Welcome: an introduction to this site

All of the posts on this blog are in chronological order except this introduction. The most recent post is the next one down.

New material has been added in response to events and experiences as they happen. Some material that was written previously has been moved from other sources at my convenience. The sequence does not even suggest relative importance.

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A Great Idea that will Change the World!

A great idea that will change the world! Wow, sounds exciting … but at the same time there is something about it that is a bit scary. We have seen too many world-changing ideas that were either wrong from the start or went adrift as they matured. I am a skeptic about most good ideas. The natural evolution of ideas isn’t working very well; just read the headlines in today’s newspaper. But neither have “man made” ideas like the Spanish Inquisition, Communism or the Third Reich. Millions have died and millions more have suffered from what have been hailed as great ideas. Rather than starting with a great idea, Jeremy Rifkin has looked at the history of man and found a very long evolutionary trend that suggests the world is on the verge of a new idea that has a good change of saving the world. His book, The Empathic Civilization, offers a mix of evolutionary trends and leaps in the quality of life. In a nutshell, our consciousness has evolved from “clan” which centered around blood relationships and local gods through a series of steps taking us closer to the brink of empathic relationships at the level of the biosphere–that forty mile deep envelope from the bottom of the sea to outer space that extends as “far down, and up, as any form of life exists naturally.”

That evolutionary process has been driven concurrent by the evolution in our ability to capture and use energy, the efficiency of our technology, improvements in communication, and enhancement in the tools and processes to manage increasingly complex and geographically dispersed social structures.

An evolutionary process that began at the level of clan expanded to the “hydraulic cultures” that began to tame nature by controlling major rivers like the Nile in Egypt, the Euphrates in Mesopotamia, the Ganges in India, and the Yangtze in China. A period of massive change that was self-limiting for a number of reasons including failure to care for the soil that was producing the crops. Evolution began again slowly with the agricultural revolution in the middle ages and then the first and second industrial revolutions. According to his analysis, we are approaching the horizon of the third industrial revolution based on dramatic expansion of communication (Internet and related), development of sustainable energy, and a shift in consciousness awareness from the “I” centered historic past to an inclusive empathic consciousness. A consciousness that recognizes both the self and the interconnectedness that defines who we are and how we are related. We may be reaching a point in human history were we have both the means and the desire to care for and preserve the biosphere and move humanity to undreamed levels of caring and sharing.

Undreamed? In my lifetime I have seen undreamed progress in technology and the evolution in our understanding of the structure and workings of our minds. Both are fundamental steps in a continuing process of evolution.

Skepticism is warranted. It is easy for progress to get diverted to self serving ends. On the other hand, optimism is also warranted. We are inventing and applying new solutions to larger and larger problems every day. The Empathic Civilization is long, 616 pages, but the story is tells is also long. It reaches from our earliest knowledge about our forbearers to predictions of the near future. It is a great history book that tracks and provides insights into the evolution of technology, government, and how human beings have viewed themselves and their gods over time. It is also an optimist view of the future.

*     *     *

I have participated in the work of Landmark Education and its predecessor since 1974. It fundamental concepts have changed very little but the expression of those concepts in Landmark’s programs has gone through dramatic evolution. A process closely aligned with Rifkin’s description of the near term evolution of consciousness. And, Landmark is now poised at the brink of new technology that may change the way we view ourselves as human beings, our relationship to each other and the world around us.

*     *     *

This morning on Google+ there was a link to a TED presentation by Peter Diamandis who is a co-founded and is chairman of the Singularity University. The presentation is titled: Abundance is our future takes yet a third path that points to a similar set of opportunities for the future.

When different paths begin at different places and begin to move in the same direction in mutual support there are additional grounds for optimism. I invite you to explore all of them.

Empathic Civilization: home page, Animated introduction – You Tube
Landmark Education: home page
Abundance is our Future — TED

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Excellence: Sometimes but not Always

The Beginning: Tuesday, April 3, 6:45 am: I walked to my local Wells Fargo branch and deposited my pay check. Got a receipt, but the ATM ate my card for breakfast. Called Customer Service and was told there was no way I could get my card back; there was nothing I could do and nothing they would do. I explained that on two occasions with other banks I was able to go into the branch and get my card back. I was assured that was absolutely impossible at Wells Fargo. We will send you a new card. Don’t call us for at least ten days.

