First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

If This is Your Difficulty…, Here is a Specific Book Recommendation to Help You Find Workable Solutions

What keeps you up at night? (regarding your business?)

I have a friend who is a top-notch business consultant. In demand, great clients, measurable results. He once told that he is hired when there is a problem that the leader of the company can’t quite solve – and it is a problem big enough that it is causing pain.

I get that.

Which areas do you excel at?  Where do you need improvement? - (click ion image for full view)

Which areas do you excel at? Where do you need improvement? – (click on image for full view)

So, I was thinking about this insight again recently as I thought about what issues most organizations have the most trouble with. I frequently hand out my 12 Vital Signs of Organizational Health “bubbles,” (see image) and ask leadership team members to simply put a check mark on the circles that their organization excels at, and an “x” on the circles that cause them difficulty. (I have written about this “exercise” more than once. It is a really helpful “centering” tool for a group of leaders).

In addition to other speaking/training, I present business book briefings/synopses to groups of leaders — especially executive teams — within mid-size to large organizations. Here’s what I’ve discovered. A book briefing/synopsis – where I deliver the key content of a best-selling, useful business book, followed by facilitated conversation — can help create those needed “crucial” conversations, and thus, lead to needed change.

In other words, good books really can help you work through, and solve, your difficulties.

So, what are the issues you are dealing with? What difficulty causes you pain?

Here is a suggestion. Once you clearly identify your difficulty, then have a session based on learning the key content of a good book that could help you address that difficulty. This input, this content, can then inform your thinking as you map out a next-step “let’s tackle this difficulty” plan.

Here’s a list of suggested books.  (Sorry about alignment issues on page — having trouble with “table” transfer…  My apology).

If this is your issue Then these books could be useful
If you are having difficulty with innovation What Matters Now by Gary Hamel and Accelerate (XLR8) by John Kotter
If you are having difficulty designing your strategy Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rummelt
If you are having difficulty developing your leaders (There are so many good books to recommend) – Eleven Rings by Phil Jackson; Woodon on Leadership by John Wooden; Encouraging the Heart by Kouzes and Posner
If you are having difficulty building cohesion in your teams Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, and The Collaborative Habit by Twyla Tharp
If you are having difficulty finding/hiring the right talent The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else by George Anders
If you are having difficulty getting everybody aligned/keeping people aligned All In: How the Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton
If you are having difficulty with communication Made to Stick by Chip Heath & Dan Heath; Words that Work by Frank Luntz
If you are having difficulty with execution (executing your strategy) Execution by Ram Charan & Larry Bossidy (Note: this kind of “began” the execution conversation; other books have followed that are also quite helpful
If you are having difficulty with measurement (Start with) The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawanda
If you are having difficulty with bottlenecks (and, you do!) The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt 

And, then, if you look at the left side of the image, these are the true business essentials – the “givens” of a business. Here are some recommended books for a couple of these areas:

If this is your issue Then these books could be useful
If you are having difficulty with customer acquisition (marketing, sales) To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink, and Contagious by Jonah Berger, and Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim, Renée Mauborgne
If you are having difficulty with customer retention (customer service; the customer experience) Prescription for Excellence: Leadership Lessons for Creating a World Class Customer Experience from UCLA Health System by Joseph Michelli

Yes, there are other fine books to consider. And, other issues not covered in my “bubbles” image, like:

If this is your issue Then this book could be useful
If you are having difficulty making good decisions Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Whatever your difficulty, this approach can give you something to do to help you. Choose a book, discuss its key content with your team, and then tackle the issue. The content of the book might very will help you make a much better, and better informed, needed next step.

——————-

A slight “commercial” – I have presented briefings/synopses of all of these books but one (my colleague at the First Friday Book Synopsis, Karl Krayer, has presented the one I did not present. In addition, Karl has other good titles to recommend for each of these areas). We can present these briefings/synopses to your leadership team, and lead that follow-up facilitated discussion that can be so helpful. Send me a direct e-mail, and let’s talk about the possibility. (Note: we are based in the Dallas/Fort Worth area — but we can travel).

