Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Rethinking national security in a post-2016 US presidential election context: conflict and cyber-conflict in an age of social media 3

Posted in business and convergent technologies, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on August 16, 2017

This is my third installment to a new series on cyber risk and cyber conflict in a still emerging 21st century interactive online context, and in a ubiquitously social media connected context and when faced with a rapidly interconnecting internet of things among other disruptively new online innovations (see Part 1 and Part 2.)

I concluded Part 2 of this narrative by proffering a briefly outlined solution to a problem, and in a way that could be seen as highlighting a fundamental conundrum faced. More specifically, I wrote in Parts 1 and 2 of how new and emerging value-creating technological innovations such as online social media and cloud computing create new opportunity for more malevolent use too, even as they create whole new worlds of positive opportunity. And to pick up on just one of the many facets to the positive side of this transformation, that make its advancement inevitable:

• Consider how essentially anywhere to anywhere and at any time, ubiquitous connectivity through small, simple smart phones and tablets has changed the world, reducing friction and barriers and bring people together and even globally,
• And particularly when cloud computing and for both data storage and for processing power, have in effect put always-connected supercomputer, super-communications devices into everyone’s hands. Think of this as ubiquitous connectivity and communications with what can amount to arbitrarily wide computational bandwidth, and equally wide ranging data storage, retrieval and sharing capabilities supporting it.

Now consider how this capability can be exploited by both individual black hat hackers, and by large organizations: governments included, that seek to exploit newly emerging cyber-weaknesses that arise from these new technologies in pursuing their own plans and policies. I wrote in Part 2, at least in brief and selective outline, of how Russia, China and North Korea have done this, as case in point examples. And in the course of that, I noted and at least began to discuss how the vulnerabilities exploited there, always have two faces: technological and human, and how the human side to that can be the more difficult to effectively address.

That led me to the quickly outlined “cyber security solution” that I made note of above and that I first offered at the end of Part 2, where I wrote of cyber-defense and security in general as calling for:

• Better computer and network user training,
• Better, more up to date and capable automated systems,
• And usage options channeling systems that reinforce good practices and discourage or even actively prevent bad, risk-creating ones.

Then, after offering that, I added that “technology fixes are always going to be important and necessary in this, but increasingly the biggest vulnerabilities faced come from human users, and particularly ones who are trusted and who have access permissions, to critically important systems.”

I begin addressing this ending point to Part 2 and starting point to this Part 3 by picking up on one of the Russian government sponsored and led examples made note of in Part 3, where the Russian government explicitly sought to influence and even suborn the 2016 elections in the United States, including their presidential election. One of the key attack vectors used was a phishing attack campaign that gave them access to the Democratic Party email server system, used for within-Party confidential communications. This attack helped Russian operatives and private sector participants working for them, to insert malware into those server computers that gave them direct access to them for copying files stored on them, as well as capability for damaging or deleting files stored there. And this gave them the ability to edit as desired, and selectively leak emails so covertly captured too. And this was done and according to a timing schedule that would cause the greatest harm to a Hillary Clinton, Democratic Party presidential campaign, significantly helping Donald Trump to win the White House.

Let’s reconsider the three “to-do”, or at least “to-attempt” bullet points that I just repeated here from Part 2, as a first-take “cyber security solution”:

• Training only works if people who receive it actually follow through and do what they have been taught.
• “Better, more up to date and capable automated systems” as an operational goal, is always going to constitute a moving target, as both new positive capabilities and the new vulnerabilities that they bring with them arise and become commonplace.
• And the ongoing emergence of this new and different, and particularly of an ongoing flow of disruptively new and different, can make good practice shaping and requiring systems, obsolete almost before they are really implemented – and particularly given the challenges of the first of these three bullet points.

How did the Russians hack into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) confidential email servers that they specifically targeted here? Setting aside the technical side of this question and only considering the social engineering side to it, all that took was one person who was trusted enough to be given access to this email system, who would click to open what probably should have been seen to be suspicious links in an email that they had opened with their standard email software. Then when they went to the DNC secure server with it, they delivered the malware that they had just infected their computer with from this, and the rest was history.

• This is very important. It did not matter if a thousand others had deleted the malware-carrying emails that this one use opened and clicked into, if just that one trusted systems user did open at least one of them and click at least one link in it.

There is a saying to the effect that a chain can be no stronger than its weakest link. Reframing “link” in human terms rather than hyperlink, cyber terms, all it takes is one weak human link in this type of system, among its community of trusted and vetted users to compromise the entire system. And they only have to set aside their judgment and training once, at an inopportune moment to become that crucially weak link.

Let me add one more innovative element to the positive value created/negative vulnerability created from it, paradigm that I have been developing and pursuing this series around: automation and the artificial intelligence based automated cyber systems that enable it. These smart systems can be and increasingly are being developed and implemented to create automatic nuanced flexibility into complex information and communications systems. They can be and increasingly are being used to promote what many if not most would consider more malevolent purposes too, such as attempting to throw national elections. Automated systems of the type that I write of here are consistent and always follow their algorithmic protocols and processes in place, and they are becoming more and more subtle and capable in doing this, every day. They do not tire or become distracted and they do not make out-of-pattern mistakes. And here, they are pitted against individual human users of these systems, who all at least occasionally do.

Let’s reconsider the three to-do recommendation points that I initially repeated here towards the top of this posting:

• Training only works if people who receive it actually follow through and do what they have been taught.
• “Better, more up to date and capable automated systems” as an operational goal, is always going to constitute a moving target, as both new positive capabilities and the new vulnerabilities that they bring with them arise and become commonplace.
• And the ongoing emergence of this new and different, and particularly of an ongoing flow of disruptively new and different, can make good practice shaping and requiring systems, obsolete almost before they are really implemented – and particularly given the challenges of the first of these three bullet points.

And I match them with the issues and challenges of this posting in mind, with a brief set of matching questions:

• How best can these technology/human user systems be kept up to date and effective from a security perspective, while still keeping them essentially intuitively usable for legitimate human users?

The faster the technologies change that these systems have to address, and the more profoundly they do so when they do, the greater the training requirements that will be required at least by default and according to most current practices in place, and the less likely it becomes that “potentially weaker links” will learn all of this New and incorporate it into their actual online and computer-connected behavior, and fast enough. So the more important it becomes that systems be made intuitively obvious and that learning curve requirements be prevented, to limit if not entirely avoid that losing race towards cyber-security safety. And yes, I intentionally conflate use per se and “safe, security-aware” use in this, as they need to be one and the same in practice.

• Moving targets such as “better, more up to date and capable automated systems” of the type cited in the second above-repeated point, tend to become harder to justify, at least for the added effort and expense of keeping them secure in the face of new possible challenges. That certainly holds true when these information technology and communications systems keep working for their current iterations, and when updates to them, up to now have seemed to work and securely so too. How do you maintain the financial and other support for this type of ongoing change when it succeeds, and continues to – in the face of pressures to hold down costs?

Unfortunately, it is all too common that ongoing success from using technologies, breeds reduced awareness of the importance of maintaining equally updated ongoing (generally expensive) protective, preemptive capabilities in them too. And it becomes harder and harder to keep these systems updated and with support for doing so, as the most recent negative consequence actually once faced, slips farther into the past. And to put this point of observation into perspective, I suggest you’re reviewing Parts 1 and 2 of this series, where I write of how easy it is to put off responding to already known and still open vulnerabilities that have struck elsewhere, but not here at least yet.

And for Point 3 of that list, I add what is probably the most intractable of these questions:

• In principle, non-technology organizations that do not have strength in depth in cyber issues and on how best to respond to them, can be safe in the face of already known threats and vulnerabilities, if that is they partner for their cyber-security with reliable businesses that do have such strengths and that really stay as up to date as possible on known threat vectors and how they can be and are being exploited. But what of zero-day vulnerabilities and the disruptively new: how can they be at least better managed?

