Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Finding virtue in simplicity when complexity becomes problematical, and vice versa 3

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on June 17, 2017

This is my third 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 Part 1 and Part 2.)

I began addressing the issues and challenges of effective business communications in Part 1, and then switched to consider a special case in point example as provided by project management. And to clarify what I mean there, I refer to both the:

• One-off nature of specific projects, and the need to carry out such endeavors as perhaps-exceptions to business-as-usual processes and practices,
• And the need for standardized processes and mechanisms for setting up and managing and participating in projects and certainly for any organization that recurringly carries out specifically organized projects: in-house or as a client-facing service or both.

I stated at the end of Part 2 that I would shift directions in this series installment:

• To consider communications and communications best practices from the perspective of project management and leadership best practices, where different organizations and I add different types of projects might face different best practices alternatives for managing the issues that I have been raising here.

And I begin doing so by considering the role of scale and focus in projects. As a general rule, smaller and simpler projects – projects with more constrained and limited goals, can be managed and carried out by a smaller and more constrained headcount of participants, and at all levels. This, among other things (usually) means fewer opportunities for scheduling conflicts for hands-on participants where they would find themselves torn between requirements to carry out special assignment project tasks, and their more routine work. I parenthetically added in that word “usually” there because all it takes for chaos and complication in project work, is one inopportunely positioned gatekeeper manager who sees themselves as owning the time and effort of at least one crucial would-be project participant. I refer here to managers who have in their teams, employees with specialized skills that might be required for a project that requires interdisciplinary participation, who insists that their routine work is always more important than any non-standard work that members of their team might also be responsible for, that will not enter into their own pre-established performance review goals or stretch goals or those of their team. This type of resistance to active and timely participation can throw off any project’s schedule and I add any project’s budget, as work-around accommodations have to be arrived at and followed through on and as work completion dependencies and complications of missing goals create ripple effects. And this can happen even in small but important projects, and certainly if a bottleneck manager’s own next level up supervisor is unwilling to step into adjudicate matters as can sometimes happen.

• Effective communications cannot always guarantee buy-in and active support, but a failure in communications in this type of context can and probably will stymie them.

If this at least potential problem is important at the level of the individual project, it is even more so in setting up and actually following more general guidelines for any business that recurringly faces need to carry out projects in general.

Flipping this around with regard to my starting assumptions as addressed up to here, larger projects with correspondingly larger overall headcounts are more likely to draw in people from a wider range of functional areas in the business, including for example at least someone from finance for managing project budgets, and even if the projects under consideration are not financial department oriented for what they would accomplish. Larger projects of necessity bring in wider ranges of types of stakeholders. And larger projects can also of necessity call for larger and more complex management structures too.

• And a real driver of complexity there can be found when seeking to maintain communications and buy-in and in the face of information sharing friction or management resistance.

And with that point noted, I offer a division of labor option at the top of a project’s management that I have found very useful, where a given project might have:

• An overall project manager who provides overall strategic leadership and who works with more senior business management on behalf of a project, and
• A right-hand man or woman, project coordinator who reports directly to the overall project manager and who is tasked with keeping everything on track on a more details-oriented operational level, and for working with and managing communications and other problems as they arise within the project and with managers who project participants normally report to. Note: the overall project manager would become involved in that if needed and if a sufficiently impactful point of disagreement was arrived at between an outside manager and a project participant or manager. That would be specifically identified as an escalation in problem resolution response.

What I am writing of here, is the need for reasoned and need-based growth of a project team, and at all levels and to facilitate communications and the completion of task dependency work, and to help keep everything moving as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. When adding in a specific new position and project team member would specifically lead to improvements there, that person should be brought in. When a project participant is no longer needed, they should be relieved of this project participation responsibility and returned to their usual work responsibilities so they can focus more fully on them again. And for complex, long-term projects this process of bringing in and in time phasing out involvement of specific active participants becomes an ongoing endeavor, that would be strategically managed by the overall project manager and tactically managed by their project coordinator, at least where such a position has been carved out as a separate project level work description.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will look beyond the more limited context of projects and project management systems. 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.

Topologically (contrived opportunistically) connected social networks: rethinking a basic paradigm

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on June 1, 2017

I am a geneticist and molecular biologist, at least according to my postdoctoral training. So I have at least somewhat followed the literature relevant to that, as our molecular level understanding of genetics and of life processes have advanced. When I was a graduate student and a postdoctoral research fellow, the concept of genes as sequences of DNA on chromosomes was well established, as was the fact that in “higher” organisms: eukaryotes, DNA sequences that code for specific genes: for the specific proteins that they represent, can be interrupted by sequences called introns. And it was known that genes were accompanied by and generally flanked by special DNA sequences: regulatory sequences that controlled their activity, and that these sequences where controlled in turn by the binding of activating and inhibiting proteins that managed and regulated them. Those proteins were and are encoded on other genes. So the genome of an organism as a whole was and is managed for its expression by complex systems that include feedback control among other process considerations that would determine when and where a gene would produce its defining end products. Insulin, for example, would be produced by specific types of cell in the pancreas and myoglobin in muscle cells and not the other way around. True, a gene on a given chromosome might be regulated for its function by gene products produced from other genes that are distantly located, and even on other chromosomes entirely. But all action involved there, and certainly on a facilitation of gene activity side of these functional relationships, occurred within single linear stretches of that DNA and without consideration of the location of that stretch of DNA in space, relative to other unconnected or only distantly connected stretches of DNA. Passive diffusion and active transport mechanisms would bring outside (of a target DNA sequence) regulatory proteins and other factors to where they would work, and the precise location of DNA segments and sequences relative to each other in this was at most only secondarily of importance, and then in at most a non-systematic manner.