15minadAnd/or, consider checking out our synopses at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com. Each synopsis comes with our multi-page, comprehensive handouts, plus the audio recordings of our presentations at the First Friday Book Synopsis. (Note: when we present these live, we take a deeper dive into these books. The time constraints of our monthly event require shorter presentations).

Thursday, April 24, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

Why Story Matters – The Power of Mythos, the Shared Story, A Powerful Tool for Persuasion

This is profound – a key lesson for speakers, and for all who craft messages of any kind.

When I teach speech, I go over the classic arguments describing the available means of persuasion’s three primary elements (all from Aristotle): logos (the logical argument), ethos (the ethical argument – the credibility of the speaker), and pathos (the emotional argument – the passion of the speaker). But there is a fourth, not from Aristotle directly. The fourth is mythos (the narrative argument).

Mythos is a “deeper” motivation. And it can be persuasive dynamite.

If you read carefully the text of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s classic, I Have a Dream, mythos oozes from the text.  This is almost the speech in a nutshell (my words):

“The United States promised justice for all. You’ve denied it to people of color. This denial is a violation of the American story. It’s time to live up to your story.”

Mythos is what explains the power of this section from the speech:

Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

In other words, he says, in essence, “with your discrimination against black Americans (Dr. King used the word “negroes” in his speech), you have violated your narrative, your story – our story.”

I've Been to the MountaintopHe repeated this so powerfully in his last speech, I’ve Been to the Mountaintop, delivered the night before he was assassinated:

All we say to America is,”Be true to what you said on paper.”

So, here’s the principle: if you as a speaker can say,

“this is our story, and this step we take is part of the ongoing story – part of our story, a step that we must take it together”

then you’ve marshaled a powerful persuasive tool to your cause.

So, yesterday, I was listening to Fresh Air with Terry Gross on NPR. She was interviewing Jo Becker, the author of the book Forcing the Spring. This book describes the struggles in recent years in the fight for marriage equality.

(Note: I am aware of the controversy, the criticism, against the book, by Andrew Sullivan, and others who have participated directly in this struggle over a much longer time horizon that the author covers. I side with Andrew Sullivan’s criticism, especially after the author’s inadequate response to the criticism at the beginning of the interview.  Here is just one of Andrew Sullivan’s posts about this. But,… that is another story).

In the interview, we learn about the moment that President Obama threw his support to marriage equality. Here is the excerpt from the interview. Note the power of story, the reference to the concept of mythos“equality is part of the story we all believe in.”

When the president gathered a little – months later, his advisors together, and said I want to do this, David Plouffe, who was the campaign manager of Obama’s ’08 campaign, called (Ken) Mehlman, and asked for kind of if we’re going to do this, how might we go about it in a way that would appeal to sort of middle America.

And Chad and Mehlman had made a real study of this. And what they had come to understand was that if you talk about marriage in terms of hospitalization visitation and being able to visit someone in the hospital, being able to get a tax break. Then straight people kind of think, well, gay people don’t want to get married for the same reason that we do.

But if you talk about it in terms of, like, their stories, right, these plaintive stories that they love each other, that they want to commit to each other, that they want to own this language that allows everybody to understand the reality and the commitment of the relationship, well, that really moves people.

And the other thing that they were finding that really moves people is if you talk about this issue in terms of sort of shared American values. So you talk about it in terms of the Golden Rule, right? You say, you know, most Americans believe that, you know, you wanted to be treated the way you treat – treat others the way you want to be treated.

That was moving to people. Are we really going to say to members of our military that they can’t marry the person that they love after coming home from Afghanistan? Are we going to tell the policeman in your neighborhood who keeps you safe that they can’t marry the person that they love? And what was kind of really interesting was when the president then, after Biden said what he said on “Meet the Press,” they scrambled and they got an interview ready.

