Posts Tagged 'Race to Zero'


cannedWhen our desire and need for simplicity and efficiency replaces authentic human interaction we betray ourselves. Of course nobody is fooled. That’s not even the question. The perfunctory gestures of a polite society help connote a mood of civility. But in order to work, we must care enough to make them authentically.

Of course, it is far better for both parties to engage genuinely. Without that it all races to the zero of noise in the background that, given how busy we all are, isn’t only not needed, but actually becomes a nuisance. And transitions to a burden: “do I have to acknowledge these people?” Maybe you could write a subroutine for it. Let the computers talk to each other!

It’s no wonder we feel more alone than ever, even though we have far more input than ever.

Diffusion of Blame

finger-pointingx4We find it handy in our culture to be able to ascribe blame for things we don’t like. Consequently we often tend to oversimplify problems. The righteous indignation from those who feel they are on some obvious moral high ground can be palpable.

People do need to be accountable for their actions, but it’s often not so simple as it can appear.

Example: Slave labor in clothing manufacturing.

How do you assign blame for the practice of human beings enslaving other human beings to produce cheap clothing? Do you blame the kidnappers who captured the slaves? Do you blame the smugglers who trafficked them? Do you blame the staffing personnel who bought and hired them? Do you blame the foremen who makes the working conditions harsh? Do you blame the executives who made the policies? Do you blame the investors who financed the factory? Do you blame the brand who sources the clothing from such factories? Do you blame the retailers who carried the brands? Do you blame the consumers who purchased the products?

The truth is that without any one link in the chain the shackles would fall to the ground. However, each link can rationalize that their own little sin isn’t all that bad, or that their hands were tied without reasonably viable options, and that if they weren’t there someone else would come and take their place.

After all, the consumer doesn’t generally feel involved with how brands produce their products. The brands are just trying to give the customers what they want at the right price. In order to do that, they’re willing to make a few sourcing compromises, or simply “can’t” (don’t) afford the time to understand the details of the whole chain. The factories realize that if they’re not doing everything they can to cut costs, they’re going to lose the bid. The foremen believe that if they don’t keep their workers in fear they don’t get the output that they have to have in order to avoid repercussions on themselves. The staffing realizes that if they outspend their competition they’re not going to exist anymore, so they make a compromise and acquire slaves. The traffickers, after all, never kidnapped anyone, they’re just getting them where the slave trader wanted them to go. And the kidnappers themselves? It’s just too lucrative, “if I didn’t do it, someone else would,” then the moral atrocity still takes place and someone else gets paid besides me.

Everyone can sleep at night within their scope of relative sin. Who do you really blame, and what actions must be taken to stop it? Are the people and organizations who might be able to stop it to blame? Government? Usually something eventually happens when a light is shone on something bad, but cockroaches are good at slithering into the shadows and carrying on.

Do you think your life is devoid of these compromises (sins)? We’re a consumption oriented society. Look around your house. Look around your place of work. Really look, and think about where stuff comes from and goes. What business are you in? It’s probably not pure. No, we are all guilty. It’s not black and white at all. We can throw stones at them, but we best be ready to duck a few as well.

Power to the People?

34 years ago today the chartkillspeopleworld changed in a way that isn’t as spectacular or as talked about as some of the major tragedies or accomplishments as they are often portrayed in the drama hungry media.

On August 5th, 1981 Ronald Reagan ushered in a mindset that mass layoffs were acceptable with the firing of over 10,000 employees during the air traffic controllers strike. He also banned the workers from returning to the profession for the rest of their lives!

The merits of their arguments and the various points of view have been debated. It should not be forgotten that the strike itself was illegal, as mandated by the sometimes controversial Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which prohibits any labor strike that can cause unfair harm to those not involved or negatively affect general welfare and commerce. The union leader at the time has gone on record since, acknowledging that they botched it, were too arrogant, and didn’t understand a lot of the underlying politics, not to mention the power of spinning public opinion in one’s favor (or not).

