Tag Archives: Business

Management, Fads, and Gimmicks

The business world has always fascinated me, which is why my degrees are in business. One part that I always enjoyed was the amazing management tool du jour. There was quality management, then quality circles, then—actually, there have been so many that I’m not sure which came next.

Laurence J. Peters gave us the Peter Principle, which says that a person with ability will be promoted until they no longer could succeed; it was often paraphrased as the cream rises until it sours. There was the Sixty Second Manager, followed by The 59 Second Employee

Then came the Sine Qua Non; the golden fleece; the masterpiece—nay, the perfection—of management, Six Sigma. General Electric championed it (even though an engineer at Motorola created it). If GE says so, it has to be good—right?

There are different degrees of six sigma, identified as “belts” as seen in Judo or Karate. Six sigma was gospel; in fact it was better that gospel—after all it was from GE—right?

After all the hoopla, most of it has been relegated to the island of last years’ business models.

GE suffered through, and survived, Jack Welsh—known as  Neutron Jack. This was in honor of neutron bombs, which are designed to kill all the people, but leave the buildings standing. GE Capital, which had been profitable AND supported GE’s other product lines was mostly sold off. Much of the medical manufacturing was shipped off to China. Appliances carrying the GE brand are often, if not mostly, manufactured by some other company who pays GE to use its trademark.*

GE recently announced that it was spinning off its entire health care division. It will be interesting to see if this is to make it easier to sell off. Jack Walsh would approve, but I don’t know how the decision would score in six sigma.

*I had a GE portable television about 10 years ago, which needed new batteries. I contacted GE and at first they said that they didn’t know who made it. In any case, I never found a compatible battery, and hooking a lithium ion battery to a charger that wasn’t designed for it can be quite messy with the explosion and all.

Sorry, Customer Service Department Closed


There’s a Yin-Yang pendulum that describes customer service. It seems that when the economy is bumpy, customer service improves, but as the economy gets better, service suffers.

Is it because businesses are more cognizant of their customers? Or maybe it’s because when the economy takes a nose dive, the people working the jobs that deal with customers have been displaced from better positions and are: a) more mature; b) painfully aware that without the customer, there is no business; c) accept that sometimes having a job – any job – is a wonderful thing. (I know, I’ve been there. It may have been a very long time ago, but the lesson is still vivid.)

The economy isn’t improving that much, but lately customer service seems to have been sinking.

Note that I’m not complaining.

I’m just saying that if you have a business and are looking for an advantage over your competition, now might be a good time to reach out and offer to go that little bit extra for your customers. Start with the regulars – the casual customers come and go, but the regulars are not only your bread and butter but also your link to new long term customers.

And if you do – I hope I’m one of your regulars.

Half Empty?


I met with the purchasing director of a company once, and he was explaining the challenges of his position.

“I could save half-a-million dollars a year by switching all the vending machines at all our facilities to either all Coke or all Pepsi,” he told me. “But I can’t or there would be an uproar.”

Now it’s important to note that this was not a restaurant or other business with primary involvement with food or drink. That meant that employees and customers were spending millions on vended soft drinks. He couldn’t appreciate the massive secondary income that was generated, only the effect it had on his part of the equation.

I’m guessing that if there were only one choice, the net revenue would be reduced significantly – especially with something like soft drinks where it is a non-essential and there is significant brand loyalty.

How many times do we take the positive for granted and instead focus on some minute shortcoming in our lives?

How Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth

"Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz" written by singer Janis Joplin with the poets Michael McClure and Bob Neuwirth, and originally recorded by Joplin

“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz”
written by singer Janis Joplin with the poets Michael McClure and Bob Neuwirth, and originally recorded by Joplin

While waiting for my daughter to finish practice, I bumped into another soccer dad who commented how it frustrated him that his children felt they were entitled to just about everything. They never seemed to be grateful.

I confess that I thoroughly understood his feelings. Maybe it’s the fixation on “self-esteem.” Maybe it’s television. It doesn’t really matter.

However, I began to wonder how many of us treat God that way.

Dear God, I want a bigger, better, newer [whatever]. Amen.

Do we see God like an omnipotent Amazon.com and heaven as the ultimate “fulfillment center” with delivery promised by tomorrow if we pray today before close of business?

Maybe it would be better if we asked God what He wants for us. Trust in Him and then be grateful.

Political Stock

Huey Long The Ultimate Politician Up 6 7/8 points at the closing bell

Huey Long
The Ultimate Politician
Up 6 7/8 points at the closing bell

Since politicians are theoretically required to report contributions, why don’t we just change things a little bit?

