April 18th, 2014

Just Born is the company that makes those marshmallow chicks and rabbits.  We see them flooding the stores every year during the Easter season.  From Just Born’s perspective, that is the problem—we only see them during the Easter season.  Therefore, the company is planning to expand its marketing to create a year-round presence.  To facilitate that strategy, the marshmallow snacks are being made with additional flavors and colors.

From a business marketing perspective, I think this is all good.  Nevertheless, what truly cracked me up was the casual observation about the hardiness of the product when reported by Venessa Wong (“Peeps Break Out of the Easter Basket” Bloomberg Businessweek, 4/14/14–4/20/14, pp. 24–25):

Like the Easter Bunny, Peeps hop into our life each spring, only to disappear a few weeks later.  Although they have a shelf life of about two years, many of the marshmallow chicks and rabbits never get eaten.” (p. 24)

A two-year shelf life?  Those sure are hardy chicks and bunnies!  Perhaps it is time for Just Born to roll out a new marketing slogan:

Chicks and bunnies tough enough for three Easters!


April 17th, 2014

I have read more city ranking lists than I can remember.  They are sometimes valuable in making certain types of decisions or in assessing quality of life and work.  That said, the statistician in me always looks carefully at the methodologies involved because many things can change depending on those methodologies.  Therefore, I have learned to receive the ranking data for what it is worth.  I view it more as a collection of comparative observations rather than a rigidly ranked data set.

To that point, I was heartened to see what Dane Stangler (the vice president of research and policy at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation) said recently.  Speaking on a panel concerning Kansas City’s future, he affirmed (Greg Hack, “Kansas City’s Business and Cultural Scene: A Rival to Austin?  Vibrant Hub Emerging” The Kansas City Star, April 15, 2014, pp. C1, C6, C7):

‘I don’t put too much stock [in various city rankings because] you can tweak one small thing and get greatly different results.’” (C6)

Rankings are great when you want to run through some quick mental comparisons.  Just realize they never tell the whole story.  A ranking alone does not a city make.


April 16th, 2014

Entrepreneurs must bring significant intelligence, passion, creativity, and vision to the table.  Without these qualities, their businesses would never get off the ground.  As important as all that is, those same entrepreneurs rely on the power of networking to facilitate key connections.  Chris Anderson explains how all the intellectual horsepower in the world still will not cut it if we do not have significant, and often serendipitous, encounters with key people (“The Shared Genius of Elon Musk and Steve Jobs” Fortune, December 9, 2013, pp. 98–108):

Even with all the right mental attributes, the first big success requires some luck.  You have to be in the right place at the right time.  Without that, you may have no opportunity to hit the second rung on the ladder.  All the more reason we should look out for those attributes in upcoming entrepreneurs and do all we can to support them.” (p. 108)

Innovative ideas alone will not carry the freight.  The visionary must have connections with the right people.  “The right people,” means many things:  the chemistry is right, we have a complementary relationship, synergy occurs, and we have a shared vision.

Some of these qualities are difficult to predict or control.  That underscores the need for networking.  Networking opens the door to new and unexpected relationships.  Just as much as some of those relationships may take you nowhere significant, some might just change the world.

I love talking with entrepreneurs.  Many opportunities exist to do exactly that.  Whether it is the Kansas City Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s 1 Million Cups meetings that are sweeping across the country, a business networking meeting, interfacing with members of a startup team, or just chewing the fat with an impassioned person who plans to change the world, all these events are marvelous opportunities to hear the heartbeat of the entrepreneur.

I am thankful for all these opportunities, and I look forward to many more.  You never know when one of them will put a person in the right place at the right time.  And that is always good for business.


April 15th, 2014

Just as we have been using fracking to extract natural gas from the earth, the same technology can now be used to capture heat for our energy grid.  The Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that even if we tapped just 2% of the heat beneath our feet, that would meet the national energy demand annually times 2,000, for the foreseeable future.  That is a lot of heat!

Convinced of the technology’s efficacy, last year the Department of Energy helped Ormat Technologies build its Desert Peak power plant near Reno, Nevada.  That plant has been operational for a year this month.

In the energy divining business, prospecting and drilling can devour a company’s cash fast.  This is especially serious if you do not start producing results in a reasonable timeframe.  The Department of Energy is responding to these risks.  Given the opportunity for mutual benefit to other energy players, industry cooperation would make much sense.  David Biello summarizes (“The Coming Boom in Geothermal Fracking” Scientific American, August 2013, p. 20):

If technologies can be developed to reduce the risks, geothermal could play a more prominent energy role.  With that in mind, the DOE is pursuing better methods for geothermal prospecting, drilling and fracking.  Because much of that work could also benefit traditional drilling, the oil and gas industry may actually help foot the bill for enhanced geothermal technology.

