Friday, June 28, 2013

Paco - Shopping and Anthropology

Avoid the Butt-brush and raise profits with science. Paco Underhill's advise is coveted all around the world. Working with the best brands, best retailers and best restaurants, Paco has touched your life in a way that is effective, yet hard to notice. That is, after all, what an Anthropologist does. He observes, records and concludes without interfering with his subjects. Paco is known as the father of Retail Anthropology.
Photo of retail anthropologist and environmental psychologist Paco Underhill
Paco Underhill
It would be odd to think that anthropology, a seemingly boring science, could have any impact on the design of the most exciting new products in the market today. Nonetheless, this is exactly what's happening. After discovering Paco's work, it all just made sense to me about 15 years ago.
Starting as a typical anthropologist doing work at Central Park for the city of New York, Paco serendipitously took his academic education and started recording the behavior of music shoppers. The rest, as they say, is history.
All marketing guru's take an artistic approach. There is no science to what they do; it is just a feeling of what seems right. They develop a hunch, which is then tested with your customers without any real certainty of success.
photo of female apparel shopper inside retail store
Paco, on the other hand, makes recommendations that have already been proven to work. Why? Because they follow human behavior rather than fads. Paco's team has documented more shoppers in more countries than anyone else. His methodology is based on the fact that humans have changed very little over thousands of decades. Paco's goal is to improve the retail experience through solutions that are both predictably superior and repeatably effective. That you aren't aware of his work speaks bundles of the secrecy with which companies guard what he does for them.
The kind of science that he deploys is not rigid, fake or unnatural. On the contrary, Paco adds value to the existing environment by making it look and feel much more natural and fluid. If consumers felt that they were being trapped by a scientific experiment while doing something as personal as shopping, they would just exit the store. But consumers respond well to Paco's creative solutions because these resonate with the human nature.
photo closeup of a Subway restaurants napkin with printed nutritional information
Subway Napkins
Have you noticed that fast food restaurants try to keep their tables free from clutter. There are no table tents offering the latest specials, for example. This means that these restaurants miss the opportunity to sell additional products or services to customers who spend more than a few minutes eating alone and without anything to look at. But Paco found a solution. While helping Subway restaurants', he realized that there was a great opportunity to push Subway's main marketing message. So he used the company's napkins to highlight the nutritional values of their sandwiches. The solution was clever and it has become part of the daily Subway experience.
Placing aspirins in the most easily accessible shelve, perhaps near the entrance of the pharmacy, would seem to make sense. Pain medications are an important category. Moreover, these products see strong consumption by the elder; people who generally appreciate ease of access. But Paco knows better. Displaying aspirins in such a main isle will place their users right on the path of fast walking teenagers who rush towards the back of the store to grab the latest energy super drink; resulting in the dreaded Butt-brush. Shoppers, specially the elder and females, hate the Butt-brush. No matter how strong their need for pain relief may be, getting Butt-brushed will force them to shop elsewhere. The data corroborates with the thesis that these are terrible areas for these types of products.
Photo of "Why We Buy" "The science of Shopping" book by Paco Underhill
Why We Buy by Paco Underhill
Paco knows precisely how many minutes will a customer spend looking at a pair of jeans, how often she will consider their price, how many pairs she will try each visit, which way she will navigate the store, and how many times she will experience frustration along the way. His body of data is uniquely robust.
If you are a retailer, a product manager, a manufacturer of consumer products, a packaging designer, or a commercial interior designer, you are missing your biggest tool. You must read his books; starting with Why we buy, The Science of Shopping. This book sets the foundation needed to internalize the concepts. There are no narratives to waste page space; Paco goes to the point. He teaches how to understand consumers and shares the source for his conclusions.
He knows shoppers so well that he is also referred to as a environmental psychologist.
If you are serious about your work and have an open mind to be proven wrong, make sure that you and your team start following Paco today.

