SHRINKAGE 101

Shrinkage.

It is a word that means different things to different people. A consumer views shrinkage as the new sweater that is laundered for the first time and is now 3% smaller than when new (woops!). The store owner views shrinkage as the amount of product that is stolen by external customers or internal employees. A manufacturer views shrinkage as the amount of scrap and waste that is incurred in the production process.

Shrinkage’s meaning can change significantly depending on whether you are on the giving end or the receiving end. Lately my wife has been quick to point out that she is experiencing shrinkage in our grocery shopping. The fact is she is buying smaller-sized containers of the same product for the same price as when the container was larger. It irks her that a company somehow things she doesn’t catch this indirect price increase. Here are just a few examples:

  • The facial tissue box that used to cost $1.79 still costs the same, but the tissues are smaller in physical size or quantity.
  • The yogurt container that used to cost $1.29 still costs the same, but its size is 28% smaller.
  • The can of peas that used to cost $0.78 still costs the same, but its size is 6% smaller.
  • The frozen vegetable bag that used to cost $2.00 still costs the same, but its size is 35% smaller.

Perhaps recognizing some of the consumer backlash, she has noticed that on some containers recently bright yellow explosion-style labels are showing up on the front of the package, declaring “Still 12 ounces!” as if that is supposed to be a selling point now.

Then we have the carton of ice cream that used to cost $4.10 still costs the same, but its size is 25% smaller. Shortly after the ice cream trick, one brand of ice cream splashed a big label on its shrunken carton announcing “two bonus scoops included free!” It reminds me of George Orwell’s novel 1984 in which the dystopian government would announce that due to the country’s prosperity, the chocolate ration was being increased. The only problem was that all the while the lead character Winston Smith clearly remembers that the chocolate ration was actually going down (but we’re never going to actually say that now, are we?).

So my question is this: where does a company making a smart decision to increase its profits by reducing its expenses cross over the line to insulting its customers’ intelligence by somehow telling them they are too stupid to notice what is happening? Please just increase the price for the same size and quantity of product, and I will be happy to pay that new price. But don’t make the ploy that I’m too stupid to see that the chocolate ration is going down, not up! If you have confidence in your product, then please don’t play games with my price.

Kathy’s latest catch is toilet paper. Yes, good old TP. She had her suspicions and she finally acted upon them. Upon a careful measurement of an empty TP tube and comparing it to an older empty TP tube, an eighth of an inch reduction was proven. And she thinks it is getting worse.

So now we have to get along on less TP too? Where will it all end? I don’t even want to think about that end.


A SOLAR ECLIPSE FOR THE RECORD BOOKS

The approaching solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, promises to be a monumental, once-in-a-lifetime, astronomical event of gargantuan and historical significance. Growing up I can remember witnessing a few partial solar eclipses here and there, but never a complete solar eclipse. Because I happen to live in the northeast side of Kansas City, I along with anyone else living in the path of totality will be privileged to experience a total solar eclipse. This is an absolutely amazing and thrilling situation to behold.

Scientifically, the total solar eclipse presents tremendous opportunities for research and data collection. You have to remember that this is the first total solar eclipse to traverse the nation in 99 years. This will truly be the event of a lifetime for astronomers and other scientists. They of course will be diligently monitoring the entire event from multiple observation points on the ground and in the air.

If you plan to be in or happen to already live in the path of totality, a handy tool is available to confirm individual locations. In addition to confirming that an address is in the totality path, it also calculates the duration for the full eclipse at that specific location. Due to mountain and valley variations on the moon surface, the northern and southern edges of the totality path can vary by as much as a half mile. Therefore, if location-wise you happen to be in that predicament, you will want to factor in some additional distance for your target location just to be sure that you don’t miss it.

As long as the skies remain clear, we should be in good shape for excellent viewing. The two big factors in our favor are the time and date of the eclipse. Due to the time of the eclipse, it means the sun is positioned roughly overheard for easier viewing as opposed to close to the horizon. The date being in middle August means we have about a 95% probability of completely clear skies that day.

If you intend to watch any part of the eclipse, remember to be well prepared with special-purpose solar filters such as “eclipse glasses.” Be certain that the viewing glasses are compliant with the international safety standard ISO 12312-2.

Watch, experience, and enjoy!


WHY YOU’RE STRONGER THAN STEEL

Ever improving productivity translates to fewer workers. If you are one of those surplus workers, that does not guarantee that you don’t have a job—it just means that you don’t have that job. With revised skills, specialized training, a new twist on your talent, or a fresh career direction, you will soon be some company’s desired new-hire.

Steel mill production is an interesting example of how this works. Within the past two decades industrywide, the number of worker-hours needed to produce one ton of steel dropped from 700 to 250. Steel plants of the future replacing older plants of the past are immensely more sophisticated and IT enhanced. This means fewer employees are needed, but the ones that are needed must be more educated or skilled (Thomas Biesheuvel “500,000 Tons of Steel. 14 Jobs” Bloomberg Businessweek. June 26, 2017, pp. 16–17).

Some people are good at navigating these tumultuous seas to better shores while others end up on deserted islands or lost at sea. How well you do depends on your attitude, skills, education, drive, and passion. Having a plan is vital along with working your personal and professional network.

Long gone are the days when Father Corporation promised to take care of you for your entire career and beyond. Rather than hopelessly searching for a guaranteed job for life, it is your responsibility to reengineer yourself for a much better goal—guaranteed lifetime employability. The difference between the two strategies is massive. However, crossing that gulf is not impossible. It is even exhilarating and fun when you do it right.

Reengineering steel manufacturing will be a constant process. Much more important than reengineering steel however, is reengineering you. That is your responsibility. The sooner you embrace it, the happier and more successful you will be. Remember, in today’s economy you have to be stronger than steel.


KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN

Some of the most profound life truths are the simplest. Woody Allen said 90% of life is just showing up. Although certainly a humorous statement, it bears a subtle significant truth we cannot escape. Presence is important.

Another simple yet profound life truth is keep your eyes open. The power of observation is something that can benefit each of us if we remember to use it. Of course we all have those times when our eyes can fool us. It is an extremely old joke, but I will share it anyway:

For the first time in his life, Grandpa Hillbilly visited a modern metropolis with his family. At one point, while the ladies were shopping at a massive mall, he parked himself on a bench across from another marvel he had never before seen: an elevator. He watched as an elderly lady with a cane fussed with the buttons a moment and then ambled into the elevator to disappear from Grandpa Hillbilly’s sight as the door closed. About two minutes later the elevator door opened and out strode a gorgeous, vivacious young lady. Grandpa sat there in amazement for a few seconds. Then he turned to his 9-year old grandson and said, “Billy, quick! Go get Grandma!”

Lest we immediately see ourselves as immune to such foolish tricks of the eyes, never forget that sadly sometimes we can get so caught up in our own little world that we forget to observe. If we forget to observe then we rob ourselves of valuable lessons that observation reveals.

You’ve heard of active listening? Well how about active observation? Simple observation holds tremendous power if you intentionally tap into it. Some of the most powerful leadership, life, business, and relationship lessons I have ever learned arose not from a book, a class, or a seminar, but from simple observation. And the good news is that you never run out of people to observe!

Think about the people you most admire, the people you view as the most successful, the people you believe have accomplished the most for their organizations, and the people that have been your best mentors, friends, and confidants. A major reason that you hold those persons in such high esteem is because you have observed them in different situations. If you take the time to ponder how they handled those situations, you can usually think of similar situations you face today. Then simply ask yourself how can I better handle a situation I face today based on my observations of that person and thereby achieve similar positive outcomes?

I have learned much from the people that have mentored me. Much of that learning was delivered directly by the person’s words, and of course I value that immeasurably. However, the majority of what I learned materialized within me as I pondered my meticulous observations of that person. What they did spoke louder than what they said.

A particularly wonderful convenience about the power of observation is that you don’t even have to know the person you are observing. Public figures, people you read about, individuals you simply happen to see from a distance, people you might only know very indirectly all provide observational learning lessons. Someone I know well simply recounting an episode about someone I don’t know, provides observation power if I mine the story for its gold and apply it to my life. The possibilities and permutations are endless. You never run out of ways to learn from observation.

In all this, you might be assuming that I am only talking about positive examples because we all value positive outcomes. While we definitely value those positive outcomes from positive examples, you can learn as much from a negative example as from a positive one. In a sense, those examples are particularly potent in that you didn’t have to experience the pain or embarrassment yourself to learn that lesson. You watched someone else go through the catastrophe. You must keep your eyes open. I have learned immensely from some horrific examples. Understanding the wrong way to do something is just as important as understanding the right way to do something.

You’re never so smart that you can’t learn another valuable lesson (but if you think you are, then I’d like to talk with you!). Observation is so obvious and simple. Because of that, its profundity sometimes escapes us. Seeing a truth demonstrated can be so much more powerful than simply hearing it articulated.

Keep your eyes open.


NAVIGATION BEATS MEMORIZATION

In one of the classes I regularly train, I emphatically tell my students:

The secret to success in your job is not memorization, it is navigation.

Navigation means knowing where to look, what tools and resources to use, and how to network. Whether online or in person, navigation is what makes anyone successful in a job. Many people can memorize, but memorization will eventually fail you because content and technology will change. But the person who knows where to find the information will always win.

The jobs market and where the economy is going are areas that similarly favor the navigator over the memorizer. Memorization can get you locked into positions and situations that may no longer be accurate or viable. On the other hand, navigation will sustain you as a player on the field.

The June 26, 2017 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek is entitled, “The Jobs Issue.” In it, Peter Coy ponders the future of automation and robots. He points out that although robots can do many things in the workplace, many things exist that they cannot do. And that is exactly why navigation is important for the American worker today as Coy explains (“The Robots Are Coming (But You’ll Still Need to Work)” pp. 8–9):

Labor shortages manifest themselves as skill shortages because employers don’t just need bodies, they need talents. . . .

In the future, those who turn automation to their advantage will tend to be more educated. They will ride the technology waves better because they’re more adaptable.” (p. 9)

If employers just needed bodies, then yes, any robot will do. But for most tasks, employers need talents and only people have those. Talents are further developed by education. More education increases worker versatility and yes . . . the ability to navigate.

The statistics continuously prove the direct and indirect value of education. The seasonally adjusted June 2017 unemployment rate for persons not having a high school diploma is 6.4% (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Having a high school diploma drops that rate to 4.6% and some college or a two-year degree drops it further to 3.8%. Pretty good trending, would you not agree? Finally, if we look at people having a four-year degree, a graduate degree, or a doctoral degree, the unemployment rate is a low 2.4%. Not bad, given our rough economy.

Regardless of how good or bad the economy is, regardless of how many individual academic and career disasters can be cited, and regardless of how loudly the antidegree crowd howls, overall you are still in a better position having a degree than not having a degree. And one of the intrinsic reasons why is because navigation beats memorization.

The jobs market and where the economy is going will always be challenging areas. Yes, it is okay to be a memorizer. Just be certain that your ability as a memorizer is only exceeded by your ability as a navigator.