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment, starting with these questions. And I will take that next step to this narrative out of the abstract by at least briefly discussing some specific new, and old-but-rebuilt sources of information systems risk. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its Page 2 continuation. And you can also find this and related material at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1.

Donald Trump and the stress testing of the American system of government 20

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on August 15, 2017

This is my 25th installment to what has become an ongoing series of postings in which I seek to address politics in the United States as it has become, starting with the nominations process leading up to the 2016 presidential elections (see Social Networking and Business 2, posting 244 and loosely following.) And this is also my 20th installment here since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States.

I distinctly remember watching one of president Trump’s official spokespersons in a televised White House press briefing, respond to a reporter’s accusation of chaos in the Trump administration, by proclaiming that “Trump thrives on chaos.” That was several official White House press secretaries and other senior spokespersons ago, and it dates to before Trump realized that cameras and open questions from reporters were not always all that good for him at those events. Still, this presented a form of candor that is shocking for its clarity, and certainly in light of the rest of president Trump’s ongoing message.

And like any door opening revelation, this one has led us to new questions that we would not have even known to ask. By now we all know what the word “chaos” means in that context: the 45th president’s “business as usual.” He has been burning through and replacing what should be the stably-in-place senior members of his staff at a rate that, to use one of his favorite words, is genuinely “tremendous.” And that includes replacing his White House communications directors with the most recent one before now: Anthony Scaramucci only lasting ten days in that job. Trump has yet to get even just one major piece of legislation passed through Congress and in spite of a great deal of effort to break that impasse. And the largest single feat that he has actually accomplished from all of his effort at getting legislation passed has been to shatter the Republican Party solidarity that in principle might have meant his being able to get his agenda passed into law, and even easily. His Republican Party hold in Congress has been effectively thrown into chaos and in both the House and Senate, with enough by now reliable dissenters from among “his own” Party’s ranks, consistently breaking ranks to insure that this pattern of failure will mostly continue.

Let me take that assertion out of the abstract with a specific example. Trump has actively sought to block investigation into possible Russian government-led interference in the 2016 US elections, as discussed in earlier postings to this series. And he has also actively tried to thwart sanctions against Russia, from Congressional action, while doing that. Then the:

House passed a massive Russia sanctions bill, and overwhelming so, on July 25,2017 and almost immediately thereafter the Senate followed suit and passed it too.

It is important to note that at the same time this bill placed punitive sanctions on the Russian government and on businesses and organizations in that country with links to their government, it also specifically moved to prevent president Trump from undoing or bypassing those sanctions on his own. This bill placed sanctions on Trump too. And it passed in the House, 419 for and only 3 against. And it then passed in the Senate, 98 to 2. Trump was forced to sign this or else face the humiliation of seeing his own Republican party overwhelmingly overturn his veto, making him look that much weaker.

I have discussed his failures at getting his vision of healthcare reform passed into law in a number of earlier installments to this series. And his failures there have just continued on. Prospects look dim for his bringing Congress to pass his tax reform agenda into law, or his immigration policy or any other major initiative either. And resistance from his own Party’s elected leaders goes way beyond Congress too, with Republican governors breaking ranks with him on immigration and environmental protection and a wide range of other issues too. In fact the only area where president Trump has been able to advance his agenda has been where he can do so by executive order and either himself or through his senior appointees. At least selective aspects to what Donald Trump would call regulatory reform come to mind there, as do his more draconian interpretations of how Homeland Security and its agencies should enforce immigration policies already in place.

“Trump thrives on chaos.” What does a word like “thrive” mean in a Trump presidency context? What does he see as success, beyond his keeping the support of his true believer base? And when president Trump, with his win-lose approach to the world, sees himself and his administration as winning in all of this, what does that say about his relationship with his own political party that he nominally leads? What does this say about Trump as a leader of the United States as a diverse nation, or of the free world?

And this brings me to the issue that has prompted me to write this series installment at all. I very actively added to this ongoing narrative and at a rapid pace when I was discussing and analyzing the earliest days of the Trump presidency and the question of his basic competency, during his first 100 days in office. And a great deal of that was an attempt to put president Trump and his issues in perspective and both historically and in terms of constitutional law. But The Donald mostly seems to repeat himself, primarily carrying out new variations on the same problematical decision making and follow through. If he is the embodiment of chaos in the White House, that in his case means relatively narrowly constrained and highly repetitive chaos, with his making essentially the same mistakes in judgment and action again and again and again and ….

Why am I adding this installment to this series now? On one level I could cite how Trump’s chaos has empowered Xi Jinping and his Chinese government, from the power vacuum that Trump has left in his wake. And I could cite the chaos and confusion he has sown for our national allies and globally. I could cite what politely would be called his pissing match with the psychotic leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un. I could cite his complete, and I add completely inept inability to disavow the words and actions of hate driven extremists such as David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party, and white supremacist extremists. They claim to be key supporters in his political base and Donald Trump is incapable of disavowing anything that his supporters would say or do, least he somehow diminish his supporting base! I could delve into any combination of these issues here, and more that I did not bother to add to this already lengthy and depressing list. But instead of that, I would step back to consider a larger, overarching issue that enters into and informs all of these more specific friction and pain point issues:

• Donald Trump does not learn, ever. And by all appearance he is incapable of learning too.

Trump got a ghostwriter: Tony Schwartz to actually write “his” book, The Art of the Deal. (See Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All , as published by The New Yorker.) How could someone with Donald Trump’s attention span, his lack of basic factual knowledge and his limited intellect successfully pass a business degree program, or an undergraduate college degree program for that matter, without “help?” No, I do not have any evidence that would show he did not successfully complete these academic programs on his own. I just find that assertion as incredible as Trump’s claims about the live audience size in front of him when he was sworn into office as the 45th president.

Investigations proceed and on several fronts now into Russian interference in the 2016 US elections, and on possible Trump campaign collusion in that. And it is apparent that this effort has gone on to look into possible direct involvement of both his family in this and of his own. And investigations are proceeding just as actively into possible conflict of interest violations of US federal statutes too. And president Trump is also at least potentially facing obstruction of justice charges too: the type of charges that ended Richard Nixon’s presidency. What will happen next? The only detail to the answer to that question, that I can reliably offer here, and with real confidence is that president Trump will back into it from a failure to learn anything from what has happened or from what is happening now or from what will happen in the coming days, weeks and months. And he will proclaim his outrage and declare himself to have been victimized by all of his detractors, and on the basis of “fake news” and even in the face of photos of him with the proverbial smoking gun in his hand.

People sometimes confuse “ignorance” with simple lack of knowledge and the limit of what a given individual can and does know. If that were valid, then we would all be ignorant as no one can learn and know more than just a tiny fraction of all that there is to know. Ignorance is very different than that; it is a presumption of already knowing all that is worth knowing and of holding complete truth in understanding. Ignorance is like a vaccination against learning: a hermetically sealed barrier to learning, where even one’s most off the cuff and unconsidered opinion is automatically deemed to be better than any expertly conceived, fact-based judgment of anyone else. Donald Trump does not learn and cannot learn and he is incapable of “growing” into the job of president. His string of business failures and bankruptcies were predictive harbingers of this, and his performance as president to date, simply reinforces the message that that track record offers.

I will add more to this series, when and as events unfold that would warrant that. With a Trump administration and its chaos, I am not going to try to guess when that will be, and certainly not at this time. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1.

Intentional management 42: elaborating on the basic model for adding people and their management into the equation 3

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on August 14, 2017

This is my 42nd installment in a series in which I discuss how management activity and responsibilities can be parsed and distributed through a business organization, so as to better meet operational and strategic goals and as a planned intentional process (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 472 and loosely following for Parts 1-41.)