And when he went and sat down for this interview with Robin Roberts, it was very much a mirror of these talking points and these very poll-tested kind of messages that were resonating with the American public.

In other words, if the story of America genuinely reflects the golden rule – providing a place for people to live their lives with the person they love… if that is the story, how can we not support this?

The point: as you deliver your next persuasive appeal, what story does your audience already believe? Find a way to make your appeal part of that already shared, revered, ongoing story.

This is the power of mythos. And it is a persuasive tool of genuine power.

 

 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

Jason Fried on “Why work doesn’t happen at work”

Fried, JasonRichard Saul Wurman created the TED conference in 1984 as a onetime event. (As you may already know, TED refers to Technology, Education, and Design.) It became a four-day conference six years later. Chris Anderson purchased TED in 2001. Until 2005, it remained a once-a-year conference: four days of programs, 50 speakers, 18-minute presentations. Anderson added TEDGlobal to reach an international audience. TED.com was launched in 2006. Thus far, the website has attracted more than one [begin] billion [end] views, averaging about two million day. The video programs have been translated into more than 100 languages.

According to Anderson, “With TED, the end of the talk should not be the end of the idea, but just the beginning.” TED showcases speakers who are knowledgeable, of course, but also “human, relatable, and often emotional, so what they share lights people up.”

There are no charges to access any of the TED programs. After attending the 2006 conference, documentary filmmaker Daphne Zuniga described it as “Cirque Du Soleil for the mind.” Oprah Winfrey later observed, “TED is where brilliant people go to hear other brilliant people.”

I will continue to recommend the TED programs that are among the most highly-rated. For example, Jason Fried. He has a radical theory of working: that the office isn’t a good place to do it. In his talk, he lays out the main problems (call them the M&Ms) and offers three suggestions to make work work. (Filmed at TEDxMidWest.)

Fried is the co-founder and president of 37signals, a Chicago-based company that builds web-based productivity tools that, in their words, “do less than the competition — intentionally.” 37signals’ simple but powerful collaboration tools include Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack, Campfire, Ta-da List, and Writeboard. 37signals also developed and open-sourced the Ruby on Rails programming framework.

Fried is the co-author, with David Heinemeier Hansson, of the book Rework, about new ways to conceptualize working and creating. Salon’s Scott Rosenberg called it “a minimalist manifesto that’s profoundly practical. In a world where we all keep getting asked to do more with less, the authors show us how to do less and create more.”

Here is a direct link to that TED presentation. I envy anyone who has not as yet seen it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Get to the Point – Be Brief (insight from Joseph McCormack’s book, brief)

The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what – these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence.
Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other.
William Zinsser, On Writing Well

Write short, crisp sentences.
Judge Mark P. Painter, Legal Writing 201:  30 Suggestions to Improve Readability or How to Write for Judges, not Like Judges

——————–

BriefThe opening lines from brief: make a bigger impact by saying less, by Joseph McCormack:

Long story, short. Executives are busy, and your rambling presentation gets loss in their daily flood of information.
Get to the Point or Pay the Price
You cannot afford to miss the boat on brevity. It’s the difference between success and failure. And if you think you’ve already got it covered, you’re wrong…
You get the point. Today’s world is on information overload, and there isn’t enough time to sift through all the messages. If you can’t capture people’s attention and deliver your message with brevity, you’ll lose them.

Mr. McCormack is right, of course.

You’ve got to reduce your message to the bare minimum, and say it quickly. Clearly. With great clarity. So that your audience can get it quickly.

Which means you have to be very sure about what it is you have to say. You have to have clear thinking, with great clarity, in your own mind — really clear – before you can express your thoughts clearly in brief form to others.

{“What am I trying to say? Surprisingly often, the writer does not know.” — Zinsser}

When I write speeches for others (I do some speech writing), I write the speech for the number of minutes they are to speak. But, before I give them the manuscript of the speech for the first run through, I give them the speech in three short sentences. “This is the speech,” I tell them. Three short sentences. No more.