Then a game changing phenomenon was observed, where more direct regulatory and other functional relationships were found to arise between distinct stretches of DNA sequence, and in a manner that was fully dependent on how closely positioned they were physically as a result of how the chromosomes were folded to fit into a single tightly packed cell nucleus. And it was found that recurring folding patterns led to consistent patterns of specific groups of genes and their regulatory elements essentially always ending up physically adjacent to each other in the cell nucleus and even when they were not linearly linked to each other. And these genes and their regulatory sequences and mechanisms in place do directly interact. These “regular neighbors in consistently recurring three dimensional neighborhoods” systems came to be called topologically associated domains, or TADs. And it was found that at least some diseases are either influenced for their occurrence and severity, or even directly caused by systematic miss-folding, that would break up expected TADs and create what amount to new and less normatively functional ones.

A TAD represents what might be considered a contrived pattern of opportunistic alignment that creates consistent patterns of possible cross-communication and interaction between what would otherwise be distant and functionally unrelated genes. And evolutionary pressures have led to the development of particularly beneficial TADs that have come to routinely recur and from cell to cell as new cells are formed through the process of mitosis, and for entire organisms and even throughout entire species. Similar TADs and patterns of them are even found in related but evolutionarily distinct species too. I have found myself thinking about the basic organizing paradigm that this represents in a here, genetics-systems special case context. TADs as such are more usually thought of in that one particular context. But the basic principles depicted and highlighted there, have much wider possible application, and certainly in contexts such as social networking. And my goal here is in this posting is to at least begin to “think out loud,” in rethink social networking and business social networking in particular, for how similar, conceptually parallel processes might play a role there.

I chose to cite “topological social networking” and its perhaps less pretentious sounding alternative: “contrived opportunistic social networking” in the title of this posting, with this perhaps analogous system organizing process in mind. And I at least begin to pivot from the foundational and thought inspiring genetics example as briefly and simplistically outlined above to a social networking context by repeating a basic social networking taxonomy that I have offered in this blog and that I have used and offered in my own social networking and in my consulting practice (see my earlier posting: Social Network Taxonomy and Social Networking Strategy). And I begin by repeating a basic list of categorical types of individual networkers from that:

• Active networkers – people who are seeking to expand their connections reach and who really connect with their contacts to exchange value.
• Passive networkers – people who may or may not be looking to expand their networks and who primarily wait for others to reach out to connect with them. They tend to be less through in following through than active networkers when they do make an initial new networking contact, in effect rendering those new connections stillborn when they fail to do so.
• Selective networkers – people who are resistant to networking online with anyone who they are not already actively connected with and networking with by other means.
• Inactive networks – people who may very well lean towards selective networking as defined above or tend to be passive networkers when working on their networks but who are not doing so, at least now. They tend to start networking when and if they have a specific immediate reason to do so, such as reaching out to perhaps old contact lists when searching for a job. But they stop networking and either actively on their part or in response to contact efforts from others as soon as their own self-perceived immediate need for this ends.

Active networkers are essentially always open networkers, where that means having a willingness to meet new people and connect with them in a networking context as an initial point of contact. Selective networkers and (currently inactive) at least situationally inactive networkers tend to be closed and will not in general accept or even appreciate invitations to connect from complete strangers. Passive networkers and situationally inactive ones who happen to be currently networking can generally be found somewhere in the middle for this and fit into a spectrum from being at least situationally wide open to being fully closed, depending on their self-perceived circumstances and needs.

And now let’s categorically consider networking strategy types as would be pursued by members of these above categorical types, phrasing this in individual networker terms too. And I focus here on special networker categories who in effect collectively maintain networking communities as coherent connected groups:

• Hub networkers are people who are well known and connected at the hub of some specific community with its demographics and its ongoing voice and activities.
• Boundary networkers or demographic connectors are people who may or may not be hub networkers but who are actively involved in two or more distinct communities and who can help people connect across the boundaries to join new communities.
• Boundaryless networkers (sometimes called promiscuous networkers) are people who network far and wide, and without regard to community boundaries. These are the people who can seemingly always help you find and connect with someone who has unusual or unique skills, knowledge, experience or perspective and even on the most obscure issues and in the most arcane areas.

And in any given networking and potentially networking community, to include passive and inactive members and most active ones as well here, most people simply network such as they do within single demographic groups and communities and even when they do reach out to new possible contacts there. A leavening of hub, boundary and boundaryless networks serves to provide greater overall reach, and certainly when networking communities are considered from a “degrees of separation” perspective.

