<![CDATA[Luke Marusiak Online - Blog]]>Sun, 29 Oct 2017 13:10:41 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Four Values of Great Companies]]>Sun, 29 Oct 2017 16:46:29 GMThttp://lukemarusiak.com/blog/four-values-of-great-companiesI've just completed a thriller novel (The Patent) but didn't want to miss an opportunity for an October blog post.  This post is from Chapter 11 of Foundations of Excellence: Four Values.  Foundations of Excellence along with Functions of Excellence and Methods of Excellence is part of my Excellence in Business series completed last month.  

Values are critical for a company to achieve greatness and, much like individual character values, there are business values that stand the test of time.


11  Four Values
 
I mentioned that great businesses, great companies, are unique in how they achieved greatness.  Values, however, are one very consistent area of all great companies.  And, it’s been my observation, that great companies have the same values even if called by different names.  This chapter will outline the values and then we’ll see how values are viewed firsthand in the experiences of Dan, Beth, Steve, and Cathy.

Before going into organizational values it bears noting that there’s a difference between personal values and organizational values.  A big difference.  John F. Kennedy summarized the four timeless personal values in his 1961 City on a Hill speech as: courage, integrity, judgement, and dedication.  I’ll discuss those, but not in this book.  There is one thing worth remarking about personal values.  It is a big red flag when a company waves a personal value as an organizational value.  If a company has to wave an integrity or ethics banner as a value and not a base rule, it likely has an ethics problem.  But that’s not what this book is about.

The values of great companies support their overarching business purpose: solving humanity’s problems.  That’s why, regardless of how they’re named, they all have these four elements: 1. customer first, 2. mutual trust and respect, 3. excellence in execution, and 4. profitability focus.

Customer first means that the customer’s needs are paramount.  Those needs could be the customer’s business results or the customer’s simple enjoyment of a product.  Customer first also means anticipating the future need, sometimes several years forward.  The specific nature of the needs doesn’t matter so long as those needs are the fixation of the business serving them.

Mutual trust and respect means a few things.  It means civility in discourse, whether that be in meetings or hallway conversations.  It means genuine respect that prevents small group cliquish gossip.  It means employees are on the great teams that we talked about earlier.  It also, as Jack Welch points out in Winning and Jim Collins in Good to Great, means candor.  Organizations with candor confront the facts, brutal facts in Collins’s vernacular, without blame or dismay.  The political ‘feel good’ meetings that obscure truth don’t happen in companies with candor.  Instead, constructive confrontation, even with lower levels challenging executives, is cherished as necessary to meet the company’s why, its core purpose.

Excellence in execution is often listed as an operations value but it is much broader.  Excellence in execution means each functional group understands and delivers superior results.  Marketing knows the direction and size of their served market better than anyone.  Sales know their global customers, their customer’s budgets, and how their goods and services uniquely serve their needs.  Human resources partner with all functions to recruit, hire, develop, and fire personnel consistent with the company’s vision.  Finance knows the ‘rule of thumb’ for how a dollar of profit is generated and has lined up quick closes and real time tracking.  R&D – research and development – understands how to evolve current products and, following a cross-functional market driven product development process, how to innovate for the future.  Operations knows how to execute based on James Womack and Daniel Jones Lean Thinking principles.  Quality guards both the customer and company reputation; it knows world class benchmarks and any regulatory need.  And all these groups take their knowledge and inspired teams and plan, do, check, and act in a never-ending learning cycle.  As execution is so broad, I’m going to cover the details of excellence in execution in a forthcoming book: Functions of Excellence.

The final value is profitability focus.  The measure of how well a business solves its specific problem of humanity is profit.  Some reading this may think it obscene to talk about profit as a value.  But profit, real generated profit, is a measure of value added, wealth created, and of how much the economic pie that drives all of civilization grew.  Profit measures the most precious thing we humans do.  Profit measures how well we’ve applied our creative god-like minds to base materials and trenchant problems.

The reverence for these four values: 1. customer first, 2. mutual trust and respect, 3. excellence in execution, and 4. profitability focus is seen in great companies and the disregard is seen in the suboptimal.        
]]>
<![CDATA[Leadership Traits]]>Sun, 01 Oct 2017 00:29:35 GMThttp://lukemarusiak.com/blog/leadership-traitsI've been so focused on writing that I've neglected my blog posts.  I didn't want to let more time pass without a post so I've used Chapter 38 of Methods of Excellence in Business Leadership for this one. 

Methods of Excellence was released in September and concludes my Excellence in Business series.   I've also included the figure from the book below.
 


38  Leadership Traits

 
Leadership is one of those words so overused that it has lost a good deal of its meaning.  One of the reasons I put it at the end of this series is that as an ROTC cadet I was taught that all leadership is by example.  That’s what I’ve been doing since the first chapter of Foundations of Excellence: giving examples of good and poor leadership.

At this point in the Excellence in Business Leadership series, it should be pretty clear what is meant by leadership but it’s worth summarizing key tenets.  First and foremost leaders understand that it’s all about the people.  Technology, processes, wealth, and fame may be on every titular leader’s mind but the real leaders will see themselves as servants to their employees.

Real leaders have sterling personal character of courage, integrity, judgement, and dedication.  Real leaders display what Jack Welch in his book Winning called 4-E and 1-P framework of high energy, ability to energize others, edge, execution, and passion for what they do.  And real leaders aren’t Wonder Woman or Superman.
 
Real leaders are regular people who bet their life on a great cause and, working with those they lead, set out to change the world.  That is why the first thing they do after setting core purpose is inspire.
 
As Jim Collings highlights in Good to Great, real leaders see a problem, get into the middle of it, and separate the people from the problem.  What a contrast real leaders make from the pretenders.

Pretenders like everything I just said about real leaders; they just don’t want the inconvenience of walking the talk.  Pretenders are focused on title, motivate by threats to fire, and only communicate what they have to.  As I’ve covered in example after example, pretenders avoid showing up when the heat is on, when their people are facing a tough problem.  That is because they want to distance themselves from their people.  Why?  Because for them, people are the problem.

In another contrast to the stereotypes, real leaders treat their team as family but don’t cross the bright line of over-familiarity.  That’s opposite from pretenders.
 
Pretenders have favorites, sometimes even family member favorites, and everyone else is expendable.  When the occasional good thing does happen, they take unearned credit and dole it to their favorites.  But there is always an outside group set up for blame.  That is the most telling thing about leadership in suboptimal companies: when problems arise people are the problem.

The real leaders view themselves accountable to tackle every tough problem in their area.  They view it as the prime opportunity to lead.  When discussing leadership, it’s worth discussing another misunderstood topic: delegation.
 
In this Information Age where nearly everything can be known, many view the stereotypical leader as the consummate micromanager.  That may be the stereotype of a real leader, but that’s not the reality.  A nod to one of the greatest management gurus should help explain.
As I covered in the process section, Peter Drucker came to believe after seeing some of the most centralized economic and business systems imaginable that the most efficient management was decentralized.  What does that mean for the modern leader?  That means real leaders learn how to delegate.  And that is an art.

Jim Morgan at Applied Materials was famous for saying leaders delegate without abdicating responsibility.  That is the delegation tenet in a nutshell.  The leader, much like the California safety training of ‘be a manager, go to jail’, is responsible for their team’s actions 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  But that doesn’t mean they micromanage them.

The best way to delegate is to use something called KPIs – key process indicators.  Well done KPI’s are the intersection of leadership and management.  In the parlance of you lead people and manage things, KPIs are the way you see if the people you lead are managing well the things they’re responsible for.  KPIs are quantified things like bookings, revenue, gross margin, budget spending, installation times, forecast accuracy, etc.