If you can’t do that — actually, if you can’t reduce the speech to one clear thesis sentence, a pretty short thesis sentence – you are not ready to speak.

Short; clear; right to the point!

At the end of brief comes this warning:

Let’s not forget the constant risk of reverting to bad, long-winded habits.

Yep…

Now, brief provides a 200+ page step-by-step approach to becoming brief. But before you read it, you have to decide that his premise is right.

It is!

Learn to be brief.

Stay brief.

Don’t succumb to the risk of reverting to being not brief.

People have too much other stuff to watch/read/listen to. Your message is competing with a lot of other messages. Get your message out, quickly. Make it brief, keep it brief. Your only hope is to keep it brief. brief, the book, can help.

(See also this earlier blog post:  Get to the Point! – Insight/Reminder from Joe McCormack, for all Speakers and Writers).

——————–

Footnote:  that quote from near the end of the book; let’s take out one word, and reframe it slightly:

Let’s not forget the constant risk of reverting to bad habits. 

The warning is pretty much universal.  We constantly revert to bad habits, in a lot of ways.  Be vigilant.  Yes, we have long-winded habits to guard against, and many others also…

 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

Five Great Directors Tasked with Winning the Hearts of the People – from the Book Five Came back

Five Came BackI’m immersed in the wonderful book Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris. It is about the wartime effort of five great film directors: John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler, and Frank Capra.

So many good things to say about what I am learning/experiencing as I read this book. Here are a few observations:

Observation number one:
Washington understood that they would need to win the hearts and minds of the American people if they had any hope of winning the war. And, to win the American people, they needed the best story tellers in the country to help tell the stories that needed to be told. These five accepted the challenge – in fact, they energetically sought the challenge.

From the book:

“Filmmakers could not win the war, but Capra, Ford, Huston, Stevens, and Wyler had already shown they could win the people.”

Observation number two:
These five men were deeply impacted, for the rest of their lives, by what they saw and experienced – as were all others who fought in the war. From the book:

They returned to Hollywood changed forever as men and as filmmakers….
(near the end of their lives) Privately, they would still count among their most meaningful accomplishments a body of work that most of their admirers had long forgotten or never seen at all. As long as they lived, the war lived in them.

Observation number three:
The war turned them into realists. Idealistic hopes of peace are great, but there are times when reality has to be faced.

One passage in the book captures this really clearly. George Stevens had wanted to make “anti-war films.” The delegation from the studio said to him, as he argued for his anti-war picture, “What about Hitler?” Later, Stevens ended up capturing Dachau on film, and said:

“It was another eight years before I understood that. I got all the way to Dachau before I could say that we should’ve fought Hitler three years before the development…that brought us into it.”

Observation number four:
Maybe this is the big one. Anyone who has something to communicate has to ask: “so, what do I have to say?” The war experiences of these directors shaped their future so completely… George Stevens, who had excelled at directing comedy (especially with Katherine Hepburn) never could direct comedy again after the war.

“After the war, she (Hepburn) urged him to return to directing comedy; he never did.”

Here is part of what shaped their thinking — (at least, Stevens’ thinking) – from the book:

By the time “Women of the Year” was in theaters, Stevens was already thinking about turning his cameras on the war. That winter, he had sat alone in a Los Angeles screening room and watched, with horror and enthrallment, Leni Riefenstahl’s documentary tribute to Aryan invincibility, “Triumph of the Will.” After that, he knew he could not make another movie that could possibly be used to divert anyone’s attention from the war…

Watching the movie, he said years later, he realized that “all film, including his own, is propaganda.”

The war experience helped them realize that their movies were instruments of communication, important communication – and what they communicated had to matter!

Well-written history always has much to say about our current issues and struggles. This book is a slice of very well-written history. I am really enjoying this book — and learning much as I read it.

