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February 2017

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The Education Plantation

Just had the following published in The American Thinker which you can find here or you can just keep reading…

In the course of my management consulting, I’ve been to some of the toughest neighborhoods in the country.

If you do business in these areas you know to always visit them early in the day when they are relatively safer. Thus in my travels I’d see four and five-year old kids playing like all four and five-year olds do.

But, as they got older, they developed an increasingly hard look in their eyes. And, by only nine or 10, many had a look in their eyes no child in America should have.

Even at that age, they had put up with more crap than one can imagine. The neighborhoods they were born into have astonishing crime rates. The few terrorize the many and unlike the police, they don’t leave.

Job opportunities are limited and youth unemployment reaches heights unheard of anywhere else in the country. A hand up is not an easy thing to find in these neighborhoods.

In many of these places a culture has taken root where the very keys to success are viewed as being somehow foreign and something to reject, not embrace. These realities are true regardless of one’s heritage but it has fallen disproportionally on black Americans.

What of the education opportunities presented to these children today? The inner-city schools these children are forced to attend are a national disgrace. Education has been called THE civil rights issue of our time by political leaders across the political spectrum.  I disagree, I believe it is the moral issue of our time.

What we see in the inner-cities is the result of a lot of factors.  But a major one is the collapse of the educational system decades ago resulting in generations of people, each receiving a lousy education.  Generations of people pretty much screwed from the womb with their only hope being a chance for a decent education.  Without that they are lost.  Without that they have little hope.  In the face of this desperate need, the schools that are forced upon these children are an obscenity.

It is quite easy for someone who has never witnessed these realities to talk about hard work and pulling one’s self up by the boot straps.  It is much easier said than done.  What future truly awaits a 12 year old with very poor reading and writing skills, little to no math skills, and no command of the English language?  They are supposed to happily go to jobs pushing a broom or flipping burgers?  And fighting for these jobs against an army of illegal immigrants who are willing to work for below-market wages?  Or is a much more logical path one of crime?  Far too many of these inner-city schools are simply one stop on the assembly line from school to prison or the cemetery.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.”

But the public education system is doing neither for the poor souls forced to attend these life-destroying institutions.

How many of the problems of the inner-cities in general and of black Americans in particular find their roots in generations of failed education? We will never address the issues of race, crime, poverty and the pathologies they unleash until we at least provide an opportunity for every child in America to attend a quality school where their intelligence and character are developed to the peak of their potential.

Will every parent and child take advantage of this? Of course not. But until everyone who wants it is given a true opportunity to send their kids to quality schools, this country will fail in its basic commitment to those poorest among us. And, when you consider the resulting crime statistics and the cost of filling our prisons, that’s a problem for all of us.

For the richest country the world has ever seen to allow this destruction to these young lives is simply wrong. Not every parent is “parent-of-the-month” material but at least let’s give those who cry out for help a chance by offering them a school which at least has the potential to save their life rather than destroy it.

John Conlin is a self-employed management consultant who lives in Littleton, Colorado. He started End The Education Plantation because he’s seen first-hand the harm being caused by our nation’s schools and believes it’s time to do something about that. For more information, go to www.EndTheEducationPlantation.org.

Born the Hard Way - The End!

I know, enough with this Born the Hard Way crapola… this will be the last I deal with it.

But first, today’s post has at least a couple management lessons in it.  First, the place that trims my dog’s nails, Petco… I’ve been going there for a number of years and they have always had a bowl next to the register filled with broken bits of dog treats.  On check-out folks would grab a couple as a yummy treat for their hound dog.  Makes the customer happy, their dog happy, and gives away what is basically un-saleable product.  A win-win across the board.

A couple months back I noticed the bowls were no longer by the register.  I asked a clerk and they rolled their eyes and showed me the apron they were wearing.  These were brand new aprons ordered by some senior member of the management team.  Towards the bottom of the apron are printed the words (or something similar) “Want a treat?  Ask me.”  With an arrow pointing to a pouch which makes up the bottom part of the apron.  Clearly the pouch is to be filled with treats to be handed out to customers.  These stores were ordered to end the bowls and only use the aprons.