How a leader delegates without abdicating responsibility is through judicious use of KPIs.  In every role I’ve been in from junior manager to CEO, I’ve always established something called stoplight chart KPIs for those I led. 

Stoplight KPIs take a group’s key metrics and define goodness.  If the group is hitting their agreed goodness performance metric, that is colored green.  If the group is missing by a small amount, that KPI is colored yellow and the leader of that group needs to have a good plan in place.  If the group is missing by a large gap, the KPI is red and, at that point, it’s understood I get to micromanage until we fix the problem.  That’s how it works in great companies.

You can see the leader’s involvement is on a sliding scale.  The bigger the problem, the more involvement.  The more difficulty the subordinate leader is having, the more help they get. 

Okay, some may be asking, but what makes a leader?  After all the examples and tenets aren’t there a list of things other than personal character that make a leader?  How does a leader in a group dynamic act?

At this point I’m going to go to a list from my U.S. Army ROTC days.  I considered starting the whole excellence series with this list but thought the better of it.  Every U.S. Military officer gets literally years of leadership training.  And that training is relevant.  But, there are two things different in business.  They are the foundational things of core purpose and inspiration to be the best.

In the U.S. Military, there is no doubt about the core purpose and we certainly never accept being second place on a battlefield.  And resources are aligned to achieve success without a fixation on cost.  You do what it takes to win.

In business, core purpose must be defined and is unique industry to industry and business to business.  The imperative to be the best isn’t as apparent (although it is just a crucial) and the fuel and measure of that success is profit.  That’s why I didn’t tee up leadership or leadership traits in Foundations of Excellence or Functions of Excellence.

But what I attempted to show through my fictional characters were examples in every foundational, functional, or methodological area in contrasting understandable situations.  What I hope shone through were the key leadership traits.  Although all leadership is by example, it’s worth listing them for clarity and consideration.

I was taught that a leader displays and lives fourteen traits: bearing, courage, decisiveness, dependability, endurance, enthusiasm, initiative, integrity, judgement, justice, knowledge, loyalty, unselfishness, and tact.  This list provides a good template.  Think about those in leadership positions you see every day and how they display these traits.

Bearing is simply exuding a professional competent presence in dress, fitness, and posture.  You should look the part.  Courage is overcoming physical and moral fear and doing what’s right and accepting the consequences of your actions.

Decisiveness means you take whatever information you have, make a clear yes-no decision, and own it.  Dependability means your team can count on you to be in the toughest mix of the toughest fights.   

Endurance is important and often overlooked.  Endurance means the leader has the intestinal fortitude to be physically present in those tough fights.  The leader has to be physically tough enough to lead by example and that means putting in the fourteen hour days alongside subordinates.  As we saw in the Laxman example, employees deride a titular leader who is often absent with personal or sickness excuses.

Enthusiasm covers what Jack Welch in Winning talked about with his first two E’s: energy and ability to energize others.  No one wants to work with someone perpetually under a black cloud and complaining about it.  The leader comes into work every day and exudes high energy that can be seen and felt by every employee in the organization.

Initiative is acting and getting the tasks done without being told to do so.  It is one of the most important traits of leaders and is killed in a culture of micromanagement. 

Integrity is a key trait that needs a comeback.  Media often shows the stereotypical Machiavellian leader that views any means as acceptable for the right end.  Don’t believe it.  Real leaders know their true value only comes with unquestioned integrity.  It’s sad that integrity is now viewed as quaint. 

You’ll never regret adhering to your personal integrity but, in today’s society, it will cost you.  But if you want the mantle of the real leader, that cost is worth it.  Integrity also lends itself to loyalty which is to your cause and your team as well as to your boss.  Judgement and justice – being fair – also flow easily from leaders with unquestioned integrity.

Unselfishness may seem odd in this list.  It conjures religious connotations of self-sacrifice.  But that’s not what it means for the leader.  We’ve all seen careerists like Amaras who couldn’t care less about their cause or team.  It’s all about what makes them look good.  Titular leaders who only care about themselves may get temporary rewards but they go down the path of Craig and Laxman and never inspire a team to achieve a great cause.

And that’s what it’s all about.  As I’ve said over and again, the company we work for defines our life’s purpose and it ought to be a great one.  Selfish people in titular leadership positons worry first and foremost ‘what’s best for me’.  They will never shake the mantle of the pretender.  If you believe in your cause, your company’s cause, give yourself to it.  And the rest will follow.   

The last trait I’m going to highlight is tact.  My ROTC sergeant major gave me a definition of tact that I will never forget: tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that he wants to go.  The titular leader who feels the need for shouting, swearing, and vulgarity isn’t one to lead a team in solving the tough problems of humanity.


The slide below summarizes the 4-E and 1-P framework and 14 leadership traits for your reference.
 
This framework and these traits inform how I write about good and poor leadership, about how those with leadership titles in great or suboptimal companies act.  The final and most important point is that leadership is never the rank on your collar, your title, or a popularity contest.  Real leadership is in inspiring your team to do the right things by your personal example.  With that comment, let’s take one more look at how Steve, Beth, Cathy, and Dan experience leadership in business.          
]]>
<![CDATA[Quality]]>Sun, 23 Jul 2017 23:05:32 GMThttp://lukemarusiak.com/blog/quality       Quality is not just about metrics or regulatory compliance. It’s about sharing the passion you bring to your job, regardless of function, with your customers. Here, in my July blog, I’m going to use Chapter 40, the introductory chapter of Part VI – Quality – of my soon to be published Functions of Excellence in Business Leadership.  I have a passion for business that I’ve written about here in my blogs as well as in my recently released Foundations of Excellence.  In both books, I contrast the great with suboptimal companies and in few places is the difference more apparent than in the approach and reverence for quality.  The book is in the edit stage but this chapter, as is, captures an important point!
 
                                                             Chapter 40
 
       It’s somewhat odd to have a separate section on quality.  The reader may have perceived that quality, good and bad, runs through every part of every organization.  It does.  Quality is a complex subject to talk about.  The main character in Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values goes certifiably insane when asked the simple question: what is quality? 

       So what is quality?  The Merriam-Webster definition defines quality as: degree of excellence.  That sounds good, but doesn’t really help in a business setting.  Quality is most often defined in business as: conformance to requirements or conformance to specifications.  If we think of the MRS – marketing requirements specification – document from the innovation section; we can view the quality of a product as how well it meets its defined specifications.  Quality is meeting specifications.  That sounds right.  But wait.  Isn’t there more? 

       Isn’t quality that ethereal thing people feel when they swing their leg over the seat of a Harley Davidson motorcycle, start it up, and hear its distinctive roar?  Isn’t quality the rhythmic pulse of a cyropump on a semiconductor tool precisely depositing monolayers of atoms on a silicon wafer enabling the Information Age?  Isn’t quality what you feel seeing a CNC – computer numeric controlled – five axis machine tool turn a metal billet into a precision part?  And isn’t quality the thing you experience when you watch a movie streamed in 4K definition in your personal home theater room?

       We know that quality is something more than objective conformance to requirements just as someone’s job should be more than quid pro quo utility.  Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance rightly said you’ve got to merge the subject (you) and the object to get to quality.  As I covered in Foundations of Excellence, great teams aren’t based on quid pro quo utility but on association due to the other’s excellence; association that is based on love.  Now we’re getting somewhere.

       Quality is all about love.  I wound up to that sentence after four introductory paragraphs and it still looks corny on the page.  But it’s true.  When you ride that Harley or appreciate that precision part or are enthralled by the home viewing of the movie of your choice; you are experiencing the love that others put into that product.  You are experiencing the reverence for excellence that transcends simple conformance to requirements.  I’ve focused on products but quality based on love applies to any human endeavor.