Energy technology and policy is never simple.  Many factors must be considered such as costs, environment, sustainability, feasibility, stakeholder interests, and regulations to name a few.  Nevertheless, geothermal energy certainly seems to be a very positive development.  It is one that many have waited for a long time.  Perhaps it is time we launch geothermal as the next best wave of energy.


April 14th, 2014

What is a good way for a state to save $33.7 million a year in healthcare costs?  I am sure you can think of many possibilities here, but the one I am thinking of is Washington state choosing to establish a network among its hospital emergency rooms.  This new network is called the Emergency Department Information Exchange.

This kind of electronic networking is extremely efficient and helpful.  By the time a walk-in (or carry-in) has been registered and vital signs taken, that ER has a fax or an email detailing all recent ER admissions, diagnoses, and treatments from any other ER in the state.  Medical staff is able to treat patients from a better informed perspective as opposed to seeing that patient as a brand new case, and potentially administering a treatment regimen contradictory to what the last ER executed.

Another benefit is the ability to spot intentional or unintentional ER abusers.  These might include people who present from one ER to another to obtain drugs, prescriptions, or simply think of an ER as a local doctor substitute.  Some of these patients can be redirected to more appropriate healthcare avenues as Karen Weise explains (“Hospitals Share Data to Stop ER Abusers” Bloomberg Businessweek, 4/7/14–4/13/14, p. 38):

Doctors can now direct many of these patients to clinics or other less expensive care centers.  Data released on March 20 show ER visits by Medicaid patients fell 10 percent in the 2013 fiscal year, and the rate of ER visits that resulted in a nonacute diagnosis decreased more than 14 percent.

Will this solve every ER healthcare problem in the nation?  Of course not.  Nevertheless, it seems to be a way to work smarter instead of harder.  That is why doctors in California, Texas, Ohio, New York, and Florida are already inquiring about how to create a similar ER state program.  If there is any place that we need to work smarter rather than harder, it is healthcare.  I think this is an idea whose time has definitely come.


April 11th, 2014

Be a winner at wellness.  That is the best advice I can offer anyone for personal and professional success.  Everything else you do will be enhanced by or degraded by your wellness level.  If we give up on wellness, it is the beginning of the end.  Wellness should be something we focus on daily.

Wellness involves many areas of our lives such as the physical, mental, emotional, physiological, spiritual, religious, and philosophical.  What works for one person will not necessarily work for another.  One person’s greatest area of opportunity may be another person’s greatest expertise.

Your wellness can affect another person’s wellness.  Never underestimate your influence.  By your words and your example, you can positively impact people around you.

If wellness is one of your priorities, then please maintain that focus.  If wellness seems to have eluded you, then I encourage you to take a fresh approach.  Today can be a turning point for the better in your life.

To make that happen, you will have to reach out to the resources around you.  You have friends, mentors, and loved ones around you who genuinely care about you.  You have a philosophy of life, and religious and spiritual convictions that can sustain you.  You have hidden opportunities just waiting to be discovered.  You have time-tested strengths and abilities.  Reach out to all those terrific resources because they are there to help you.  If you do that, then I see no reason why you will not be a winner at wellness.


April 10th, 2014

The founding partner of Peppers & Rogers Group at Teletech is Don Peppers.  He makes this statement about failures (“Does Your Company Make Enough Mistakes?”):

The smartest business managers know that failures are inevitable, and dissecting them is an important aid in learning how to manage better.  But you can’t get access to those failures unless you have an environment that encourages honest learning from them, rather than recrimination.

Leadership means that you are consistently trying to make yourself, your team, and your organization better.  The very fact we are aiming for “better” means we are not perfect.  We have failed.  We have made mistakes.

The wonderful thing about leadership is that it enables us to identify the failures, but not camp on them.  Leaders move forward to keep climbing the mountain.  Leaders learn from the failures so that their next steps are sharper, better, and stronger.

Leaders recognize that any member of the team can fail.  This is why recrimination and punishment are not the goals of the day.  Learning from the failures is the most important matter.

We have all seen the two different kinds of organizations to which Peppers alludes.  One organization only looks at mistakes with the objective of ridiculing and punishing the responsible party.  The other organization embraces mistakes as par for the course.  Mistakes are viewed as splendid learning opportunities.  They are vehicles through which everyone stands to gain in their leadership development.

As painful as some mistakes can be, we must welcome all that they bring.  Let us be sure that we do not bring the wrong things to them.  Rather, let us embrace them for all the right reasons.  We are leaders, aren’t we?


April 9th, 2014

Yesterday, Tuesday April 8, 2014, we bid farewell to an old OS, Windows XP.  Microsoft has abandoned all support of the aged Windows XP OS.  People who continue to use Windows XP will place themselves and their organizations at increasingly grave risk, not to mention the ongoing efficiency lags.