Book Title: Why We Buy
Book Subtitle: The Science of Shopping
Author: Paco Underhill
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 978-1416595243

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Busy Managers: Insecure and Incompetent

Photo of "Don't bother me I'm having a crisis" burgundy mugBusy all day? Then, stop the incompetence and do something right for your business.
The logic is simple. Some managers measure success by how busy they are. The busier, the better they think they're doing. As a result, they are also unavailable to others. The more they're needed and the less available they are, the more important to the company they think to be. While seemingly correct on the surface, this idea is absolutely misguided.
Companies are supposed to continue to grow indefinitely. To do so, they need key people to grow with them. These are the key executives that will trail-blaze through the market's jungle. If they stop, progress does too.
These key managers are hired to make big decisions and solve big problems. The higher in the organization one goes, the bigger the responsibilities and the subsequent problems.
But when a manager has used all of her bandwidth, when it can no longer do more, then the manager must be replaced with someone who can; or else, risk stalling progress. This is referred to as the Peter Principle. In a nutshell, this principle says that "in an organizational hierarchy, every employee will rise or get promoted to his or her level of incompetence".
Photo of "The Peter Principle" book by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull
The Peter Principle
It is therefore expected for the Peter Principle to happen to everybody at some point in their career. Thankfully it is not terminal; giving the manager a second opportunity to go to a different company where it can take another shot at growth. In other words, everybody has a chance to recover. Unfortunately, the manager in question should still be fired, even if we are talking about the founder. In such case, a professional manager will be needed to lead the institution through growth. Let's remember that in business, even founders work for the institution and not the other way around. With this in mind, take departments away from the busy, including founders, and give them to those who can handle the additional load.
Have you ever had a middle manager request additional departments, despite not being able to handle the load today? It's like she says, "hey, I am trying really hard for you, so why don't you give me another department?" But how is she going to handle the rest if she is already too busy? Rather than expand, she should simplify her life until she gets better at handling the challenges.
Interestingly, a great manager should become more and more free as she takes on additional responsibilities. She should make things look easy rather than hectic. .
So, how can a manager be more free with added responsibility? Well, through the power of leveraging access to better executives and additional resources.
Vintage Photo montage of Ray Kroc with the McDonald's sign and McDonald's food behind
Ray Kroc
Try to look for Ray Kroc at McDonald's corporate office in Chicago. Can't find him? I assure you one thing; he has not been around since he passed away in 1984. Yet, his great work continues to pay dividends even when he is clearly not busy with any of the job. The systems he developed and the decisions he made are being leveraged through people and resources all around the world.
As a someone responsible for making big decisions, you must start by displaying a great ability to decide between chores. Many managers get busy out of insecurity. They think that if they're not busy they'll lose their job.
Get rid of the pacifier and start choosing based on the best company results and nothing else. Where is your stop-doing list? Jim Collins, author of best sellers Good to Great and Build to Last, came up with the concept of a stop doing list. He suggested that selecting things that should not get done was just as important as picking things that should; as in the to-do list.
After prioritizing, strategize who in your team will get things done for you. Yes, give the work to others. Give them an opportunity to shine. Along the way, you will also build bench strength. Get into the habit of always developing great managers. You will need them for all the coming opportunities.
But with responsibility comes empowerment. You must be clear about what you expect from them and of the resources available. It is fine to give people a challenge to be solved with less resources than it would take you. Inevitably, you will come across someone who is better than you at achieving the goals. This is the holy grail in management. With lots of practice, you may find many more who are also better than you.
Wide Photo of philharmonic orchestra
Then, teach your managers to do as you did. To become irrelevant. Tell them that irrelevant managers get more responsibilities than those who are always needed by their team. You will be in great company since Toyota practices this every day.
Then, one day, you will find that you have not a lot to do. You would have developed great managers who themselves have great teams. At such time, work will be much more fun as you will be only involved with the really important stuff. Until then, stop being the bottle neck.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Creativity, Sex and Business Cards

