Sunday, October 30, 2011

On fall colors....

Spring and summer are my favorites times of the year, but I do love fall for the football and for the fall colors.  Here are my favorites from this weekend

Friday, October 28, 2011

On blogging....

I've really enjoyed doing this blog and already have the next 11 weekly articles written and auto-scheduled to post.  So if I were hit by a meteorite right now, those of you reading this would continue to hear from me for another 11 weeks. That has to make you extremely happy.  If you read one of my posts that says something like "yesterday I saw...", keep in mind that the yesterday to which I refer may have happened 11 or 12 weeks before the article was published.

I would continue to write articles for this blog even if I was the only one reading them because I've really missed writing.  When I was a little younger I thought that I might like to make my living as a writer.  In my early twenties I actually started to write a book and had probably a hundred pages written.  Right after I got out of the Navy I had an offer from The Sand Mountain Reporter to be a beat report, but by the time the offer came I had a job working with kids that I really loved. 

Sometimes I regret not taking that job because I would have enjoyed it and who knows what it might had led to.  But things happen for a reason and all in all I'm pretty satisfied with the way that things have turned out.  Who knows, maybe this blog will inspire me to start on that novel again.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

On management by fear and intimidation....

I'm no Dale Carnegie and I'm not a Six Sigma ninja, let's just go ahead and get that out of the way right now, but I've attended many different flavors of management training, from Total Quality Management to Promised Based Management.  Everyone has their own management theory and many of them write books about them and make millions.  No I'm no Dale Carnegie, but I've been managing people for a little over 20 years and I'm here to tell you that you can toss out TQM, Six Sigma, Promised Based Management, and any other theory that someone who probably has no management experience has written about.  In this post I’m going to share with you my philosophy on how to motivate people and get the most out of them. 

Let's start with the overriding principle of my management technique.  What is the number one thing that motivates people?  Money?  Pride?  Recognition?  All three are good answers, but think big picture; what is the most powerful motivator of them all?  The answer of course is fear.  Fear makes you run faster, jump higher, it keeps you safe and prevents you from making mistakes.  Fear is what prevents you from speeding, but it's also what gives you that little extra boost of energy when you're being pursued.

Most management philosophies will tell you that you should manage fear and try to eliminate it; that fear is counterproductive and leads to discontent and lowered productivity.  This is simply not the case.  Instead, if you instill an environment of fear every action that your employees take will be guided by that fear, which will in turn lead to better decision making.  I you take nothing else from this post take this: lack of fear leads to poor decision making.  How many times have you heard someone say that Suzy acts that way because she gets away with it?  Basically what they are saying is that Suzy operates without fear.  When people think that they can make a mistake without ramification there's no limit to what they can screw up.

So instead of trying to manage and eliminate fear I try to create it.  One thing I do to foster an atmosphere of fear is to keep a list of employee names, both past and present, on the whiteboard in my office.  As people leave, either through natural attrition or by being terminated, I cross through their names.  To me it’s just a list of names, but to the people listed it’s an ominous sign that they spend hours worrying about.

When someone leaves the company I don’t tell my employees why, even if that person left to pursue a better opportunity.  Instead, I allow everyone to think that they were terminated.  I don’t actually say that they were terminated, you really don’t have to, I let those left behind draw their own conclusions.  If someone suggests that a person left for more money, more responsibility, etc., I just say that there’s more to the story in order to create a seed of doubt.

Calling someone to my office always makes them nervous and I always get a "did I do anything wrong" question, or "is this going to be bad".  When they ask that I don't allay their fears by telling them everything is okay and that we just need to have a friendly chat.  Instead, I respond with "it's best if we just discuss this in private".  If it isn't bad news and they say something like "thank goodness, you scared me" or some such nonsense I always tell them that they were right to be scared because next time the discussion may not be to their liking.

I pretend to leave stuff at the printer to scare them.  For instance I will create a fake email to a company Vice President saying that everything is ready for the move.  I only have to leave it for about two minutes before everyone in the building knows about it.  When asked about it I simply say something  about hoping that our improved performance will make a difference.  You would be amazed at how this increases productivity.  There is nothing that motivates a group more than fear that they're going to have to move, or lose their jobs entirely, if their performance doesn't improve.