Just one problem… I’m guessing the genius senior manager who thought this was such a great idea had never actually worked in one of their stores since the pouch on the apron was the perfect height to bang against the counter, the cash register, etc.  Thus if the employees attempted to keep treats in their aprons, in a short amount of time they would be broken into thousands of little pieces.  Thus no one in the store kept treats in their aprons, regardless of what the printing on the apron said.

And now when one asked for a dog treat the employees direct you to grab a couple from their retail sales area.  So instead of giving away unsalable product as a good-will gesture, they now give away (but only if one is in the know or asks) fully salable product… all because some senior manager thought it would be a good idea for their employees to run about the store with dog treats in their apron pouches.  They took a win-win and made it a lose-lose.  It might not be the biggest deal in the world but still, why?!

For all you managers out there… let this be a lesson.  No one knows the job better than the folks who actually do the job.  Before implementing any of your genius ideas, make certain you talk to these people and fully understand the realities of their job.  “Wisdom” that comes from on high with no actual knowledge of how the worker bees actually live is almost certain to end badly.

And speaking of ending badly, let’s talk about the continuing saga of Born the Hard Way.  Today’s Wall Street Journal has an article titled “Super Bowl Ads Stir Up Modest Heat”.  The second paragraph...

“… Any fallout for brands could take time to materialize, but for the moment there’s no evidence any advertisers are facing a serious backlash that could affect their sales or the perception of their brands long-term, marketing experts say… Instead, it seems viewers in many cases saw what they wanted to see in the ads… Research firm Networked Insights, which analyzed Super Bowl ad campaign mentions across social channels… said there were 98,952 online mentions of the Budweiser brand on Sunday, of which 20% were positive and 28% were negative… Anheuser-Busch said its own data tell a different story, and suggest reaction to the ad has been overwhelmingly positive… even around the #boycottbudwiser hashtag… “When you look at boycott Budweiser it would be easy to say that’s potentially negative” said Gemma Hart, vice president of communications at Anheuser-Busch.  She said many social media users were actually “expressing solidarity with the message” of the ad.”

Where the hell to begin?!!  I love the “when you look at boycott Budweiser it would be easy to say that’s potentially negative”.  Yeah, most sentient people would agree that a boycott campaign against your name-sake brand is a little more than potentially negative.  Gemma has a future in politics if nothing else.  And I recommend she re-visit some of those comment sections… even the folks who like the ad are screaming it at the top of their lungs with a good many F’s and other choice words included and directed at those who disagree.  The country is in political turmoil and the largest brewer in the world thinks it is a good idea to jump in and go for a few rounds?!

I won’t bother to point out that ABI has turned off the email link on their Budweiser contact page… I guess all the positive feedback was just more than corporate could stand.  Like President Trump says, I guess they are tired of all the winning. ;-)

But I think the larger question is why?  Why do this?  I won’t go into the demographics again but the number of Busch and Bud drinkers who were strong supporters of Hillary is rather small.

In addition we have a President who has shown himself to be in his words, “a counter-puncher” who is quite adept at using social media to take down those who threw the first punch.  ABI big dogs and fellow beer folks felt the need to reach out to the Trump administration to ensure them this ad wasn’t an attack.  If you feel the need to do that then why run it in the first place?  If you are that concerned about it, why not dump it?  This was a choice.

So again, why in the hell do it?  Is this one ad sooooo impressive it will drive sales through the roof?  I don’t think so.

I’m guessing when they made the ad they assumed Hillary would be President and this would be a good reach-out to the ever elusive “Hispanic” population.  First a side note… it is amazing how this country believes that once a person crosses our southern border they magically become this homogenous thing called “Hispanic”.  No longer are they Mexican, or Salvadorian, or Guatemalan, etc, etc.  Nope!  They cast aside their entire life and family history and join hands signing kumbaya as they magically become “Hispanic”.  Not only is this stupid but it is quite insulting. 

But back to the ad… why?  The decision makers in this process risked millions of dollars in shareholder value.  The decision makers in this process put at risk the livelihoods of every ABI beer distributor and their employees.  For what?!  What was the upside?