Up to this time it was not common to use mass layoffs to handle strikes. This incident eased those inhibitions significantly. Reagan broke the union (it should be noted that the union that eventually replaced it got most of the demands the fired employees were asking for), and in a way galvanized a growing mindset that unions were too powerful and not in the best interests of the economy overall. While Reagan may have been ‘right’ in some ways, and was viewed as effective in quickly restoring order to a situation that was getting out of control, the message that was taken has had some dire long term consequences.

We often don’t/can’t know the consequences of perturbing a system, especially one as complex as the economy with the various complications of the corporations and the workforce driving it. Reagan’s actions communicated from on high that it was acceptable to use swift and massive layoffs to help guard against a short-term economic disruption. Though he never intended it as such, there was now a precedence for protecting commerce before protecting people. Social conventions that had restrained CEO’s from doing something many would have liked to do were disrupted. Not surprisingly some began to take advantage of this tacit permission to take such dramatic action affecting the lives of so many. It became gradually more and more common for workers to be viewed simply as assets and liabilities on a spread sheet, with the math at the bottom supporting their actions to make the numbers for a quarter in efforts to appease stockholders and justify, if only in the short term, the CEO’s position to the board.

Protecting the money eventually became a clear imperative over protecting the people. The very concept of putting a number or resource before a person flies in the face of the protection our anthropology says leaders (alphas) are supposed to offer. It’s kind of like a parent putting the care of the car a child rides in before the actual care of the child. On the surface it may appear to make sense sometimes, but our biology knows better.

Now we much more commonly see leaders, whether CEO’s, politicians, record labels, news organizations, or bankers betray the trust of the very people they are supposed to be serving, often by allowing outside, unengaged constituents to have too much influence over decisions and actions, all in the interest of short term gains and the almighty dollar. When people are lower down the priority list they are less able to operate from a secure position and do the really great work. They are more prone to operate from a position of fear and insecurity, which leads to more focus on the short term protection derived from looking good than the profound work that will make the big difference. Differentiation and innovation give way to commoditization, which ironically spells trouble in the long run.

Contrary to what many would say these days, or at least contrary to where their actions take us, the power, or at least the care, needs to be in the hands of the people, and they need to be provided with an environment where humanity and social relations and the accompanying support they provide can prevail. If we listen to our biology, which at this point in time is what it is, we can cultivate environments that take advantage of our core strengths as social animals. At the most practical level, companies who bring a better value to the table will do better in the long run, and studies have shown that companies with more rigorous financial scrutiny tend to have fewer patents, and the ones they have are generally less profound. Give the people the leadership and security to do their best work and the results will come in time.

Or the few who forge their way to power can try to protect it and hang on at all costs, with all of the stresses and difficulties running rampant in our culture today.

There is a better way.

The Next Thing Up…

Check out the ads on the right. These are things I looked at within the past few days.


This is the next thing that’s about to run its course. You visit a website and look at some stuff. Next thing you know images and ads for those very products are following you around the web. It was a brilliant marketing idea…for a minute. It gets tired pretty fast. Probably because it’s not very intelligent.

For messages to work, they need to be perceived as relevant. Anything else is a non-starter. At face value these seem extremely relevant, and they can be. But once you see enough of them, for things you only casually looked at, or maybe things already purchased, one figures out pretty quickly what’s happening, and soon becomes nearly as desensitized to it as all the other advertising. It will get smarter/better, but that won’t help for long. What’s the next thing? People are too smart for these tactics to last. As the pressure for revenues mounts, the consumer pays by getting pummeled with noise, which degrades the experience overall, and makes all of these ‘free’ services seem much more costly. It’s a paradigm that ultimately can’t be sustained.



We’re constantly taking. We don’t make most of the food we eat. We don’t grow it anyway. We wear clothes other people make, we speak a language other people developed, we use a mathematics other people evolved and spent their lives building. In the United States we live on land that was taken. As a society, as a people, we do a lot of taking from others, from our own past. We feel it is ours.