On Saturday I went into my local branch and was told that if I had called them they could have retrieved my card. It would have been inconvenient but I would have done it gladly instead of going without. There was very little they could do at that point but they did what they could.The branch service was excellent.

Would it have been too much to expect for the person on the phone Tuesday morning to have suggested I call the branch later in the day? Of course it would; they were absolutely certain there was no way. Or, for the branch to find my card in the machine and call me? [Update: The branch said they would call me but they have to do it within 24 hours-that old bugaboo policy. Technology marches on and now they only have to open the ATMs about once a week. Suggested next step #1: Have Customer Service call the branch after they open and ask them to get your card out of the ATM. #2: A red light in the branch when the machine eats somebody’s card.]

The branch did offer me a temporary ATM card which is good at ATMs and a few merchants. If there is no Visa logo on your card, most retailers will not accept it. I had to go to a branch and then to my cell phone store to keep my cell phone active and had to take a couple of late fees from companies that do not have a local office because Customer Service gave me bad advice.

My branch also assured me that my replacement card would have the same numbers as my card so I would not have to contact various services where I have standing orders to accept my card. Great relief!

Called Customer Service after my visit to the branch, despite the fact that I was told not to call for ten days, and was once again assured that the branch could not have gotten the card from the ATM for me. Despite the fact that the branch had told me they could, the agent was adamant that they could not. Our policy is if the ATM eats your card, we have to destroy it and you have to wait for a new one. She listened to my story and assured me that someone who could do something about the problem would call me.

My branch manager got the short straw and called me. There is nothing he can do to get Customer Service to give customers the correct information. All he could do was apologize and that had been done by everyone at the branch last Saturday. A waste of his time and mine.

I got my card eight days after the ATM’s breakfast and then the real fun began. The accompanying letter said I could activate the card by just calling the folks at Customer Service. Just call, no warning that it would not be that easy. I called. May we have the card number and then the last four of your social security number and the amount of a recent deposit? May we also have the exact amount of a recent purchase? I haven’t made any recent purchases because the ATM ate my card and I do not bother to remember the exact dollar amount of purchases made more than a week ago. It quickly became clear that I was not going to get my card activated. Back to the bank.

Put in my card and pin, got $20 out and put it back in. Worked fine and I got my card back. Then I noticed that my card had a different number.

When I got home, I checked the cover letter again. “If your card has been lost or stolen we have given you a new number.” My card was not lost and I don’t believe that it would be considered stolen when it was eaten by the issuing bank’s ATM. There was no risk that it had fallen into the hands of a bad guy. If the money in the ATM was safe, my card was equally safe.

Called Customer Service. Gave the recorded voice my card number and was told that I could not proceed until the card was activated. It had now been half an hour since the ATM did that for me. If I use my card to make a payment by phone, the payment is noted on my computer before I finish the call; merchant-to-bank is faster than department-to-department within the bank. After repeated efforts to get a human I finally got through. Pleasant voice but one more time adamant that I could not have gotten my card back at the branch and the ATM ate my card so they had to give me a new number. No exceptions. He agreed that is was not lost or stolen; didn’t matter. The ATM eats your card and it is your fault, not theirs. You have to wait ten days and get a new number.

There is one more piece to the story. Back to the letter that came with the card. “Your daily cash withdrawal limit is $310.” ATMs only give out $20 bills. That means I can get $300 or, if authorized, I could get $320, but I am not authorized to get that much. There is no way to get $310 out of a machine that only has twenty dollar bills. There are lots of possible reasons why I was assigned a $310 limit—all of them bad.

[Update: The extra $10 is a benefit. If I have to use my card at a non-Wells ATM the extra $10 allows me to get a full $300 with enough left over to pay the other ATM’s charges. Bit of advice to the marketers: Good idea! But … you know there had to be a but … it isn’t a benefit if your customers don’t know about it. Don’t expect us to be generous in our speculation about your motives when you do something strange. Sarcasm deleted.]