I have been addressing the Who side of intentional management as a systematic business management approach, since Part 38 of this, and a specific to-address list related to that since Part 41, at least for its current form and contents. And I repeat that list here, as a starting point for this posting and for purposes of smoother continuity of narrative:

1. How is a business under analytical examination being managed now? (Note: this is a complex question because it raises issues of what it is doing in principle and as a matter of intended process and practice, and of what is actually being done and on a day-to-day basis and by whom and where in the organization and under what circumstances, and how consistently. The following questions in effect dissect out what would go into this question and what would go into answering it and from both the intended side and the actual in-practice side to that.)
2. Does this business actually follow a seemingly entirely ad hoc approach as if it had no past and as if the experience of here and now, could hold no informative value in its future either?
3. Or does it more systematically pursue at least a close approximation of the default model approach as laid out in Parts 38 and 39?
4. Or does it in some systematic manner differ from that, with non-default features brought in and included, and for at least specific areas of the business?
5. If this business does at least situationally resort to consistent non-default management approaches, where and how and when does it do so?
6. Is this resorted to in order to address specific perhaps recurring problematical situations or events, or in order to capture available value from specific perhaps recurring opportunities that the “standard” approach cannot handle in and of itself? Does this, in other words, reflect an alternative approach that might be resorted to on a needs and opportunities, functional process-defined basis?
7. Or do one or more specific areas of the business (e.g. specific departments or specific organizationally distinct sections of them, or specific satellite offices in a larger geographically dispersed enterprise) simply pursue their own course in how things are routinely done and across all functional areas and processes carried out?
8. This is only a starter list and one of the goals of any business review and analysis here would be to progressively, iteratively refine and elaborate on what is asked here, drilling down into the specifics of the particular business and away from the more generic as has been offered up to here.)

I have focused on the first four of those Points up to here in this overall narrative, but returning to Points 2-4 for the moment, those business model options can in brief be identified respectively as:

• An essentially entirely ad hoc business model and business management approach,
• An essentially entirely planned out and strategically oriented and executed, business model and business management approach that is centered on overall business-wide consistency, and
• A more hybrid business model and business management approach, where at least certain functional areas recurringly face operational contexts that they have come to address with novel, nonstandard approaches that do not actually fit into the overall operational or strategic plans in place – even if they are carried out very consistently as “standardized” ad hoc process flows in and of themselves. In a hybrid context as discussed here, the rest of the business is managed for the most part according to a more centrally planned out, Point 3 design.

I concluded Part 41 by stating that I would “turn to Points 5, 6 and 7 of the above list in my next series installment. And in anticipation of that, note that I will focus there on communications enablers and restrictions, and on how a Point 2, 3 or 4 approach is arrived at and particularly by the best managers who seek most actively to perform as effectively as possible in reaching all of their assigned goals and on time.”

I begin here with an initial focus on that last detail. When less experienced or inefficient managers and their teams of employees follow standardized and formally agreed to processes and procedures and in ways that do not deviate from normative and expected paths, outcomes achieved do not necessarily particularly raise issues as to the validity and effectiveness of those normal operating procedures per se, and even if their outcomes are less than expected – unless of course more effective managers and their employee teams begin facing the same business challenging results from following them too.

This becomes more interesting as a source of possible challenge to the validity and effectiveness of processes and systems in place, when good managers and even the best of them have to find work-arounds to get their jobs done and meet their deadlines and performance goals. And in this, it is not as important at least in the here-and-now instance, whether the more non-standard approaches that they use as work-arounds are one-off and unique to the instance, or whether they have become standardized, even if unofficially so for some specific type of work.

• One-off work-arounds can arise in a variety of contexts. To start, I would argue that they arise in the context of business systems fragility and from lack of operational agility, where tasks that are supposed to be carried out in some planned for, standardized and expected manner cannot be resolved through them, at least consistently and reliably. In practice, this type of event sheds light on the overall levels of communications efficiency or lack thereof in the organization, when a manager has to make it up as they go along in order to resolve a sudden challenge, and without opportunity to obtain either approval or support from their own manager or above on the table of organization, for how they would resolve matters and get their assigned tasks done. (I assume here that more effective communications would lead to change in official and expected processes in place that do not work, with new alternatives that do.)
• For a second context, consider businesses where results achieved are viewed as being more important than how they are achieved. This creates opportunities for hand-off disconnects when work flows have to be passed on to other teams and other managers for further work on their part. That business model approach and the consequences that result from it can come back to haunt a business. To at least briefly cite a relatively simple case in point, friction-point that this approach can create (that I have seen play out) consider the impact of ad hoc unplanned use of bottleneck creating, limited availability, shared resources that many need but that few can use at any one time, as a business growing pains example. But I could just as easily have cited how this management approach throws off task completion and overall work schedules in general, too.
• Systematic but nevertheless unofficial work-arounds, create fundamentally distinct channels for managing and carrying out work flows that are not allowed for or included in officially expected operational systems. They do not arise because of one-time, disruptively unexpected events. They arise from a long-term break-down of officially recognized and offered processes and procedures and systems of them, and with senior and executive management often left unaware of this. So they do not even know that the operational plans and processes that they have arrived at for carrying out their strategy in place, do not and cannot work and for at least some key areas of their business. In a more extreme and ongoing form, this scenario usually leads to change management resolution, or at least a need for that. But in any event, this reflects long-term and much more systematic and deep-set business inefficiency and risk.
• Note that I write in the above bullet point, of unawareness on the part of the most senior management in place, and of their operational and strategic planners. I am explicitly not writing here of businesses that for example, acquire smaller specialty businesses to round out their portfolios of value creating strengths and resources, that maintain them as if largely separate entities, allowing and even encouraging those new parts of their now expanded systems to maintain their own processes and even their own internal corporate cultures, so as to protect the sources of value they paid for when acquiring them. I am writing here of businesses that have essentially by default, split off what amounts to independent fiefdoms within their organization that in effect go their own way.
• How can that arise? I am fairly sure that every large and widely distributed business organization has at least a few empire builders in their management hierarchy who at the very least would like to do things their own way because of that. I have certainly worked with people who fit that mould. But communications breakdowns and the drift from “official” that that can create, are commoner causes of this, even as they in effect can force the development of protective silo walls in the organization, walling off even entire lines on the overall table of organization so those within them can get their jobs done.

I have in fact at least begun addressing Points 5-7 of the above to-address list in this discussion, and with a goal of at least briefly outlining some of the forces and pressures that managers and that non-managerial employees face as they seek to carry out their jobs and succeed there. I will continue that discussion in a next series installment, from a more explicit Who and Why perspective for these business systems participants. And then I will turn to Point 8 of the list and the issue of asking the right questions in the right ways for specific businesses under consideration.

Looking further ahead, I will then turn to consider individual personality, preferences and experience in shaping management style, and the issues and challenges of shaping a consistent management approach while supporting individuality and diversity, and differences in vision and perspective. But turning back to the question of what I will focus in on in my next series installment to this, I will begin by posing a seemingly simply question that I will start that with:

• What makes a good manager?

This is at least easy to ask, and it can be conveyed in just a few words. I will use this question as an organizing point for what follows it.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

On the importance of disintermediating real, 2-way communications in business organizations 3

Posted in social networking and business, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on August 12, 2017

This is my third installment to a brief series on coordinating information sharing and communications needs, and information access filtering and gate keeping requirements (see Part 1 and Part 2.)

I began addressing disruptively novel change in an organization and in what it brings to market, and what it has to be able to bring to market if it is to remain competitive there, in Part 2. And I focused in that installment on that array of issues, from a within-business perspective and in terms of its internal systems and their needs and capabilities. My goal here is to flip orientations from that, to consider the business’ outside contexts and how they impact upon and help to shape and prioritize the decisions and actions that I addressed in Part 2, within the organization. And I begin this by at least briefly categorically listing a few of the key players that would enter into any analysis of, or discussion of a market-facing business and its more meaningful outside world. In anticipation of this posting, I cited four of these stakeholder types at the end of Part 2 and I re-list them here with a fifth such entry added in too. Note that while the order that I offer these stakeholder categories in, might seem arbitrary, I chose it with a specific narrative flow in mind for using it. And I add that their order is probably unimportant in general, as any of them can hold greater or lesser importance for their level of direct impact, depending on the business in question and its circumstance:

1. Any business equity holding outside shareholders where this category applies,
2. Change and its pressures as arise in their general customer base and marketplace,
3. And from a business’ individually dominant clients as a special case where an enterprise has them, and both from when a single major client accounts for a large percentage of the work activity and the incoming revenue generated, and from when a significant number of a business’ perhaps individually smaller clients all start demanding change, and when they speak with a single voice and as if one on that.
4. And from among a business’ competition,
5. And from outside regulatory organizations.