That’s the normal course of things. We don’t give it a second thought, and rarely stop to recognize how inequitable it is. So much goes on and has gone on for the purpose of making our lives easier. People paid a price to bring us here, and people (and animals) pay prices today to keep it all running smoothly for us.

Each generation has the luxury of forgetting the past and building on what was painstakingly built, while the underlying mechanics – the dark places we don’t want to see – become more pervasive as they scale to meet our needs, though still residing just below most of our radars.

We can give something back. We can take less. Or work to provide for our needs without having to take as much. We can create. It’s a wonderful ecstatic feeling to create something and put it into the pool of human experience and knowledge. Even if it’s small, make a contribution. Find your art, your expression, and start there.

Be sure to contribute something. And try to take a little less along the way.

What Does a Guarantee Mean?

money_back_GuaranteeWe are linguistic beings. As such we understand things through language. Language and meanings shift over time.

A guarantee used to denote a promise of performance or effectiveness. Now it’s a marketing term designed to give a consumer enough confidence to order. They think it will work, but it’s unlikely in today’s fast paced economy that there has been enough testing to truly guarantee performance. You order it, and if it doesn’t perform the promise the guarantee gives you is that you’ll be able to get your money back.

The onus is on the consumer now. Thus goes the inevitable race to zero.

Flowers in the Desert

N0nTeIt’s hard to distinguish dormant from dead. When it rains things will grow. Often times life, or things in life, just need a little bit of something to cling to. Do you want to create the conditions for things to grow and happen, or do you want to suffocate them until they eventually do expire?

Check the Box


Is the value in experiencing something or having experienced it?

An observer of our culture would suggest we value the latter much more than the former. We run from place to place, thing to thing, experience to experience checking items off our list.

√  Yankees Game

√  Eiffel Tower

√  Took the kids to Disney World

√  Skydiving

√  Walked through the 911 memorial

√  Gambled in Vegas

√  Cruise to the Bahamas

√  Visit all 50 states

It goes on and on. There is so much to to, and so little time to do it. We hardly savor or experience it in the moment, yet feel satisfaction when we check it off the list while posting to facebook as if it had some profound effect on our lives.

No depth or any real understanding. Just enough to be able to talk about it semi-intellegently at the next party (also checked off the list) or chance encounter with someone we want to impress.

Whether movies, or music, or books, or meals, or sports…just about everything in our society is becoming geared around our quest to digest the essence of it quickly. ESPN has built an entire industry around it, as has iTunes (and Napster before), not to mention Amazon, where you can get the quick low-down and buy.

Things become so oriented around this that sometimes you can’t even find the deeper story if you did want it. Consider that the sale of Cliffs Notes are way down, in part because even they are too long to be absorbed. People want, and can get, a summary of them.

Get the gist of it. Then hurry off to what’s next. We’ve become slaves to it. Consuming, yet not really deriving much from vast amounts of information or experiences where we barely scratch the surface.

(I) hope you got what you needed here. The gist of it. I could have provided more examples and analogies that would help you see the scope of it in a more impactful way, but we both need to move on.

Gotta’ run…

Beyond the Ante


Quality and/or good service used to be enough to win. Today it’s just the ante.

Whether you’re an individual carving out a career or an organization carving out market share, creativity is the only sustainable advantage. No matter the field of endeavor it’s really the only thing that can’t be outsourced or commoditized.

Hopeless Generation

Sit back and try to absorb the news objectively sometime. Pretend you don’t know how sensationalized and crafted it is. Try to look at it through the wonder and insecurity of a teenager. Pay attention to things relating to jobs and careers. Look at the consumer confidence index. Listen to some of the political rhetoric. If you were a kid how would you feel about your chances of graduating and getting a high paying job?

The state of affairs does more than just the immediate and obvious damage. We’re raising a generation of people who in many cases believe it’s hopeless. That it doesn’t matter much what they do. There aren’t going to be good lives to be had by them. So why try? It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy.


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