As a first consideration, and if “topological” per se were considered entirely on an individual networker level, then topological social networking per se might only represent a collective term for a combination of hub, boundary and boundaryless networkers and how they and others network and connect together. But that does not offer much if any clarifying value for understanding how networking is organized or carried out. But I see this term as taking on a more genuine meaning at a potential networking community and demographic level, emergent to that.

• Topological, or of you will contrived opportunistic social networking is networking in an opportunistically arising context where people come together for perhaps transiently shared reasons and for perhaps transiently shared purpose. The important point here is that this takes place in contexts that would not fit the more usual predictable demographic patterns that planned and intentional networking is usually carried out in.

Open networkers: people who are comfortable with reaching out to new possible networking contacts are obviously going to be more open to this type of networking than are more closed networkers. But even if a less active networker sees a known and trusted acquaintance in such a gathering and that person makes an introduction of a stranger to them, in effect validating and vetting who they are introducing, then even an otherwise closed networker, whether passive, selective or inactive to use the above outlined terms, might find themselves opportunistically networking to a new potential contact anyway – and certainly if they find themselves in a conversation with them that they would want to in some way continue.

And this brings me to active networkers and the word “contrived,” and back to the issues of networking strategy again: and to the basic concept of genetically defined TAD’s arising as recurring and predictable patterns that with time can take on functional potential and capacity.

• What types of contexts do we find ourselves in where unexpected networking opportunities might arise, or where they could at the very least be cultivated?
• Where are our social networking counterparts to TADs, to explicitly use the genetic term here, that we can cultivate and network through?

As soon as you decide that it might be worth your while to look for novel but meaningful business or other networking opportunities in unexpected places, and even “just in case,” you take a big step towards being both an open networker and a more boundaryless one too. But you also open up new doors to finding unexpected and even disruptively game changing sources of value too.

• Always carry business cards with you, and at least a pen if not paper and pen.
• Business cards are obvious in this and so are paper and pen in the event that someone who you meet and would network with does not have a card to give you in return. But the real value of having a pen is in giving the business cards that you receive some sustainable value. Always write the date when you receive a card on it, and a word or two to help remind you of the context and of what you discussed with them that would prompt a card exchange. If you do not do this, and just push another business card in your pocket, it is likely that when you see it next it will be without context and you will not know precisely why you have it as a door opener for a specific networking connection. Cards alone tend to simply gather dust until they are discarded and nothing actually comes from them.
• Remember, real networking begins with that second point of contact as that is when a real conversation begins.
• And in this contexts under discussion here, “always” as stated in the first of this set of bullet points really means always – and if not “on your person when you are swimming at a beach” then nearby and readily available.

Think of this posting as representing wildcard networking opportunity and the value of at least occasionally behaving as if a more open networker, and certainly if you see real possibility of meeting people who you would want to network with in specific upcoming types of events. And this means thinking at the very least about networking and the types of situations, events and contexts where you might expect to find that type of sharable value.

I suspect that the basic conceptual model underlying genetic and I add social networking TADs, is going to be found to be much more widely applicable than suggested up to here in this posting. As a final non-social networking possibility and putative example that is also biological in nature, consider the possible role that neuron to neuron cross-talk might play in overall brain function. There are already a variety of at least somewhat clearly characterized examples of this type of phenomenon in the medical literature, and perhaps the most clearly established of them is referred pain. Anyone who has ever eaten a really cold ice cream cone on a hot summer day and found their eyes aching from that – that is referred pain. The discomfort you experience then does not result from your eyes getting cold; it comes from cross-talk between adjacent sensory nerves, where activity in one triggers activity in another that is it not actually connected to, but that it simply close to.

I suspect that this type of cross-talk process also plays a role in the phenomenon of synesthesia too, one type of sensory input is consciously perceived as being of a different type, such as perceiving sounds as if colors too and certainly given the overt reality of perceived pain and its mechanism. And where else might this apply too, in a neurological and brain functionality context? I expect that variations on this mechanism are going to be found in a wide range of functionality contexts, where contiguous functionally and structurally distinct brain nuclei and neural pathways can and do exchange signals and by proximity of location-based topological networking. In principle this might even play a role in higher level widely neurologically-interconnected contexts such as self-awareness and sapience too.

But to pull this posting’s narrative back from the more speculative and to the more readily validated, and back to social networking: this is an approach that I will return to and both in exploring and analyzing observed networking behavior and to discuss how it can be intentionally applied as a source of networking best practices. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings 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 18

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on May 21, 2017

This is my 23rd 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 18th installment here since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States.