Let’s have all political contributions reported immediately, just like stocks and bonds. We could have updates throughout the day to see who’s getting how much. We could even have one tracking for incumbents – like the New York Stock Exchange and another for those new to politics, like the NASDAQ.

While you could still only vote in one state, you could influence any election you want. Don’t like that sheriff in Arizona? No problem.

When you see that the Chinese have started pouring contributions into Senator Schmukatelli you could decide whether to join them or not.

If Wall Street is bully for this Teddy Roosevelt guy, you can make a solid investment decision.

Naturally, somebody would start a futures market, so you could hear people say, “If I’ve got my campaign contributions figured out right, one of my great-grandchildren will be at least a senator.”

It couldn’t turn out any worse than what we have today.

Profit or Loss?

My education is in business, an interesting field, but not necessarily for good reasons.

Simple business is when you find something that people want, build or buy it, add in your other costs (rent for your store, salaries, etc.), and determine a selling price. In an ideal world, both you and the customer leave a transaction reasonably satisfied.

Today, many people are in the business of cooking the books. By using creative accounting, tax loopholes or other corporate they make a significant profit without actually providing anything of value.

When you read history, you may see Spain, Great Britain, and the Netherlands as great explorers opening new sea routes and discovering new (at least new to them) places. What happened to their power and prestige?

Generally they became banking and finance experts. In other words, they became experts at moving money and making a profit without providing anything of value.

Profit is not a dirty word – it encourages us to succeed. To invent. To build. But profit should actually be earned.

When Jesus sent out the 72 disciples, He told them that the worker was due his wages.

His parables often utilized the rich master as a metaphor for the Father. The good steward invested the master’s money and made a profit.

He also taught that we should build up our wealth where moth or decay won’t destroy it.

That’s the kind of business advice that we can live by.

Thieves, Scoundrels and Billionaires


baronsOur current economy is due, to a large part, to those who had the knowledge, the ability and the guile to work the system.

The executives of companies “too big to fail” who skimmed the profits, got a government bailout and paid themselves bonuses out of the bailout.

The mortgage company executives who made questionable loans and bundled them so that the risk was no longer identifiable.

The derivative traders who made the investment instruments so complicated that no one knew what they were worth.

We’ve always had those types.

But somehow the Medicis and their contemporaries gave us the art of the Renaissance.

The robber barons gave us coast to coast railroads and telegraphs.

I don’t credit the rich and powerful for these benefits. Instead, I think this is God’s “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Even the greediest, most despicable person’s actions will ultimately reflect God’s will.

It’s a comforting thought.

What Am I Missing?



I must be missing out on a great part of life without even knowing it. While I know I’m missing “it,” I don’t know what “it” is. Others seem to be massively engaged, while I’m left out of the excitement.

I speak, of course, of the people who must constantly be talking on their cell phones. They drive with their phone to their ear, walk while talking on the phone and even shop while similarly engaged.

It must be important, because they seem to speak loudly and with great excitement.

I suppose a top legal expert or a neurosurgeon might have to consult at a moment’s notice, but since I see a lot of this activity at Wal-Mart, I suspect that these are not necessarily among the highest paid in-demand professionals.

Are they getting advice on which breakfast cereal has the highest fiber content? The best canned asparagus? Which box of wine is most highly rated?

Whatever it is, it sure must be important, and I feel left out.

Hand Me That Tool!


Richard Karn & Tim Allen"Home Improvement"

Richard Karn & Tim Allen
“Home Improvement”

I like tools, particularly exotic tools.

Take a stapler – pretty ordinary; but a pneumatic stapler – now that’s something. You’ve got an air compressor, complete with its rhythmic vibrations, 10 to 20 feet of hose and a gun that can drive staples through the thickest folded upholstery securely into the wood on the bottom of the chair. Instead of hours per chair, 15 minutes tops; in a couple of hours you’ve revitalized those kitchen chairs that have each absorbed a gallon and a half of spilled milk as well as things you don’t even want to imagine.

I like the self-adjusting wrenches or the ones that have a built in ratchet for tight spots. However, the name is all wrong. Wrench is what you do to your shoulder when using a bad tool. A high tech answer to tightening nuts and bolts ought to have a better name – like “Threaded Fastener Adjuster.” Better yet, “Precision Threaded Fastener Adjuster.”

Of course you need a set of Threaded Fastener Adjusters for the complete range for both English and metric of sizes. However, that’s nothing compared to the other tool for the OTHER threaded fasteners. That calls for the screwdriver.