       This is so important, I’m going to type it again.  Quality is all about love.  This is why a person’s job defines their life’s purpose.  In suboptimal companies, this is why bean counters focused on short term gain, destroy the family business they purchased.  Those in great companies have a reverence for their business.  That reverence is why Ayn Rand’s heroine Dagny Taggart, in Atlas Shrugged, stared at a train engine running full tilt and emotionally saw her life’s purpose as she instinctually felt the train engine was a moral code cast in steel.

      Deep down we know that quality is all about love and it is a crying shame if businesses pound this out of our experience.  Each functional head of the great companies viscerally know what quality is even if they don’t put it in words.  The CEO feels quality when the everyone in the plant is aligned on core purpose, welded into great teams, adhering to their timeless values, and looking to the future.  In short the CEO knows their company is solving a key problem of humanity and is committed to being the best at doing so.  And the CEO knows the company is producing quality products when visiting customers.

       The CFO experiences quality when everyone from the top staff to the janitor understands the company’s financials and how bonuses and profit sharing is maximized.  The financials show profitability but, more importantly, are simple, communicated, and aligned from top to bottom.  The CTO – chief technical officer – and R&D head experience the quality of clean designs, elegant software coding, and timely new product realization.  Change control is executed with reverence, discipline, and significant R&D accountability.

       The HR head experiences quality in the employee’s Mutual Trust and Respect across functions, the continual enhancement of the character of the organization and its teams, and the burnishing of the company’s culture.  The COO experiences quality in a well-run efficient operation delivering to customer commits and able to flex to external changes.  Suppliers are partners that know they must deliver quality products and guard that partnership as one would a close friendship.  Service is proud and honored to install and maintain their company’s products.  And, most important, the customers experience quality in the products they receive, the company’s people they interact with, and the value those products provide.

       Quality is all about love.  Everyone in the great organization feels that love in why they do what they do.  This is why I spent so much time in Foundations of Excellence talking about purpose, inspiration, teams, and values.  In the end, what makes great companies and their functions great is the love of the employees for the why of what they do.  And, in the end, what makes suboptimal companies and their functions suboptimal is the lack of that love.  Often they don’t even know why they do what they do.  Quality is paramount because it defines the pursuit of excellence of the why of what we do in business.

       Now, one very common thing you’ll see in both the great and suboptimal companies is what’s called ‘talking the talk’.  The suboptimal companies talk of quality and values as much the great companies, maybe more so.  I don’t think there are many companies that overtly dismiss the idea of quality in what they do.  Some of the greatest value lists, mission statements, and bromide inspiration talks come from suboptimal companies.  So what’s the difference?  

       The specifications, operational metrics, and financials are needed objective measures but the real test of quality is what the company’s leadership at all levels does in its moments of truth – in the times when compromise is the easy way out.  If you want to put your finger on what most separates the great from the suboptimal companies; compromises at the point of hard decisions is it.  This is why I’ve drummed over and again in both Foundations of Excellence and in Functions of Excellence that companies committed to solving one of humanity’s big problems adhere to being the best at achieving their core purpose.

       If a company decides to be the best, it will not compromise in the moments of truth.  As Beth, Steve, Dan, and Cathy saw; when a company gets to a moment of truth, it defines itself in how it responds.  The moments of truth come to every function sometimes as often as every day and, again, the company’s response, which usually involves a quality decision, defines itself.
 
       The suboptimal companies, no matter how flowery their value statements, whiff at the hard decisions.  Steve and Cathy saw this in their companies allowing piece part quoting, using low spec hardware, reusing parts as new, designing on the fly, endlessly churning change, and hoping the customer accepts what was shipped.

       The great companies make the hard decisions, like sticking with the value sell, going back a step in the PDP to get the product right, integrating all functions in design, and making sure the customer gets all needed in the product.  The great companies know there is a short term cost but also know that they can’t compromise on their core.  They love what they’re doing too much for that.  Again, quality is all about love.  Everyone in the great organization feels that love in why they do what they do.

 
]]>
<![CDATA[The Creative Age]]>Sun, 18 Jun 2017 22:11:54 GMThttp://lukemarusiak.com/blog/the-creative-age       Manual, tedious labor is going away and good riddance!  The Information Age which powered much of the last three decades of civilization’s advancement is giving way to the ‘Creative Age’. 

       I used that term in my just released Foundations of Excellence book.  I did a search on the term Creative Age and all I came up with was creative ways of aging.  So, if anyone else says the Information Age turns into the Creative Age, remember you heard it here first!

       The combination of automation, smart materials, and deep machine learning (often called AI) is wiping out job families and both people and companies must adapt.  This transformation has already started and, as Kevin Kelly says in The Inevitable and Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler say in Bold, most jobs of today will be obsolete and most jobs of tomorrow have yet to be created.  Great companies see that and are taking steps to enable the Creative Age.

       Attached is a chapter from Foundations of Excellence where we see the first moments of a new college grad entering a great company grappling with this transformation.       
 


                                                                        Chapter 5
 
       Dan sat in the lobby and waited, along with several others, for new hire orientation.  He clutched his new hire paperwork and looked around the BusComp lobby.  His eyes fell on a large framed vision statement.  He read, “BusComp Enables You to Create!”  He frowned.  He knew that BusComp’s customers were primarily other companies and he wondered at the terse wording.
 
       A sharply dressed man came to the lobby.  “New hires, welcome to BusComp!  Come this way.”  The man led the new hire group into a conference room.  “Take your seats.  I am Sam Martel, the head of BusComp Human Resources.”  He looked up and smiled.  “You can call me Sam the Man.”

       The group chuckled.  Dan looked left and right and noted that all but one of his new colleagues were young and, he suspected, new college graduates.  He wondered what he would see his first week on the job.  Dan made it a point to remember the moment, the first moment of the first day of his working life.

       Sam the Man circled the table and personally shook everyone’s hand.  Dan was impressed that Sam looked him straight in the eye and said his name as he greeted him.  Sam went to the front of the room and turned on a projector.  The vision statement filled the screen. 

       Sam turned to the group.  “BusComp is transforming how companies do business.”  He pointed to the vision statement.  “Every one of our customers, the companies we serve, is our partner.  We remove all of the IT – information technology, database, and machine learning analytic obstacles they have in doing their business.  We remove those obstacles so they can focus on their core: creating great products and services.  BusComp enables you to create!”

       I get it, Dan thought.  He glanced left and right and saw smiles.  He realized he was smiling himself.  Sam Martel, who Dan would forevermore view as Sam the Man, used the pause to let the BusComp vision sink in.  Sam’s enthusiasm was infectious.

       “Welcome to BusComp,” Sam said again.  “We are the best at what we do.  No company, anywhere, does what we do as well us.”  He advanced a slide.  “If you don’t believe me, I’ll provide a demonstration.”  He pointed to a bar chart that showed eight years of steady growth.  “Our best customers are our best salespeople.  Our customers tell both their suppliers and their customers about BusComp and our services.  That’s why we grow!”

       Sam gave the group additional paperwork and led them across the hall to get their new picture badges.  When they came back into the conference room a tall man in a navy blue suit was at the screen.  He smiled as each sat down and then introduced himself.  “I am Si Rutler, the CEO of BusComp.  I want to personally welcome each and every one of you.”

       Dan was stunned.  BusComp had over four-thousand employees.  Dan felt special to be welcomed by the company’s top leader on his first day.
 
       “What we do is enable the future,” the CEO said.  “Seventy percent of today’s jobs will be gone in ten years.  Seventy percent of the jobs ten years from now don’t exist today.  What we do know is that the creatives – the companies that master creative innovation – will lead the world.  Those are our customers.”

       Dan sat up straighter in his chair.  He always wanted to be part of a great organization.  His heart pounded with the intoxicating feeling that BusComp was where he was meant to be.
 