If you want to walk through an excellent Microsoft OS options tour on your Windows XP computer, just go to  Microsoft will confirm your OS status and then review your various options.

As I mentioned yesterday, the smart approach is to make the changes you need to make to ensure your IT systems will be safe, secure, and efficient.  That means upgrading your PC technology and software to something that takes you out of the Stone Age . . . uhm, I mean the XP age.

Nowadays, most brand new PCs will be preloaded with Windows 8.  You might still be able to negotiate offers for Windows 7 with or without an option to upgrade to 8 later for free.  Either way, you will be immensely better off by having moved to the newer hardware and software.

I have been thrilled and astounded with Windows 7.  In terms of efficiency, speed, stability, and ease of use, the OS has consistently exceeded my expectations.  Having lived through a quarter-century of Windows OS iterations, I can definitely affirm that Windows 7 has produced a user experience that is clearly the very best.

Granted, most new purchasers will be going with preloaded Windows 8, with which I was never too thrilled.  Upon its release, Windows 8 presented too many user-interface oddities and numerous software compatibility concerns (see “Lots to Berate on Windows 8”, January 30, 2013).  The good news is that Microsoft has since listened to its customers by building in some OS tweaks and user controls that smooth the entire user experience.  Therefore, I am feeling much more comfortable about the Windows 8 situation.

Is there life after Windows XP?  You had better believe it.  Moreover, it is better than we could have imagined.


April 8th, 2014

Today, Tuesday April 8, 2014, we bid farewell to an old OS, Windows XP.  Today, Microsoft abandons all support of the aged Windows XP OS.  Users who continue to use Windows XP will place themselves and their organizations at increasingly grave risk, not to mention all of the ongoing efficiency lags.

I am afraid I do not have much sympathy for anyone who is whining about today’s date with destiny.  They have known it was on the calendar for at least a year or two now.  The smarter approach is to make the changes you need to make to ensure your IT systems will be safe, secure, and efficient.

Upgrading to a new OS or investing in a new PC will of course allow you to dodge the security dangers associated with Microsoft’s lack of support.  Additionally, it will render your PC productivity immensely faster, slicker, and easier.  As usual, by the time you jump five to ten years forward in your IT equipment and software, you are not even in the same league anymore.  These are the kinds of investments you should want to make.

There is a time and a place for nostalgia.  This is not one of them.  Hey, you wouldn’t want to go back to DOS, would you?  (If you have to ask what DOS is, then the answer is probably no.  If you know what DOS is, then the answer is definitely no.)

Farewell, Windows XP, farewell!


April 7th, 2014

I have read much lately about whether men and woman are being paid fairly.  For example, some of the latest research raises questions about pay fairness between men and women MBAs.  What makes this research interesting is that about a decade ago it seemed any wage differential had been erased.  Nevertheless, within the past few years, that accomplishment seems to be reversing based on MBA graduates’ experiences, as Alison Damast reports (“She Works Hard For Less Money” Bloomberg Businessweek, 12/24/13–1/6/14, pp. 31–32):

At about a third of the top 30 U.S. business schools, women earn less than men—sometimes far less.  Female MBA graduates from the class of 2012 at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, for instance, earned 86 percent of male wages, while those at Stanford Graduate School of Business earned 79 percent.” (p. 31)

Many factors have been studied as possible reasons for this apparent pay discrepancy.  In reality, these studied factors may render the pay-fairness issue void.  Here are several of the variables I came across that seem to give a logical explanation:

Experience Levels.  Some female business students enter MBA programs at a younger age than men do.  This means by the time they graduate and seek a job, their male counterparts may simply display more real-world job experience, prompting higher salary offers.

Negotiation Skills.  Some women have not been as open as men to the negotiation game.  This means the women are more willing to accept a first offer compared to men, who usually make counteroffers.

Industry Choice.  Many women have been increasingly drawn into nonfinancial industries such as consumer products, technology, entrepreneurship, and consulting.  Meanwhile, a higher proportion of men have opted for the financial industry, which tends to be the highest paying sector for MBAs.

Family Decisions.  Either gender can choose to become the fulltime domestic engineer (homemaker) while the other spouse brings home the bacon.  Although that is a choice, most of the time women choose to opt out of the business career rather than the man.  These career interrupts usually translate to lower salaries on future new offers and thereby negatively affect the long-term salary trajectory.

Please understand, these factors are not absolute.  You will always find individual exceptions.  Nevertheless, studied holistically, I think these factors make sense.  Although I want a job candidate—male or female—to be paid completely fairly, I also affirm these independently valid variables will affect pay.