don’t act.  Sadly, it is us, the everyday citizens that need to do something here.  If the VA is any indication, our government will be unable to hold those who should be ready to help us accountable for their inaction.

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The Middle Class is a Classic “Chicken or the Egg” Story

At its core, business is pretty simple.  An individual or group identifies an issue or a need in the market and produces a product or service to meet that need.  That same individual or group will charge a price for that product or service that covers the costs of production and includes some element of ‘profit’ to make the cycle worthwhile.  This principal is as true for Apple as it was for a carpenter making bookshelves in the 1850s; the only difference at this stage being complexity.

Understanding this elementary business principal is important context when looking at the present day American Middle Class.  Every day, it seems, there is another article detailing the ills of this large group of Americans none of which are so highly socialized as ‘wage stagnation.’  While it is impossible to argue against real wage growth of the class (or lack thereof), it is still worth analyzing the root cause of the issues besetting the silent majority.

First is the worst, second is the best

Remember that saying?  Not only was it a great way to save face after losing a relay race in third grade, it is also a great way to look at the impact that ‘being first’ has had on the American Middle Class.  America was one of the first countries to pour its heart and soul into the industrial revolution, big infrastructure, and major education.  Other countries were literally blown away by how fast the American machine could run.  Massive production and massive demand lifted the American Middle Class off of an agrarian economy and placed them onto the path of industrial might.  Industry gave rise to services which gave rise to the media/marketing produced image of the ‘American Dream.’  That is, to own a detached home with a white picket fence, a dog and a cat, two kids, a wife that stays home and cooks, and a career of steady, gainful employment.

Golly shucks, that sounds swell!

For a long time this ideal fueled the entire nation.  There was, however, a force lurking in the shadows that sought to derail this whole plan.  That force?

Keeping up with the Joneses

Now maybe this is a new phrase to you so to keep the playing field even, this is what it means: one sets the standard for the nature of ‘stuff’ that one ought to have and then everyone else plays catch-up.  This force is so strong that even the Bible has a specific commandment against it!  (Exodus 20:17 for those of you fact checking).

I point this force out because of its importance in the overall ‘what happened to the middle class’ picture.  It is widely believed that this commandment serves as a warning that wanting everything that your neighbor has could lead to a lot of issues.  Some of those issues are very direct (credit card debt) while others are more indirect (demand for cheaper goods).  Being that credit card debt is an individual issue, I’m not as concerned about that.  What I am concerned with is the American Middle Class’ desire to keep up with that Jones family.

If a country has a class of citizens that really want something, eventually they will get it.  Now most of the time we would equate that with freedom or social programs, but in this case we have an entire class that really, really wants to have the same TV that the Jones family has in their living room and the same furniture they have in their dining room.  They want to eat at restaurants and drive hot looking cars.  They want to wear the same dress and shoes as Mrs. Jones and they want the same tools as Mr. Jones.

The issue?  All that ‘stuff’ costs money.  A lot of money.  The solution?  Either get more money or drive down the cost of the goods.

Keeping in line with human nature, the road easiest traveled is likely to be taken when faced with an issue that has multiple solutions.  This is both a sad reflection on society and an incredible display of survival tactics.  In this case, the solution was to look for comparable goods/services that cost less than the real version, but that could also be a justifiable substitute for the original.  And who was there waiting to solve this issue?

The classic American business.  The most adept organizations in the world at creating solutions to problems.

American businesses started to notice the desires of the American Middle Class and these businesses moved to accommodate.  The businesses invested huge sums of money into training programs and research & development labs to author original operational excellence procedures.  These programs were designed around one part Cost Accounting, on part Operations Management, one part Technology, and one part Globalization.  The programs were a knock-your-socks off success.

American companies figured out how to drive efficiency and out-source or off-shore expensive, non-core elements of their businesses in an effort to gut costs.  When costs dropped, so did prices and Middle Class Americans flocked to Wal-Mart, Target, and Ikea to fill their houses with ‘stuff’ that the Joneses might also have purchased.

Everything is Awesome!