       “We go the extra mile to provide the right solution to our customers,” Si continued.  “We take the repetitive tedious work away so our customers can use their data, not endlessly analyze it.”  He pointed to a framed copy of the vision statement.  “The first thing customers see when they enter our lobby is our pledge to them.  We Enable You to Create!”

       BusComp’s CEO then shook everyone’s hand.  Dan felt Si Rutler lock eyes with him as he clasped his hand.  Si Rutler had a firm handshake and a genial smile.  “Dan, I can’t wait to see what you can do!”  Si then asked.  “Do you ski?”

       Dan stammered.  “Uh, yeah!  I love skiing.”

      “Great!”  He turned to all.  “See my assistant for BusComp discounted ski passes.  Maybe I’ll see you on the slopes this year.”

       The CEO again stood in front of the group.  “In case you’re wondering, I grew up in Wichita and am a Kansas City Chief’s fan so if it’s a Monday after the Chiefs win, I’m in a good mood.  If the Chiefs lost, wait till Tuesday before asking for something.”

       The group laughed.  Si Rutler laughed with them.  “All of you,” Si said, “can take great pride of being part of something we all think is pretty special.  Welcome to BusComp!”
  
       Dan smiled.  He knew he’d have a lot to learn but he also knew this was a great start.  In the first moments since entering his new company he shared both Si Rutler’s and Sam the Man’s pride at being part of BusComp.
]]>
<![CDATA[AI, Aquinas, and Self Driving Cars]]>Sun, 21 May 2017 16:32:06 GMThttp://lukemarusiak.com/blog/ai-aquinas-and-self-driving-carsI’ve been meaning to publish an entry on personal privacy for some time but the world conditions aren’t right.  After all, calm reflection is needed for well thought conclusions.  It might not be timely to talk about privacy but it is the perfect time to talk about AI and the moral quandary it poses.

I’ve read Kurzweil’s
The Singularity and, like you, have seen numerous articles and television programs that talk about the near future of AI – Artificial Intelligence.   The focus is always on: do we need to fear AI?  Another focus is on: what jobs will be lost or what does it mean to be human when AI exceeds human intelligence?  What is missing is the fact that AI, in the form of decision algorithms that affect how we live, is among us right now.  An algorithm is a programmed instruction set computers use for automated decisions.  And there are significant moral questions worth considering.  This blog entry was prompted by those television shows and an Aeon Newsletter article I recently read titled ‘Automated Ethics’.  I’m drawing a lot from that article for this post.

Before I jump into the AI decisions underway now, let’s go back to a relevant moral mind game that most have considered.  It was conceived in 1967 by English philosopher, Philippa Foot.  I’m going to tweak this mind game and apply a computer algorithm to it.   
Let’s say you’re standing at a railway switch at a point where two tracks go into mile-long tunnels.  The switch is simple in that if you move it right the speeding train goes in the right tunnel and if you move it left, the train goes in the left tunnel. 

The mind game goes like this: you just watched one person, a stranger walking on the tracks, go into the left tunnel and five people, also strangers, go into the right tunnel.  A train comes barreling down the tracks and the switch is currently set to direct it into the right tunnel where the five are walking on the tracks.  What to do?

It appears the correct decision is to actively throw the switch so the train goes into the left tunnel and only kills one rather than five.  If you hooked a computer up to the switch you would probably put in these directions for this contingency.

There’s a lot of debate on what the moral implications are if the one were a genius and the five were criminals on death row, or the one was a family member, etc.  but let’s leave it that the six are strangers for the moment.

Take the situation a step further.  I have to give a nod to the Aeon article for this scenario.  I tweaked it from one first posed in a 1985 article by MIT philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson.   You are a skinny person on an overpass with a fat man.  The five strangers walk into the tunnel directly below you.  The only way to save them when the train comes is to clock the fat man over the head to render him unconscious and then fling the fat man in front of the train.  The scenario goes that only the larger person will work to save the five, you are too skinny.
 
Most balk at killing the fat man as it’s calculated murder.  This argument says premeditated murder is wrong regardless of the results.  A computer algorithm in this scenario would view the two situations (throw the switch versus knock out and fling to the tracks) as exactly the same: an action is taken that kills one but spares five.  A book was written about this scenario:
Would You Kill the Fat Man? By David Edmonds.  There’s other areas to go with this scenario such as when the person your action kills is thousands miles away like in a drone strike, or do you let distant people starve to death due to inaction?  For my purpose of describing AI’s effect on us, I’m going to stick to the up close and personal.

Now we’re deep into the realm of moral ethics.  There are two approaches: deontology and consequentialism.  Don’t get too wrapped around the words, philosophers like to use big words to explain the simple.  In the first case, all moral action is judged solely by the nature of the action regardless of consequences.  In the second case, all moral action is judged solely by the consequences regardless of the nature of the action.

Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century attempted to balance the moral judgement between the nature of actions and their consequence: that a person’s intent and not just their action matters.  There is no way I’m going to attempt to capture the nuances of Aquinas but his point stands: both actions and consequences matter.  

Computer algorithms and today’s AI run on the second case: actions designed to deliver the desired consequences.  What does that mean?  Simply put, a computer algorithm would throw the switch to kill one and save five.  Simply put, a computer algorithm would kill the fat man.

Let's focus on algorithms in the self-driving cars.  As much as purists want to push against them, self-driving cars are already here.  Teslas today have the capability to self-steer, and hundreds of thousands of AI driven miles have already been logged.  There is tentative push back but the proliferation of self driving cars is inevitable.

Elon Musk, among many others, called sitting in traffic a soul-sucking experience.  I used to commute over an hour each way in the Bay Area and Elon is right! Sitting in traffic is maddening.  I would liken it to losing irreplaceable alert lifespan that I’d much rather use on something else.  Self-driving car technology is one of those steam-rollers of change that’s going to happen.  You can trust me on that.  Self-driving cars are going to be lauded as saving lives and enabling higher quality of life.  In the not too distant future; self-driving cars, buses, and trucks are going to be held up of one of this generation’s great achievements.  And it’s all going to run on computer AI.  And all that AI will have algorithms programmed to make moral judgements.

In today’s polarized environment, there is a big fight on which side gets to be the elites but there is little discussion on the point that, regardless of which side has the upper hand, the elites get to tell everyone what to do, what to believe.  Modern society is simply too complex not to have to rely on respective experts.  But this is different.

I strongly oppose the idea of ‘let the experts figure it out’ with respect to the moral implications of self-driving cars and other automated algorithms.  If ever there was need for non-partisan transparency, this is it.  Don’t believe me?  Okay, let’s run the fat man scenario in a personal context. 

A regular person is in a self-driving car heading down California’s scenic Highway 1 at sixty miles per hour.  This person is simply going from Carmel to Big Sur’s Pfeiffer State Park Campground a 26.2 mile distance – the picturesque route (in reverse) of the annual Big Sur Marathon.  The self-driving car is buzzing at sixty miles per hour and our lone occupant is reading email on their smart phone and lapping up the inimitable scenery.  

Two-thirds across the iconic Bixby Bridge the car senses an overturned school bus with five children directly in its path.  It’s computer AI kicks in and it swerves hard right to miss the children.  It’s in an unfortunate spot but the algorithm is clear.  The car careens off the bridge and the occupant is killed.  Let’s not go into potential survival of the occupant.  I’ve personally run across that iconic bridge twice when doing the Big Sur Marathon and it’s the tallest single span concrete bridge in the world.  The fall is 260 feet – the occupant is killed.