I have been charting the chaotic course of a Trump presidency in this series since one month after his taking the oath of office. And for much of that time, I have posted a new series installment every four days (see Parts 6-22 of this series.) And in the course of developing that progression of postings, I have at least attempted to offer both a current events-oriented narrative of the first 100 days of a Trump presidency, and an organized discussion of relevant constitutional law, historical precedent and related information that would put a Trump presidency into a more meaningful perspective. The choices that we face in understanding Donald Trump there, are both increasingly clear and increasingly grim for what they portend:

• That he may be so mentally incapacitated so as to be unable to fulfill his constitutionally mandated duties of office without causing chaos and endangering the country (as would be determined in accordance with the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution),
• That he might be so entangled in illegalities of a type and nature that would justify impeachment and removal from office under terms of the Constitution’s Article 2, Section 4,
• That he might be so incompetent as a manager and leader so as to be unable to effectively serve as president and even if he were deemed to be sane, technically, and even if he is not entangled in “treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors” as cited in the Constitution’s impeachment clause,
• Or some combination of mental incapacitation, criminal involvement and incompetence in office.

I ended Part 22 of that progression of postings by noting that I was planning on adding more updates to this series but on a less regular basis. And I had at least tentatively selected a topic for a next such installment, for after Congress had acted, or explicitly decided not to act on a few more of president Trump’s major agenda fulfilling legislative proposals, with healthcare reform and tax reform listed as high on his list that he is actually pursuing in office. And my topic for this posting as so anticipated can be easily summarized as to its basic orientation in a simple tagline:

• … promises made and kept or at least remembered and pursued, and promises made just to be discarded and forgotten.

One of the biggest and most far-reaching campaign promises that a then still candidate Trump made to the American people was that he would actively push for a one trillion dollar infrastructure rebuilding and improvement program. That promise has for all intent and purpose, entirely evaporated since he became elected. And the irony of that, is that a comprehensive infrastructure redevelopment program that was offered as a non-partisan initiative, is the one and only proposal, conjecture or fleeting throw-away line comment of any sort in Trump’s entire campaign for office that held any real chance of gaining broad based support and from across the political spectrum. This is the one and only promise of any sort that candidate Trump made, that might have brought the country together in support of what he was doing and seeking to do.

Let’s consider the might have been of this. If Trump had stated in his inaugural address that partisanship and political campaigning where now over and that he had just taken the oath of office as the president of the entire United States and not just for those who agreed with his political views, and if he had used that point of reassurance to launch into a brief but focused presentation on how he wanted to work with all Americans in rebuilding our national infrastructure, and in putting more people to work, and full time and in real careers that they can advance in, that would have silenced a great deal of criticism that he was facing and that has only grown in his actual presidency.

Millions of people in this country are in fact either unemployed or under-employed, or employed in dead-end jobs. And that holds true even as the official unemployment rates remain low. President Trump could have reached across the political divide to address the needs of these people, and of all Americans and regardless of their demographics: their political affiliations and beliefs included. And our rail and roads and bridges and our electrical power grid and so much more do need correction and repair and improvement. How many dams are there in the United States that span and regulate the water flow of how many rivers? How many of them need inspection and remediative repair work? A lot of them, and they and other critical needs infrastructure challenges can be found in essentially every state in the nation. The infrastructure problems and challenges that I so briefly make note of here can be found all over the country.

Some of these challenges would be relatively easy to gain both local and state, and I add national support for resolving. Some of them, on the other hand would be contentious and very difficult to actually resolve. And as an example drawn from that category of problems faced, I cite actually selecting and finalizing a solution – and picking a location for very long-term capable, permanent storage and sequestration of high level nuclear waste from nuclear power plants and other sources.

To pick up on that troublesome challenge, the US government is still trying to find a way and a place for permanently storing the radioactive waste generated from the World War II era Manhattan Project and that was concluded in 1945, over seventy years ago. This is an infrastructure problem that is vitally important to address and resolve and it has proven at least as difficult to address as healthcare reform, tax law reform or any other issue that we face. It might in fact be the single most difficult challenge of all that we face, at least politically. But we do need to address it and soon.

While I am at it, and to really drive home what a more thoughtful president Trump might have done and from his day one in office, he could have chosen to focus on education too, and not by bringing in a Betsy DeVos who has only wanted to dismantle the Department of Education. He could have affirmed support for strengthening the American school system as a whole, and with a new focus on expanding adult education opportunities and particularly educational programs and resources for learning new skills needed for new and emerging jobs. I think of coal miners as I write this, who then-candidate Trump made his many florid promises to: of restoring their jobs and their careers and their dignity and their entire communities, by turning back the clock – while closing off the already less than adequate educational options and resources that they did have, when they need retraining if they are to ever have a chance of moving on to new jobs and new careers. Automation has already made their pasts that Trump has promised to restore, their distant pasts, never to return. He could have offered them work opportunities in his vast new infrastructure redevelopment initiative and right in their home states, and training opportunities that would have made their participation in this both possible and realistic.

An alternative reality Donald Trump, if you were, could have actively set out to make this vision our reality, starting a process of redevelopment and renewal and of increased work and career opportunity and for many, that other subsequent presidential administrations would have had to continue. But the real Donald Trump is unable to see or appreciate the possibilities in this or anything like it that would call for long-term and even difficult effort, and long term focus and commitment, and to the welfare or others.

