Archive for July, 2011

Islands of excellence in a storm of institutional incompetence

Friday, July 29th, 2011

Rather than level a broadside at the easy targets of debt-ceiling debates (sic) and big-time college football scandals – are the two related? and can it be a scandal if no one is surprised? – I’d like to introduce two outfits that seem to know what they’re doing. Spotify has wowed Europeans for a couple of years with its music service and the Washington Duke Inn’s elegant note confirming cancellation of a reservation well describes the complete experience at this hotel on the campus of Duke University.

General John Shalikashvili and Seaman Aaron Ullom USN properly relieved.

Monday, July 25th, 2011

One lived a full life, a life of wondrous opportunity and hard-earned achievement (his father as a Polish noble fought both with the Poles against the Nazis and with the Nazis against the Russians – in the same war); the other lived a brief live punctuated by incredible courage and generous sacrifice. The general arrived in America at age 16 in 1952, a refugee of WWII. Fortunate circumstance and hard work propelled him to the highest rank our Army. The Medic rushed to save a wounded Marine amidst a gunfight in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. We miss Aaron Ullom because we well understand the depths of his capabilities.

A Navy Corpsman assigned to the Marines as a medic, most respectfully referred to as Doc within their USMC units, who risked and lost his life in a far, far away place so that another may have a chance to live. Seaman Ullom was awarded a Purple Heart and another medal for carrying on the fight against Global Terrorism. He is not heralded for exceptional valor in his moment of death because what he did is what corpsmen are supposed to do. His was not exceptional behavior as his purpose was to save the lives of the Marines in his care.

Men such as Aaron Ullom are compelled to the purpose of the moment, perpetuating the beliefs of our nation, so that men like John Shalikashvili may find a land of refuge with opportunities to fulfill their own destinies. I hope that this is why we’re still over there.

On that same page of the Raleigh News and Observer, Section 12A of Sunday July 24, 2011, with the Shalikashvili headline and the Ullom sideline, there are listed the names of seven other Soldiers and Marines who died in action in Afghanistan between July 9 and July 14. Their ages ranged from 20 to 39. ‘Twenty years old?!,’ I repeated to myself.

Syria, Murdoch, Darren Clarke and Japanese Soccer

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Our multiple-threaded, near parallel universes of an economy – state budgets seem on verge of collapse, stock market spiraling into higer orbit – connects me nearly daily with those exploring careers after college, career transition after military service and finding work having ‘lost their situations’ (a quaint British euphemism for personal catastrophe). Curiously, I am aware of several who have improved their professional situations while a significant percentage of us have opted to hunker down waiting for this nightmare of an economic storm to pass.

I have plenty of platitudes and only-if experiences to broadcast to those who ask for career advice and connections. The itemized list will follow. Meanwhile, these thoughts arise amidst the “I cannot wait until it gets here; OMG, it’s here!” attitude towards the sweltering days of July – however, it is rare that North Carolina is hotter than New Orleans (101 vs 91- yacudlookitup) – and by the way, the hottest July 21st in recorded NC memory was in 1952. Take that I Hope That You Are Wrong Predictors of Arrived Global Warming!

I am interested in changes in business communication and personal engagement wrought by this l’enfant terrible, the Internet. I like to believe that despite the multiple aches and pains and some permanent injury to our global economy, ours is an incredibly interesting and opportune time to be alive (what choice do we have really?). Reading the NY Times on Monday, I observed that as old ways of communicating are rejected, habits of excellence are enduring. I observe that Syria and News Corps are reeling because these two entities have tried to rule by controlling the message; hoarding accurate information; and worshiping the only recently desanctified, now false god, Knowledge is Power, in Greece known as Klueles.