Is everyone okay with what just happened?  One human was killed to save five.  It’s the exact same scenario as the railroad switch.  Maybe more to the point, what algorithm does Tesla or Uber or Google or Apple use for this situation in its self-driving cars today?  Do they use any? What if the algorithm says it will do its best to stop and if it can’t, too bad?   Is
that okay?  Shouldn’t we all know this?

It’s worth more water cooler talk when you start changing it up.  What if the occupant is a doctor about to present the cure for cancer at the scenic Pfeiffer State Park Campground and the overturned bus puts prison inmates in front of the speeding car?  Are we happy with the same algorithm?  It’s easy to imagine the different approach a software programmer who believed his father was falsely imprisoned would take from a software programmer whose father died of cancer.  As to how the algorithm would know who was where – GPS transceivers and cell phones.  Anonymity is going to be hard to come by.

There is a school of thought that says to inflict such ‘kill one to save five’ moral questions on people is to set up a Machiavellian ‘ends justifies the means’ rationalization that goes too far.  Such rationalization enables acceptance of drone strikes, preemptive military strikes, and even the premeditated murder of someone known to abuse their children.  That's where our responsibility to Aquinas's balanced approach comes in.  We have to judge and accept the responsibility for that judgement. 

Push against thinking about quandaries all you want, everything you do has a moral right and wrong element.   I disagree with the school of thought that we shouldn’t involve regular people in these discussions.  We have to face these moral choices.  It is immoral to abdicate our personal responsibility.  It would also be wrong if you lose the ability to choose.

Thomas Frank, in his book
Listen, Liberal, used the term virtue quest to describe desirable overarching goals like climate change or human rights or micro-lending in impoverished countries that the high-achieving American professionals in politics, business, and foundations support.  It’s not a stretch to see that a reduction of traffic fatalities could become a virtue quest.  According to the National Safety Council (NSC), 40,200 people died in motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. in 2016 – a 14% jump in a two year period.  Self-driving cars will reduce the fatalities due to the most common cause: inattentiveness. 

When traffic fatalities dramatically decline in the Seattle area or the Bay Area or Los Angeles due to self-driving cars, we will have the classic virtue quest.  If using this technology demonstrably saves lives then isn't government morally bound to dictate its use?  Today a Tesla driver has the choice on whether to activate self-driving; what about tomorrow?  If people can be saved by mandating that every car have this technology then it’s a short step to command self-driving activation, to remove the individual’s choice.  That’s why it’s important to reckon with the moral implications of AI and all its automation forms right now.

The moral questions are tough to answer.  That’s why philosophers have been debating them for millennia.  But they are in your purview.  And the worst thing we could do is to let the high-achieving professionals decide these algorithms without public scrutiny.  These algorithms need to be transparent in design, execution, and governance.  There should also be mechanisms of review.

In the future, when you or your son or daughter get into a self-driving car in Carmel and plan to relish the enjoyment of the trip to Big Sur’s Pfeiffer State Park Campground; you should be totally aware of what the algorithm is going to do when facing five children from an overturned bus on Bixby Bridge.  The only way you will know that is to ask about it - and weigh in - now!        
     
     
 
 
 
]]>
<![CDATA[Teams - It's All About the Love!]]>Thu, 06 Apr 2017 18:53:19 GMThttp://lukemarusiak.com/blog/teams-its-all-about-the-love       We all remember groups we’ve been a part of; some with fondness, others not so much.  I once talked to a business executive in his forties who still wistfully remembered being called TD Tom on his peewee football team.  The names of his teammates rolled off his tongue like they were on the field yesterday.
  
       We have all heard stories of military veterans who, over decades, keep in fond touch with those they served alongside.  I remember giving tactical training in the Army and telling my platoon the most important tenet in life and death situations: cover your buddy.  There are stories about Corporate America that, rather than extol the titular leader, tell tales of high performance teams.  Some of these Corporate America stories have all the resonance of military veterans.

       What is it about great teams that so lodges in our minds and hearts?  I’ll tell you: it’s all about love!  Now, hang with me, there’s something important here.   Echoing my January blog comments on inspiration, in order to be great, you have to decide to be the best.  That’s what defines great achievements.  But, after that decision, you need a great team. 
There is such a thing as lone wolf greatness.  No doubt.  But not in Corporate America – not in business. In order to be the best at something in business you need an inspired workforce, an inspired team.  And only great teams achieve great things – in the military, in business, and in life.  I’ll say that again.  ONLY great teams achieve great things.  What people remember fondly, no matter the difficulty, is being on great teams dedicated to be the best.  That’s why it takes love. 

       Anyone who knows anything about me through reading my work, visiting my home, or talking to me knows I read a lot.  I’ve read works that highlight timeless definitions.  I’m going to give a nod to the American philosopher who guided my reading on great ideas: Mortimer Adler.  Doctor Adler was a big fan of Aristotle and a lot of what I’m about to cover comes straight from that ancient philosopher.  In short, it really is timeless.
What is a team?  A team is a collection of more than one person who associate for some purpose.  From ancient times it was determined that there were only three reasons for people to associate with one another:
utility, pleasure, and love.  Let’s think of them as one – utility, two – pleasure, and three – love.  That’s it.   That’s all that drives human cooperation which most distinguishes our species.

       Number one – utility – is what most do every day.  People go to work with others to deliver value and get a paycheck.  Employers hire and pay people to do a job, to deliver defined results.  Utility.  Adler mentioned that arranged marriages in medieval times, and some even today, fall into this category.

       Number two – pleasure – includes anytime we associate for fun.  This broad category includes bridge clubs, bars, camping trips, as well as infatuation and physical sex.  That last is interesting in that many marriages start and end in number two. 

       Number three – love – means you associate due to others’
excellence.  Whoa!  What does that mean?  It means you overlap in values and have mutual admiration and respect.  That’s why U.S. Military often bond into great teams; they all swear to defend the same cause with their lives.  Just volunteering creates mutual respect.  To finish the marriage example, this is what’s required for long lasting relationships.

       Let’s flesh this out.  I lived a lot of my life before really understanding it.  Number one –
utility – is ‘Quid Pro Quo’ and is rooted in desire such as found in business or marriages of convenience.  Number two – pleasure – is also ‘Quid Pro Quo’ and is also rooted in desire such as found in sex, infatuation, or convivial meetings.  Number three – love – is NOT ‘Quid Pro Quo’ as it is not asking for a fair exchange.  Again, number three is associating due to the other’s excellence.  It is NOT rooted in desire; it is rooted in knowledge of the other(s).          

       In number one and two, you are
using others.  In number three you are knowing others.  Good marriages or lifelong partners will have one and three, two and three, or all one, two, and three – utility, pleasure, and love – but they have to have love.  They have to have mutual admiration and respect for the other’s excellence.  Great teams are no different.  That’s why we never forget them.  Great teams in business, and great leadership for that matter, will always combine one and three – utility and love.

       We all remember being on a great team because of the love!  In great teams, curiosity, experimentation, and candor in communication reign.  Arguments are passionate because great teams bound to excellence in all that they do means they care!  But after the arguments there is never a need to ‘watch your back’ because a team takes care of their own.  I have personally been fortunate to be on several great teams.

       I’m writing a non-fiction book on business leadership expanding on these concepts.  Very few write of values but instead, focus on perishable technique.  Very few talk of real leadership.  Leaders of great teams are seen giving credit to the team, often for achievements they led, and taking full accountability and blame for shortfalls, often due to screw ups they had nothing to do with.  In short, great teams have great leaders and it’s all about the love. 

       Great teams can be seen putting art into their work, into their products.  The simple definition of art is that it makes you feel something, it creates emotion.  It is borne of love!  Many are so enamored with the ability to automate technocrat tasks and the routine that they believe a smart enough person or, if you believe Ray Kurzweil, a sentient AI are all that is needed for greatness.  Not so.  It’s all about the great team and their dreams, aspirations, and values.  It’s all about the love!