I am writing here of an alternative fact-based, alternative reality and one that the real world Donald Trump has never had the vision or knowledge or will to even begin to make real fact or actual reality. More is the pity for that, as he has focused all of his real world energies in promoting legislation that would only benefit the very wealthiest in the country – and at the direct expense of harming the very people who voted for him. And his trillion dollar infrastructure promise has become as fact-based and real as his promises of shared wealth in his many failed business ventures.

Let’s consider the specifics there, with a very real-world example from Donald Trump’s own past. And his promises going into his disastrous Atlantic City casino venture come to mind as a perfect example to cite here. Trump promised wealth for all who bought into this venture and to all who invested in it in any way. Then everyone else who bought into his promises there, lost their shirts out of that fiasco, but not The Donald. Everyone else lost out and lost big: lost tremendously to use one of Trump’s favorite words – except of course Trump himself. He walked away from this bankruptcy with a combination of genuine losses and paper-only financial losses that totaled close to a billion dollars for tax write-off purposes. And he has been able to use this largely paper-loss to offset his year-to-year reported income for years, when filing his income tax forms, turning this “loss” for him into hundreds of millions of dollars in actual (if year-to-year deferred) profits.

And his once grandly promised infrastructure initiative has disappeared as Trump tweets about how big his inauguration crowd actually was, and about how everyone actually loves and admires him and as he pushes for deregulation of all sorts and for windfall benefits for the wealthiest people in the country and without regard for the impact that his proposals would have on the vast majority of Americans – and on his own supporters and political base in particular.

I was going to focus on this set of issues in this 23rd series installment, and probably in a few weeks when we have had a chance to see how the US Senate takes up and votes on the latest version of the Trump healthcare plan: the American Health Care Act as finally, narrowly passed in the House. And I was also planning on waiting to see how his actual tax reform bill is drafted, and how Congress would respond to that. But recent events and developments coming out of the White House and directly from president Trump himself, have caused me to rethink and reconsider what I would address here. So I start this posting by noting what I would have focused upon, and entirely in this series installment. But I end it by turning to consider the wave of crises that Trump has created for himself, and certainly since his firing of the director of the FBI, James Comey.

Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency was reckless and chaotic and deeply divisive. And that did not change when he was elected, or when he was actually sworn into office as president and began to serve in that capacity. But it might be argued that the pace and tenor of his chaos has changed and fundamentally so and in very troubling ways. Has he reached a tipping point in his presidency from all of this, where a sufficient number of Republicans in Congress would now consider speaking out and even taking action against their own Republican Party-affiliated president? If president Trump has not pushed matters far enough for that yet, what is he going to do next, and when and how will that be viewed, and both by the American public as a still bitterly divided whole and by elected members of the House and Senate?

As a reality check on my own views and assumptions here, I spoke earlier today with the mayor of a large American city who I happen to know, asking him very specifically if he thinks that Trump has in fact pushed matters to that tipping point yet. The mayor I spoke with is a life-long Democrat and serves in a city that tends to vote for Democratic Party candidates. But he has to work with strongly partisan Republicans too, and there are areas of his state and even significant ones that are Republican bastions too. And he is a realist – not prone to wistful thinking or presuming. I asked him if a point has been reached where even Republican members of Congress might be at least contemplating pursuing 25th Amendment, or Article 2, Section 4 US Constitutional proceedings against president Trump, and if not because of outrage and concern as to what he is doing to the country, then because of what he is most probably doing to them and their party going into the 2018 elections. He said no; as much as he would like to think that enough Republicans in Congress might be ready to take a stand in opposition to president Trump now, he does not think that we are there … yet.

I tend to agree, but add that if president Trump stays his current course, he will push matters to a point where something has to break – and in the Republican Party ranks in Congress as much as in the country as a whole. Then, and with 20/20 hindsight, pundits will look back to the recent events that have prompted me to write this particular posting, as the turning point when momentum began to shift away from supporting Trump and towards removing him from office and even by his fellow Republicans. And as an ultimate repudiation, they will compete for how fully and loudly they can proclaim that they have never actually supported Donald Trump and that he has never actually been a real Republican – a real believer of anything that their Party stands for. Republicans will talk publically of how Trump hijacked the Republican Party and the election. And they will do all of this as part of an attempt to salvage as much as they can of the Republican Party as they have tried to make it, as well as their own careers. I find myself thinking back to an earlier posting to this series as I write this paragraph: Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and Lessons from the Whig Party. As I have already noted, the Republican Party that they would seek to somehow restore as a re-set to a pre-Trump version of “their Party,” is dead and gone. And their hopes of undoing Trump’s impact are as unrealistic as any hopes held by any West Virginia coal miners that Trump will somehow restart and restore their old way of life and their old jobs and communities again.