——————–

(I wrote this earlier post after hearing the author on an NPR interview.  You might want to read it also:  The Great Director John Ford Reminds Us To Think of Your Audience – (Ford’s “Torpedo Squadron 8″).  That NPR interview is what led me to read the book, and recommend it to my audiences in local retirement communities.

I am presenting a review of this for the residents of a local retirement community – people for whom the Second World War is a time they experienced, and think back on more often in their “later” years. This is a story that matters to them in a special way.

 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

No Matter How Accomplished You Are As a Speaker (or, in any Arena)… You Could Use Some Good Coaching

Atul Gawande

Atul Gawande

I’ve been a surgeon for eight years. For the past couple of them, my performance in the operating room has reached a plateau. I’d like to think it’s a good thing—I’ve arrived at my professional peak. But mainly it seems as if I’ve just stopped getting better.

This is how Atul Gawande started his terrific article, PERSONAL BEST:  Top athletes and singers have coaches. Should you?

He goes on to explain how he hired a coach – a surgeon who watched him perform surgery, and gave him suggestions and gentle correctives. The point: no matter how accomplished you are, you can’t watch yourself carefully enough to catch what needs to be improved, and what needs to be changed. At least, not all of it.

Some of what he learned from his coach he had never thought of before. He truly “learned something” from his coach. (Read the article to learn about the specific lessons he learned from his coach).

But, some (most?) of what we all need to correct or change, we already “know” we need to change – we just have not gotten around to it. But, truthfully, we don’t want to go to the trouble of changing. (My theory – no one really likes to change – even the people who claim they like to change).

So, recently… I got a specific piece of feedback about my speaking. I needed to change something about my delivery. I sort of “knew” I needed to do this. But, I just kind of ignored it – over and over again.

But, I’m now working on it. Because, someone was gently “in my face” about the need. It was a negative, possibly hurting my effectiveness. It was time to tackle it. And it took a little coaching to get me to confront it.

I’m glad I got this feedback. Though I did not “like” it, I did appreciate it. So, I’m working on this – and, it’s going to require some real vigilance.

I wonder what else I am doing wrong? I don’t know. I’m too close to it. I need another pair of eyes to let me know. I need some occasional coaching.

My guess is, so do you. You really can’t see all that you are doing that could be a negative, hurting your effectiveness.

If the man who was chosen to lead the WHO Surgical Task Force (Dr. Gawande) needs a coach; if the best athletes in the world need a coach; then maybe you need some coaching yourself… I know it helped me.

Maybe Atul Gawande needs to add “use a coach” to his surgical checklist.  And maybe I need to add “use a coach” to my speaking checklist…

Tuesday, April 22, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

Marton’s Great Escape is Worth the Trouble to Find a Copy

The Great Escape:  Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World (New York:  Simon & Schuster, 2006).  

Kati MartonI just finished this wonderful book by Kati Marton.  Marton was an NPR and ABC news correspondent, who was widowed twice.  Her first marriage was to ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, with whom she had two children.  Her second was to Richard Holbrooke, who at the time of his death was the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  I was turned on to this book when I read her newest one entitled Paris:  A Love Story (New York:  Simon & Schuster, 2012).

Great Escape Cover

This book centers upon Budapest, Hungary, which is her native country.  She dedicates it to her parents, who were both journalists in the World Wars and beyond.

The nine Jews the book features are:

four scientists – Edward Teller, John von Neumann, Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner

two motion picture directors and producers – Michael Curtiz, Alexandra Korda

two photographers – Robert Capa, Andre Kertesz

one writer – Arthur Koestler

The stories of all nine are brought to life as I have previously never experienced it.  The book is non-fiction, of course, but it is almost novel-like in its appearance and presentation.  For example, Capa was known as the greatest war photographer of all time.  He was the first photographer to go ashore at D-Day in Normandy.   Curtiz directed Casablanca, which Marton says “is still the most popular, the most familiar,. the most discused, and the most dissected romantic film in history” (p. 145).   Koestler wrote Darkness at Noon, which “is the story of the first half of the century, in which the old institutions – social, economic, and spiritual –  have broken down” (p. 135), and was the most important anticommunist novel ever written.  All four scientists discussed in the book were heavily involved in either advances toward the computer age or the nuclear age, where progress in both were deeply entrenched in politics and personal and professional  jealousies.