Let me begin here by at least briefly clarifying Point 1 of this list. Equity holding outside shareholders can mean stockholders for a publically traded company, and certainly in this context if that company is failing to make changes that a significant percentage of their shareholders would see as necessary, and who are dissatisfied with the business for its financial or other (e.g. environmental impact) performance because of that. I have seen stockholder revolts and they do need to be taken seriously and even if major shareholders from within the business can quash any proposed action from outsiders in shareholder meetings and proxy votes. And this can also mean dissatisfaction and even pressures to influence and even control, coming from major outside investors such as venture capitalists, or from funds managers who individually manage and make ownership decisions that involve large numbers of that business’ outstanding shares as a percentage of shares traded. Think of this as the influence of many smaller voices speaking out as one, and that of individual very large voices as they speak out, respectively. Both can mean significant pressure on a business and its planning and execution, and certainly for what have come to be contentious actions or positions taken.

Now let’s consider Point 2 and Point 3:

• Point 2’s market participants individually make their decisions as to what to purchase if anything, and when and where, as individuals and for the most part as individual product end users. This need not involve concerted organized action in any particular way, though fad purchasing can lead to what amounts to that, as can viral marketing and its capacity to at least transiently enlist what can become large numbers of same-minded purchase decision making participants who are otherwise unrelated.
• Point 3 addresses larger single voices and decision makers, and does represent concerted, longer-term organized voices.
• Think of Point 2 and Point 3 here as marketplace counterparts to the two categorical equity holder types noted here regarding Point 1 stakeholders.

Point 3 stakeholders include, among others, single dominating client businesses in business-to-business arenas. And it just as significantly includes major wholesalers that might take on a large percentage of what a business offers in more of a business-to-consumer context. And it includes in that vein, single large retails that might do the same, or even buy out all of what some business produces. Let me take that out of the abstract by citing two examples. Globally, Walmart sells more than one million US dollars worth of toilet paper every single day for overall gross sales. And that number is old now by several years. Their gross annual sales for this one product type is probably at or above half a billion dollars per year now. That type of purchasing power influences suppliers and original manufacturers of all types. And to turn to a smaller but still significantly sized second retail business, for a second such example, consider Trader Joe’s: the supermarket chain. Their approach where possible and realistic, is to only sell products branded to their own name. And they go to small producers and buy out everything they produce for some product type, to exclusively sell in this way, as carrying their brand and as having been vetted for meeting their quality standards. This can, for example, mean buying out an entire vintage year from a small wine producer, or entire production runs and essentially everything that a small pasta or similar manufacturer makes for sale over a contractually agreed to period of time.

Switching categories again in my above-cited categorical list of stakeholders, large numbers of irate stockholders and the news stories their anger and frustration can and do create, can have a very significant collective impact on a business, as can single larger voices for Point 1 and its participants. The collective impact of smaller individual marketplace participants, as by analogy addressed in Point 2, or of single larger ones as per Point 3 can have massive impact too. And for the former, consider the marketing disaster of a business facing a consumer boycott that is heralded and followed as an unfolding news story in the press and on television and online. That can kill a business if it cannot effectively respond and resolve matters. And the loss or threat of loss of some single balance sheet shaping, major purchasing customer can have an equally significant impact too.

I have already at least begin tying this posting’s line of discussion, to this series and its main topic in the above paragraph where I cite the crucial importance of communications here, and of open and as necessary, transparent communications and certainly with all involved parties included there. And that leads me back to the above list of five stakeholder categories and the two groups I have skipped over up to here: Point 4 (a business’ competition) and Point 5 (outside regulatory organizations.)

Let’s start with Point 4. Few people start out thinking of a business’ competitors as holding a stakeholder position to them, but that in fact can be a valid way to view them insofar as a business and its primary competitors in particular, as so strongly influenced by each other. Businesses have a stake in how their competitors do, even in more zero-sum game theory contexts where they thrive to the extent that their competition does not. But in the real world, competitive relationships are not always so simple and do not always take on a strictly win-lose position. As a case in point, a larger, market dominating business might absolutely need the cover of having viable competitors in order to avoid the costly and even all but devastating challenge of antitrust action. Remember, courts have been known to go so far as to force the break-up of companies deemed to be monopolistic and irretrievably so as currently organized. A business that was facing that type of possible action, after for example being warned of it through prior court action, would probably see it as disastrous for them if one of their larger and more presentable competitors looked like it might go under!

Businesses, and certainly in countries such as the United States, are legally barred from colluding with each other as that can be seen as violating antitrust and antimonopoly laws for constituting market manipulation of one form or other. But there are in fact a relatively wide range of contexts where selective and allowed collaborations, and their game strategies that go beyond simple win-lose, would offer greater value and safety and for all businesses concerned.

And this brings me to the above list’s Point 5 and outside regulatory organizations. I am going to address that stakeholder category in my next series installment and will continue from there to more fully discuss all of these categorical stakeholder types in terms of communications and in terms of simplified, disintermediated communications. In anticipation of that, and as a simple example, many legal systems have strong and strongly enforced antimonopoly laws in place that directly impact upon and limit how competing businesses can communicate with each other. But even then, there are carved out exceptions and complexities, as apply for example where businesses that create and sell competing antivirus and anti-malware software products are allowed to work together for example, for sharing updates on new and emerging threat vectors. And a great deal of regulatory law that essentially all businesses have to work within, involves sensitive personally identifiable information and how that can and cannot be communicated and between whom and under what conditions.

There is an old saying to the effect that the devil is in the details. That certainly applies when the issues of this series are considered in more specific contexts. I will at least begin delving into the communications details of all of this in my next installment, having focused on who would do this communicating here.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. And also see Social Networking and Business 2 and that directory’s Page 1 for related material.

Career planning 11: career planning as an ongoing process of analysis and synthesis 5

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on August 10, 2017

This is my 11th installment to a series in which I seek to break open what can become a hidden workings, self-imposed black box construct of career strategy and planning, where it can be easy to drift into what comes next rather than execute to realize what could be best for us (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 459 and following for Parts 1-10.)

I began to more systematically address a set of issues that are coming to reshape and redefine employment and employability, and certainly in developed-world countries such as the United States in Part 9 and Part 10, where I briefly touched on the issues of:

• Automation and robotization with their combined impact on what types of work can be and will be cost-effectively available to human employees,
• And non-compete agreements as they have started to be more widely used to rebalance and skew the power dynamics in the employer/employee relationship, and the range of opportunity that employees can have in shaping and controlling their own employability and their own careers and work lives.

At the end of Part 10 I offered a brief set of news stories links that point to reporting and news analysis pieces that came out between 2014 and 2017, highlighting that second bullet point and its issues. I pick up on that narrative again here, by repeating one of those links and offering a new one that would best be understood in light of that June, 2016 news piece:

To Compete Better, States Are Trying to Curb Noncompete Pacts (for the earlier article), and
Quit Your Job for a Better One? Not if You Live in Idaho.

