Thursday, December 27, 2012

Quotes for the New Year

In the New Year, may your right hand always be stretched out in friendship, never in want.
Old Irish Toast

Each age has deemed the new-born year the fittest time for festal cheer.
Walter Scott, author

I have no way of knowing how people really feel, but the vast majority of those I meet couldn't be nicer. Every once in a while someone barks at me. My New Year's resolution is not to bark back.
Tucker Carlson, news correspondent

A year from now, you're gonna weigh more or less than what you do right now.
Phil McGraw, TV personality (Dr. Phil)

Accept what people offer. Drink their milkshakes. Take their love.
Wally Lamb, author

Let our New Year's resolution be this: we will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word.
Goran Persson, former Prime Minister of Sweden

Strange to see how a good dinner and feasting reconciles everybody.
Samuel Pepys, writer and diarist

Character is the ability to carry out a good resolution long after the excitement of the moment has passed.
Cavett Robert, businessman and motivational speaker

Press on - every day in the new year - no matter what!
Ken Makovsky, businessman

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Don't Fall Into that Trap

At this time of year, our thoughts turn to family, friends and all our blessings.  We focus on the positive in our lives and in our relationships.  With the new year on the horizon, we tend to emphasize and communicate optimistic thoughts and not give in to any pessimistic urges that may arise as a result of the economy, family or business issues or any other disappointing development.  But can we sustain this sense of hopefulness?

Accordingly, it was with great interest that I read an interview with Israel’s retiring Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, about endless Palestinian talks and the dangers of pessimism; it appeared in Tom Friedman’s New York Times column on December 8.  Friedman had previously cited the late and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s point that “it’s incumbent on every Israeli leader to test, test and test again – using every ounce of Israeli creativity –  to  see if Israel can find a Palestinian partner for a secure peace…”

Barak underscored this point of view and made a permanent impact on me by what he said regarding the ramifications of pessimism:

[If you surrender to pessimism, you] “lose sight of the opportunities and the will to seize opportunities.  I know that you can’t say when leaders raise this pessimism that it is all just invented.  It is not all invented, and you would be stupid if you did not look [at it] with open eyes.  But it is a major risk that you will not notice that you become enslaved by this pessimism in a way that will paralyze you from understanding that you can shape it.  The world is full of risks, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a responsibility to do something about it –  within your limits and the limits of realism – and avoid self-fulfilling prophecies that are extremely dangerous…”

To keep everything going in the right direction, we have a responsibility to be realistic optimists.  Better solutions and continuous improvement must be our mantra.  Even when things appear to be at their darkest we must “test, test and test again” and employ every ounce of our creativity to solve problems that look like they may never be solved.  Many positive world developments would have gone awry had some leader not shared that belief.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Communicating Silence

Enough.   Enough already.  What must the world think of the United States in the wake of the mass murders in Newtown, Connecticut? 

The victims list, which included the names of 20 six- and seven-year-olds, along with teachers and administrators, struck a deep chord.  Worldwide coverage without a meaningful response badly sullied our reputation, despite the outpouring of sympathy from so many countries.

The truth, shamefully, is that we have nothing positive to report.  This is not one isolated incident … but part of a string of heinous murders stretching back 30 years.   Columbine, Virginia Tech, a movie theatre in Colorado, an army base in Texas,  a coffee bar in Seattle, an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, a college in California, a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, a strip mall in Arizona --- and the list goes on. 

Last Friday, the president called for “meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”  I would like to take him seriously, but for decades now, there has been nothing but words.

I know the Second Amendment gives us the right to bear arms, but what about those who do not choose to elect that option and prefer not to bear arms.  How are they protected?  And does the right to bear arms mean that there are no restrictions?  As one columnist said, we have a right to drive cars, but at the same time, there are safety belts, drivers’ licenses, traffic laws, etc.

If the photos of those little children, now deceased, do not motivate action, then what will?

We cannot continue to communicate silence.  We must begin the conversation.  We must communicate solutions.  We must communicate actions.  And we must do it now.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

How Sexism May Have Delayed the Computing Revolution

Two months ago, a really remarkable man — author, educator and designer Bill Moggridge — passed away.  Among his many achievements:  creating one of the first laptop computers, the GRiD Compass, in 1982.
It was a product before his time … not just because it was heavy (about 11pounds) and expensive (over $8,000).   According to a fascinating article in The Atlantic, the real reason it didn’t catch on among businesspeople was gender bias.

According to Jeff Hawkins, founder of Palm and Handspring (makers of the Treo), “At that time, 1982, business people, who were in their 40s and 50s, did not have any computer or keyboard in their offices.  And [the keyboard] was associated with being part of the secretarial pool or the word processing … department.  And so you'd put this thing in their office and they'd say, ‘Get that out of here.’  It was like getting a demotion.

“It took a generational change, for the next younger group who had been exposed to terminals and computers to grow up," Hawkins said. "That was an amazing technology adoption problem you would have never thought about."

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Monday, December 10, 2012

When Socializing is Not Enough

Unfortunately, social media is not an agenda item for many of the chairmen (or chairwomen) of this nation’s public companies.  Why?   Largely, in my opinion, because of SEC disclosure laws regarding the release of material information via press release and wire service.   With a “social” distribution, leadership fears slipping up and making a “material comment” should they be, for example, tweeted a question they’d rather not answer.

The other side of the coin is that there are marketing-savvy corporate leaders who see every reason in the world to communicate with their stakeholders via the web -- it brings them closer to the customer, enhancing loyalty and motivating product purchases.  Material information (any news that has a material effect on the business) can be particularly exciting, and should be socialized, but must also meet legal disclosure requirements before that happens.

The issue is that the two must not be confused.  The chairperson must understand what material information is.  And he or she must understand the channels required for distribution, so that critical information is accessible to all investors simultaneously.   At this juncture, social media does not qualify as an SEC-approved channel.  But social media is, in every respect, an essential marketing channel that can be employed productively, once material information has been legally disclosed.

Here is a case in point:  Netflix.    The company noted on Facebook that its members were now enjoying nearly a billion hours per month of Netflix --- an exciting and material development.  Reed Hastings, Netflix chairman, says he has 200,000 subscribers on Facebook and because he told that many subscribers, there was no need to send a press release through traditional channels (e.g., PR Newswire, Business Wire) to meet SEC standards.

The SEC did not agree.  Announcing material information on Facebook , it stated, does not meet the SEC standard for disclosure.  Two hundred thousand Facebook subscribers is not  the equivalent of all Netflix investors.   And right now there is no social channel that does that.   Nevertheless, efforts have been made to post material information on a blog, and then put out a press release that investors can find it on that blog.  Thus far, the SEC has not accepted that approach either.

Reed Hastings, Netflix chairman, wrote a letter on Facebook to his subscribers in which he said: “ We think the fact of 1 billion hours of viewing in June was not ’material‘ to investors, and we had blogged a few weeks before that we were serving NEARLY 1-billion hours per month.”  He noted that he remained optimistic that this can be cleared up with the SEC.

As the rules now stand, I’d be surprised if  Reed Hastings gets away with this; although it is an effort to break new ground,  I believe there will be an SEC action.  A billion hours is indeed  a material marketing fact that could stimulate the stock and encourage others to buy Netflix products.  Thus, while this information can be socialized, it also needs to go through traditional proactive channels so that all current and potential investors have simultaneous access to the news via designated wire services. The only issue here is Reed Hastings’ image with his investors and other stakeholders.

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