* * *

Over the last several years Wells has had a program of Excellent Service in its branches. Everyone in the branch goes out of their way to check on the how well they have met the standard of excellence. Unfortunately this is a veneer that is only one level deep. This is the second encounter I have had with Customer Service. The last time I gave up trying to get through and posted my experience on the Internet. This time the veneer of indifference screened Customer Service and Card Service and I am back on the Internet.

I mentioned the difficulty I was having to my branch manager during his call and he assured me that there is a “Contact Us” link on the Web site. There is and there is a smaller link for email. To used it I needed to select an account or “other” and then select a reason. The drop down list offers 13 categories of questions I can ask and presumably get an answer. It does not offer any opportunity to complement good service or suggest opportunities for improvement. I chose a question at random and started to write an email and then got a phone call from a friend. When we finished our conversation the system had logged me off. If I want to send an email, I have to make that top priority. Pay attention to us; we are more important than your friends.

My evidence that excellence is a thin veneer? Any executive who is serious about excellence will open a number of paths to learn about what is working and what isn’t. Those paths will lead throughout the organization looking for excellence everywhere, not just at the point in the organization where customers are met face-to-face. Who’s doing a great job? Who needs help? What does excellence mean to our customers in today’s market?

It is extremely arrogant for a company to assume it knows how its customers define excellence today. Right now, for me, excellence would have been reasonable efforts to recover my card, use of the same number and a daily limit that makes sense. Excellence would also be getting essentially the same information from the branch, Customer Service and Card Services. At a minimum it would mean that each of them would work with me to resolve what appear to be differences in policy. And, it would certainly mean allowing me to compose an email at my convenience without the indignity of being logged off if I value a call from a friend more than offering suggestions about how to improve your service.

This is the age of the Internet. The efforts to get BofA to cancel a charge for the use of an ATM card took wings on the Internet. Things that would have been overlooked in the past now get widespread attention on the Internet. Executives who “don’t get it” are at risk of not having it much longer.

Get in partnership with your customers. Not just in the branch but everywhere you interact with your customers. Let us tell you what we want and then see if you can give it to us. Don’t just let managers make up stuff that has little or no relevance to what your customers want and make you look stupid like a $310 daily limit without letting us know it’s a beneft. When a branch opens an ATM and finds a card, have them call the customer. Show us you care and we can trust you to at least try to meet our day-to-day needs. We’ll appreciate it and we won’t go around complaining about your terrible service to everyone who will listen and getting so frustrated that we wind up posting our complaints on the Internet.

The Ending: back on the Internet.

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The Arrogance of Excellence

There are companies I call, like my cable company, where service is so bad that getting a human being in less than five rings is a successful call no matter what happens from there. When service is bad, even a small success is worth noting.

The flip side occurs with those rare companies where service is almost always outstanding. In my experience Wells Fargo Bank fits this category. The flip side? Their telephones system. My last three calls have been disasters until I have worked my way beyond “the system” and gotten to a human being.

Three times over several weeks I have gotten a recorded greeting and then periods of silence followed by snippets of words and finally comments that make it sound like it is my fault that I haven’t taken the appropriate action. What action? I don’t know how to react to silence. I haven’t had a good experience with their phone system in so long that I’m not sure how it works. After some fumbling around I eventually get to the point where the only option is to speak with a banker. Why couldn’t we just start there?

Yesterday I called to find a nearby branch. How did that go? “May I have your account number?” Why do you need an account number to tell me where your branches are? Do you have a secret unlisted branch for account holders? Do I have to give you my Social Security Number to find out when it is open?

The arrogance? There is no way to communicate with them to let them know that the phone system isn’t working. The Web site has a place to participate in a survey about their service but the survey is now closed. Apparently they know everything they want to know about their service. Most of the time their service is great but the phone system isn’t working. I am not about to deal with the hassle of a broken phone system to tell them the phone system isn’t working.

When service is mediocre, anything that works is good news. When service is outstanding it seems to carry an arrogance that has no interest in keeping it good or making it better. How about a link from the Web site: “How are we doing?” “How can we serve you better?” How about a simple way to let customers help you keep your service outstanding and letting us know that somebody in your organization cares?