Some states in the United States are in fact actively beginning to push back against what is argued to be unwarranted and even ridiculously constraining overuse of non-compete clauses in hiring and terms of employment agreements. But some, and states such as Idaho in particular that are governed from the politically “conservative” and the “ultra-conservative” perspective, have taken an essentially entirely pro-employer and anti-employee rights approach here. Right now, this issue is playing out at a state by state level in the United States. Yes, as this becomes a larger and more overtly visible and discussed issue, pressure will arise for the United States Congress to address this at a national level – unless that is the US federal court system and the Supreme Court in particular, takes this up first. But in today’s polarized climate and with so much at stake and so much taking everyone’s complete attention in Congress with the Trump presidential administration scandals, and with the Republicans in Congress skewed by numbers to the right and to conservative and ultra-conservative positions, Congress will not and cannot take this up with any possibility of resolution soon. And when and if the Supreme Court or even just a regional federal court takes on this issue – that in principle could happen any time but that probably means years from now. And that might only happen after Congress acts nationally on this with the passage of affecting legislation, if that new law is taken to court and challenged for its constitutionality.

I can summarize the core message inherent in that paragraph in a few simple words: this is a growing problem that genuinely needs a nation-wide, federal governmental response and resolution but that will not happen for years. Because of that, individuals will have to find their own ways to survive and even thrive professionally in the face of these contractual employment restrictions – just as they have to when facing the inexorable shifts in the workplace and in employability that are arising from automation. And that leads me directly to, and I add into the closing note that I appended to the end of Part 10 where I indicated in brief outline, the types of issues that I would address here:

• “I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will at least briefly consider the issues of legal challenge to the open ended use of non-compete agreements. But more importantly, I will discuss this as a new source of disruptive change in a career development context, and how networking and other approaches that hold value in addressing disruptive change, can hold value here too – and before any court or legislative action limits the use or reach of these restrictions. And I will further discuss how seemingly separate and distinct changes and disruptive changes in employability interact, in how they arise and in their overall collective impact – and in how that can be more effectively addressed by people who seek to take ownership of their own work lives and careers.”

I just raised, and for now and for short-term dismissed the possibility of legal case and legislative action remediations to the blanket use of non-compete clauses. And that has left me with a need for at least suggesting more effective tools that individuals can use to remain as flexibly and effectively employable as possible as they pursue jobs and careers that would be best for themselves.

I have discussed the role of open and more widely reaching business-oriented social networking in several installments to this series, and return to that topic here and with a specific networking goal in mind, that calls for some very specific steps on the part of the networking individual before they begin reaching out.

• You need to know precisely what a non-compete agreement that you would face if you took a new job, would entail and how it would limit or block you later on as you might wish to take a next jobs and careers step. What precisely would this limit you’re being legally permitted to do and both for specific skills used and for specific applications of those skills? And what is the geographic reach of those restrictions? Would they only apply in the one state where you would work in this new job, or would they potentially follow you across state lines or even beyond, for more international businesses? And how long would they remain in effect? Confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements for protecting a former employer’s confidential or proprietary knowledge can be open ended for duration, to put that question into perspective. Could you get out from under the restrictions of this non-compete clause by moving to a state that was more restrictive in how it allowed them to be applied as barriers to further employment? You need to know the implications and the potential for what you would agree to for this, as a basic due diligence check-list issue in deciding if a new possible job would be best for you, or if it might in fact hold long-term negatives in it that would outweigh any possible short-term gains, given your more immediate short-term and here-and-now needs and their pressures.
• And as a part of this, you have to ask yourself and know what types of entanglements you might already be facing from prior jobs and their hiring and terms of employment agreements, that you have already signed and legally agreed to. This means addressing the same questions and issues raised in the above bullet point, but from the perspective of response to what is already in place, and not entirely from free and open choice on your part. Can you even take the new job offered you in the first of these bullet points, or have one or even more than just one prior non-compete agreements signed, prevent you from taking it without risk of legal action from a previous employer, who might have you in their sights because you just left them and not of their choosing?

Know where you stand now and what types of minefield you might already be in from non-compete clause restrictions as they would specifically apply to you. And know where and for how long they would apply. Now, what can you do with your current skills and workplace experience that would, through reframing and other means, not by disallowed there? Would for example, a change in industry worked in be sufficient to unblock you?

• Think this out and do your research – and keep copies of the agreements that you do sign with employers as part of your ongoing career documentation.

You should do this anyway, to document for your own use precisely what you have done professionally and in what contexts, but changes in the employability landscape such as the widespread emergence of non-competes makes this an absolute necessity.

Now openly reach out and network. Do this to help you find new paths forward in your work life and career path, if you feel hemmed in and for whatever reason: from workplace automation, non-compete agreements or whatever. And do this for information and insight that might better help you understand and navigate your way forward, and around these challenges, as well as for helping you find specific new opportunities.

• Do you need to retrain in some way and if so, how? This might mean learning new hands-on and related skills, but it can mean learning a new language too: the professional slang and perspective that is commonly taken for granted as known in some new-to-you industry that you are considering switching to.
• Network with a goal of finding out more fully what you already have identified that you need to learn,
• And with a goal of identifying gaps in what you know, that you have to learn and be able to demonstrate, that you have not already identified as being important or even essentially necessary for you.

Open and wide-ranging networking and a willingness to step out of your current tried and true comfort zone is essential to you here and it can be vitally important for your overall and long-term career planning and even just for your here-and-now employability.

I am going to turn in my next series installment to the second half of the to-address note that I appended to the end of Part 10, that I repeat here for clarity and ease of reading:

• “And I will further discuss how seemingly separate and distinct changes and disruptive changes in employability interact, in how they arise and in their overall collective impact – and in how that can be more effectively addressed by people who seek to take ownership of their own work lives and careers.”

Note that many of the points that I raise here regarding non-compete clauses and their challenges, apply to workplace automation and I add other widespread disruptive workplace and employability changes too, and how better to face them. With that stated I will start the next installment to this with some further notes on addressing the non-compete clause challenge as it is now and as it is still emerging, absent any legislative or court-decision remediation. And with that in place and in its context, I will delve into the issues and questions of this now-reduced to-address point, and the emerging flood of disruptive change in the workplace as a whole.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

Business planning from the back of a napkin to a formal and detailed presentation 17

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on August 8, 2017

This is my 17th posting to a series on tactical and strategic planning under real world constraints, and executing in the face of real world challenges that are caused by business systems friction and the systems turbulence that it creates (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 578 and loosely following for Parts 1-16.)

I began working my way through a three point list of to-address topic points in Part 12, that I repeat here for continuity of discussion:

1. Different functionally focused stakeholders might reach different conclusions as to which processes and subsystems of them are core or peripheral to a business, and as to which might be secondary-peripheral of them – and if so of what type (e.g. necessary but outsourceable, or no longer needed and dispensable.) And it is important to both clarify and discuss those differences, and to reach a working consensus that all key stakeholders can come to at least tacit agreement upon, and certainly if a business is to enter into and carry through upon the right transitions for its own needs, and in the right way and with the right timing.
2. Then after that, and in the context of distinguishing between core and peripheral processes, I said that I would turn to consider areas and aspects of the business that can be linearly scaled up, and areas that represent true nonlinearities – places where simply scaling up according to the pattern in place would create inefficiencies.
3. And I added that I would discuss all of this in terms of crucial information availability and communications, and in terms of two types of case study examples: a retail business, and a software development business.

And I at least began taking that narrative out of the abstract in Part 15 with an analysis of this set of issues, framed in terms of the retail store case study example promised in Point 3. I continued that case study discussion in Part 16, completing an analysis of that business in Point 1 and 2 terms, and I will finish it here, now focusing in on the communications issues and challenges of Point 3. After taking that step forward in this narrative, I will turn to consider the software development business, case study example, as also promised in Point 3.

But as noted above, I begin this with my retail store example: a hardware store, Alpha Hardware, that chose to make a more disruptively route to business expansion by splitting their store as a business that was located in a limited space that they could not expand upon in one location, into two separate more specialized storefronts: Alpha Hardware (in their original location) and Alpha Home Goods (in their new second location.) Simply seeking to develop a second location clone of the original store in a new location would have represented a more linear path forward following of their business model in place and would have been much less dramatic a change. They instead close a much more disruptively novel transition approach here.