Every single adult I know has lost long-time friends over the political battles currently roiling the country… and a company like ABI thinks it’s a good idea to voluntarily jump in?!  And to jump in when you are going to be perceived by many as being on the wrong political side of many (most?) of your prime consumers?!!  Right now politics is as personal as it has ever been, an attack on Trump will be seen as an attack on his supporters.

Yes I freely admit to being a black hearted mercenary but I would never be able to trust these people’s judgement again.  Whether the heat is only “modest” or it turns into a 5 alarm blaze (and that is yet to be seen), how could I ever trust these people again?  How could I entrust them with millions of dollars in shareholder value ever again?  As a distributor would I want folks this tone-death and ego-driven to be driving creative for ads that keep my family business going?  How about selling beer and leaving politics out of it… especially in today’s political world.  They could all see the writing on the wall, why else would they reach out to the Trump administration, yet they went full steam ahead.

ABI and all of you operate in a regulated world… you’d rather have friends in the White House than enemies.  So again, why run the ad when you weren’t forced to?  Sorry to the various ABI decision makers in this process but I’d be firing them before the end of the week.  I simply could not in good conscious allow this level of incompetence and risk taking to continue.

If these people think it is their job to make political statements then they are working for the wrong company.  Help them find their dream by sending them out the door.

At least that’s my black-hearted take on the thing.

Born the Hard Way - Part 2

After the last post I decided to spend some time cruising the Internet for stories on this ad… specifically I wanted to read the comments.

YIKES is all I can say.  Now I will freely admit the Internet is filled with idiocy, lies, and faked outrage.  And yes, it does allow a few to greatly magnify their voices… that said, yikes!

I went to left-leaning sites and right-leaning sites and the general tone of the comments is very negative.  People are sharing the names of all ABI brands so they never accidentally purchase one.  They are again focusing on ABI not being an American company.

They are sharing the link to the contact page so people can share their outrage… in fact it looks as though the email link on the Budweiser contact page has been turned off.  Earth to ABI… are you listening?!

Out of hundreds of comments I found only one (1!) which was pro-Budweiser… something along the line that they will now only be drinking Budweiser, shopping at Starbucks, etc.

This is about a 2-3 on the problem dial right now – and the ad hasn’t even run! – after it runs on Super Bowl this will go up by orders of magnitude.  As a nod to Spinal Tap, by Sunday night it’s going to be a full blown 11.

Those brand folks at ABI are going to have the worse week of their lives next week.  And this outrage is not just being focused on the brand Budweiser – it’s everything.  ABI is even going to be running an ad for Busch during the Super Bowl. Call me crazy but I don't think the average Busch drinker was cheering for Hillary this last election.  If they think this negative explosion is going to be restricted to Bud, they are smoking something – and I’m from Colorado so I should know ;-) 

It is now clear beyond any doubt this ad is going to be framed by the present political insanity… it doesn’t and won’t matter what ABI says; they are lighting a fuse that will be unstoppable.  And what do they say in politics and marketing?  If you are explaining then you losing.

Right now people are angry.  Many are looking to vent various frustrations… they are looking for a fight… they want a fight.  Some of us are getting dang tired of being called racist, stupid, etc.  Do you really think the entire Super Bowl, especially the half-time show will proceed without someone taking cheap, political shots at President Trump?! 

ABI is walking into a fight and from my read of the demographics of their beer consumer; they are going to be perceived to be on the wrong side of this one.  What is the upside of this?  I don’t see any.

That would be my recommendation… pull the ad.  You have the perfect explanation in that it looked like it was going to be hijacked and used by those with a political agenda and this runs contrary to everything ABI stands for… remember we’re in the business of making friends?

I’d replace it with the warmest and fuzziest and feel-good piece I have in the archives.  Of if I’m really wild and crazy; I’d make a new one in the next 24 hours on friendship, love, and the coming together over a great beer.  If you want to still have the Adolphus Busch angle, go with Adolphus the 5th.  He’s an intelligent, handsome and exceptional young man.  There must be feel-good story in there somewhere from the 1st to the 5th .