We can’t do this one at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.  It is too old, and it is not an exclusive business book.  So, it does not fit our current context.  But that shouldn’t stop you from reading it.

First, however, you have to find it.  Unfortunately, the book is out of print.  To obtain it, you must visit secondary sellers.  But, if you look hard enough, you will find it and be rewarded with an amazingly readable and exciting work.

Monday, April 21, 2014 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Before You Practice the Good Suggestions in Never Eat Alone, You First Have to Decide to Actually Eat WITH Someone, and… NOT to Eat Alone!

So, here’s the deal. I don’t play golf.   (I used to – gave it up, to keep my sanity..). I don’t go to many sports events. (Used to. Not sure why I don’t anymore). And there have always been a lot of “business connections” made on golf courses and at sporting events.  (Notice the word “connections“).

But, I like to eat.

And, here’s what I’ve found. Other people like to eat also.

A few years ago, a friend of mine said he liked to eat alone, in his office – quickly, so that he could get more work done.

I get that… sort of.

But, you see, getting to know people, interacting with people — this is getting work done.

And, interactions are kind of natural in a meal setting. You talk about “stuff,” you get to know one another… You learn something that just tumbles out in “regular conversation.” And then, later, you might “do business” with the person you ate with.

Or, maybe not… But, they will remember you, you will remember them, and you will spread the word about one another. Yes, you will – whether the word you spread is positive, or negative. So, it’s a pretty smart thing to do a “good job” at every meal conversation.

I’ve just read, yet again, that people with hard skills are sort of “easy” to find. Its those pesky soft skills that are not so easy to find..

From An Employee’s Personality Is More Important Than Skills According To A New Talent Study by Rae Ann Fera:

Turns out being flexible and personable are more important than tech wizardry…
It turns out that in the eyes of employers hard skills take a back seat to personal qualities such as creativity, drive, and open-mindedness when it comes to employability.
Of those surveyed, 78% cited “personality” as the most desirable quality in employees…

I especially like the word “personable.”

never eat alone coverThe book Never Eat Alone is a very good book. Filled with smart, useful suggestions about how to be a better relationship builder.  But, the title sort of says it all – never eat alone! Sit down, share a meal, and interact with other human beings!

So, I’ve got a suggestion. Make sure you eat with some people regularly as part of your work life. Because it is part of your work life – and, it is part of life, anyway.

Eat with somebody. Mix these meal “appointments” with some “regular” meal companions, and some “new folks” to get to know. Just for the purpose of getting to know some folks; and for building your own “personableness.”   And just for the purpose of building your interaction skills; your listening skills; your conversation skills; your “soft” skills.

Take a look at your calendar. When was the last time you had a “meal appointment?” When is the next one scheduled?

How many a week should be a minimum? You decide. But going day after day, maybe week after week eating alone is probably not a good strategy in this “we need better softs skills” era.

I’ve got a hunch you could use a few more of those meal appointments. I know I could.

Monday, April 21, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

(Big) Data + Analysis + A Dose of Common Sense = The Path to Specific Innovations (A Lesson from Strategic Government Resources)

A big organization buys paper by the pallet load. I buy it by the case — or less.

Guess which one of us gets the best price per ream…

If you looked down on cities from a satellite image, without all of that map-maker drawing of boundaries, you could not tell when you leave one city for another. Here, in my neck of the woods, you could not see any natural reason on the satellite image to end Dallas and start Richardson, and to end Richardson and start Plano, and…

But, here is a fact. Each city negotiates its own contracts, and the bigger the city, and/or the better the negotiator, the better the price. On countless needed purchases.