Another method I use to foster fear is to close my door and act like I'm having a telephone conversation with someone.  I yell key phrases like "that is totally unacceptable", or "I warned you about the consequences of this before", or "if you had listened to me before this wouldn't be necessary", then I storm off for lunch.  If anyone asks I just roll my eyes, shrug and say something like “what are you going to do” and walk off. 

When I worked at this one company there was a VP who I really admired and he was the basis of my Management by Fear and Intimidation philosophy.  I was a business manager at the time and we were blessed with the opportunity to discuss market results with him on a monthly basis.  He would scream at us frequently, say that we were incompetent and threaten our jobs.  He would move revenue from one market to another without telling us and then scream at us when we couldn't explain how we failed to make our forecast. 

Once on a conference call we could hear his kids in the background.  Without skipping a beat he immediately launched into a profanity-laced tirade on the inappropriateness of addressing him while he was on the phone.  This was a guy who lived Management by Fear and Intimidation, it wasn't just a philosophy for him, it was the guiding principle behind everything he did.   I wish that I had been given the opportunity to learn the techniques of this management style at the tender age of 8 and 10 like his kids did, but alas I didn't have a father figure around to teach me such valuable life lessons. 

On another occasion a manager was absent due to the death of an employee and this VP made someone call the manager and tell him that he had 15 minutes to get on the call or he could find another job.  He did allow the dead employee to take the day off though, so it's not like he lacked compassion.  I could give you a couple dozen more examples that would inspire awe, but suffice it to say that this guy was a tremendous influence on me. 

Was this VP pleasant to work for?  Heck no, but every single decision I made was done with the understanding that a poor decision on my part could render me unemployed.  As a result my work was meticulous and when it wasn't, I learned to blame it on others.  Ironically this always worked and our monthly conference calls turned into finger pointing sessions; blaming provisioning, billing, operations, anyone but ourselves.  Now that I think about it, maybe I need to go back to the drawing board and rethink this philosophy; I might get stuff blamed on me.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On political correctness....

It's sad that people in this country are afraid to say what's on their mind and have opinions.  If you don't support the policies of president Obama or are for tougher immigration laws you're a racist.  If you're against "the war" then you're anti-American or anti-military; the list goes on and on.  Just when you think that some public figure is about to stand up and thumb their noses at political correctness they hold a press conference or issue a statement crawfishing and apologizing for their statements.  When they do that they just lose credibility and respect.  Just once I would like for someone to stand behind what they said and tell anyone that attacks them to go to hell.  Or if they feel compelled to apologize because they hurt someones tender feelings, they should tell those people that they're sorry that they're crybabies.

Monday, October 17, 2011

On change....

I don’t like change.  Not one little bit.  I’m a status quo kind of guy.  I believe that if something isn’t broken there’s no need to fix it and if it is broken, you should just buy another one.  I become comfortable in my little world and I’m not anxious to do anything to change it.  Change is not always good, especially change that is made simply for the sake of change. 

I recently made the change to Office 2007.  Yes, believe it not, 4 years after its release I am now on Office 2007.  Part of the time gap is due to the IT policies of the company that I work for, but part of it is because I didn’t want to upgrade anyway.  So now that I have upgraded I have found, as I suspected I would, that a ton of things have changed.  The net result of these changes is that it takes me 30 minutes to do a spreadsheet that took 5 before.  Aw, progress! 

I knew where all the buttons and features were found with the previous version and now, until I get used to it, most of the additional time is used trying to find or remember where the feature moved to.  When I do get used to it, another upgrade will come out and the vicious cycle will being anew.  I have yet to find anything that Office 2007 does that the previous version didn’t do, not one. 

I have a well documented on-again, off-again relationship with Facebook.  There are many reasons for this love/hate relationship, not the least of which is the changes that are constantly shoved down my throat.  It seems that every time I log in I am being asked to switch to some new feature.  Being against change as I am, I ignore those pleas, but eventually they become mandatory anyway.  If they were changes that benefited me I might feel differently, but they are just changes for the sake of change.

Imagine if every time you got into your car the gear shift, steering wheel or radio was jazzed up and moved somewhere else.  Or if in addition to turning on the radio, the radio's power button also turned on your windshield wipers and it was up to you to pour over the owner's manual to try to figure out how to disable that feature.  How frustrating would that be?  Or imagine if every time you came home everything in the house was rearranged.  Your sock drawer is now your underwear drawer, your pots are now where your canned goods used to be, and your tools are now in the toolbox instead of being scattered around the house.  Would you be frustrated?

