Archive for September, 2008|Monthly archive page

Too big for our britches

An article from Time today suggests that historians will find fault with our leaders for not explaining sufficiently the economic woes we Americans are facing, and not making clear how their bailout plans will effectively address the problem.  The issues are complex indeed, and perhaps no one has a comprehensive explanation for the current crisis.

Sometimes it seems as though almost all our issues stem from the fact that there are simply too many of us.  We are continuing to use old systems and mores, ones that worked when the population was manageable; but since our numbers have exploded in the post WWII world, much of what we’ve held to be true simply doesn’t work anymore.

My much admired corporate spy, Hugh MacLeod, said a couple days ago: “I could also go on about how many good people I know are caught in oversupplied markets, and how every day they wake up, feeling chilled to the bone with dread and unease. Advertising and media folk are classic examples.”

In an oversupplied market, only the most cutthroat competition, the trickiest maneuvers, the whims of luck can advance the individual, and even then, only for a short time.  In an oversupplied market, we becomed preoccupied with show biz, and dangerously disconnected from real needs of real people.

How to avoid this trap?  As a nation, we’ve fallen straight into it, and will now be forced to claw our way out, one hopes with some grace and aplomb.  As individual business owners, we can be shrewd about avoiding oversupplied markets by seeking the creative core of our work and marketing with profound compassion.

Capitalism and competition both glory in human greed, and fundamentally depend on its continuous increase.  But the shadow side to this world view looms large today, and we are learning about its inherently destructive nature.  Perhaps appropriately for a nation beginning to move beyond adolescence, America must undertake a vision quest, seek effective ways of handling our growing population, and find new fulfillment through cooperation and profound individual creativity.

Dark Friday

It’s a dark Friday, the rain pouring and tension hovering.  Will the legislature conjure a brilliant solution for us, today?  Will the candidates both show up for their date with the American people this evening?  Will capitalism prevail, will our faith in one another prove stronger than our increasing paranoia? 

Seems it’s been a long time since we saw such drama on the national scene, and ushered our government through such a glaring test of its capability.  And those of us taking refuge in our own little worlds, safely dry inside our hovels as we await the word from Washington, do we understand our complicity in this 21st century collapse?  Are we ready to reform our own uses of money and power, understanding that the macrocosm reflects the microcosm?

Who’s to blame?

I suppose rightfully, we have not yet heard from the bank bigwigs who have in recent days watched their institutions go under.  As the crisis blows by, surely there will be mountainous testimony through books, movies, talk shows, etc.  But it’s my guess that these folks are suffering right now.  I generally discredit conspiracy theories and don’t believe any few individuals have the smarts it would take to commandeer the market for any length of time.  It’s my guess that these executives (for the most part) worked hard and long at their jobs, and did their best to follow the dictates of their boards and the market. 

I’m suggesting that these culprits bear no more responsibility than every American.  There was inherent failure in the subprime mortgage from the start;  since when does inability to understand the fine print excuse the individual from liability?  It was our sense of entitlement, our greed that allowed us to grab the high life even though we could ill afford it.  The banks offered, and we blithely accepted.  Was the snake more culpable than Eve?

So the universal attitude that the government should help the individual homeowner rather than the banks just doesn’t hold water.  We are the ones who predicated this mess, all of us; it was not the banks alone.  To cop righteous indignation and seize the chance to cry ‘poor me’ is ignorant and small minded in the extreme. 

Per previous posts, the reader will know I’m hardly in support of massive bailouts, either.  If we allow the truth to prevail, we know that allowing the market to right itself is the American way.  But we’ve carried our excesses so far that it’s unlikely we’ll align with highest truths in this situation.  We are nowhere near resilient anymore, and just can’t stomach the prospect of a really serious economic downturn.

So we’ll rescue the banks and carry on as usual.  Until the next time we run up against our collective selfishness and feel the need to desperately point fingers.

PS:  I have a parallel thought to this financial fiasco:  does it not reflect the same kind of mess we’re in with health care?  Who will bear the brunt when insurance goes bust?  When will the cost of medical attention break this country’s back?  The tax called health care insurance is already too burdensome for many:  does this not suggest that defaults will increase and the insurance giants who gamble for our blind loyalty are riding for a fall?

Practicing isolations

Focusing inwards for a Wednesday morning refresher, consider isolations.  Akin to isometrics, isolations can be practiced anytime and anywhere.  An isolation is simply tightening and releasing a very specific set of muscles, without involving any other joints or muscles.  You can isolate your hand, for instance.  Try clenching and slackening your hand while concentrating on total relaxation in all other parts of your body.  The relaxation of uninvolved body parts is the deep significance of the exercise.