Or, maybe not… Maybe there are other factors. But, it has to start with accurate comparison data, somebody who actually knows how to see, and provide, analysis, along with a dose of plain old common sense.

Enter Dr. Jason Cooley, the Director of Innovation for Strategic Government Resources, a company that provides needed services and partnerships — especially innovative leadership — to local governments. (Disclosure – I do some speaking for SGR).

Here’s the story, from one of their publications (I’ve added a little emphasis):

Original_SGR_Logo_Two_Color_Vector_For_Light_Background_1SGR’s first major new initiative led by Jason Cooley will explore new ways to take collaborative purchasing to dramatic new levels through the power of big data analytics. For example, we reviewed actual purchasing data for caustic soda (a highly standardized commodity used in water treatment) in the last 12 months for four cities in the DFW area, all of which currently participate in multiple collaborative purchasing efforts. The prices paid for caustic soda ranged from $536 to $710 per ton – a difference of 32%.

Based on an average quantity of 175 tons, the actual prices paid ranged from $93,882 to $124,250 – a difference of $30,368 that could have been saved just by having better data analytics. And notably, the pricing differences were NOT explained by volume differences or delivery locations. In fact, in one case, a city purchasing a larger volume of caustic soda than an immediately adjacent city paid over 20% more per ton than the neighboring city did and they bought from the same vendor in the same week!

Clearly the potential for fiscal impact on local governments is huge.

In this “how do we save money” era, especially regarding the use of our tax dollars, this is plain old common sense, isn’t it?

Yes…no…maybe…

It is common sense, plus accurate data, plus someone who knows how to provide good comparison analysis. Someone, in other words, who knows what to look for, and keeps learning what to look for next.

The cities already had “multiple collaborative purchasing efforts.” But something was missed; something was not being seen. It took a fresh set of eyes – very trained eyes, by the way — more and accurate data, and that dose of common sense.

Some innovations require a Steve Jobs. Sadly, he is not all that replicable.

But some innovations can come from trained, smart, fresh eyes.

SGR’s Director Of Innovation, and his formula — (Big) Data + Analysis + A Dose of Common Sense — seems to point us to a story, an initiative, genuinely worth pondering.

The experts remind us that some very important innovation is process innovation.  And, this is quite a lesson in practical uses for such innovation.

Monday, April 21, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

“The Light’s Winning ” – And Signs that things are Getting Better are All Around Us

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good.
Genesis 1:1-4
Marty & RustFrom the last scene from True Detective:
Rust:
I was thinking… it’s just one story…   the oldest; light vs. dark.
Marty:
It appears to me that the dark has a lot more territory.
Rust:
Yea, you’re right about that… You’re looking at it wrong, the sky thing… Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light’s winning.
(The final scene from the opening season of True Detective: Woody Harrelson & Matthew McConaughey.   I’ve embedded the video of the scene at the end of this post. Read the dialogue from the final scene here).
 

———————–

So, if it’s just one story, light vs. darkness, then everybody has to choose a side.

“There are two kinds of people in the world,” so folks say. Optimists & Pessimists. (Yes, this may be oversimplification). And recent studies indicate that whichever you are is partly determined by genetics.

It seems to be my nature to fall on the pessimist side of the equation. You know, the things are so bad, and getting worse side. The problems are huge, and we’ll never solve them side.

My reading does not help me much. For every encouraging book I read – (here are two: Abundance, and The Extreme Future) – I have read too many books on the ongoing rise in poverty and inequality, and the climate change worst-case scenarios, and… well, the list is long.

In fact, it even seems like the good business books all in some way or another say, “here’s our problem,” and seldom do I feel that the proposed solutions are really going to truly “work.”

I thought of this as I read The Big Short and Flash Boys by Michael Lewis. Both books are kind of accounts of people who are out to “make a buck” even if it hurts many others in the process. People who are almost “inventors of evil.”

Now, “make a buck” is good. Doing so while hurting others in the process — not so good. You know: darkness. As I said, I tend to fall on the pessimist side.