It used to be that a screw had a slot in the top into which you placed the tool and tightened it. Then that clown, “Philip” (named for St. Philip, the patron saint of hardware store owners) invented his screw pattern. Eventually we got used to that, so the Allen wrench was born (named for St. Allen, the patron saint of hardware wholesalers) with his hex shaped fasteners. Then came star shaped fittings, Torx, Tri-wing, Torq-set, Triple Square and Polydrive. (Really, those are all actual types of screw heads.)

If I ever invent a screwdriver pattern, I’m going to name it “Kripez ®” as in “Cripes! Now I need to run to the hardware store and buy more tools!”

By the way, it shouldn’t be called a screwdriver unless it’s electric. The manual version requires the human to do all the driving, so at best it should be called a “screwstick.”

Then there’s everyone’s favorite tool – the hammer.

We used to call it GM’s law – “Don’t force it, get a bigger hammer.” Great advice. However, the name could use a little tweaking.

I suggest changing it to “Whammer.” This name is far more descriptive and much more relevant for the whammer’s wide range of uses.

Bathroom Humor

No, not that kind – just thoughts about the modern bathroom.


It’s interesting that public restrooms, the term that is often used to describe grossness, have gone high tech while the home bathroom is essentially unchanged.

First, the mix of toilet types in public restrooms. Some flush themselves. Some don’t need flushing. Some are still the do-it-yourself. And I’m not counting the ones that are out of order.

A mom with a young daughter told me about the trauma of her toddler using the restroom. Because she was so small, the sensor would “see” her then not “see” her and repeatedly flush – a sensation the young lady found most disconcerting. Probably put her potty training progress back at least 6 months.

Some bathrooms have automatic sinks. Others have automatic soap dispensers and most have automatic towel dispensers, but there seems to be no logic behind the selection. You almost think the plumbers are having fun at our expense.

If you really want to make me happy, how about an automatic door opener so I’d be spared the need to touch the door handle just used by the people who don’t wash their hands.

While I dislike traditional blow driers, I must admit I do like the new ones with 150 mile per hour blowers – of WARM air. They actually work (without the need to use my pants as a towel) and it’s fun just to watch the skin on my hands ripple in the Jetstream. But then I am easily amused.

Maybe that’s why home bathrooms haven’t changed. After being confused as to which fixture is automatic and which one is manual, it’s kind of reassuring to go home and not have to figure out how to use the bathroom.


My life is fairly typical. I go to work. I come home.

On weekends I putter around the house.

A ten minute repair job can take me an hour because I spend at least 50 minutes looking for my tools.

I’ve gotten to the point that I freely buy one more pair of pliers, one more screwdriver, or whatever. My friends tell me how their kids borrow their tools and eventually they find a rusted mass of metal that is vaguely pliers shape out in the yard.

Not me.

My tools just disappear for long periods of time then magically re-appear.

Go figure.


Flashlights are even worse. I think my son uses them to find his cat, who likes to play hide-and-seek with him by hiding under my bed. In any case, flashlight after flashlight disappears.

One day my wife suggested that there was a parallel universe and between myself and my alternative counterpart, we had to share things. She indicated it made sense because socks followed the same pattern. They’d disappear in the drier. Weeks later they’d show up. Of course I thought she was crazy.

I stopped at Wally-World and bought a handful of additional flashlights. One by one they began to disappear. I told my wife I was going to use my label maker and mark them with “This is Dad’s flashlight! Do not touch under penalty of death!”

They all disappeared.

This morning there was a flashlight on my nightstand. The side was marked with a label that said, “!htaed fo yltanep rednu hcuot ton oD !thgilhsalf s’daD si sihT”

I thought about it all day.

When I got home, I opened a bottle of wine and brought 2 glasses into the family room. I poured a glass for my wife and said, “Please, tell me about this parallel universe idea of yours.”

Nowhere Man (Part 5 – Conclusion)

“My life’s important!” I tried to shout. It felt like someone touched my forehead and I saw a rapid sequence of images of my life. Things I’d done to get to where I was today, some of which didn’t make me any too proud.

“That’s how I see you,” said the messenger. “And that’s how you see yourself when you’re being honest.” I didn’t like what I saw and tried to shrink away.

“You’re thirty-five years old – halfway to the proverbial three score and ten. No one lives forever and you need to do the best with whatever time is granted you.

“Now, here’s what we both could see.”

Another series of images passed before my eyes. The Porsche was replaced by a minivan. The luxury apartment was now a house littered with school backpacks and kids’ shoes. I saw myself in a suit, but instead of the carefully tailored designer label it was a functional off-the-rack version. But there was something else different – something different about me.