Computer program changes are mostly for those who like things to be pretty.  You know the kind, they had the fancy My Space pages with the pixie dust and glitter and music.  They liked to move things around, change colors, add little pretty widgits, etc., and for people like that there were entire websites devoted to explaining how they could change their page and add the cute talking kittens and such.  Or pictures like this:

People seem to like that crap and, I suppose, to each his own.  As for me Mr. Microsoft and Mrs. Facebook, add functionality if you must, improve features if you must, but total facelifts are, well, total BS.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On the humanization of animals....

Merriam-Webster's defines the term anthropomorphize as "to attribute human form or personality to things not human."

People like to attribute human characteristics to animals for some reason.  Hollywood does it all the time with movies like Hotel for Dogs, Air Bud, Beethoven, Flipper; the list goes on and on and on.  We just can't seem to get enough of these movies, the cute little animal hijinks make us giggle like school girls and we come away at the end of the movie feeling warm and wonderful.  Well I don’t, but many people do.  Then you have the movies where the animals are giving stock tips, are stars on the local basketball team, or foil some devious criminal plot.  These are the kinds of movies that signal the end of acting careers; if you're the star of one of these movies your career has given up the ghost.

So my question is simple:  We like to pretend that animals are so smart and can talk, so why do we always pretend that they can’t spell?  Here are a couple of examples that come to mind.  First, the classic Chik-fil-A stuff:

These cows are supposed to be smart enough to scale this billboard to write this message, but aren't smart enough to snag a dictionary on their way up?

And this:

In the interest of full disclosure, I hate these, they annoy the crap out of me; they aren't cute and they aren't clever, but to each his own. This particular cat picture thingy is from a WEBSITE and whoever founded it seems to have made it their life's work to collect and post these.  They even have a generator where you can make your own.  And, you can register for a collectible "Purrito" that looks like this:

So what's the reason for this cat's poor grammar and spelling?  Should animals have the same access to a quality education as people enjoy?  I don't know the answers, I'm just asking the questions.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

On making choices instead of excuses....

The picture above was captured from Google and it shows the housing projects that we lived in when I was a kid.  If I'm not mistaken, and it has been a long, long time, I grew up in the unit on the left. 

I have some pretty good memories of this place; my mother giving me a bath in the sink while I nibbled on Circus Peanuts, her Ma and Pa jokes that I could never seem to get enough of, our neighbor Ethel, who my mother says I called momma, the masks at the bottom of the stairs that always scared me.  We were probably the only white folks that lived in those projects; I didn't realize that at the time and wouldn’t have cared anyway.  Ethel was momma and the thread that joined us all was poverty.  The neighbors treated my mother and us kids well and color didn’t matter.

One of my earliest memories of mother is lying in bed and hearing her crying downstairs, then getting up, walking past the masks that scared me so, sitting in her lap and telling her that everything was going to be okay.  When I brought that up to her years later she said, shocked that I had remembered it, that she was probably crying about something my father had done, that I was probably 4 and it was around that time that my father decided that adulthood, responsibility and doing the right thing were distasteful to him and headed to California.

I have many fond memories of my mother and what she taught me, sometimes with her words, but more often than not by her example; which is the best way to teach.  She taught me compassion and empathy for others, how to be strong through adversity, and so much more.  There isn't a moment that goes by that I don't miss her.

I also remember many times that make me sad for her; when we were hungry and all she had was a dollar, the pain in her eyes when she knew that she couldn't do something for us, the time when I was six and she gave us every penny she had so that we could go to the circus.  It was never about her, it was always about us.  I know for me those Christmas’ with nothing under the tree hurt her far more than it did me.  My mother had a hard life and few people understood the depth of her dedication to her children.  There were many times that I even struggled to understand it.

I say all of this simply to illustrate that though others have gone through far worse, I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth.  I've lived in the projects among the unseen; the poorest of the poor.  I've gone to school hungry and gone to bed hungry, and been hungry at most points in between.  I've seen firsthand what a parent's inability to properly feed and clothe their children does to them.  I've seen what a parent goes through when they're unable to do anything for their kids for Christmas.  I say this not so that you pity me, I wouldn’t change a minute because it made me who I am, I say this instead to illustrate that you can leave your children a different legacy. 