I am going to conclude this posting with some recent news story links, relevant to recent turning point events in the Trump presidency, simply noting that much more is likely to come out in the coming days and weeks that will add to this narrative. Even just the headline titles of these news pieces outline a significant and compelling story, though I offer links to the full news stories themselves for their details:

1. F.B.I. Director James Comey Is Fired by Trump.
2. Sense of Crisis Deepens as Trump Defends F.B.I. Firing.
3. Trump Shifts Rationale for Firing Comey, Calling Him a ‘Showboat’.
4. Inside the F.B.I., Stunned Agents Wonder About Future of Russia Inquiry.
5. Sally Yates Tells Senators She Warned Trump About Michael Flynn.
6. Updates and Reactions to F.B.I. Director Comey’s Firing.
7. Trump Lawyers Say He Had No Russian Income or Debt, With Some Exceptions.
8. Trump’s Troubles Go Way Beyond Russia.
9. Critics Say Trump Broke the Law in Firing Comey. Proving It Isn’t So Easy.
10. In Trump’s White House Press Briefings, No Degree of Accuracy Required.
11. Latest Developments on Comey: Acting F.B.I. Chief Contradicts White House.
12. In Trump’s Firing of James Comey, Echoes of Watergate.
13. Intelligence Officials Warn of Continued Russia Cyberthreats.
14. Firing Fuels Calls for Independent Investigator, Even From Republicans.
15. Sense of Crisis Deepens as Trump Defends F.B.I. Firing.
16. Days Before Firing, Comey Asked for More Resources for Russia Inquiry.
17. With Awkward Timing, Trump Meets Top Russian Officials.
18. In Firing Comey, Did Trump Unleash the Next Deep Throat?
19. Trump Revealed Highly Classified Information to Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador.
20. Trump Defends Sharing Information on ISIS Threat With Russia.
21. Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation.
22. Senate Panel Asks Comey to Testify on Flynn and Trump.
23. Trump Team Knew Flynn Was Under Investigation Before He Came to White House.
24. Trump Revealed Highly Classified Intelligence to Russia, in Break With Ally, Officials Say.
25. Trump Denies Any Collusion Between His Campaign and Russia.
26. Republicans Pivot and Make Comey the Capitol’s Most-Wanted Man.
27. Robert Mueller, Former F.B.I. Director, Is Named Special Counsel for Russia Investigation.

I find myself thinking back over the last hundred days plus, since Trump was sworn into office as the 45th president of the United States, and back to his campaign for office as I review this relatively extensive, but still lean list of new story references. And one set of details that comes compellingly to mind for me out of all of this, is Donald Trump’s narcissism and his complete and utter lack of self-awareness, or of awareness of the needs or rights of others. At least as troubling are his grandiosity and his very real self-destructive tendencies, as his lack of awareness and his grandiosity bring him to make decisions and take actions that can only lead to disaster and for himself and for those around him. And all of this plays out in the progression of news stories that I share links to here, and in the larger story that they all fit into.

Donald Trump: businessman, has driven six businesses into bankruptcy, and now Donald Trump: politician and elected president is on the verge of what is most likely his seventh bankruptcy of sorts. By now you would think that he has been down that path enough times to be able to see and understand the warning signs, but that is clearly not happening. And I end this posting where I began, with the failed, throwaway-line promise of that trillion dollar infrastructure redevelopment initiative – that would have taken real thought and real, sustained effort and commitment on his part and even the spending of political capital in the service of others and not just himself and his own personal interests.

And I end this posting by returning at least briefly to that conversation that I had and that I made note of here, with an elected politician who actually does think and plan before acting, and who actively seeks to build wide-ranging support and buy-in where possible. Has Donald Trump reached a tipping point where he is likely to be impeached and removed from office for what he has done and allowed done? Probably not … at least yet. But the events that I briefly outline in the above links and their news stories do represent what in retrospect will likely be seen as a turning point and both for the Trump presidency and for the Republican Party, and I add for the United States as a whole too.

And I end this posting with a perhaps rhetorical question:

• Can Trump legitimately claim that he has dropped more wide-ranging, non-partisan initiatives such as infrastructure rebuilding from his agenda, only because his hands have been tied by the controversies that his administration is entangled in?

I think that it is essentially certain that he will claim this, just as he will continue to claim that he is victim of a witch hunt in all of this. But his declarations of victimization ring hollow and so will any claims that his self-created controversies have prevented his tackling important issues.

I am going to return to this still rapidly unfolding news story in further installments to this series, as events develop. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1.

Addendum: I wrote this posting over the course of several days and then decided the day before it was set to go live, to add an additional note. The Democratic Party came out with a set of numbers that it has been using as it begins to prepare for the 2018, off-year national congressional elections. And I decided to share them here, to put president Trump’s administration and its impact on the Republican Party, in fuller perspective. Before Comey was fired as Director of the FBI, and before any of the chaos that has followed that had taken place, the DCCC: the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began campaigning for public support by noting that:

• 23 is the number of House seats that Republican representatives currently hold, for districts that Hillary Clinton won by popular vote in the 2016 presidential elections.
• 24 is the number of House seats that the Democratic Party will have to capture from current Republican office holders in order to capture control of the House as a whole.
• 28 is the average number of seats that a majority party loses in its first off-year election.
• And 59 is the number of House districts currently controlled by the Republican Party that the DCCC and its political analysts have determined to be in play because of the Republican Party’s disarray and because of the unpopularity of their support for Trump agenda initiatives.