 

]]>
<![CDATA[To My Son - High School Graduation]]>Wed, 01 Mar 2017 18:13:37 GMThttp://lukemarusiak.com/blog/to-my-son-high-school-graduation
I plan to write an entry about teams but decided to post this letter first.  I was cleaning up my archived files and ran across a September 2007 letter I prepared for my son as he was about to graduate high school.  David went to Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose, California which prides itself on building character.  They asked the parents to write letters for a retreat they had  their senior year.  So this letter was read during that retreat, along with many others, in September 2007.  I asked David and he was fine with my using this in a blog.  He indicated it is a good read, even now!   Here it is:



Dear David,

I find this difficult to write because it finds you preparing to go out into the world.  It feels a bit like a parting shot.  For all of the family time, church, and schooling your destiny is now wholly the result of your choices.  As your father it is with pride and hope that I watch you move forward into a very different and exciting phase of your life.

So I wish much for you.  I hope you face deception with integrity, adversity with courage, and extreme emotion with moderation.  I hope you see that freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin and that it is only through passion and dedication that true achievement comes.  In short, I wish for you to exercise your character in the great wide world. 

You have an enthusiastic ‘joie de vivre’ – ‘Joy of Life’ that is precious and true.   This ‘Joy of Life’ along with your curiosity, faith, and character give you all you need to chase your dreams.  Your grand adventure awaits!

Through it all always remember something.  If you ever feel isolated or discouraged or hurt; if the unfairness of life weighs or a colleague cheats or a confidant betrays; if the setback seems like failure or the pain of a loss seems forever – always remember that the good is still true.  Always remember that the joy and the love and the need for all the things that character provides are still real. 

And always remember that you can come to me anytime to not only share in your victories but also to share in your disappointments and the troubles of the world – I’ll always be a ready ear and open heart – and help from time to time – for, you see, I’m your Dad and although you will be out in the world you can always come to me.

Love,

Dad
  ]]>
<![CDATA[Inspire!]]>Mon, 20 Feb 2017 06:01:43 GMThttp://lukemarusiak.com/blog/inspireWe all want to be inspired; to be lifted to heights.  We want to live the good life.  Everyone, whether they navel-gaze about it or not, wants to do something that gives their life meaning.  The right work with the right leaders can give us that meaning.  There are many important areas of life that are a source of inspiration but for this blog, I’m going to talk about business.  I don’t think there’s enough written that link business and inspiration.
 
In 2005 I was COO of a company that had already executed a year over year double of revenue with the successful launch of a new product.  In spite of that success our executives had enough humility to keep learning.  We all attended a 2005 leadership conference in Los Angeles that had a lot of big names.  Peter Drucker (management guru), Jim Collins (
Built to Last, Good to Great), Jack Welch (Straight from the Gut, Winning), and Michael Porter (Competitive Strategy) were headliners.  Rudy Giuliani (9/11 NYC mayor), Craig Venter (human genome), Steve Young (football – throw without seeing the receiver), and Larry Bossidy (Execution) were afternoon speakers.  I got a lot out of that conference and to this day I keep coming back to its lessons and material.  I plan to refer to those lessons in future blog posts.  I also plan to use my just released Lifeboat Moon serial as a fiction test bed to explore these concepts.  (Feedback is desired and welcome!)

The Los Angeles leadership conference validated something I believe with almost religious fervor: businesses exist to solve humanity’s problems.  Period.  They do that by creating wealth.  In short, the pie gets bigger.  A good example of wealth creation is the semiconductor industry.  You start with a handful of sand and turn that into an i7 core microprocessor with 5.5 billion transistors and feature size of 14 nanometers.  Semiconductors drive the information industry and power progress. 
That’s creating wealth.  (As an aside, I remember running wafers where microprocessors went from 300,000 to over a million transistors at 1 micron – 1000 nanometers – feature size.)  The results of semiconductor wealth creation are devices that allow us to magnify the power of the human brain and connect in ways unimaginable a generation ago.  Businesses exist to solve humanity’s problems and the single measure on how well they do that – how much value they truly create – is profit.

By those measures, Jack Welch is often considered the Michael Jordan of business for what he did as CEO at GE.  He was also called ‘neutron Jack’ from his early days as CEO.  He believed that if you weren’t number one or number two in a business segment and making good profit, you shut it down.  The story goes that he would fly in to a location that housed a business segment and if the products weren’t market share leaders, he’d fire everyone.  All the people would be gone but the buildings would be left standing – like a neutron bomb hit.  It’s easy to see why business gets a bad name. 

There is a crucial point to what Jack was doing.  Businesses exist to be great.  They don’t exist to survive or to provide employment, they exist to be great.  Businesses that don’t aspire to and achieve greatness don’t deserve to hang around.  And, as Jim Collins often reminds us, being great means being the best at something; not being number three or number four, being the
best.  Being the best also means you create value which drives profits.  If you’re working at company that decides to be anything other than the best, you’re better off somewhere else. 
     
This is supposed to be about inspiration, why all the lead up?  Because what we do at our jobs – and most of us work at businesses – defines a large part of our life meaning.  It’s wise to pay attention to this.  We spend most of our lives at activities that bring home a paycheck.

Time is short, and whatever we decide to do, we bet our life on it.  No one gets out of the human condition alive.  Perhaps we don’t think about that enough.  Life partners, kids, friends, achievement, and leisure are key self-defining decisions.  But if you look at it, two-thirds of our irreplaceable alert lifespan is spent at work – making a living.  It’s wise to be sure what we do at work is something that counts.  We are often tempted to settle for less while thinking about what we really want to do.

While we’re thinking about what to do, time slips by and time is our most priceless resource.  Human lifespan is brief and no one gets out alive.  We have precious little time to create our life’s meaning.  That brevity is both a curse and a prod.  The prod is the base for inspiration.  We have to get off our butts and do something because time is short!  Let’s create or join an organization that decides to be the best at grappling with one of humanity’s big problems. 

We create or join this organization then what?  Philosophers, leaders, and thinkers debated for five millennia of human history what it takes to live the good life.  If you took all that history and thinking and boiled it down to a single sentence that sentence would be: 
full use of one’s abilities along the lines of excellence in a worthy endeavor.   In addition to life partners, kids, friends, achievement, and leisure we do two things.  One, we do something that counts – the worthy endeavor.  Two, once we pick the thing we bet our life on, we make full use of our abilities along the lines of excellence.  Everyone in every job in every country can take inspiration from this truth.  I’ve used the ‘full use of one’s abilities along the lines of excellence in a worthy endeavor’ prod to inspire groups from the US Army to companies I’ve worked for and it never fails.

Back to Jack Welch.  I was surprised that Jack Welch, the Michael Jordan of CEOs, was short and bald.  I mean
really short and cue-ball bald.  But this guy was undeniably one of the greatest CEOs the world has ever produced.  During his tenure at GE, from 1981 to 2001, the company’s value rose 4,000%.  That’s creating wealth.  But he stood on stage and looked like anything but a CEO.  And he told us, “If you want to lead me, make me feel seven feet tall with hair!”  That’s what he said.  He didn’t talk about the myriad quantitative MBA topics.  In the shorthand of you lead people and manage things, he started with leading people.  In short, he started with inspiration.