Photo of Hugh MacLeod's art on business card with green background
Gapingvoid
Ignore Everybody, the book with a sexually deprived personality, would have been more appropriately titled Hear Me Out; as in listen to Hugh MacLeod, the author. Ignoring everybody is only a fraction of the advice given.
Hugh, a cartoonist and Chief Creative Officer at Gapingvoid, describes the creativity drivers that have helped him turn a crazy idea into a well rounded business.
Art-on-a-business-card isn't going to get its own isle at your local Michael's store any time soon. Still, the compact and portable medium has given Hugh a different perspective on life and business. Perhaps his ideas can also benefit your team.
Despite being a short book, it somehow manages to feel a bit fragmented. It reads like an appliance instructions booklet more than the usual narrative that most people like. If you are not as geeky as I am, this may be an issue for you.
Another caveat is that the book should probably be rated R for adults only. I am no prude, but the repeated sexual references created a meaning that went far beyond what each clever phrase suggests. "Desperate" is what it seemed. It was as if the author felt the need to create shock to bring the book to life.
Poster image of Hugh MacLeod's book "Ignore Everybody" and Rated R legend above it
Ignore Everybody
The irony is that the book is actually very good; the value of its content stands on its own. I felt that the ideas are realistic and on target.
The book goes beyond just talking about how to get into a creative state of mind and touches factors like hard work.
My niece is very creative. She is also an early teenager. I bought the book with the intention of sharing it with her. I hoped that it would help her channel her great ideas. But I now know that I will have to wait about a decade before uncle Alberto gives her this book; which is a real shame.
Even within the professional environment, I am not sure that I could give the book to just any employee. The last thing I would want is a frivolous charge of a sexual-related offense for something that started with the intent to get employees to a higher level of creative productivity. Yikes.
Your situation may be different; making the book a great read for you. In any case, make sure to at least review Hugh's business website.



Book Title: Ignore Everybody
Book Subtitle: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity
Author: Hugh MacLeod
Publisher: Penguin Books LTD.
ISBN: 159184259X

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Siegel, Clearly Simple Wealth Approach