How often, when involved in any activity, do you find tension in body parts that are not required for the action?  When walking, are your shoulders tense?  When writing, do you clench your jaw or tighten your leg muscles?  When sitting at your desk, is there tension in your groin, your feet, your forehead?  Women know the tendency to stiffen the lips when applying eye makeup.  How often, when doing something with one hand, do you find the other hand grotesquely flexed as well?

If you’re able to isolate the active body part, and keep the entire rest of you relaxed, then you know what it is to concentrate, you can focus all your energy on the task at hand, you do not unneccessarily stress your muscles.  Most importantly, you control the activity and keep it in proper perspective, because you have not allowed your entire being to become involved.

Practicing isolations is a way to gain understanding of your capabilities and your place in the world.  It’s also a way to indentify your mental, physical, and spirtual blocks and slowly work out their kinks.  It can improve your concentration and give your actions grace and force.

And when you get a good grip on doing isolations with your muscles, try applying the principle to your work habits, or your services or products in business.  Turn your laser focus on the issue in question without tensing surrounding environments or involving innocent by-standers.  You’ll proceed with greater efficiency and ease this way, and be able to keep your true mission in the forefront.

Creativity and the crash

While the pervading sentiment appears to be that a bailout by the federal government is the only way to avoid pervasive recession and massive unemployment, a thinking person can’t help but suspect that such an action is just more of the same profligate strong-arming that caused our economic woes to begin with.  It seems the big guys always get rescued.  The big guys get salaries hundreds of times bigger than the average Joe; get bonuses of astronomical proportion; and get bailed out when they make mistakes.  Such lenience is actually the opposite of capitalism, and is light years from the everyday experience of average Americans.

Still, we fear for the wellbeing of so many workers (one estimate puts it at some 11 million people) who would be affected if the banks were left unassisted.  Here and now, in our time, many more than just the bosses would experience financial disaster.  We would surely descend into the darkest shadow side of capitalism.

Consider, for a moment, your own personal saga.  Perhaps you have been bailed out by indulgent people yourself.  Have you remembered the close call, and worked hard to avoid repeating the experience?  Or is it easy to slide into the feeling that you’ll always be rescued?  On the other hand, perhaps no one came to your aid, you hit rock bottom, and had to figure out how to climb up from there.  Which of these situations is the creative one?

Here’s the hard part:  though all the above may be true, and we will do just about anything to avoid disaster for so many of our fellow citizens, the truly creative thing would be to let the failed institutions die and to start over with better control.  Creativity (may I say it again?) is an unflinching search for truth.  Creativity does not patch and mend; it cuts to the naked chase.  It may be ugly, depressed, even hopeless-feeling down there, but creativity takes a charred stick and a pile of ashes and builds a new dream.

We will not be so brave as to be creative as a nation in this current crisis.  We are far too fond of our privileges and toys.  But perhaps as individuals, we Americans can learn from the situation.  Perhaps, in your own business, you’ll seek equity and you’ll re-invest rather than falsely reward.  Perhaps, in your personal life, you’ll give renewed attention to your priorities, learn to live within your means, and properly respect the structures that support you.

Wall Street and You

While current Wall Street shenanigans may be shocking and scary, the repercussions for everyday people are hard to identify at this point.  Various analyses are speculative:  the most helpful article I read was from Time magazine, comparing us to France, and suggesting that, “In bailing out mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, our government has basically turned America into the largest subsidized housing project in the world.” 

The scope of the bedlam is apparent when you think how we Americans won’t ensure that everyone has equal access to healthcare, but the government confidently and immediately takes over when big finance takes sick.  In other words, we are quick to defend money, leaving human (and environmental) wellbeing to fend for itself.  Is it really helpful to tend to your finances while leaving your body sick and your environment polluted?

Creativity is a mindset, one that arranges priorities in a way wholly opposed to traditional capitalist instincts.  Creativity is about discovering baseline truths, human (as opposed to economic) realities, and ultimate motivations.  Creativity busts the box to smithereens and introduces us to a whole new set of ambitions that have more to do with personal salvation than with the survival of Wall Street.  And which of these goals do you care more about?

If your income is threatened by the current fiasco, consider facing at long last your humanity, your reason for being, the gifts you can share that are not dependent on a fat wallet.  These may be tough times economically, but they represent as well a fantastic opportunity for personal growth.  More on this as the week progresses ….