The guy early in his tenure known as ‘neutron Jack’, when given a chance to address hundreds of executives, said ‘make me feel seven feet tall with hair.’  I can tell you what ‘make me feel seven feet tall with hair’ meant to me in my varied career.  I’ve always been attracted to an overarching mission that inspired.  In the US Army, we went to the frontiers of freedom, won the Cold War, and liberated over two million people of Kuwait.  In the military, there’s no question that you bet your life on what you do.  My first CEO in corporate America, the great Jim Morgan of Applied Materials, got everyone together and said, we are enabling the Information Age; it is different and better because of what we do.  I worked as COO at Intevac that led the data storage technology shift and we enabled the preservation and transmission of human history and culture.  Likewise, things were different and better because of what we did.  In summary, we were doing something vital and that’s how we led, that’s how we inspired.

More recent, I had just moved to Washington State and stood in front of an Ops group that was fatigued.  I had a whopping nine months in the company and we’d been through excruciatingly micromanaged regulatory challenges.  We had customer orders to produce and a scant three weeks before the end of the quarter.  The potential was there, if we could step up.  So I called an all-hands and before going into the numeric challenges, I pulled out the good life card. To paraphrase:  ‘We’re all doing something that counts,” I told them.  “We are engaged in a worthy endeavor.  We have an opportunity to shine in our reach for the good life.  What does that mean?  It means full use of one’s abilities along the lines of excellence!”  And then I talked about what excellence in each area looked like with specific goals.  The numbers mean a lot more when people see the higher purpose.
 
The call to inspiration worked.  I had a line manager of twenty-five years’ experience come up to me afterwards and say point blank, “I liked my old boss but you inspire me.  Let’s do this.”  I was so confident in the results of that all-hands, I called the CFO and told him ‘we got this’.  And we did.  We hit a revenue record in three weeks that yielded the highest quality to date.  That three weeks’ surge was so high we recorded a record quarter and a record year of revenue.  It is a record that still stands.
 
There are a lot of blocking and tackling mechanics to businesses and organizations.  For a business to add value there’s strategy, execution, and project management required from the leaders.  There’s a need for boldness which has its own genius.  I plan to write about those in future blogs.  But before all of the mechanics, I felt it important to remember that businesses are made up of people and it’s critical that you ignite their passion and inspire them; make them feel seven feet tall with hair.
 
Whatever we choose to do, we bet our lives on it.  How can we do anything but apply full use of our abilities along the lines of excellence in a worthy endeavor?  That’s a call for inspiration!       
]]>
<![CDATA[A Sacred Duty of Government]]>Sun, 13 Nov 2016 22:59:10 GMThttp://lukemarusiak.com/blog/a-sacred-duty-of-governmengtWhat we ask of government is hotly debated.  There might be debate on the right and proper role of government, but we should all agree on a sacred duty of government: to ensure safe infrastructure.  In that vein, there is a fundamental problem in the regulatory structure of California.   We need to find out why. 

The recent news about the sinking Millennium Tower in San Francisco merits attention.  There was an upper floor Millennium Tower resident who noticed when putting a golf ball on one of those office greens that her ball rolled off to the side.  Then came the revelation that the 58-story tower she lived in on 301 Mission Street in San Francisco has sunk sixteen inches and is tilting six inches at the top.  Again, there is a lot of debate on the role of government, particularly in private lives.  That’s not the point here. 

The point of this blog entry is to highlight the failure of the California state government to discharge a sacred duty.  This month, November 2016, San Francisco filed a lawsuit against the Millennium Tower builders Mission Street Developers LLC.  Per a Wikipedia entry, “As built plans show that the developer had approval to install driven concrete piles 
only 80 feet deep into mud fill and sand, and not 200 feet which is where the bedrock starts – normal for this part of San Francisco.”
 
Are you kidding me?  San Francisco is one of my favorite cities.  The diversity, concentration of brainpower, and rich history make it one of the world’s great cities.  It sits atop the San Francisco Bay which has spawned the transistor, silicon, and social media industries – just to name a few.  It is in California, a state that prides itself in its expansive government which claims to be progressive, generous to its citizens, and a model for the country and the world.
 
California relies on its unmatched brainpower to develop more stringent regulatory directives than federal law requires.  And, with its well-funded nation-size state government, its auditors comb industries round the clock to ensure compliance.  So how in the hell did the state and federal regulators not catch that a 58 story tower – being constructed in a city that was once destroyed by an earthquake – was built on landfill?  If an overarching government can't get that right, what else is amiss?

Sue the developers?  Sure, but also yank in former Governor Schwarzenegger and current Governor Brown and every elected and appointed official down to the construction inspectors and find out what went wrong.  Hold them accountable, each and every one.  There is something so systemically wrong with what the regulators enabled in the Millennium Tower build that a lawsuit doesn’t cut it. 

Ensuring proper construction of buildings and infrastructure is one of the most important governmental duties.  If we pay taxes for nothing else, we pay taxes to the government to ensure safe construction.  Two years ago I entered a highly regulated industry and have been through many audits.  I can tell you, the enforcement ability of regulators is total; they can shut down non-compliant companies with the stroke of a pen. Just ask Theranos.  No way on God’s green earth in the richest most regulated city in the richest most regulated state should the Millennium Tower get built on landfill.
 
I ask again, what went wrong?  A whole host of taxpayer funded elected and unelected officials were asleep at the switch.  How can that be?  Something is systemically awry in California’s regulatory organizations and it should be investigated and fixed – period, end of sentence.
 
The Millennium Tower is not the first signal of the problem.  In September 2010 a natural gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno, California with a wall of fire 1000 feet high that leveled houses and killed eight people.  Why?  Investigators in 2011 reported they found numerous defective welds in the pipeline.  It’s a shame the investigators weren’t looking in 2009.  What corrective action did this prompt?  Per Wikipedia, “On April 9, 2015, the Public Utilities Commission fined PG&E $1.6 billion.”  That makes me feel better.

Another example is the eastern span replacement of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge.  In the late 1990s Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown expended huge time and effort bickering over which side of the existing bridge to build the new span.  Perhaps that time would’ve been better spent making sure the bridge was built to code.  One could write a book on the ongoing problems with that Bay Bridge span.  The FBI itself was investigating welds, three-inch diameter connecting bolts failed, and improper application of sealant is causing interior moisture with the accompanying corrosion.  That’s only the tip of the iceberg.  Again, how does this happen?
  
A clue comes from the Sacramento Bee, which reported on July 31, 2014: "A California Senate report released Thursday said that Department of Transportation managers ‘gagged and banished’ at least nine top experts for the new $6.5 billion San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge after they complained about substandard work by the Shanghai, China, firm that built much of the span."  Now there is talk of criminal prosecution of Caltrans.

The citizens of California and the country deserve more.  This gross dereliction of duty is unacceptable and it will continue if the root cause isn’t found and corrected.  Three things should happen:  One, admission of a systemic regulatory problem; two, FULL transparency on the regulatory activities in all three of these failures (Millennium Tower, San Bruno explosion, and east span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge) that should have prevented these fiascos; and three, a money map showing the flow of every dollar associated with all organizations responsible for these projects.

This systemic failing must be corrected.  Lawsuits don’t cut it.  Dereliction of governmental duty requires a more vigilant citizenry.  Something very fundamental is wrong.  How much more California infrastructure is suspect?  How much more human toll will we accept before demanding action?  Start with admission of the problem - then let's dig in with full transparency and get it fixed.

 
      ]]>
<![CDATA[Human Nature Has Changed]]>Sun, 23 Oct 2016 18:36:46 GMThttp://lukemarusiak.com/blog/human-nature-has-changedHuman nature due to always plugged in technology has altered in the areas of presence, change, and control.  Technology, as represented by the smart phone and its precursors, is responsible.  These changes in fundamental areas of humanity drive a transformation that we are only now becoming aware.

Most feel sands shifting underfoot due to constant change that overturns previous assumptions of value.  You can see it in comments from highly educated scholars talking about Lady Gaga, the internet, and ecommerce.  