But… maybe things are… better, and maybe things really are marching toward the better all along. After all, “once there was only darkness,” says Rust. Maybe the light is winning.

Here’s a line from Peter Diamandis, Abundance:  The Future is Better than You Think – an optimistic line if ever there was one:

We will soon have the ability to meet and exceed the basic needs of every man, woman, and child on the planet. Abundance for all is within our grasp.

Paul Krugman seems to fall on that pessimist side of the ledger. He’s usually pretty gloomy. But he’s got a recent column of hope and light regarding the global warming challenge. Here’s an excerpt:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which pools the efforts of scientists around the globe, has begun releasing draft chapters from its latest assessment, and, for the most part, the reading is as grim as you might expect. We are still on the road to catastrophe without major policy changes.
But there is one piece of the assessment that is surprisingly, if conditionally, upbeat: Its take on the economics of mitigation….
What’s behind this economic optimism? To a large extent, it reflects a technological revolution many people don’t know about, the incredible recent decline in the cost of renewable energy, solar power in particular…
Thanks to this technological leap forward, the climate panel can talk about “decarbonizing” electricity generation as a realistic goal — and since coal-fired power plants are a very large part of the climate problem, that’s a big part of the solution right there.

My friend, Larry James, CEO of CitySquare, spends his Thursday afternoons on the front porch of a vacant (abandoned?) house just south of downtown Dallas. He takes bottles of water for folks, and sits on a front porch of this vacant house, talking to his friends. Some, homeless. All, what we label as “poor.” A rainbow of colors and ethnicities.

He does this every Thursday!

Larry's Invitation

Larry’s Invitation

Here’s a recent reflection from Larry (from his blog):

A key learning from two years on the street, almost every Thursday afternoon:  human touch, affirmation and sincere appreciation bring people back from the dead.
As I’ve talked to my friends who have no place to call home, other than a makeshift campground under an interstate highway bridge–ironically, highways built to take most people home after work–I’ve learned the importance of touch and human expressions of kindness and love.  In fact, it’s clear to me that the one thing we all desire is to be genuinely loved.  That love involves respect, expressions of friendship and affection, and simple appreciation.
The street has taught me that “a pat on the back” is much more than an English idiom. 
Love raises people from graves of hopelessness, depression, oppression and despair.

So, for the Easter season, he set up a little table, with an invitation to his friends. An invitation to share the Lord’s Supper.

As hard as our mean streets are, they aren’t hard enough to shake off our need for acceptance. 
Lent gives way to Easter just as love opens doors to new life, often unexpected new life.
I’ve seen it again and again on the street.
I observed it again, even more powerfully, when I asked the simple question of those who passed by, “Friend, would you like to receive the Lord’s Supper?  God loves you more than you can know.”

It is an invitation of inclusion, of solidarity, of light over darkness. And Larry would be the first to tell you that he receives as much light as he brings to his corner ritual.  And whatever your faith (or no-faith), when you come down on the side of inclusion and love and human touch, you spread the light… And then the light may be winning, at least in your corner of the world, more than we thought.

We can all point to the bad in the world, pretty easily. But I remember watching a movie a couple of years ago: Enemy at the Gates. It is a gripping depiction of the battle of Stalingrad. Ebert included this line in his review: We see the early hopelessness…   Things were beyond awful, and very dark – there, then. Not much light. Not much at all.

Things are bad in many places. But, just look at the total deaths in the wars throughout history, and you realize… things really are moving in the direction of the better – the light.

So, on this Easter morning, I guess my reflection for the day, my challenge for all, is that we come down on the side of the light. And that message is for me as much as for anybody. Pessimist Randy needs to remember that “once there was only dark.” Maybe corporations can be instruments of good. Maybe our technological advance can solve our problems. Maybe our “soft skills’ can help build up human beings in the workplace.

Maybe the light is winning, after all.

———————-

Here’s the full version of the final scene from True Detective.  This link has a shorter version.

Sunday, April 20, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

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