Tall Feng Shui style photo of dark rounded rock over white backgroundKeep it Simple, Stupid  isn't the same as Keep it Stupid Simple. Both are KISS principles; yet they send different messages.
The former implies being less than brilliant, to say the least. This is the message that most intellectuals deliver to their audience. Their discourses often create a sense of awe for their genius while leaving a gaping understanding-void behind. They seem to thrive from dishing unbreakable magic.
On the other hand, the latter KISS, which is less common but the more adequate alternative, accentuates the need for simplicity. This is what Professor Jeremy Siegel does while also being master of the stock universe at prestigious Wharton School of Business. The confident, succinct, transparent, charismatic and perpetually optimistic professor has written a book that just leaves you feeling good, despite all the noise and fear roaming the nation right now. The Future for Investors demystifies the drivers for success behind the work of great money makers like Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett. No señor, not even a doctorate degree from no less than MIT gets in the way of professor Siegel's ability to clearly explain to average people.
Evidently, to think in terms of either growth or value investing is wrong. Based on Siegel's extensive research, one should evaluate market expectations through the lens of market pricing. Is the market expecting high asset value growth and has therefore pushed asset prices higher? A yes, suggests looking elsewhere.
Composition photo of financial markets giant Jeremy Siegel next to his new book "The Future for Investors"
The Future for Investors at Amazon
Next, scavenge among assets with lower growth expectation for those with solid cash flows. Any asset with high capital investment requirements should be put to the side until cash is no longer being siphoned. Previous studies have debunked the myth that higher capital investing is essential to lead the industry. This also puts tremendous pressure on the idea that gold, a non cash-flowing asset, could deliver more than mere parity with inflation.
Something I found very interesting within the subject of cash flows is the suggestion that the investor and no one else should determine how to re-deploy corporate profits or dividends. Letting management "invest" the money leads to poor results in the aggregate due to low capital investment returns. Then there is the fact that letting government decide how to invest is even worse. Government often spends several times more to create a job than the job pays. Handing cash would be a much more effective way to use money. But who wants to hand out cash without resulting in value add.
Photo of fifteen one hundred dollar bills arranged in ascending house-looking structures
Real Estate Investments
Only the reinvestment of cash flows through the purchase of additional shares leads to substantial market out-performance; especially during recessionary times. Now, this explains why Buffet acquired insurance and consumer staples businesses. These companies deliver great and sustainable cash flows that can be reinvested into more cash flowing assets. And I thought that staying away from fast growing businesses was a cute way for a conservative old man like Buffet to invest. He has really misrepresented his approach. The goal is not to seek businesses that a simple Cornhusker could understand. No, the goal is to buy as much cash flow as possible with every penny so that more cash flows could be acquired next. The math behind the compounding properties of this method is very robust. To think that Mr. Buffet would support higher taxes, a way for citizens to invest in the country, while he clearly lets no one decide how to invest his dividends makes me feel betrayed by the Oracle. Sadly, this feeling has now surfaced twice. I previously wrote once about it in my Secret double-life - Warren Buffet spices things up with leverage post.
That's it. Low expectations and high reinvestable cash flows. As the Geico commercial would read, "So easy a caveman can do it".
Professor Siegel also proposed a great thesis for how the negative impact from the upcoming demography shift will be counterbalanced by global growth. Soon Baby-boomers will start selling their accumulated assets to pay for retirement. Siegel feels that the massive wealth and consumption expansion taking place across the developing world will help sustain present asset prices. But I am not so sure about it.
Photo image of modern Chinese metropolis in full bloom
There are three factors that in my mind could impede his scenario from taking place. Deficiency, timing and risk profile could make his calculations unrealistic. First, all markets are deficient. Whether there is a 10% or a 90% deficiency in the transfer function needed to match boomer assets for sale with growing demand elsewhere is presently unknown. Have you ever needed to sell something yet failed fining the buyer who would pay your price? Yes, it happens all of the time. After you sell at less than you wished, you will inevitably find someone who would had paid more. Why was it so difficult to find the buyer when you needed it? Because all markets have a deficiency factor which could range from very low to very high. We don't know how efficient each relevant market will be over the next 30 years. What we know is that even a highly efficient market will offer enough friction to call for a review of the math used.
Second, timing means that citizens in developing economies could be willing to buy Boomer assets years after the sale took place. That would be disastrous for sellers even when buyers largely outnumber them.
Third and presently evident is risk profile. Equity prices have resiliently gone up because of market distortions created by the Fed. Risk-adverse buyers are having to shorten their time horizon to compensate for the higher risk associated with the assets they are now buying; assets like dividend paying stocks and residential properties for rent. Any change in economic risk will probably force assets out of their uncommitted hands.
Photo of two Baby Boomers over a Volkswagen van in the 60's
Boomers
I am not sure that developing consumers will be ready to buy the same type of risk assets as Boomers did. Boomers grew up in a very different economic environment. Their parents experienced great wealth growth; which gave them the opportunity to party la Vida Loca while question every rule and standard. Boomers display a sense of invincibility and entitlement missing from any other large group. Instead, developing nation citizens would surely behave like members of the Greatest Generation, those that fought in WWII and built the industrial nation that we now know. Global growth citizens will probably be financially conservative and hard working. So, I doubt that they will have the same risk appetite than Boomers. If their savings are redeployed by money managers into riskier asset classes, then we risk discouraging these savers while also creating great market volatility and rampant crashes; a scenario that is probably closer to the truth. I would love to see if professor Siegel has accounted for the three concerns I am raising here.
Professor Siegel's book is fantastic. His delivery is as welcomed through his writing as when he talks to the CNBC cameras. Thank you professor for your hard work and commitment to a better future for investors.

Book Title: The Future for Investors
Book Subtitle: Why the Tried and the True Triumph Over the Bold and the New
Author: Jeremy J. Siegel
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
ISBN: 140008198X