Various greens

The market is failing, paranoia runs rampant, everyone’s worried and on the defense.  Greenbacks are scare, but green peppers are in abundance this year.  When life hands you the wrong kind of green, make salsa!

Bailing out, digging in

Oh brother, we’re worried now.  There’s no more denying it.  Banks closing and stocks plunging indicate more than a harmless economic slump.  The events of this week (so far) are enough to cause mild panic, as in, gee maybe I should get my greenbacks back under my mattress. 

Certainly businesses are forced now to consider alternative approaches to marketing, and even survival.  My networking group yesterday was full of concern at the slowdown.  The same old PR tactics just aren’t turning up the clients anymore. 

From the long view, the scare is an excellent opportunity for growth.  We can shake off the dribble and dross of clever marketing, and return to the core value of what we are doing.  Do you believe your product or service is useful, helpful, a boon to humanity?  (It should be, and if it isn’t, perhaps you’ll want to look at doing something different.)  When sales are no longer produced by fancy tactics with clients dying to spend money, we can with relief return to the essential, real-life, direct convenience or comfort of the thing we produce.  We can work on improving it.  We can customize it to answer to real needs.

In short, we can ignore the selling and concentrate on the creativity.  This is the time to remember that money is a measure, not an end in itself.  The ultimate reason for your product or service is to assist your fellow man/woman, to increase the quality of life.  Now’s the moment to return to that core meaning of your work, to tweak it so that it performs to perfection; and even to extend its virtues to new applications, to dream of yet uninvented solutions.  In other words, to use this helplessness in the face of a failing national economy to return to essentials and thereby rediscover the true worth of our commerce.

Relationship priorities

Hugh MacLeod, of Gaping Void, is a rare bird: an artist who consistently and rather successfully interfaces with the corporate world while retaining full artistic sensibility.  Look at this thought he gave us last Friday: “… the hard bit of having a “good idea” is not the invention of it, nor the selling of it to the end-user, but managing the myriad of politics and egos of the people who are supposedly on the same team as yourself. Managing the vast oceans of human chaos that all enterprises ultimately are, underneath the thin veneer of human order.”

Certainly this sums up my fairly lengthy experience in the working world.  It’s a major reason why I’m now a solopreneur.  It used to be shocking to me that fellow workers would routinely put my requests of them on the bottom of their lists.  To me, the needs of others within my company had absolute top priority.   But the pervading sentiment seemed to be that if a fellow employee asked for it, it can wait, sometimes indefinitely.  After all, I was their peer, and their loyalties lay exclusively with the bosses or the buyers.

In a family, we would call this dysfunction.  In a family, we know that love and loyalty are due first to those to whom we are related.  We work hard to understand and support one another as a paramount responsibility in life.  But in business, somehow, our ‘families’ are taken for granted, and often abused.

Our power, money, savvy, and technology have led us to believe the corporation is invincible.  But if we spend only a little time looking underneath this assumption, ” … the vast oceans of human chaos … ” are readily apparent.  As this work week begins, consider the value of your work ‘family,’ and see what happens to morale and productivity if you place their needs on the top of your list for a change.

Multi-tasking

Our world of commerce operates on many assumptions that we routinely do not question, and often that’s just as well.  If society, for example, makes the assumption that time-saving devices will make life easier, it may be most productive to simply accept that premise and progress from there.

Every now and again, however, assumptions surface that are truly counter-productive.  Any given company used to assume the public was one homogenous mass; now we know that assumption leads to failure, and we must understand ‘the public’ in terms of very specific demographic types.

So this post is about the assumption that multi-tasking is an admirable trait.  In my business, I work with busy small business owners, and most of them multi-task constantly.  Perhaps they were able to rise to ownership partly because their multi-tasking opened many doors simultaneously.  But here’s the hitch:  by being in the groove that requires doing many things at once, these folks never do anything throroughly.  They flit amongst their obligations like crazed bees in a summer field, but never drink deeply of any nectar.  Unbeknownst to them, others are left feeling disconnected and dissatisfied.  Tasks are touched upon but never completed.  Strategies are launched, and then lost in the distractions of time passing.

Multi-tasking is a hindrance and liability, and not at all the wondrous skill our hell-bent society suggests it is.  It’s far more fulfilling and successful to cultivate careful attention to the task at hand.  Make a list and go through it methodically, but don’t try to do two things at once, for neither will be properly addressed.