A bit more recent, but this line from the Lego movie illustrates the image that nig industry wanted all Americans to believe.  Keep buying your cheap stuff and you will feel great!  That Jones family and their high-quality durable goods and consumer items can eat it!  We got our bookshelf from Target and it barely cost us anything!  That’s precisely the issue though.  Demand for low prices means that businesses need to have low costs, which means they need to find cheap labor and materials.  It may sound unfair when a CEO ships 5,000 jobs to India and then is awarded a bonus of $50 Million dollars, but what really bakes my biscuit is how American consumers are using their hard earned dollars to authorize that behavior.

Remember the business principal?  A good or a service needs to be sold at a price that covers costs and includes profit.  If that CEO was able to ship jobs, manufacturing, etc. to India, ship the completed goods back to Wal-Mart and then sell them to Americans at a discount and still make money for the organization to the extent that he/she can be awarded a significant bonus, what chance does a business based in America have?  Why should any business employ Americans?  Why should any Americans get raises for work that could easily be moved to a lower cost bucket?

And you see our problem.  There is limited upward movement in the wages of Middle Class Americans, because we have demanded that there be downward pressure on prices.  For every take there is a give.  An equal force in the opposite direction to bring balance to the universe.  The American Middle Class’ purchasing habits may in fact be its own wort enemy.

What came first, the Chicken or the Egg?

We have seen that demand for cheaper goods has contributed to downward pressure on prices.  We have seen layoffs in the news and jobs shipped oversees.  We have seen the vast majority of goods that we purchase include a little gold sticker on the bottom that says “made in China.”  We have seen the subsequent rise of the Chinese and Indian middle classes as they benefit from being “second” to America’s “first.”  And we have seen the outrage that American citizens harbor over the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

What we haven’t seen is a change in our approach to solving the problem.  In fact, we have demanded even cheaper goods to offset the worry that our money wont go as far in the long run.  We continue to spend like there is no tomorrow on credit and student debt despite knowing – full well – that there will be a tomorrow.  We have not listened to those that warned us against this behavior and, most frustratingly, we have voted the same band of know-nothing politicians into office time and time again in the hopes that one of them will have a magical “ah hah” moment and cure us from all this misery.

If the chicken is legislation against corporations and the rich, then the egg is a fundamental shift in the American Middle Class’ approach to living.  This is less about who or what came first and more about what will work first.  The American Middle Class cannot rely on businesses to solve all of their problems.  They must do that on their own and to do so, they must go against all they know and take the road less traveled.

Raise taxes on corporations and the rich?  You get inversion and pass-through tax shelters in countries with favorable trade pacts.  You get armies of consultants and tax strategists that are hell bent at beating the system.  You are pitting the US House of Representatives and the Senate (two groups of people that everyone universally believes are morons) against some of the smartest people in the country.  Who do you think is going to win nine times out of ten?  This solution is anything but one.  It may feel great to protest and it may have the best slogans, but it is not going to work in the long run.

A mind shift in the American Middle Class to spend more money on fewer goods/services while demanding that those goods be made (at least in part) from sustainable American businesses is what this class needs to drive wage growth. Will this road be easily navigated?  Of course not.  The group previously mentioned has an insane amount of brain power and an even higher access to resources.  They will not go down lightly.  They will bring technology and robots.  They will try to game immigration laws.  They will do everything they can to get American consumers to blindly purchase their goods.

You, the American consumer, need to do your homework.  Shift your spending habits.  Vote with your dollars.  You need to drive the change from the bottom up because the one thing that the American Middle Class has over the richest in this country is scale.  There are way more of you and if you all start buying high quality, American made goods, those jobs will start to come back.  When they come back, the competition for talent increases.  When that competition increases, wages follow.

The solution is simple, it is execution that is complicated.  Just like if you want a low percentage body fat, taking a pill isn’t going to get you there.  6 months in the gym with revamped eating habits on the other hand will get you there.  You just need to choose what approach you are going to take and then accept the result when it comes.

In this case, the answer to the question is ‘the egg,’ but how many people will choose correctly?

 

 

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