No one in their right mind wants to throw their business into today’s toxic political climate.  I know that’s not ABI’s goals and not the intention of the ad but that is meaningless… in the last couple of days it has become quite clear this is how the ad will be seen by millions.

ABI… please read all those comments.  And the ad hasn’t even run yet!!  The vast majority of Americans have no idea about it.  But they soon will.

If ABI sticks with this ad in the present environment, they will have no one but themselves to blame.  Pull a hat-trick instead and create a new one that tries to bring the country back together.

All I can say is if ABI decides to roll with this… then they are a lot braver than I am.  And the good news for those employees is at least the unemployment rate is low so getting another job might not be too tough ;-)

In Greek tragedy hubris is defined as “excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis.”  I think I see nemesis racing their way.

As for the innocent beer distributor who just wants to sell beer… some of you will be jumping for joy as this fall-out works in your favor and some of you will be wondering why did we just inflict a significant wound on ourselves?

Lastly, after all I read yesterday I have no need to concern myself with Emily Litella’s response of “never mind.”  This one is like a freight train coming at full speed in broad daylight… one won’t be able to say I didn’t see it coming.  And God help you all if President Trump decides this “attack” on his immigration plan demands a tweet ;-)

Born the Hard Way

Because you always must make your prediction BEFORE the event, not after…

But first…yes, I’m still trying to get E.I.C. Enterprises off the ground and would welcome a hand but I had to comment on this ad…

The ABI Super Bowl ad “Born the Hard Way”, a feel-good piece on the struggles of one of the founders of Anheuser-Busch (Adolphus Busch), already has people talking.  It’s a great piece done in the style of some of the greatest Anheuser-Busch television spots – a good emotional journey in less than 60 seconds ;-)

If you want to see it, here it is… http://adage.com/article/special-report-super-bowl/budweiser-s-super-bowl-ad-immigrant-s-tale/307764/

Considering how long it takes to do a video spot like this, ABI had no idea they would also be walking into the mine-field of today’s hyper-partisan world where it seems every freaking thing is somehow political… but they are going to reap those rewards and punishments whether they want it or not.

As I think quite a few national companies have learned; it is quite risky to jump into those troubled waters.  When all you want to do is sell your beer, pissing people off (whether intentional or not) makes no sense – trust me, on this one I certainly know what I am talking about ;-)

The ad was released on Tuesday and it has already started on the Internet.  Some of the major new sites picked it up and away it goes. 

And because you always must make your prediction BEFORE the event, not after… here is my read of how it plays out… although unfairly, this ad will be seen by many as an attack on President Trump.  I guess ABI could have pulled it and replaced with one of their other ads but I’m certain they didn’t want to do this when they had such a great spot on their hands.

But if it is seen by many as an attack on Trump, ABI is setting themselves up much like the Democrat party did to itself over the last few years.  The Trump supporter and the Budweiser beer drinker are often one and the same (I might even extend that to the drinkers of many A-B products).  Pissing them off will in all likelihood end up chasing many of them away… and they won’t ever be coming back.

I realize ABI is enticed by the number of millennial’s who have never tasted a Bud… if we could just get them to try it once!!... but don’t give up on the one that brought you to the dance before you’re certain the newer one is already on board.

The Dems did this to the white-working class - can you say beer drinker? ;-) and look what it got them.  Those big numbers get the marketing folks ALL wound up but those numbers aren’t paying the bills… they first have to become reality and that’s easier said than done.  And for who is paying the bills?  That’s being done by all those boring working folks out there who actually purchase your beer… and I’d have to guess they lean heavily towards Trump supporters.  From their perspective if you attack Trump, you attack them.

The timing is unfortunate for ABI.  Sure they are going to get a TON of media but in today’s political world that’s the problem.  It is simply going to be seen by a great many as a negative commentary on Trump and illegal immigration and the Muslim “ban.” 

Based solely on my gut, there sure are a lot of Bud drinkers who will be on the opposite side of what they perceive the ad is saying… or not even by what they perceive the ad is saying but by what others tell them the ad is saying - how’s that for a wild sentence? ;-)

And that is where ABI will lose control of the message… various liberal sources will try to hijack the ad and make it out as something it is not.  Once that happens who knows how far and how bad the wild fire will be.