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Screw Business as Usual

This is the era of the Arab Spring, the mortgage crisis, “too big to fail,” Occupy Wall Street with its offshoots almost everywhere; and ubiquitous cell phones and cameras that are linked to massive Internet based social networks.

It is also a time when Bank of America backed down on $5 charge to use your debit card. GoDaddy backed down on support for SOPA, and lost customers anyway. Verizon backed down on a $2 charge for using the phone to pay your bill.

The visible side of the news creates a picture of greed oozing from the executive suites of large corporations and the palaces of dictators, but with an historic difference. Now the power of corporations and dictators is being met with the power of their communities. The corporations and dictators are no longer the almost certain winners in the exercise of power.

Corporate power for executives originally flowed from the owners and investors. When enough people decided that that power was being used to abuse employees, the employees and their supporters found power in unions and legislation. As corporations became larger and had greater and greater impact on the lives of their customers, either directly as in the cases cited above or indirectly as in the mortgage crisis, customers began to express outrage at actions perceived as corporate greed.

A few bad apples can indeed spoil the entire barrel. A public outcry based on social networks can be directly targeted at the perceived misbehavior of a single corporation. But, the public will soon tire of outcries and turn to their only other tool, legislation and regulation. This will impact all corporations. The burden will fall on both the responsible and the irresponsible. And history suggests that the benefits of legislation written in response to public outrage will fall short of its goals.

I suggest a need for three broad types of changes.

      • Executive suites must tune in to the needs of the communities they serve and the communities they impact and find ways to balance the needs of investors for returns that justify continued investment, employees for workplaces that inspire and reward performance, customers who buy their products and services, and the Global Village that is impacted by pollution and misuse of natural resources.
      • Executive suites must find reasons for their corporate existence in addition to the creation of wealth. “For those who say business exists to make a profit, I suggest they think again. Business makes a profit to exist. Surely it must exist for some higher, nobler purpose than that.”* Ideally, a purpose that inspires investors, employees and customers and the broader community to lend their support to the corporation’s continued existence.
      • Executive suites must find ways to tell stories about the good they are doing. The press and the public are getting very good at finding apparent greed and putting a spot light on it. And, a few bad apples are endangering the entire barrel. The public is skeptical. Good news is not as dramatic as bad. Telling the good stories won’t be easy. When one corporation does something that supports the public perception of greed, other corporations must publicly refuse to follow and demonstrate that not all corporations are deaf and blind.

All of this is by way background. I have just finished reading Screw Business as Usual, by Richard Branson. Example after example of corporations, executives and others who are using their talents, experience and resources to make the world a better place for all of us now and in the long run.

I follow business news rather closely. I was aware of some of the stories in his book but was not aware of others. I was not aware of the scope of the progress General Electric is making to reduce pollution, as one example. Or of alternative structures, largely funded by corporations, that have been developed to solve a wide range of problems including threats and wars, carbon based air pollution, and problems where the answers become apparent when reliable data is available to corporate decision makers. Stories based on advances in technology, better application of existing technology, and simply better ways of thinking about problems so they can be solved.

There will be continuing outcries for business to do a better job of meeting the needs of all of the communities they serve and impact. Like a splinter in your finger that demands your attention responsible action in response to the splinter or to public outcries can solve the problem. Refusal to act will simply lead to bigger problems.

Large corporations have led the way to a better life for all of us but it is clear that less and less of the improvement is being shared with employees, customers, and the community at large. That trend is putting the health of our corporations, and in turn the economic health of the United States, at risk.

Read Richard Branson’s book. Be inspired. Find your role in creating a better future for all of us.

* Ray Anderson, founder of Interface Inc. cite on page 99
Twitter #sbau
Virgin Unite http://virginunite.screwbusinessasusual.com/
Screw Business As Usual – Richard Branson, Portfolio/Penguin © 2011

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Flowcharts with Graphics

It is often difficult to talk about a proposed change in a business process or new computer system with potential users, managers and executives who understand their business but have little or no process redesign or systems development expertise. A picture can be worth a thousand words. Particularly a picture that can be updated, modified and expanded as more and more people become involved in the planning, development, and implementation process.