Monday, June 24, 2013

Great-Depression Expert Abdicates, We'll Miss Ben

From the time when he announced he would miss Jackson Hall this year to the obvious resignation that pours over the cameras as he talks about the state of the economy, it is clear that Mr. Ben Bernanke is exhausted. Eight days ago, his boss fired him in front of a national TV audience. Rather than improving, important aspects of the economy like real cost of capital for small businesses and the system's velocity of money worsened even after the recession had ended in 2009.
Black and white photo image of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke during a hearing
Let's wear Bernanke's shoes for a moment. It must be truly devastating to see that everything that you studied and learned from the Great Depression, everything that you prepared to prevent another one from happening, can't help you once you find yourself in the middle of it. Surely, he devised the economic maneuvers that would spark the comeback. He must have rehearsed each and every step needed for solving the biggest of economic challenges. More importantly, he must have trusted that historical evidence would motivate those in power not to repeat the same mistakes. But it was not to be.
In the words of Mark Twain, "history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme". No matter what the US Federal Reserve may do, feelings of mercantilism and resentment towards those behind the financial markets resurfaced among citizens; just as they did when the nation faced the same foe close to 80 years ago. These tendencies have created once again an environment where people elected a politician who resonates with such poor market ideas.
To think that things would be different this time is like hoping that the next generation of teenagers will not drive mom's SUV over the speed limit just because there is plenty of evidence that it is neither necessary nor good. Teenagers learn by crashing. Perhaps we prefer learning through pain as well.
Whether you like Bernanke’s actions or not, he has been the only game in town; the only one really acting to solve the malaise. Apparently, he was also the only one who combined an understanding of the problem with the integrity needed to execute. Others knew what to do but remained quiet. Most had no clue about economics but yelled their opinion all the same.
Bernanke understood that markets are emotional and tried to deliver positive messages. Even when he knew that the window of opportunity would be narrow, he delivered enough liquidity to make markets forget the bad times for at least a moment. He knew that a liquidity trap would prove his approach right despite the many warnings of inflation by armies of detractors. He also had the backbone to stand up for what he believed despite seeing that both political sides were taking shots at him any time they had a chance. From my perspective, Mr. Bernanke is an honorable man who has served us with everything he could deliver.
Official White House photo of smiling and confident President Barack Obama
No Real Focus on Economy
But he could not do it alone. How else could Bernanke build valuable market confidence when the leader of the nation aimed his artillery to those holding the purse strings? Mr. Obama ignored the fact that fear mongering and business witch-hunts do nothing for investment confidence. The President has completely ignored dozens of lessons from history that have proven his brand of socialism ineffective. Obama over estimated his Jedi power over markets (if there is such a thing). But perhaps the most troublesome, our leader ignored the fact that Americans are creative enough when motivated to deliver solutions to any problem; whether economic or environmental. This was once a nation where corruption and filth were rampant a few decades ago. Yet, its citizens created models that the rest of the world now tries to emulate. Eat at a McDonald's restaurant in China to see what fighting a mob for a piece of burger feels like. In an instant you will be thankful of the order that we witness everywhere in this nation; order which wasn't always there.
For many poor leaders, fear and insecurities among subjects are essential tools for power preservation. Instead of motivating the nation, Obama has talked down to us as if we were all idiot children who must be made to comply. For a picture, think of the many psychologically abusive parents out there who really love their children and just transpose the characters. You are the abused child.
Notice that I say nothing about Congress. Decisions by committee don't work in business and surely fail in government just as well. Besides, I think that a leader is responsible for leading; so no excuses Mr. President. It is your job, even if no one can suggest a better way.
The President could have inspired hard work. Instead, he exploited feelings of entitlement among the masses. Instead of pushing for cutting unproductive spending in the same way that any CEO would do, he bickered over forced cuts from the Sequester. Complaining is the tool of the weak, I feel.
But rather than helping Bernanke's efforts, Obama took advantage of the resulting low National Debt Interest costs; thus ignoring the massive potential future risk to be faced by tax payers. Paying five to ten times more to rescue a job than what the employee gets in income is wasteful no matter how cheap money is right now.
Not long ago, we paid the same in interests for a much lower foreign debt. This is because Ben's liquidity push has made government borrowing costs lower today than any recent time. But interests will not remain low indefinitely and are thus headwind-risk for the Fed's actions. In other words, instead of lubricating, Obama created drag.
Photo of paper illustration with "Integrity is the willingness to live by our beliefs & standards" legend
Integrity
Washington is simply full of people focused on everything but getting the job done; from the President to the lobbyists, we are not being served well. Thankfully there was a Lone Ranger in the crowd.
I did not agree with everything Bernanke did. I nonetheless admire his stature and integrity. As the brilliant and confident person he is, I am sure that he doesn't need everyone to agree with him and that he values the insight resulting from intellectual debate.
With Bernanke leaving, no doubt we will get another bright person to take the controls at the Fed. What I am not sure we will get is another giant with the same degree of integrity and conviction. The next one may be a "yes" person who is willing to bend rules so long as the boss makes the request. Backbone is what I know we will miss most.
Thank you Mr. Bernanke. You are a great man.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Diploma Reimbursement; Expense, Not Asset