Everyone working at the original single location Alpha Hardware knew that the store was way too cramped for space and both for the volume of business conducted and for the range and diversity of products and of individual stock keeping units (SKUs), or separately ordered and sold product variations and versions carried and sold, that they had to find room for in their showroom. The dynamics of this are simple and essentially immutable:

• When a store has fixed and limited shelf space available for offering its products to its customers, and/or a limited in-house inventory storage space so they can have the short-term required reserves for keeping their shelves replenished,
• And the number of customers seeking to buy from them increases, this creates real and in time undeniable pressure to limit what is offered and sold, to the items that fly off the shelf through completed sales the fastest. Items that only sell slowly, take up room and keep doing so, robbing the store of opportunity to do business and make sales for items that would move more quickly – and leaving customers looking for them frustrated because the store cannot keep enough of those faster moving items in stock.

Everyone at Alpha Hardware knew this, and both for the more traditional hardware side of this store and for the newer and expanding household goods side of it. They saw the impact of this, as customers came in asking for items that they no longer stocked because not enough of them sold for them to make sense to carry, given their space limitations. They saw this when they did run out of items that they did actively carry. And they saw this as they saw genuine opportunity and value to the store to carry a more diverse selection of goods, if they could only find a way to do so. And with all of these people working in the same relatively small space, they did talk about all of this as well as about more socially connecting issues that helped to bring them together as a small community and as a workplace team.

When Alpha Hardware as a storefront, split off its household goods side to their second location, they were fortunate enough to be able to find and secure a spot for that directly across the street from their original store. This meant communications stayed easy and strong. I have already made note of the importance of that, at least in passing, and consider it in more detail and with a more direct focus of attention here. Consider what happens when communications are poor or even essentially nonexistent between work areas in a business and even in a single location, and for a perhaps extreme case situation when employees and their managers find themselves competing for limited resources – that all involved sides feel entitled to, and that all see themselves worthy of claiming highest priority for.

Effective business planning, as a core requirement, has to be able to identify where such impasses might arise and has to be able to proactively where possible, address and limit these challenges. And effective business planning, as a course correction measure has to be based on the data and insight that would identify where resource bottleneck and other challenges might already have led to conflict and to dysfunctional competition within the business, where an enterprise can in effect find itself at war with itself, or at the very least a low level version of that.

• I am writing here about within-business friction, and about the rigidity and loss of agility and resiliency that communications breakdowns can lead to, where it cannot be possible to more effectively share limited resources if the involved parties requiring them cannot in some way communicate with each other effectively enough to do so.

If a business is not organized clearly enough and with sufficiently effective communications systems in place and working, to be able to at least nominally address these and similar challenges, it is not going to be in a position to even know if it is facing simple linear path forward short-term problems, or more systematic and longer term ones. And it is not going to be in a position to know if it is facing need for a true disruptively novel path forward change and a true transition, or a need for simpler problem remediation and a continuation of business as usual.

I am going to turn to my second, software producer case study example in my next series installment, but in anticipation of that introduce it here as the e-Maverick Group: an e-commerce software developer and provider that seeks to offer cutting edge and next generation software solutions to their business clients. And in orienting anticipation of that next installment to come, I repeat here a briefly stated detail about this type of business that I first offered here in this series in Part 16:

• While new products and even new types of products do arise and appear on the shelves of hardware stores, and home goods stores too, a great deal of what is offered is fairly standard and stable in function and in basic form.
• That situation is not going to hold true in my software business example where even seemingly consistent product types can fundamentally change in both what they offer and how and at a steady, rapid pace.

The e-Maverick Group is change and even disruptively novel change driven, in ways that a business like Alpha Hardware would never be and that has implications when considering the types of issues under discussion here. And I add with that in mind that fundamental, disruptively novel change in what a business offers, as noted in the above two bullet points, often means at least a need for equally fundamentally New in how they do so too.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory.

Rethinking exit and entrance strategies 20: keeping an effective innovative focus while approaching and going through significant business transitions 10

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on August 6, 2017

This is my 20th installment to a series that offers a general discussion of business transitions, where an organization exits one developmental stage or period of relative strategic and operational stability, to enter a fundamentally different next one (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 559 and loosely following for Parts 1-19.)

I focused in Part 17, Part 18 and Part 19 on a series of How, oriented issues that I repeat here for continuity of discussion:

1. It can be vitally important to make explicit strategic effort to more deeply understand where your business is now and where that business is headed if it seeks to simply follow a straight-forward more predictively linear path, rather than making a more profound shift and going through a genuine transition.
2. And it is equally important to be aware of the possibilities, at the very least of what types of transitions could be possible, and their implications and consequences.
3. This leads me to the question of what would be planned for in a strategically considered, intentionally entered into business transition, and how such a transition plays out.

I turn in this posting to the more Why side of these and related issues and to how they fit into a larger strategically oriented planning perspective, and both in terms of strategy per se and as strategic intent can collide with emerging day-to-day reality. And I begin that, and addressing the main area of consideration for this posting by repeating the basic, and even tritely simplistic Why consideration for all of what I have been discussing here, that I noted at the end of Part 19, and certainly for any best practices context:

• “Change would be made with a goal of more fully and effectively fulfilling the business mission and vision and its overall strategic goals and their realization.”

That is a valid point, but as I will discuss here, there is potentially at least a virtual mine field of ambiguity in it. Part of what I will do here in this posting will be to point out and address at least some of the details as to where that claim of ambiguity holds true. Then after offering that as a frame of reference for what is to come here, I will begin considering the details of what goes into the above bullet pointed Why assertion in specific detail.

It is rare for any business to find itself doing one thing and one thing only at a time, and even when it is a single person enterprise that only takes on and works for one client at a time. Businesses carry out in-house oriented and prioritized tasks and processes, and client-facing ones, and supplier and other supply chain-like tasks and processes, and at least some marketing outreach – and even if they primarily rely on satisfied customer word of mouth in acquiring new business, and more. My point here is that a well run business of any complexity, or simplicity for that matter, is essentially always balancing at least small sets of competing tasks, goals and priorities against each other at any given time. And this competition centers on combinations of any and all of the resource bottlenecks that they might have to accommodate to stay in business, whether that means:

• Time and staff availability to work on what and when,
• Liquidity and cash availability,
• Parts and supplies inventories with their here-and-now availability limitations,
• Access to specialized equipment,
• Or whatever else might become a performance limiting or constraining factor for a business under consideration.

The list of potential bottlenecks here can be significant for any business and it is open ended when considered for businesses and industries in general and certainly when possibilities here are more explicitly noted and not just categorically labeled.

Think of those factors and considerations as arising external to any specific task or process flow that is competing for what it requires for completion, but internal to the business itself. And those within-business factors are matched with ones that are external to it, such as urgency to complete at least certain specific customer sales requests on very tight schedules.

• Dire customer need for a product offered that can only be produced at a certain rate without reprioritizing production line output, faced by an established repeat business client, can prompt this
• As can rapidly approaching calendar deadlines for seasonal products and big purchase orders for them,
• And early completion or delivery bonuses from specific customers for their purchases, as three of many possibilities there, with this third example commoner in business-to-business contexts.

And these three examples are all drawn from one arena of activity here, with a business to marketplace context. Reconsidering in-house tasks and process completions, they compete with each other too, as I have noted both here and in other contexts in this blog when for example referring to bottleneck equipment and other resources that for whatever reason might be available, but as an at least always somewhat inadequately scaled shared resource that is widely needed. Internal within-business, and external factors and forces influence and shape each other here, and can and do serve to set overall priorities and for all bottlenecks and potential bottlenecks faced.