I thought something similar about a month or two ago when ABI ran their driverless tractor trailer from Denver to Colorado Springs.  It got a lot of media too.  Sure it’s cool technology but did ABI look in the mirror and think who the heck actually drinks their beer?  Driverless technology is going to put one hell of a lot of beer drinkers out of a job.    

I’m not certain I would want my beer company associated with this.  If this driverless world occurs it will occur regardless of what any single company does but I still don’t want to become the spear catcher by being the cheerleader for technology which will be VERY disruptive… and especially VERY disruptive for a large portion of high-volume beer drinkers.

Anyhoo, that’s my take on the thing… dangerous, lose-lose… be very careful ‘cause there is seldom any coming back once the explosion occurs.

And if my prediction is not correct, then as Emily Litella would say, “never mind” ;-)

System design advice for the Trump administration

As the Trump revolution gears up it is time to understand the solution to many issues facing government is as much system design as overall philosophy.  Obviously fewer regulations, less government, and more individual freedom are superior.  Real world results across the globe prove this beyond any doubt.

But within this framework, the design of these systems is something that needs renewed attention as it is fundamental to the results generated.  First let’s think about regulation and law.  The first step in analyzing a new or reviewing an established regulation is a clear definition of its goal.  Why does it exist and what do we want it to accomplish?  If this can’t be done then why do we have the regulation in the first place?  Nothing should move forward until this is clearly defined or the regulation is tossed in the dustbin.

But here is where regulation and law often goes awry.  It is the wrong path to attempt to determine exactly HOW to do this.  Rather effective regulation and law should set the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable actions.  That’s it.  And perhaps counter-intuitively, acceptable actions should be undefined while unacceptable actions should be clearly defined.

As long as the participants stay within these boundaries they are free to do as they desire.  This imbibes the regulation and the area it attempts to regulate with life, flexibility and elegance; rather than a static unbending rule which doesn’t, and in fact can’t react to a changing world.

And speaking of life, organizations of all sorts behave much like a living organism.  Trump’s cabinet teams will soon be overseeing huge multi-layer organizations.  Some have called them the permanent bureaucracy since administrations come and go but they remain in place.

By their very nature these organizations are resistant to change and in many cases will be actively hostile to the actions taken by their new temporary leaders.  Unlike for-profit organizations which are ultimately restrained by the realities of the marketplace, the powerful non-profit organizations we call government are by their very nature not capable of self-correction.    

In addition they are far too large for a single person or even a committed team to transform them from the top-down simply by strength of character.  And of course there are unions and civil service rules which make them even more resistant to change.  Cutting funding is always an option but it can’t be the only tool since these permanent bureaucracies will almost assuredly make the most politically painful cuts first - to the people, not their organization - to ensure no more come their way.

Obviously the best option would be to never have these bureaucracies in the first place but for those that remain the only way to truly and continuously transform these permanent bureaucracies is to change their design.  Without changing their system design they will remain in place long after the Trump team has moved on.

Just like regulations, these organizational designs need to be re-built to imbibe them with life; the ability to change and react to changing circumstances.  Top-down hierarchical organizations, which occur nowhere in the natural world, have shown themselves to be both unwilling and unable to change via their own efforts.  This is especially true of the non-profit organizations we call government.

It is not possible to provide a single answer on how best to design these systems, that would be in direct contradiction to the functioning of these “living” systems but they must be built on a foundation which leverages two key facts.  First, the unbending law of statistics proves the many will always outperform the few and thus individual freedom designs versus top-down, “we-know-best” will be superior in providing positive results. 

Second, free individuals acting on local information will show far higher intelligence than a single individual(s) attempting to direct them; think of the intelligence in a school of fish or a bee hive versus the intelligence of an individual fish or bee.  One is orders of magnitude more intelligent and dynamic than the other.  The same is true with humans.  Effective, lasting, living and adaptive systems must be built on these two foundational facts.  Carpe diem President Trump.  Change the system design and change the world.