What's more important, the diploma or the knowledge? Out of these two, which do you think can be monetized by your business? Which one can result in higher productivity?
Placing too much emphasis on the paper is a cultural failure of business. That most businesses place such premium is evident after a cursory review of any job post. Emphasis is given to diplomas over anything else.
Screen-shot photo image of portion of LinkedIn.com job ad asking for Bachelor's and MBA degrees
LinkedIn

Even education reimbursement benefits offered to employees focus on the document rather than the knowledge. As long as the employee comes back with a paper in hand, the company pays its part of the tuition cost.
There is no one in human resources who even cares to match the benefits paid by the company to increases in productivity by the employee. If someone did, they would make sure to find a way to improve the ROI of these expenses. They would council employees on the kind of education that would create measurable value to employee and company alike. And maybe, they would find alternatives at no cost; thus creating an asset without an offsetting liability. More on this later.
Photo image of framed Harvard Law diploma
Harvard Law Diploma
Diplomas cost lots of money; especially considering today's high college tuition inflation. Yet, these certificates offer no guarantee of the type or level of knowledge. While a business degree creates the impression of competence, it is not uncommon to find people who graduated from reputable business schools but lack all understanding of business topics. Ask them about accounting and they will struggle identifying what's an asset or a liability. Talk to them about pricing and they will say to remember demand graphs but are not sure how to interpret them. Lots of money was sunk into their school attendance but very little value can be extracted from it.
Superior knowledge, on the other hand, can be easily monetized because it improves employee productivity. It is well documented that higher productivity across all businesses comes first from innovation, then from experience and last from capital spending. This insight debunks the myth that companies must incur high capital expenditures in order to succeed. Professor Jeremy Siegel from the Wharton school of business has done research that shows how, opposite to general belief, companies that spend more than their peers in capital equipment lag behind their industry. This phenomena, which grants higher importance to knowledge has been confirmed even for firms outside the US.
Peter Drucker, arguably the father of business management, identified that we live in the era of the knowledge worker, a term which he coined. Well, recalling the drivers of productivity described above, both innovation and experience are knowledge based. To get an idea of the power of knowledge as a productivity tool one must only look at the distribution of profits of Apple products. Around 80% of all profits go to 10% to 20% of employees. The rest of the employees get the other 20% of profits. Do you want to venture a guess which are the employees that get the bulk of the profits? Within Apple, each California employee produces on average 15 times more value for the company than employees in Asia. What's the difference? Knowledge. California employees get paid for what they know and for how they apply it when making important decisions. Employees in Asia are limited to what they can produce with their hands. In this case, skill is important but not as important as the specialized knowledge of the California engineers.
Photo of entrance to Apple's California Headquarters
Apple's Corporate Office
Higher productivity, as in the case of Apple, creates a competitive advantage that subsequently results in higher profits. In today's competitive environment, there is absolutely no reason why  people should stop growing intellectually. In fact, I strongly believe that in order to stay competitive, employees and management will now have to periodically attend the equivalent of a college degree every 10 years; something that could get very expensive if the company is to pay the bill.
Let's say that your business requires that your HR personnel learn about the Affordable Care Act; also known as Obama Care. You could bring in a payroll services supplier like Paychex. They could deliver a superficial power point presentation to HR. In my experience, most of these presentations serve only the purpose of making you feel like your vendors are working for you. Now that what really matters to you is that you raise the level of expertise within your team in such as way that you can be sure to not violate one of the many regulations; something that could cost the company a fortune.
Another alternative would be to have the members of HR attend the University of Pennsylvania, the ivy league school where people like Donald Trump graduated from. Can you even imagine all the traveling expenses and the tuition costs? How about all the time away from work?
Next, let's then say that you decide to send your sales team to Northwestern University to take the Content Strategy for Professionals: Engaging Audiences for Your Organization course. No doubt that better presentations will go a long way to improve closing rates.
Logo image of The Chinese University of Hong Kong over white background
CUHK website
Once on a roll, you send your sourcing team to learn more about the Yuan. More specifically, the class is called The Role of Renminbi (RMB) in the International Monetary System. The caveat this time is that they will have to attend the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Good luck getting daily flight back and forth.
And how much will all the education cost you company? Nothing; it's all free.
And just in case that your team still has a hard time giving up their fixation for the paper, these schools will grant a diploma for successful completion of every course and the corresponding tests.
Today, thanks to Coursera, your employees can attend the best universities in the world completely free and on their own schedule. Classes are available on-demand through the magic of the world wide wed. Your HR people can chose between many options for the course that's immediately most meaningful to the employee. There are general courses as well as programs on subjects at the forefront of technology.
I recently took Model Thinking at the University of Michigan. The course addressed all sorts of modeling techniques and software packages which are relevant to many fields. About 25,000 students attended the class with me. Sadly, more foreign students take advantage of this free education while Americans are notably disengaged.
As a manager, if you agree with the value of the education over that of the diploma, then you have to understand that the problem is cultural and that solutions must be driven from the top. Change the way your company hires. De-emphasize diplomas while placing more value on relevant knowledge that can be monetized right away. Change your education reimbursement program to one that rewards people for applying newly gained knowledge to their job. Motivate people to learn what they can practice immediately. Form study groups that can turn water-cooler talk into something productive for the company.
Unfortunately, this change will take quite a bit of time. We are dealing with entrenched beliefs, after all.  Thankfully, the exponential improvements resulting from your efforts will be measurable and huge.