This last number is important here; the others are set and indisputable, unless that is you subscribe to Trump administration “alternative facts.” The last of these four is the one that is not at all set or established and that is subject to both disagreement and change. But this number was arrived at before the scandals and challenges of the last two weeks – and if anything, these events have given strength to the Democratic Party as it seeks to regain control of Congress.

Received wisdom up to two weeks ago, held that the Democrats were in a stronger position to retake control of the Senate than the House, but recent events have probably changed the dynamics of this, and in ways that make both the Senate and the House up for grabs. And the prospect of losing one and even both houses of Congress has to be weighing heavily in the thoughts and the political calculations of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as possible candidates for office who are looking to 2018 and its elections. This year’s 2017 special elections to fill congressional vacancies left by Trump appointments bear watching as indicators of possible change to come, though even a Republican sweep of these races should not erase their concerns as president Trump is still in office and still quite capable of stirring up new controversies, and challenges for his own political party. I expect to address the fluidity and uncertainty that Trump has created in this and in other upcoming elections in future installments to this series. And meanwhile, the Trump administration continues its freefall. And I add two more breaking news story links to this posting with that in mind:

Trump Told Russians That Firing ‘Nut Job’ Comey Eased Pressure From Investigation, and
Russia Probe Reaches Current White House Official, People Familiar with the Case Say.

Trump has now stated and in front of foreign dignitaries that he fired FBI director Comey in an attempt to close down investigation into possible collusion between Russian government agencies and people close to him, and within his campaign for the presidency, and within his administration. And the current White House official who is now under direct investigation is his son in law, Jared Kushner. I conclude this addendum by noting that Kushner has in fact been one of the principle stabilizing voices in Trump’s inner circle, arguing for more reasoned behavior on his part. If he has to leave the White House, the chaos is only going to continue to expand.

Leveraging social media in gorilla and viral marketing as great business equalizers: a reconsideration of business disintermediation and from multiple perspectives 1

Posted in social networking and business, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on May 20, 2017

Two of the most powerful and at the same time tritely used terms in the “new” economy of the social media-driven interactive online business experience are “disintermediation” and “frictionless.” Both are often and even commonly misused and without explicit consideration as to what they mean operationally, or of even what they can mean. But at the same time, both of those terms at least point toward very real and fundamental truths and towards very real sources of opportunity. My goal for this posting is begin to at least briefly delve into this dichotomy of promise and expectation on the one side, and of actual realizable value on the other, from the perspective of business simplification in its many forms.

When I cite “social media in gorilla and viral marketing” in the title of this posting, I refer to market facing disintermediation processes that a business can enter into. I will directly consider that side to disintermediation as a whole in what follows, but I will do so in a larger business structure and function context as well, and with consideration of processes such as table of organization flattening as well. And I begin that discussion at a more generally inclusive, overall business organization level, addressing disintermediation as it might be pursued in a variety of contexts.

More specifically, I begin here with how disintermediation can and does create positive value, as for example for smaller businesses and ones just starting out, or for established businesses in need of fundamental change. There is in fact real meaning, or at least real potentially for it, when a term such as disintermediation is invoked, and certainly when specific applications of it such as viral marketing are considered. I begin here with the fundamentals:

• When disintermediation means cutting out extra, excess cost-center layers in an organization and its functioning,
• That hold potential for becoming, or that already have come to serve more as performance restricting barriers between functional areas within a business,
• Or between those businesses and their customers in their target markets,
• Or between them and their partner businesses in their supply chains,
• Or in any combination thereof,
• This streamlining and simplification can reduce or even eliminate a whole range of possible step-by-step operational mark-up costs that would otherwise have to be carried.
• This type of impediment and barrier removing disintermediation holds potential for speeding up internal business processes, sales and supply chain processes and essentially any and every other aspect of the organization that can become hindered by dysfunctional table of organization and functional requirements complexity. This can, if planned for and carried out effectively, make an organization more agile and better capable of meeting its immediate, real-time needs,
• And it reduces information sharing failures and the business systems friction that that creates.
• Bottom line, under the conditions as just outlined here, disintermediation can make a business stronger and more competitive in its industry and in its markets.
• And when this is taken as an automatic and axiomatically presumed outcome of any such organizational simplification, that is when reasonable and realistic and focused-upon in the above bullet points, can veer off into the realm of hype and comforting fiction.

The cumulative end result of all of the above bullet points, and certainly for all but the last of them, is that even a small but nimble, effectively connected enterprise can compete with a large and diverse corporation, at least in its area of business and market-facing strength, and on an essentially even footing with them for capturing market share and profitability. I write what follows with that in mind, and with the caveat of a last bullet point to the above list in mind too.

Here, to pick up on the specific disintermediation steps cited in the title to this posting: gorilla marketing and its marketplace-sourced viral marketing cousin, this means a business directly reaching out to and connecting with its marketplace and generally through development of two-way conversations where that business listens at least as much as it speaks, in order to make sure that when it does speak, it conveys the right message and in the right way and to the right audience and through the right channels. This means they’re not going through intermediate marketing or marketing data provider levels to learn about and respond to market interests and needs, to do so directly and creatively and in many respects at low or no direct cost.