Whatever the descendants of Twitter, Facebook, texting or tablet computing and how they may modify our introduction to information, there will be plenty of opportunities for those who help others to know, aka the Roman deity, Kollaborate. Call it scholarship or leadership or experience, the likes of Darren Clarke and Nadeshiko Japan will forever succeed. Clarke’s experienced approach to the amusingly horrible playing conditions of the Open, the golf tournament once known as the British Open, was surprisingly satisfying for its lack of spectacle. He took a measured, confident approach to the course and the pressure of the Tournament by withstanding impressive challenges by Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, the longest of long ball hitters, who at points on the final day seem to convert the dunes, winds and pot bunkers into a sunny round on a local public course (Johnson drove through the green on a 400 yard+ hole!)

In the Women’s World Cup Final, either victor would have been an inspiring winner. The American team earned their way to the final with upset victories over Brazil and France. They also defeated Japan twice this year. In the end, really in the penalty-kick decided tie-breaker, the Japanese team played with courage and conviction recovering from nearly desperate circumstances in both the regular game and the overtime period. Good for our friends in Japan, of course, as it’s been a year of awful setbacks due to compounding natural disasters.

Sports are not governments and playing well at games is not the equal of sustaining businesses. Obviously, Syria and News Corps are trying to hold-on to hollowed models of management. Time is not on their sides even if they retain plenty of fight (I guess Gaddafi could be added this equation). The next orbit of our new world will continue to value calmness under pressure and confidence within circumstance regardless of who else participates.

Happy 235th Birthday to the USA

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Each year we host a bbq on July 4th. Some years there are 6 guests and other years fifteen. This year we were joined by 25 plus the uninvited arrival of a two hour rainstorm that knocked-out the power for 90 minutes. Grilled beneath a portable shelter while most guests chatted in the natural light of the living and dining rooms with wine and candles. With power restored, we were able to maintain our annual tradition of reading the Gettysburg Address except that this year we read the Declaration of Independence less the lengthy roster of “repeated injuries and usurpations.” Seems to me that ‘quartering large bodies of armed troops, imposing taxes without consent, and cutting off trade’ would justify such a declaration, yet the FFs (Founding Fathers) delineated a thorough list. I can almost imagine the delegate from New York beseeching Thomas Jefferson, “Enough already. Let’s get this document done and go home!”

A couple of the lesser known sections:
“In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”

Complete text here. It’s worth a read from time to time.

Opportunity amidst Crisis, the genuine source of Adventure

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Each July I catch-up with my roommate from the USS Joseph Strauss. He completed his service, ventured to Wharton for business school and now works with one of the too-big-to-fail banks. Coincidentally, our birthdays are back to back in July which inspires our annual connection. We each have two children with sons the same age in their senior years of college. I guess that he and I are in our senior years just not of college. This is a bewildering concept to reconcile especially when you’ve known a person well before wives were met (or found or discovered or they found us?!) and children defined our daily existences.

We bemoaned the economic climate with the attendant collective failure to ‘take our medicine’. I’m of the opinion that the longer that we wait, the further into the valley we’ll descend making the unavoidable climb back that much more challenging. The camping or backpacking metaphor appeals to me for two of its many valuable lessons: 1. when one is lost, one should stop traveling in the unknown direction as it is hard to help someone who is lost on the move; 2. valuable resources, ie water and dry clothing, must be preserved and protected, really hoarded, especially on unfamiliar trails.

He and I agreed that despite the indications and predictions of a prolonged economic slump that opportunities are and will be available for our sons and their contemporaries if they consider a couple of rules of thumb: 1. keep your costs low; 2. cultivate the attitude and behavior that you work for yourself and always will. This is not intended to be an insult to established organizations and enterprises but an encouragement to develop and to understand one’s unique interests and skills; 3. be able to operate in the larger world with a clear sense of one’s capabilities. I won’t enumerate this entreatment but probably the greatest, unschooled achievement is to marry the right one, the suitable one, the one’s whose family feels familiar.

We concluded our annual update with few ideas for how the economic landscape may look in the spring of 2012 and were nearly joyful in our confidence that if our sons take a perspective and make a related plan for what they’d like to see – do – be over the next 8 to 10 years that can hardly go wrong uncovering the opportunities that will present themselves.

13 July amendment: NYT Op Ed by Thomas Friedman “Differentiate or Die.”