• Effective operational systems in this context, flexibly seek to meet competing needs, and certainly when prioritized scheduling is required, and with a goal of meeting higher priority scheduling requirements first but without unduly sacrificing what start out as lower priority ones – and so they do not become high priority remediation requirements if nothing else.
• And effective strategy facilitates and supports operational systems so they can be flexible and resilient in this and so they can be better able to both identify and respond to scheduling change needs as called for.

And with that, I return to my quote about change, as offered more towards the start of this posting:

• “Change would be made with a goal of more fully and effectively fulfilling the business mission and vision and its overall strategic goals and their realization.”

A well crafted mission or vision statement is brief and clear and simple and in most cases can be summarized for their core requirements and goals in a single sentence. But simplicity can give way to complexity and to differences of understanding when these basic business starting points are used to buttress support for meeting competing resource-demanding needs, and when and at what pace and how. So the alignment apparent in the “overall strategic goals and their realization” of “the business mission and vision and its overall strategic goals and their realization” might be more apparent than real at times, and certainly as understood in an immediate here-and-now by competing stakeholders.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will consider accommodating response considerations to this, such as the development of urgency scales, and timeframe compression and extension responses. I will discuss this in costs terms that include but can go beyond the strictly financial. And I will turn this narrative back to more explicitly addressing business transitions while doing so, where I have addressed change and the competition between needs and goals here, in more general terms. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory.

Meshing innovation, product development and production, marketing and sales as a virtuous cycle 6

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on August 4, 2017

This is my sixth installment to a series in which I reconsider cosmetic and innovative change as they impact upon and even fundamentally shape the product design and development, manufacturing, marketing, distribution and sales cycle, and from both the producer and consumer perspectives (see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2, postings 342 and loosely following for Parts 1-5.)

I focused in Part 5 on a restaurant example, where that business’ owner had decided to pursue a farm to table approach as the defining vision of their restaurant. Earlier, in Part 3 I offered a restaurant-oriented example of a downward vicious cycle, that fits a pattern that I have come to call a restaurant death spiral, where loss of business leads to cost cutting and corner cutting that in turn drives away customers and creates still greater loss – with that pattern repeating until the restaurant finishes failing. Think of the Part 3 scenario of this series as background and prelude for a Part 5 change of direction recovery here, for the level of urgency and determination that that would bring a business owner to, in order to avoid repeating what might in any way be viewed as returning to a lessons-learned failed path.

• What do the two business model approaches of Parts 3 and 5 have in common? Any realistic answer to that would have to include a rigidity that can create vulnerability and certainly in the face of the unexpected, and increased risk in any case, and certainly when the Part 5 scenario is pushed to its logical pure-play extreme.

And this brings me to the set of issues that I would at least begin address here in this posting, as encapsulated in this following set of bullet points:

1. Discussing what businesses respond to, and in the specific context of this series, as they respond in patterns of decision and action, review and further decision and action that can have recurringly cyclical elements to them.
2. And it means addressing how they would respond at a higher level strategic and overall operational level and not just at a day-to-day, here-and-now details level, and certainly if they do so effectively.
3. In anticipation of that point, I cite agility and resiliency as organizational goals – and as buffering mechanisms against the down-sides of change. I have already touched on this set of issues (e.g. in Part 5) but will return to further consider it in light of my discussion of the above Points 1 and 2.

I begin with Point 1 of that list, and with the point that the two just-referenced case study examples hold in common: their inflexibility and what it is grounded in.

• Business owners who pursue a Part 3 scenario or analogous approach to running their business, generally seem to be pursuing known and easy more than anything else, and with a goal of limiting risk from avoiding forays into what for them would be the unknown and unfamiliar.
• Business owners who pursue a more purely Part 5 scenario or analogous approach to running their business, do so with a goal of never, ever again risking falling into a known failed pattern: a once followed easy but long-term dangerous trap like the restaurant death spiral. And when I posit a Part 5 approach as a break-away from that downward spiral and with all of the pain that it had caused, the pressures to pursue their new course can be very intense.

Rigidity and the resulting fragility that it can engender, arise in both of these scenarios. And addressing the questions of what businesses respond to, and both one-off and as a matter of developing cyclically recurring processes, has to begin with a deeper understanding of goals and priorities and of what really should be added into the basic business mission and vision where that has to be fundamentally reconsidered.

Let’s consider the farm to table, local-only sourcing restaurant of Part 5. They started out pursuing this approach after what their owner came to see as a near death experience for their restaurant dream and for their own personal financial wellbeing too. And they began to see some real success from this as their business began to flourish. Then they hit a wall in the form of locally sourced supplies limitations that arose from really challenging weather and crop loss for the farms they would buy from. And this leads me to a fundamental question.

• Does this restaurant owner seek to run a locally sourcing farm to table restaurant only and with that their one and only mission defining goal?
• Or do they seek to provide the best food possible from the best ingredients possible where that might usually mean buying and using local and from specific partner business farms – but where they would selectively deviate from that when necessary for maintaining both quality of food and the variety that they would want on their menus?
• What, ultimately, are their operational and process-based priorities there?
• And what are the actual priorities of their customers and of their potential customers who would be drawn to quality, and even if they see value in farm to table and local sourcing where possible?

Transparency and openness are important here, in what such a restaurant offers its customers and in how it describes and explains and markets itself. And the same can be said for openness in how this restaurant maintains connection with and support for the local farms and dairies and other largely family owned and run enterprises that they began turning to when first becoming a farm to table restaurant. It is important to note here that farm to table restaurants do not just approach a within-organization business model and its requirements when pursuing that approach. They join a community with their family owned small farm and dairy providers that can become both mutually supportive and mutually rewarding and for all involved.

I am writing about marketing and communications here, but more importantly I am writing about a rethinking of what a business does and how, and with the necessary selectively expressed flexibility needed to address and surmount challenges. And yes, this might even mean buying premium quality canned Italian tomatoes or buying distantly grown ones – whichever would best meet the restaurant’s quality criteria and needs, until locally grown can be freshly available again. (I noted in Part 5 that elements of this scenario are now dated by the improvement of long-distance transportation, and even for ripe produce and at good costs at point of delivery. But I offer this example and continue developing it here because basic decisions with their competing alternative resolutions still arise and will continue to do so, as change and the unexpected force reconsideration and decisions, and in ways that might be novel to the business model in place. And the farm to table ethic of buying local and supporting local producers where ever possible, has to be taken into account here too.)

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment with Point 2 of my above-repeated topics list. And in anticipation of that, I note here that I will begin that line of discussion where I finished this posting, at a point where decisions have to be made that can be grounded in business ethics and related terms and in how a business and its owners enter into and participate in larger communities that only begin with their customers and their potential customer bases. I will discuss this in the context of meeting strategic and operational needs within a business, to keep it viable and profitably robust. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. And see also Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its Page 2 continuation.

Finding virtue in simplicity when complexity becomes problematical, and vice versa 4

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on August 2, 2017

This is my fourth installment to a brief series on simplicity and complexity in business communications, and in carrying out and evaluating the results of business processes, tasks and projects (see Social Networking and Business 2), postings 257 and loosely following for Parts 1-3.)

I began this series (in Part 1 and Part 2) with a brief orienting outline of some general principles regarding business communications best practices. And with that in place as a working foundation for what is to follow it in this series, I briefly offered project management as a source of working examples, in Part 2 and in Part 3. And in that, I at least briefly touched upon two distinct but nevertheless vitally important faces to project work:

• The one-off nature of projects and certainly of individual projects as they address non-standard workplace demands and seek to find novel and new solutions for resolving them,
• And the more standardized system of recurringly setting up and running, and reviewing and evaluating projects per se as an ongoing and even regularly resorted to approach.

Individual projects might have one-off and even essentially unique qualities and certainly for what they each individually seek to accomplish, but project support and management systems need to be standardized, and both to set up and run projects more effectively and more cost-effectively as specific endeavors and to more effectively coordinate project work per se with the rest of the business. I have recurringly written about projects and project work in this blog; here I focused on how to more effectively communicate in this type of context.