I always believed that human nature was immutable and studying five millennia of history showed it so.  It is arrogant to think otherwise.  Then I saw something that changed my view.   My brother and I were in Altoona, Pennsylvania visiting my mom who was in the hospital.  After some multi-hour stints in the waiting room hunger pangs prevailed.  We went to a nearby establishment to get food: Chili’s. 

It was the end of May and shortly after seating ourselves a group of fourteen formally dressed high school students came in the restaurant.  The decked out teenagers arranged themselves in obvious pairs around a group of tables.  It was prom night.  The guys were in tuxes with over groomed hair and self-conscious grins.  The gals were dressed in cleavage revealing colorful prom dresses and adorned with breast or wrist corsages.  The couples were oozing post-adolescent sexuality.  My brother and I smiled at the concentration of raging hormones and I imagined myself as that teenager not so many years ago.  Then it happened.

After the prom couples ordered every one – and I mean EVERY one – whipped out their smart phone and went ‘head down’, absorbed in the fluorescent glow.  A British word comes to mind – I was gobsmacked that seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds in the bloom of youth just dripping untested lust and sexuality were hunkered down, staring at smart phone screens.  Something
was different.  Something is different.

The more I think about it, the more I realized that human nature, immersed in the technology of the age,
has changed.  We are no longer present in the moment, no matter how profound the event. We’ve become distracted humanity.  This is important. We’re not a mile wide and an inch deep, we’re a thousand miles wide and a nanometer deep.  In every setting where we used to be fully present we’re now distracted, spread thin.  Sports games, bars, office meetings, vacations, planes, parties, commuting – you name it; we’re no longer focused on where we are.  The cost of this distraction is a dissipation of what makes us human.  It’s no wonder meditation is making a comeback.

I try to jog at lunchtime.  Running rejuvenates me and afterwards I can focus on what’s really important.  On days when I can’t get out, it’s usually because of needed immersion in a work or social event.  I’m far more exhausted and mentally spent when I don’t get out for a run.  It’s not the exercise as much as simply unplugging for an hour.  That hour without the engulfing connection allows me to process and reorient.   An unplugged hour is a rare thing.  So much of humanity is plugged in all the time and inundated with every form of visual and audible media that we have lost our presence.

The second fundamental difference flows from that lack of presence:  change.  We endlessly course correct.  Because we aren’t fully present and have always on communications we constantly change our plans and actions.  This is true both at individual and organizational levels.  I think the main reason Amazon does same day shipping is to prevent customers from making a change to the order.  I worked at an equipment company where the customer would introduce changes up until the last moment.  I worked with our CFO to write something very basic in the contract: change costs you something.  Change, necessary or not, costs you time and costs you money.  I would expand that contractual paragraph to a life lesson.  Change, necessary or not, has great impact.  Change without presence results in reacting to the moment so totally that where you’re going gets lost.  Oftentimes individuals and organizations wonder how they got to a certain point.  They often fail to recognize the results of reaction to constant change.  Constant change costs efficiency.  It creates quick reactions but it fosters friction and slow results.

The third fundamental difference is most disturbing as it’s enabled by always plugged in humanity that whipsaws from one direction to the next:  control.  I was an officer in the US Army in the 1980s to the early 90s and one sure fire way to get relieved was to micromanage. It was perhaps the first and most important lesson my first platoon sergeant taught me as a second lieutenant.  If you’re going to handle a broad scale, you had to lead not micromanage.  You had to communicate the ‘what’ and trust your junior leaders to handle the ‘how’.  The status of thousands of critical logistical pieces and thousands of soldiers was handled by a few top level charts with grease pencil updates. 

The US Army’s communications in those days allowed for transmission of mission, of the what, but there wasn’t the bandwidth to communicate much of the how.  The how had better be handled by the respective leaders.  And it was.  I wrote of how that all worked in my war novel,
Loud & Clear.  New communications gear called MSE – Mobile Subscriber Equipment – began to be deployed as I left the military after Desert Storm.  I realized that, once deployed, a general would have the ability, if desired, to directly command movements of a platoon.  I hoped the general would resist the temptation.  That hope proved futile.

I joined Applied Materials in the early stages of a remarkable fifteen year run and was tasked to build a group of Total Product Support Engineers.  I had an interview technique that 75 – 80% of candidates failed.  I put them in a situation where they knew the best decision for them to make was contrary to guidance and tell them they had no way to communicate to their boss (me) for twelve hours.  Only if the candidate said ‘if you hire me to do the job I’m going do the job and make the call’ would they still be in the running.   Most would whiff at this situation, ask about training, say they’d wait until sure, or try to get higher guidance.
 
I came upon that situational interview technique from my own experience. I remember solving a tough semiconductor equipment problem in 1991.  I remember like it was yesterday. The solution came while I stood next to the tool and contemplated the movement of molecules as valves popped and servo motors whirred.  There was a lot of discussion in meetings and desire to micromanage the problem but I was able to separate all of that.  Later, a ‘hot lot’ of the first run of P5 wafers, glittering as I watched them move through the clear load lock, were processed through that same semiconductor tool.  That hot lot was the first run of what would become the Pentium microprocessor.  I wrote a fictional account of this type of troubleshooting and situational interviewing in my tale of Silicon Valley’s semiconductor equipment industry,
Gold & Glory.

Those who passed my early 90s situational interview became part of one of the greatest teams I’ve ever seen.  They went on to great things: running multi-hundred million dollar divisions, companies, and executive roles.  Today, that defining situational interview makes no sense.  Today, micromanagers use communications tools to control every aspect of our lives. The results, combined with the lack of presence and continuous change, result in continuous friction to all aspects of our lives.

Micromanagers require rapid course corrections and create utter disasters.  The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is a case in point.  I can just see the executives, upon learning of the battery catching fire problem, inundate the team leaders with detailed instructions to fix the problem with utmost sense of urgency.  Don’t pause to understand – act and act now.  Here’s how – it’s a minor thing – fix it now.  Urgency!  Samsung, with great sense of urgency, drove their reputation and a good deal of their value right off a cliff.
 
The two areas that most affect humanity, work and government, have used the communications tools to expand control to an absurd and destructive level.  Combined with continuous change and lack of presence, processes that once provided black and white steps have become gray.  Accountability in this environment is diffuse.  I’ve seen many titular leaders and managers in moments of trouble exhaust themselves casting about for blame rather than owning the decision and process.  After all, with the constant communications and course corrections it’s much easier to find blame than cause.  And what happens?  People slow down, don’t own, and fear responsibility.
   
Jim Collins in his book,
Good to Great, wisely states great companies separate the people from the problem and work the problem.  In this over-controlled micromanaged work and government environment where there are little hard and fast rules, the people or the person become the problem.  And mediocrity reigns.

A couple months ago, I went to a Reactor B tour of the first plutonium reactor in Hanford, Washington.  That facility is jaw dropping in scale.  The reactor was built from site selection to operation in eleven months from 1942 –1943.  The tour guide noted that such an enterprise at that scale would take eleven years today – just for permitting.  The rapid advances of the Space Race from 1962 – 1969 are another example of how fast we used to move.  Today, the always on communications drives lack of presence, continuous change, and micromanaged control to such levels that a person can’t build a shed in their back yard without months of permitting negotiation.
  
Life friction is everywhere.  You see it in expansive bureaucracies, in your tax forms, in your drive to work, in your job, even in your home.  You can feel it.  So much that we have to do is harder to do.  Inundation, reaction to change, and stifling bureaucracy have warped our human nature in a debilitating way.  The ‘good life’ requires more.  It requires depth, steadfast values, and a measure of autonomy.  Humanity requires more, deserves more.   I wrote a couple months ago in ‘Take a Breath’ that things will get better. Recognition of this change is a first step.
  

]]>