I single out mothers here because, frankly, my dad wasn't a father or much of a man, so I can't provide first-hand knowledge of what fathers go through.  I've been fairly successful.  It wasn't always that way, but it's what my kids know, so I can't provide first person testimony of great days of trial and tribulation in trying to provide for my kids either.  All I can say is that my goal was always to make a better life for my kids than I was given by my father and that's how I measure parenting success. I probably won't win any Father-of-the-Year awards, but maybe I helped build the foundation that my son can use to win them.

I read a post today about 3 cousins who were arrested for robbery and several of the posters, in typical fashion, said how sad it was that they were raised that way.  Comments like this raise my hackles a bit because for every case where that is true there are probably two or three more where it simply isn't the case.  My mother went to her grave believing that a lot of negative stuff that happened in my family’s lives was her fault and that simply was not true.  You raise your kids to know right from wrong, but ultimately they have the power of choice and they often don’t do well in exercising that power.

The night that I heard my mother crying I clearly recall thinking that I wasn't going to be like my father, I was going to make something of myself and I was going to be better than that.  From that moment forward everything I did was with the intent of rising above my circumstances.  I stumbled along the way, I had to pick myself up by the bootstraps at times and suck it up, I had to put my nose to the grindstone and quit feeling sorry for myself at others, but I worked hard, treated others with kindness, and always tried to do the right thing.  It was a conscious decision, my choice.  I chose my path and didn't allow myself to be a victim.  I didn't let a pervert in Texas give me an excuse to become a pervert. Though at times I strayed, I managed to at least stay in the general vicinity of my chosen path and when I did stray, I corrected my course accordingly.

I have brothers that made different choices, some of those choices were, in my opinion, poor choices and some of those choices were very, very bad.  They aren't who they are because of their upbringing, they aren't who they are because our dad wasn't there; they are where they are because, for better or worse, that's the path they chose.  They may not even realize that they made those choices, but nonetheless they did, just like I did that night sitting in my mother's lap.

In my experience working in social services I had the opportunity to speak with prisoners whose parents gave them everything, both emotionally and materially.  I've seen outstanding people whose parents gave them nothing, either because they didn't have it give or, like my father, didn't want to give it.  Heck, I see people every day that grew up without a pot to pee in and are nevertheless good people who contribute to the community.  This isn't about what you have, it's about who you are; a person's character isn't measured by the make or model of the car they drive, how big their house is or whether it has wheels, what you wear or who you know, it's measured by how you act.

People make excuses for their poor behavior and we let them.  How many times have we seen a rapist or murderer or wife beater or thief use the excuse that they were molested or beaten as a kid?  And we buy it hook, line and sinker.  If you had a bad childhood you have my sympathy, but don’t use that as an excuse when you screw up; be responsible for your choices and suck it up. 

I didn’t come out of my youth without little dents and dings, but I have never used something that happened to me 30 years ago as an excuse for how I behave today.  Some would probably suggest that I had it easier than them and that my mother treated me differently, but I would submit to you that people who are less than satisfied with the choices they made will often look for anything to ease their mind and make them feel less responsible for their mistakes.

I guess my point is that people shouldn't be so quick to think that someone's bad choices are a reflection of their upbringing.  There is often a correlation, but more often than not antisocial behavior is simply the result of bad choices.  People need to take responsibility and we need to make them accountable because I’m tired of everyone being a victim.

Monday, October 3, 2011

On technology....

I love technology.  It allows us to surf our favorite porn sites, place or receive phones call in the middle of the 2 o'clock showing of the latest Hollywood blockbuster, get outdated directions to that restaurant that everyone is talking about, and do a thousand other thinks more quickly and more effectively than ever before.  Of course just like everything, there’s a group of people who have to ruin the joy of technology for everyone.  Bastards.