“What the hell was that?” I asked.

“One of the farthest things from hell. The life you were intended to live,” came the reply.

“I don’t understand any of this!”

“Ah, but you do and deep inside you know you do. All of this fits together.”

I tried to make sense of it, I actually did, but got nowhere.

“I’m a messenger. I’ve been with you all your life. I know everything about you.”

“Uhh,” I stammered, “you’re an angel?”

“I’m an angel. A guardian angel. Your guardian angel. I’ve watched over you.”

“And you don’t like what you see,” I offered lamely.

“Passing judgment is not my job. Amongst ourselves we guardian angels like to say ‘We nudge, not judge’.”

“Well, I don’t like what I see when I see it so plainly,” I replied. “I can do better.”

“Of course you can – you’re human. Humans can always do better. That’s the way you were made. All humans – the saints as well as the sinners, so you’re in good company. That’s why I brought you here, so we could talk and you could figure out what you need to do.”

“But I haven’t figured it!” I protested.

“Sure you have, it doesn’t have to be laid out step by step. This is not a business plan. You know in your heart what to do. Now it’s time to go and do it.”


“It’s time for you to go back and pick up where you left off, and if you’re smart, in a different direction. For what it’s worth, I think you’re smart.”

“Did anyone miss me? I’ve been gone for a couple of days.”

“Someone would have missed you if time here was the same as time there. As far as they can tell you were never gone. You left and will return within the blink of an eye.” The translucent world around me began to fade – but it began fading from translucent to solid.

“Wait!” I tried to shout. “Can I talk with you later?”

“I told you that you used to be able to communicate this way. I was referring to when you prayed. I’ll be there when you pray, and not only will I listen in, I’ll be praying with you. You pray directly to the boss, not me, but I’ll be there with you.”

The world continued to solidify around me until I found myself where I had been before, sitting in a restaurant across from my girlfriend.

“…blue, with a white trim,” she was saying. “Are you all right?”

“What?” I answered, with a hint of confusion.

“For a second there you seemed to zone out, like you were somewhere else.” The waiter came up with the check and I quickly stuffed some bills in the folder and stood up.

“We need to talk, Amanda,” I said helping her with her coat and almost dragging her outside. It was snowing lightly with a dusting on the ground. We walked for a long time as I explained the whole strange experience to her.

Photo by Daniel MasseyPosted on BBC Web Page

Photo by Daniel Massey
Posted on BBC Web Page

“So what are you going to do?” she asked.

“I’m not sure, but I know my habit of seeing myself as the center of things isn’t going to work anymore. I guess I’ll just have to take things as they come up and figure it out one at a time.” I stopped and looked at her.

“We’ve been together for what, two years?”

“Three,” she replied, “and a half.”

“You’re the only person in the world that I could share this with, yet I’ve never made any real commitment to you. At the least you deserve that.”

“It would be nice,” she replied. “I would like that very much.” We started walking again, at first hand in hand and then with my arm around her.

“It was so weird that he knew everything about me. I hadn’t thought about some of those things in years. I mean, who thinks about freshman statistics class. That was almost twenty years ago. I guess that’s one day I wanted to forget. I sat next to a girl I was hoping to ask out and instead had a full blown, meltdown anxiety attack.” We continued walking. “I wonder what ever happened to her.”

Amanda looked at me oddly.

“I’m right here. You didn’t know that I was the girl sitting next to you?”

Somewhere far off, or maybe in my head, I heard a very faint laugh.

(The End)


You’ll have to go here to read the CNN article about a 61 year old computer that has been restored. Please note the picture.

While the technology of the computer has been eclipsed, what hasn’t changed is the way news photographers pose people for pictures. The W.I.T.C.H. computer used paper tape for input, and the photo shows two men – supposedly scientists, staring at the paper tape which has all of the information stored as holes punched into the paper.

Having used punched paper tape, I can tell you there’s nothing to be gained by a human looking at it.

However, I do recall that while I was in college an enterprising individual decided that the chads (remember chad from Florida?) – the little dots of paper punched out of the holes – would make great confetti. The teletype machines had a little plastic box into which all of the chads dropped, so he saved a bagful and took it to the next football game. Unlike plain paper the paper tape and its chads had some type of waxy coating, which meant that when it was tossed and ended up in people’s hair it would stick.

It took heavy duty shampoo, the 1970’s equivalent of a pressure washer and half a day to wash the chads out.

Wonder if someone at the museum will be tempted to try the chad confetti and have the same experience.