Screenshot image from Coursera.com home page
Coursera


PS: Following is a list of the Business topics available in English through Coursera:
Yale UniversityFinancial Markets
University of PennsylvaniaThe Global Business of Sports
University of PennsylvaniaAn Introduction to Operations Management
University of PennsylvaniaAn Introduction to Financial Accounting
University of PennsylvaniaPrinciples of Microeconomics
University of PennsylvaniaCorporate Finance
University of PennsylvaniaDesign: Creation of Artifacts in Society
University of PennsylvaniaGamification
University of PennsylvaniaHealth Policy and the Affordable Care Act
Princeton UniversityNetworks Illustrated: Principles without Calculus
Princeton UniversityNetworks: Friends, Money, and Bytes
Stanford UniversityOrganizational Analysis
Stanford UniversitySocial and Economic Networks: Models and Analysis
Stanford UniversityStartup Engineering
Stanford UniversityGame Theory
Duke UniversityHealthcare Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Duke UniversityA Beginner's Guide to Irrational Behavior
Northwestern UniversityUnderstanding Media by Understanding Google
Northwestern UniversityLaw and the Entrepreneur
Northwestern UniversityEngaging Audiences for Your Organization
California Institute of TechnologyPrinciples of Economics for Scientists
Case Western Reserve UniversityInspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence
Columbia UniversityFinancial Engineering and Risk Management
Georgia Institute of TechnologyComputational Investing, Part I
IE Business SchoolCritical Perspectives on Management
IE Business SchoolUnderstanding economic policymaking
Johns Hopkins UniversityPrinciples of Obesity Economics
Universität München (LMU)Competitive Strategy
Pennsylvania State UniversityCreativity, Innovation, and Change
The Chinese University of Hong KongThe Role of Renminbi (RMB) in International Monetary System
University of California, IrvineFundamentals of Personal Financial Planning
University of California, San FranciscoNutrition for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
University of FloridaEconomic Issues, Food & You
University of FloridaSustainable Agricultural Land Management
University of GenevaInternational Organizations Management
University of Illinois ChampaignMicroeconomics Principles
University of Maryland, College ParkDeveloping Innovative Ideas for New Companies
University of Maryland, College ParkSurviving Disruptive Technologies
University of MelbourneClimate Change
University of MelbournePrinciples of Macroeconomics
University of MelbourneGenerating the Wealth of Nations
University of MichiganIntroduction to Finance
University of MichiganModel Thinking
University of MinnesotaSustainability of Food Systems: A Global Cycle Perspective
University of VirginiaNew Models of Business in Society
University of VirginiaGrow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Private Businesses I
University of VirginiaFoundations of Business Strategy
University of VirginiaGrow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Private Businesses II
University of VirginiaDesign Thinking for Business Innovation
University of WashingtonIntroduction to Computational Finance and Econometrics
University of WashingtonIntroduction to Public Speaking
University of Wisconsin–MadisonMarkets with Frictions
Vanderbilt UniversityLeading Strategic Innovation in Organizations
Wesleyan UniversitySocial Psychology
Wesleyan UniversityProperty and Liability: An Introduction to Law and Economics

Monday, June 17, 2013

Paul Getty - Failure of Wealth

Beauty shot Photo of the book The Great Getty over a anodized metallic table
The Great Getty
A social misfit with deep emotional insecurities and a massive Narcissus Complex, J. Paul Getty was otherwise an average rich guy. Well, maybe an average richest guy. This is the impression I kept from the famous tycoon after reading The Great Getty by Robert Lenzner. One would think that Mr. Lenzner titled the book with every intention to being sarcastic.
Recognized by Fortune magazine and the Guinness Book of Records as the richest man in America, Getty had an equally expansive sexual appetite. Going from lady to lady proved his inability to relate to those close to him. Evidently, this problem drove many of his so called loved ones to suicide, drug additions and many other emotional ailments.
He was famous for being a miser. Once, Getty installed a pay phone in his Tudor mansion near London to stop dignitaries who visited him from using the phone for international calls.
When the builder charged with constructing his beloved Getty Art Museum in LA decided to expense an electric pencil sharpener, Getty reprimanded him. Getty liked to review every single expense.
More relevant to the subject of this blog, Getty proved to be so full of himself and insecure that he failed miserably at creating great leaders behind him. Constant put downs, which are normal from this type of control seeking personality, created deep insecurities among those closest to him; including his sons. As a micro-manager, he did not professionally develop a single employee despite a massive network of corporations with lots of potential talent to chose from. Even the Saudis had to put up with high level managers unable to make decisions affecting oil extraction activities in the Middle East. It was common to have to wait for Getty to make decisions from the other side of the world. Even the US Department of State heard complaints from its Embassy about the problem; a problem I had covered before on a separate post. I had described my lack of appreciation for those lacking the emotional fortitude needed to seek great people to delegate big problems to.
Photo head shot of magnate J. Paul Getty
J Paul Getty
Mr. Getty liked conflicts between those around him. This is an intolerable yet common practice of those with his type of personality profile. They believe on the concept of divide and conquer. After a fight between factions ends, both sides will be too exhausted to give any resistance to complete domination by Getty, the poppet master. In my opinion, this behavior is abusive and disgusting. Fights create no value for the company. On the other hand, the resources being deployed serve only the purpose of keeping others out of the boss' chair. This is a quick way to eliminate capable people from the ranks. No matter how patient they are, smart leaders will see through the garbage and move on to a more meritocratic institution.
A better alternative would be to push to find people much better than the boss. Only then would bench strength be greatest. When Mr. Getty died, he must have known that he failed at building a person to perpetuate his corporate legacy. Instead, he bought his way into history by gifting most of his money to the arts through the Getty Foundation responsible for the Getty Museum.
Don't take me wrong; I love art and definitely see the benefit to society from donating to any art institution. But I think that this can still be accomplished while creating a strong corporate culture that develops great people. No free pass for Mr. Getty here.
Screenshot image of Star Wars' OB1 using his Jedi powers to overpower the soldier's weak minds
Star Wars Episode IV
Blaming his parents for a detached upbringing is no reason for his actions either. I believe in the concept of brain plasticity. Our brains, and as a result our personalities, can be remodeled until reaching a better and more desirable state. I personally experienced this process before reading about the concept for the first time.
Sadly, Mr. Getty's clearly high intelligence did not serve him here. This is something I find common among people with dilutions of control. They simply refuse to admit that they are not the directors of the movie taking place around them. When confronted with a fact about their fallible nature, they react by trying to do a Jedi mind trick on the person divulging reality. They say something like "these aren't the droids that you are looking for", while swiping their hand across. I know that the Start Wars analogy may fall outside of your pop-culture area of knowledge. Yet, it is still very appropriate.
If the book's author hoped to inspire me to follow in the footsteps of his Great Getty, I am afraid that I will disappoint him. While I admire the wealth Getty amazed, I am terribly disappointed of all the human suffering that he created. Money or no money, it seems that Mr. Getty was a terrible person and a horrific manager.

Book Title: The Great Getty
Book Subtitle: The Life and Loves of J. Paul Getty - Richest Man in the World
Author:  Robert Lenzner
Publisher: Crown Publishers, Inc
ISBN: 978-0517562222