I recently developed a set of flow charts that included small graphics to illustrate an electronic medical records system in the early planning stages. You do not have to be a doctor to understand it. Anyone who has been to a doctor can follow the illustration of who does what with whom and when. It has proven to be a useful place to begin the detailed discussion about the needs and benefits for a specific practice.

A similar illustration was used to document the “as is” and “to be” processes for an automotive client. It showed the flow from dealers to corporate sales to manufacturing to a vendor and back in response to complaints from new car buyers. The “as is” presented the problem; the “to be” presented the recommended solution. All that was required was two 11”x17” pages plus two pages of text support. Recommendation was approved.

A flow chart with small graphics provides a good generalized illustration that is useful for almost any process or computer system. It answers the high level questions of who and what and when and, perhaps the most important question: How will it impact me and my organization? It provides a solid base for the level of detail required for the successful design, development and testing of a new process or system.

Sample flowchart with graphics.

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Don’t Shoot

Stopping the drug dealing and killing on
the streets of America’s inner cities
by David M. Kennedy © 2011

This is a story of one man’s determination to stop drug dealing and killing on the streets of America’s inner cities, how he enrolled others in that possibility, and how they invented a strategy and then refined it over and over until it works in cities large and small, east and west, and everywhere in between.

It is a story of expanding the definition of the problem until it is large enough to lead to a lasting solution and, at the same time, struggling to keep the definition narrow enough that the necessary resources are available and the timeframe to implement is short enough to capture and hold people’s interest until results become self sustaining.

It is a story about an apparently complex problem and a strategy so simple, so inexpensive, so easy to implement, and so well structured that it seemed to be too good to be true. Grizzled cops, calloused social workers, resigned community leaders, and others critical to success had to be convinced over and over that the strategy works and would work in their city.

It is a story of persistence, failures, disappointments and successes. Of murders that didn’t happen, drugs that weren’t sold, arrests that weren’t made. Of young black men without guns, without police records, who now have opportunities to be part of communities that no longer live in fear.

This is not about being “soft on crime.” A limited number of really bad guys go to jail.

  • If stories of children killed in drive-by shootings bring pain to your heart and you are almost certain nothing can be done, read this book.
  • If it looks like inner-city drug dealing, shootings and the cycle of black men moving from the streets to prisons and back again and again is just the way it is, read this.
  • If you see a need for change—anywhere—but the changes that are being made don’t lead to solutions, read this
  • If you are inspired by people who see an opportunity to make life better, commit their lives to that opportunity and win, read this
  • If you are dealing with what appears to be a complex problem with multiple moving parts and need new ways of defining the problem and then finding a solution, read this.
  • If you’re a manager of change, either formally as in Change Management or informally because you are committed to a change and are struggling with defining the real problem, the objectives, the organization you will need, and the measures of success, read this.

Be inspired. I am.

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Training Development & Delivery

Almost all of my experience with the development and delivery of training has been in the context of larger consulting assignments. All of the training projects have been initiated to support the implementation of major changes in systems or processes or both. I participated in all of them from design through development, testing, and implementation.

For one of the largest soft drink distributors in the United States, managed the design and production of user training programs and documentation to support implementation of a reengineered soft drink distribution management system. The system used handheld computers to assist route salesmen document orders and assist delivery drivers in truck loading, routing, delivery and real-time customer invoicing. Approximately 4,000 route salesmen and delivery drivers were trained to use the new processes and handheld computers. The training was developed and implemented nationwide in 18 months to support regional implementation of the new distribution management system.

For the Far East Division of a major U.S. bank, participated in the consolidation of 36 local branch computer systems into just two regional online centers. Developed policies and procedures for systems management and change requests. Developed and delivered executive level training in eight far eastern countries.

For a for-profit educational corporation developed and implemented a computer systems project management methodology tailored to changes in their system development and acquisition strategy. Managed implementation including training for executives and project managers. Modified the methodology for use by other departments including marketing and physical facilities and tailored the training to their specific requirements.

For a major California bank, rewrote the computer systems project management training manual and then conducted their computer systems project management courses for a year.

For a major Texas savings and loan, developed computer system change control procedures and then trained senior systems and banking managers throughout the state.

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