For several years I was irritated by Phone Guy or Phone Gal who sat next to me in waiting rooms and talked about such hard hitting topics as their doctor's plan for the treatment of their hemorrhoids.  I would think to myself that with 100 empty seats in said waiting room, some no closer than 15 feet from other people, why would Phone Guy chose to have his conversation while sitting right next to me.  I would ask myself why not wait until you leave to have that private, personal conversation about your anal affliction Phone Guy, because it really needs to be held in private.  Heck if nothing else use your inside voice so that I don’t have to hear every single syllable.  That isn’t a can and string in your hand, it’s a phone and you don’t have to yell.  We’ve all seen Phone Guy / Phone Girl because apparently there are far more of them than there are of us and they breed like rabbits.

Today Phone Guy or Phone Gal would not be caught dead with a phone up to their ear.  That, to them, would just be low rent.  Today these people have Bluetooth.  Now Phone Guy starts the hemorrhoid discussion and you actually respond because you think that they’re talking to you because you can’t see that crap hanging out of their ear.  So now you get the double embarrassment of saying something back and being looked at like you're weird in addition to hearing about their hemorrhoids.

It’s not just professionals who have Bluetooth headsets, everyone has them and it makes it increasingly difficult to tell the crazies from everyone else.  It’s becoming entirely too common to see people walking around the store apparently talking to themselves, to have people sitting beside you suddenly strike up a conversation with no one, I’m having to say “excuse me, but are you talking to me” entirely too much.  These aren’t doctors, nurses, police officers, or firemen who we all depend upon to be available 24/7, these are soccer moms and football dads, average Joe’s, and it irritates me to no end.

These Bluetooth headsets are great for when you’re in the car, it’s safer to use them, but I see people walking around all day with them in their ears.  Heck I was at a Chinese buffet and saw an elderly couple sitting across from each other and both of them had headsets in their ears.  I am not kidding about this.  How critical is the call that you might get that you feel the need to keep them in all day?  Do they wear them in the shower?  Are people waiting on your call to give the Space Shuttle clearance to land?  Are you just pretentious?  Is it some kind of status symbol?  Frankly, I’m befuddled.

My work requires that I be available 24/7 just in case there are business critical issues that arise that I need to address.  My wife and kids have cell phones because I like the comfort that comes with knowing that if they get in an accident help is just a phone call away.  But many people don’t understand that cell phones can actually receive and place calls.  Yes, that’s right; you can actually receive calls on cell phones too.  Seventy-five percent of the time that I call someone on their cell phone they don’t answer, but five seconds after hanging up I get a text asking me if I needed something.  First of all, I wouldn’t be calling you if I didn’t want or need to speak with you.  Secondly, if I wanted to convey my message to you via text I would have texted you in the first place. 

I’ve learned to embrace texting on a limited basis; it allows me to send someone a message that I would really rather not speak to anyway.  It removes all of the clutter from a voice conversation; I don’t have to hear about seeing Sally at Wal-Mart on Wednesday, or was it K-Mart, no it was Foodland and it was Thursday, not Wednesday.  However, I don’t want to have extended conversations via text, my fragile psyche just can’t handle it.  And keep in mind that grammar rules are not suspended just because you’re texting; if you want me to know what the heck you are saying then say what you mean.  IDK, LOL, LMAO are entirely overused and I refuse to participate in acronymic discussions, I don’t like to think when I speak, just ask my wife.  And don’t even try coz (because), u (you), wot (what) and the hundreds of other text friendly words with me, using them displays a certain degree of laziness.

I’ve learned that those who text frequently are really quite good at it.  I’ve seen my kid’s text while they aren’t even looking at their phones.  I’ve seen my wife navigate an obstacle course of hungry alligators, rabid chipmunks, razor wire and my in-law’s all while texting.  One evening my wife and I were watching the marching band practice and we received a text message from my son, who plays the tuba in the band.  When you can text while marching and playing the tuba you have reached the very pinnacle of texting success; you’re the Chuck Norris of texting.  If you can do this why is answering the phone so difficult?

Then of course you have those people who are on the other side of the spectrum, technology scares them and they freeze like deer in headlights when confronted with it.  My daughter wrote step-by-step instructions and taped them to the Blu-Ray player so that my wife would know how to change the TV from satellite to DVD and watch a movie.  When my brother uses my cell phone I have to dial for him and hang up afterward.  He hasn’t yet figured out that the “end call” button hangs up the phone.  When the power goes out in our neighborhood I get a call from my neighbors asking if I can fix their televisions for them again.  Their innocence is refreshing.