Then at the end of Part 3, I stated that I would continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will look beyond the more limited context of projects and project management systems, to consider the business as a whole. And I begin that, by making a basic categorical distinction, just as I did when discussing projects as a special case. And the point of distinction that I make here is between:

1. Business processes that are essentially rote-standardized and for what is done and how and by whom, and with what expected inputs and outputs, and
2. Business processes that have to explicitly accommodate change and even explicit uncertainty – and that can even be in place and use in order to help the business to flexibly accommodate change.

Note that I am explicitly and intentionally positing two ends of what in reality is a continuum here, where a flexible and resilient business would have to be widely capable of responding to and resolving at least some change and even unexpected change that arrives without any real warning. And in principle at least, that type of change can arise essentially anywhere in a business and its systems; disruptive change as a special categorical case in point can and does arise where it would be least expected and that is part of what makes it disruptive. But I focus on the extremes at least here and for now, in building an organizing conceptual framework for what could be a wider and more far-reaching discussion. And for purposes of this posting at least, I will refer to these end-point categories as Type 1 and Type 2 business processes.

• Type 1 processes can become rigid and resistant to change and certainly for business activities that have become so consistently standardized that they become taken for granted and all but invisible.
• At the same time, communications patterns and processes in them can become both automatic and minimal and with sparse messaging-only required, and certainly as long as usual and expected continue to hold true.
• Type 2 processes are built around change, and the people who take part in them or who depend upon their being effectively carried out as outside stakeholders for them, have to expect that.
• At the same time, communications become both less routine and more critically important. And the level and range of types of information that would have to be shared and effectively so in them becomes significantly greater too, and certainly when compared to the opposite end of the spectrum, of Type 1.

So if disruptive change happens and either as a one-off event or as the start to what might become a new ongoing reality, it is the Type 1 and closely related processes that are going to fail, and with much higher likelihood and with much greater impact and severity, than you would in most cases find for Type 2 processes.

This represents a crucially important risk management issue, or rather set of them:

• The importance of knowing what is taken for granted and overlooked because it has become so rote and routine and reliable and so taken for granted,
• And the importance of really knowing how those areas of the business are managed and maintained through standardized, if sparse communications patterns and networks in place.

When a critically important Type 1 process or set of them breaks down, the whole business can find itself in trouble – and without having effective communications channels prepared for remediating this, or even for fully characterizing it. And at least in my experience, and perhaps I have been unlucky for this, these breakdowns always seem to happen when a business would be least prepared to respond effectively in general, where for example a key usually stable and reliable computer networking resource that has to be up 24/7 breaks down when only a skeleton staff is on duty in the middle of the night. Type 1 systems never seem to break down at opportune times. But arguably, a real Type 1 systems breakdown can make any time inopportune, and certainly if not at least thought through in advance of that.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will step back from these two extreme point considerations to consider business processes and systems of them in general. And in anticipation of that, I add that I will consider both within-business and external to the business factors that can effect and shape business efficiency and resiliency there. Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Social Networking and Business and its Page 2 continuation. And also see my series: Communicating More Effectively as a Job and Career Skill Set, for its more generally applicable discussion of focused message best practices per se. I offer that with a specific case in point jobs and careers focus, but the approaches raised and discussed there are more generally applicable. You can find that series at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, as its postings 342-358.

Building a startup for what you want it to become 25: moving past the initial startup phase 11

Posted in startups by Timothy Platt on July 31, 2017

This is my 25th installment to a series on building a business that can become an effective and even a leading participant in its industry and its business sector, and for its targeted marketplaces (see Startups and Early Stage Businesses and its Page 2 continuation, postings 186 and loosely following for Parts 1-24.)

I focused in Part 24 on the terms “aggressive” and “conservative” as they are used in a business planning and execution context over time, and in the course of that discussion, used those terms in what at first glance might seem to be two different and even somewhat contradictory ways. My goal for this posting is to focus on making business analysis more effectively data-driven and I will primarily address that complex of issues here. But I wanted to begin this posting at least, by further considering what those two terms mean, and how they are used.

I stated in Part 24 that:

• Conservative in this does not necessarily mean building for reduced overall risk, and aggressive does not necessarily mean building from a more risk accepting and risk tolerant perspective, and it does not necessarily mean accepting more of it – even if that can be the case when making specific comparisons between specific businesses.
• The real distinction here can in fact simply be one of where the risk that is allowed for, is considered acceptable in the business’ overall operational systems.

And then I used these terms in a manner that might seem more consistent with an assumption that conservative does in fact mean less risk tolerant and aggressive means more risk tolerant, per se. When you consider overall risk and with both short and long term risk possibilities included, this alternative is not in general always valid. But when you focus on shorter term and even on mid-range risk and their management, conservative approaches do tend to be more risk aversive there, and aggressive tends to be more risk tolerant there. This understanding is consistent with my own experience and my own observations so it underlies how I use these terms as a practical manner. Most organizations and of all types tend to weigh shorter term risk potential more heavily than they do longer-term, and certainly given the perception of uncertainty and of plan-undermining change that longer carries. Overall, however and when all timeframe considerations are accounted for, conservative and aggressive can come to look more and more alike. And long-term strategy has to allow for that as well as explicitly considering the range of timeframes faced.

With that noted, I turn to consider data driven business analysis, and I do so by offering a basic empirically grounded assertion:

• Not all data is created equal – and the challenge of creating effectively useful knowledge out of raw data begins with effectively evaluating, organizing and prioritizing it.

And business analysis, of course, is a process of making useful actionable knowledge out of carefully selected and organized raw data. So this and the strategic and operational planning that come out of it have to be based on a finely tuned understanding of what data is being used, and of its value for this.

I begin addressing this by posing a basic starter set of questions that would apply to essentially any data or data sets that might come up for consideration:

• Is this data reliable, and if so for what? I parse that question, offered here as a general point of principle, into a set of more focused related questions.
• Where did it come from? And how reliable is its source from prior experience?
• Is it complete and unedited or has it been pre-filtered or re-represented in some way, by a stakeholder who might be bringing their own biases or agendas with them when offering it? Answers to this question would in most cases be more presumptive than conclusive but evidence of possible filtering or bias should raise red flags and should always be considered as a possibility. As an example of how pre-filtering can be carried out without any intent of adding bias into a data set but still end up adding that in, consider how data can be “cleaned up” before use by deleting from consideration, unexpected and seemingly out of pattern outliers and other “anomalies”, while removing second copies of duplicated records and the like. That happens and it should raise red flags.
• Is this data consistent with other data gathered and with expectations in place, or is it divergent from or contrarian to that? Note, new and different and unexpected should not rule out new data findings. But they should prompt closer and fuller examination and particularly if their inclusion would significantly shape conclusions drawn and actions taken.
• And of course, what would this data suggest and certainly when considered in the larger context of what is already known?
• And what are the consequences of that, and both if this data is correct and reliable and if it is not?

This type and depth of input analysis is almost certain to be carried out if a set of possible data under consideration is deemed a priori to that, to be actionably important and consequential. But this type of analysis is much less likely to take place and certainly with any thoroughness, at least a priori to using it in planning and execution, if it does not in some way stand out as potentially game changing. And in an increasingly emerging big data context that all businesses face, that means less and less of the data flow coming in faces even cursory review and quality control and can essentially become taken for granted.

I am writing here of a need to automate incoming data quality control, and as an increasingly vital risk management issue. And yes, big data is not just a possibility, or even a necessity for just big and established businesses. Small and new businesses can find themselves immersed in it too, and of fundamental necessity and as part of any realistic execution of their business plan.

I am going to discuss this set of issues in more detail in a next series installment where I will focus on specific types of raw data as business intelligence, and in the more specific context of an at least briefly sketched out working business example. Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at my Startups and Early Stage Businesses directory and at its Page 2 continuation.

%d bloggers like this: