One of my favorite Toby Keith lines is “a little less talk and a lot more action.” Having lived in the DC area for the past 15+ years, Toby’s words have become a mantra. And the problem seems to be getting worse and worse. I have been in the software and IT services industry for many years and worn many hats with clients in just about every industry there is. In business school as well as in my initial years as a Consultant, there was an emphasis on results and outcomes. Success (or failure) was determined by tangible, measurable things that you did (or did not) do — especially as a highly-paid consultant. Contracts were written with explicit deliverables and outcomes included.
I’m not sure exactly when the concepts of accountability and results jumped the shark (a topic for a future blog post), but it seems to me looking back like it really started to fall apart after the bad economic juju in 2008-2009. I had assignments in pure services organizations before The Big Short (loves me some Michael Lewis) and I have definitely noticed significant changes in the past few years. I call it the Shaggy phenomenon after the artist who recorded “It Wasn’t Me.” More and more, I would be on engagements where there was a tremendous amount of money spent with absolutely NO outcomes delivered — and I saw it going on in the world at large around me as well — yet there seemed to be no consequences or outrage at this. Let’s look at a few examples of this on a large scale:
-the Sequester of 2013. Enough said.
-$12 million was spent to create an accurate electronic database of veterans buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The database was never completed and as a result, soldiers who served their country were disgraced — headstones were missing, graves were mismarked, etc.
- HUD spent $40 million on development projects that, many years later, had not delivered any completed units — sometimes never even completed all the necessary permits and paperwork
- The Federal Government spent nearly $2 billion setting up the HAMP program to help distressed borrowers — only 70,000 mortgagees were helped in 2009. The program failed in part because banks and mortgage servicers made more money from late fees and foreclosures than they would have made from HAMP incentives to modify mortgages in most cases.
I have seen countless examples of this on a smaller scale — resources being wasted on poor or no outcomes. Tons of “strategy” projects that never delivered anything actionable. Failed implementations because the requirements and analysis were not done. Promotions of people who had not delivered one single thing nor were they qualified for their positions from their past experience (at least the Peter Principle is alive and well). Meeting upon meeting dishing out death by powerpoint. And yet, these people still have jobs in a time when there are more qualified candidates than ever available in the marketplace. And the only explanations I come across are because the non-doers are “good guys.”
But recently, I got a small glimmer of hope. There was an article in the Washington Post Style section on March 12th about Obama’s new Director of legislative affairs, Miguel Rodriguez (Miguel Rodriguez, Obama’s legislative director, is mostly a mystery to those in Congress). The article implies that he may not be off to a strong start because he isn’t making the rounds and schmoozing, which is what is expected of the person in that role. But one of his colleagues, Neera Tanden, said this “I appreciate that this town works in knowing everybody and having a beer, but I don’t actually think that’s the most important thing for this job…Where the rubber hits the road is how you look at an intractable problem and whether you can come up with a solution.”
Be still my beating heart! Neera is proposing to evaluate people on what they DO not just what they SAY.
A Comeback - just in time for Women's History Month
Tumblr I have missed you! I have missed the incredible catharsis of expressing myself on your pages. I have missed reading your wonderful posts. Apparently, I have even missed my own password.
I am on a brief hiatus from my work as a mercenary (a Consultant in large corporate bureaucracies). I have been inspired to write again — the Sequester, Women’s History Month, Sheryl Sandberg’s new book - the sources of inspiration abound.
I will introduce one brief thought which I will return to in more detail after this initial post. I am reading all the reviews on Sheryl Sandberg’s new book and the ensuing discussions about feminism - the revival of a topic that got heated with the publication in July of last year of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in The Atlantic.
The first thought I had was where is the mention of Sonia Sotomayor? Talk about a woman in a position of power! And a woman with humble beginnings who is not one of our nation’s wealthiest, yet she occupies a unique position of power - and there are a limited number of seats at that table. Why is she completely absent from this discussion? I certainly hope it is not because she handles the dialogue about women, power, family and leadership with such quiet grace and supports “old-fashioned” values of hard work, courage and perserverance. More on this topic in future posts as I consider the topic of leadership in general — and women in leadership in particular.
The ultimate hubris: paying a rock star (marginal) to play at your birthday bash “I don’t know who the f** Michael Saylor is but happy birthday and thanks for the free drinks” Courtney Love kicking off her gig at Saylor’s birthday bash in Manhattan. Happy birthday Mr. President indeed.
“In the back offices of the Senate, many longtime aides were amazed at how quickly a new lobbying force had managed to outmaneuver experienced heavyweights.”—David Farenthold, “Web sites go dark to highlight protest” Washington Post, jan 18,2012
Occupation: Any activity in which a person is engaged (Dictionary.com)
I received some pushback to my post (rant) on the Occupy movement. There are many educated, productive, thoughtful, smart folks who believe there is something important underlying this movement — that it cannot be ignored and should be respected and understood. Rather than look for new friends, I decided to change my perspective and take on a different view.
The first step was to move away from large-scale bombastic statements about the entire movement and its futility — don’t boil the ocean. The Occupy movement may not have collectively expressed a unified set of goals but within the blogs and other information that is being shared, there is a real desire for positive change that I can relate to (I am currently - ahem - underemployed and my wranglings with Wells Fargo exhaust me - as a mortgage industry insider, this is a topic for another post).
The second step was to leverage my experience turning strategy into action (I am a consultant and a personal trainer). A peaceful protest can be effective at achieving a specific and well-defined outcome, but a broad based movement that is addressing systemic problems needs identifiable actions to make effective use of its energy and resources. A quick analogy for the kind of transformation I am after (please do not take any offense — no religious or political views are expressed — this is only an analogy). A person who was part of my “inner circle” was a seriously devout Catholic. Every year, he would attend the Right to Life march on the steps of the Supreme Court and felt he was doing his part to end legal abortions in this country. However, this person never spent a resource (time or money) working with any of the Catholic organizations that help the women who find themselves pregnant in challenging circumstances and ensure that if babies are born, they have what they need. In my view, the effectiveness of the march was greatly diminished if its participants were not willing to follow it up with actions.
I began compiling a list of opportunities for the people invested in the Occupy movement to help effect positive change in our country - how can we Rockupy. The list grows every day, but here is a starter. •Take part in the political process. And I don’t just mean vote — run for office or help others who share your views run for office. At all levels of government — neighborhood, city, state, etc. The Washington Post did an excellent article on several qualified candidates for the GOP who don’t have the funding to participate in the race and remain anonymous (“Buddy Roemer among those struggling for a slot in GOP presidential race” Dec 8, 2011, by Eli Saslow). There is a Center for American Women and Politics whose sole mission is to recruit a new generation of experienced women to run for office in 2012. How can the Occupy movement help these folks? Can social media and the new information paradigm help to get a new breed of public servants elected? I am not suggesting the Occupy movement try and put forth a successful Presidential candiate, but a City Council or Chamber of Commerce or School Board with an influx of candidates who truly represent the 99% is possible and it can grow over time. •Support existing change agents. There are a vast number of organizations dedicated to making changes — providing food and shelter for the needy, re-training the unemployed, feeding hungry children, breaking the cycle of domestic violence — and on and on. These organizations are struggling under the twin burdens of increased need and reduced resources. Start by using your General Assemblies as forums to work with these organizations, brainstorming ideas and solutions to problems as well as offering resources. •Partner with philanthropists. Many philanthropists and foundations welcome credible information about worthy causes and how to ensure their contributions achieve maximum benefit. Robert McCartney wrote a fantastic column for the Washington Post on Sept 25, 2011 (“The $1 billion question: How can we create jobs?). The column is about philanthropist Bill Conway, a co-founder of the Carlyle group, who wants to give $1 billion of his wealth away to worthy causes before he dies. Conway doesn’t want just “simple giveaways” - he wants to create something more lasting — ideally to “create large numbers of productive self-sustaining jobs for the poor.” He publishes an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org - copy email@example.com). Here is someone from the 1% asking for ways to help the 99% — that is exactly what the Occupy movement is about! •Man the phones. I recently read a story (in the Washington Post of course) about a Texas health insurance hotline that is at risk of losing its funding. The Texas Consumer Health Assistance program was funded as a result of federal healthcare reform. The state hired employees to staff a healthcare hotline advising customers on how to find affordable healthcare coverage, help filling out paperwork and fighting denied claims, etc. They also traveled across the State hosting events to inform Texans of their healthcare options. This program is at risk of losing its continued funding — a victim of Congress’s inability to agree on a federal budget. This hotline is also right up Occupy’s alley — empower people with knowledge and help them make good decisions. Can Occup-ants find new volunteers for the hotline? Can they raise awareness of the issue to procure the necessary funding? Can they take that model and replicate it — an informal Consumer Protection network staffed by the 99% for the 99%?
I am by no means against public discourse, peaceful demonstrations and social movements. But I gotta agree with Toby Keith — what we need now is “a little less talk and a lot more action.”
“There’s a difference between the kind of problems that companies, institutions, and governments are able to solve and the ones that they need to solve…”—Dev Patnaik, CEO of Jump Associates from the Fast Company article “This Is Generation Flux: Meet The Pioneers Of The New (And Chaotic) Frontier Of Business”
That definition (Dictionary.com) rings pretty true for the current Occupy movements around the country. I have genuinely sought to understand the Occupy movement - I am certainly not in the wealthiest 1% so maybe this is my movement, too. As I was sitting in a heinous traffic jam on Sunday caused by the Occupy DC folks trying to erect a wooden structure and resisting police’s efforts to remove it — a far kinder interaction than the midnight raids in other encampments — I began to wonder what does a Win look like for the Occupy movement? What do they want to be different when they are done leaving their mark (literally and figuratively)?
The most successful protests/movements in history had specific outcomes as their raison d’etre — end participation in a war, offer equal rights for minorities, change a specific law, free a political prisoner. The recent protests in countries facing economic challenges may be more relevant, since the reference to the 99% is economic and not political. The protests in Greece, Italy and other countries were about opposition to specific austerity measures being proposed by their governments to prevent economic catastrophe. Since our government can’t agree on anything these days, we don’t have those.
Perhaps the Occupy movement relates more to the collective energy behind the Arab Spring and the protests in Tahrir square. Those movements took on the daunting task of overthrowing corrupt dictators and ushering in a new era of more democratic leadership. One of the beautiful things about America is that we don’t need armed conflict to accomplish this — we elect our leaders at every level of government on a frequent basis - we need only exercise our right to vote.
The OccupyWallStreet.org website defines the movement as “an affinity group committed to doing technical support work for resistance movements.” I get that and understand the passion and purpose that could inspire. I would imagine that group would want free space in the cloud (for data and apps) or servers — and to recruit lots of developers. But when you click on the Donate tab, they want money, water, food, weather supplies (blankets, etc.) and art supplies. The “How Can I Help” section makes no mention of technical skills or resources — only to join, spend the night, and talk to others about why you like Occupy. Oh — and give food and money.
I read many of the stories on the We Are the 99 Percent blog (here on Tumblr) and I understand why people are frustrated, tired and angry. I can certainly relate — I work in IT and have been hit hard by the recession — financially and professionally. I can understand frustration with a valuation scale that leads to huge wage and income disparity. One would think then, that the movement would be Occupy the NCAA, NBA, NFL, etc. But I did not see Occupy the SEC Championship. Nor have I seen Occupy Urban Meyer (full disclosure: I am a Michigan Wolverine).
The Occupy movement formed a human chain across K Street this week, snarling traffic and causing a kerfuffle. Help me understand what was supposed to come of that — were all lobbyists supposed to either wither away in shame or be instantly fired or lower their rates — just because neither they nor their clients could get to their offices? I find the fact that the Occupy movement is happy to accept the services of lawyers to help them when they are arrested - many of whom practice on K Street - to be a nice irony.
The Occupy movement has made various statements about being against paying college tuition, against paying for medical care, against foreclosures (meaning against paying mortgage). Yet many of them attended college, receive medical care and have lived in a house - none of which are considered inalienable rights. They have also stated that they want equitable income distribution — the 1% have everything while the 99% have nothing. News flash — that was Robin Hood’s plan and it did spawn books and movies but was not ultimately successful in toppling Britain’s feudal system.
There is a “sister” movement called Occupy Capitol Hill and folks are visiting lawmakers’ offices demanding to meet with their elected officials. At last an opportunity for meaningful dialogue about the potential solutions the Occupy folks are proposing, the specific changes they seek, and their proposed Plan of Action. Clearly, the Occupy movement has answers that our best minds - both here and in Europe - have missed in the months they have been focusing on our current world economic situation - I am all ears. If I were an elected official I would meet with these folks — and videotape the meetings — and broadcast them on You Tube.
I would like to know what the Occupy movement has to offer us (the “other” 99%) in exchange for our donated parks, port-o-potties, money, food, library books and other largess. If they were truly the 99%, then the opportunity cost to America of the Occupy movement would be monumental.
*Addendum: Barely two months into the Occupy movement, Time Books has published “What is Occupy: Inside the Global Movement” and Law and Order has an episode where the protests are featured. Occupy Capitalism indeed!
I mega-heart people who tell it like it is and pull us up short from our delusional musings about social justice bla bla. While I am waiting for a snarky Truth About Occupy series, I came across an excellent article about privacy on any social networking site, specifically Facebook. (The article was written by Farhad Manjoo for Slate and appears in the Washington Post Sunday Business section on Dec 4, 2011).
My favorite quote: “indeed, the very idea of making Facebook a more private place borders on the oxymoronic, a bit like expecting modesty at a strip club.”
The heart of the matter: “It’s our misguided idea that we can control anything we post online. The entire point of Facebook is to allow us to connect and share stuff. It is thus, by its very nature, one of the most intrusive technologies ever built”
The so-what: “the ‘privacy controls’ on Facebook…should be regarded as aspirational….friends only, hopefully.”
What Manjoo makes obvious is that social networking is driven by humans and how one person respects the privacy of another is and always has been a very individual decision. Long before “sexting” and other electronic sharing methods, people were distributing information about others using old school methods — I’m pretty sure Betty Rubble gossiped about Wilma Flintstone. And I remember the days when people worried about protecting film negatives to prevent copies from being made of photos. It’s why J. Edgar Hoover is notorious enough to be played by Leonardo DiCaprio in a movie.
If we can embrace this paradigm shift about privacy, think how many millions of dollars can be redirected from lobbyists and lawyers to more beneficial uses. Like the next fake celebrity wedding and breakup.
I tried to love the iPhone. I really did. All my iFriends with their iPhones and their iPads. Why — they were starting social networks and Occupy movements during lunch! And Siri — that seductress — how did we live without her?
It was time to upgrade my semi-muerto old Crackberry (the kind with the roller trackball). It was time to kick that dinosaur RIM to the curb and join the iRevolution. I marched into my ATT store and asked to see the iPhone. I picked up the sleek gadget. I opened a new Contact bubble to add myself in. I typed “L”. The screen showed “o”. I tried again. And again. Finally got it. I typed “i”. The screen showed “k”. This went on for some time. And I finally snapped. How can I love a device that I can’t even type my own name on?
All those apps — the iVuvuzelza, iFart, iBrushmyteeth — they are all meaningless if I can’t email and text. So I bought a brand new Blackberry Bold 9900. It is sleek and fast and reliable. I love it.