• That briefly stated understanding of disintermediation, and of how it can at least reduce friction and create greater agility in this market facing context,
• Represents the truth behind what can become the hype, and certainly when business systems simplification is carried out within the framework of an ongoing strategic vision and understanding, and within an ongoing strategically considered operational plan.
• Here, ill-considered and ad hoc and a lack of analytical follow-through to track actual results, lead to simplification as hype by way of comparison.

And that set of points at least opens the door to the possibility of how disintermediation per se, and simplification for the sake of simplification can also come to mean creating seemingly-simpler but very real inefficiencies in a business too, and even new sources of inefficiency for it and certainly if the streamlining processes carried out that lead to specific disintermediation steps are not effectively thought through and executed.

Ultimately, what I am writing about here is not structural and organizational simplification per se, though that is a big part of this posting’s goal and purpose. This posting and others to follow it as a new series are also only partly about developing best practices for mapping out and carrying out the right simplification steps: the right disintermediations and in the right ways. I primarily address that set of issues elsewhere in this blog. See, for example, my series: Intentional Management for a more in-depth discussion of that (as can be found at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 472 and loosely following.)

My goal here is one of thinking through what organizational layers and systems actually are and both as a matter of structure per se as would be represented on a table of organization, and as a matter of business function and how that is parsed and distributed throughout the organization. It is about knowing what might best be maintained or even expanded upon, or simplified or done away with and where, and it is about knowing when layers and structures in place in a business and its systems provide value and reduce risk, and when they simply add costs and potential for increased risk.

I have been discussing this set of issues in fairly abstract terms up to here. But I will continue from this foundational starting point in a next series installment, by offering two admittedly cartoon-like business model caricatures. In anticipation of that next installment to come, I acknowledge up-front that while both are very realistic and describe actual businesses and business approaches actually pursued, both also fit into and support what might be considered the at least potentially hype-end of the spectrum for thinking about disintermediation too. And I add that both case study stereotypes consider wide ranges of specific forms that disintermediation can take (e.g. removing management layers and flattening table of organizations, but also reaching out directly and creatively to the market and its end-users for what a business offers and with a goal of “eliminating the middleman” in both arenas.)

The two scenarios that I will at least briefly explore are:

• A new, young, small startup that seeks to leverage its liquidity and other assets available as creatively and effectively as possible, and from its day one when it is just starting to develop the basic template that it would scale up from,
• And a larger, established business that has become at least somewhat complacent and somewhat sclerotic in the process, and with holdover systems and organizational process flows that might not reflect current actual needs or opportunities faced.

I am also going to continue on from this to identify and challenge some of the tacit and more usually unstated types of assumptions that usually arise in these types of examples and that I will start from too. And I will pursue that reanalysis as a means of more fully analyzing what the general process of disintermediation actually entails, and what its specific market-facing applications of social media-driven gorilla and viral marketing actually do and can mean, as well as what its more internal-to-the-business applications mean and entail.

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. You can find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1.

There aren’t any good cold call marketing or sales campaigns anymore: some thoughts concerning general principles

Posted in reexamining the fundamentals, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on May 14, 2017

There are a set of basic principles that keeping proving themselves as relevant and even compellingly so and across wide ranges of potential application. They usually more commonly arise in discussion in specific specialized contexts, but the principles that underlie them keep coming up and in a diverse range of otherwise seemingly unrelated contexts and circumstances besides the ones that they might be best known for. And one of them that is more commonly expressed in a more monetary theory-specific context is captured in an empirically validated finding that is commonly referred to as Gresham’s law.

Gresham’s law states that even a potentially strong currency, with a valuation that is based upon a solid established correlation between unit of currency available, and product and service value available in the marketplace, can become diluted and weakened if too much of it is put into circulation. The more units of that currency that are out there in circulation, for every unit of productive and marketable value available in its national economy, the less those units of currency are or can be worth.

Imagine a nation with a strong currency that suddenly as a matter of policy, turns on the printing presses at its Treasury Department and floods the market with more and more of that money – and without any corresponding increase in the actual productive and market-facing value that its economy can maintain and that this money is supposed to represent in trade and transaction. If this approach is carried out too fully and for too long, that currency can plummet in value until it becomes essentially worthless. And that is why Gresham’s law is often summarized as “bad money drives out good,” and “bad money drives good money out of the marketplace.”

The basic principle underlying this is clear. Valuation and realizable value and their stability, depend on reaching and maintaining a critical balance: here between the levels of actual productive value that is created and maintained in an economy and in its markets, and a transactionally equivalent (monetary) value to that, that is supposed to represent it according to a set and agreed to value-for-value exchange rate.

Now let’s consider how this principle has its counterpart in other business processes and in the relationships that hold between other types of numerically scalable metrics. And let’s consider this in marketing outreach terms for purposes of this discussion. Let’s consider how this might apply in a phone center outreach setting and with a strong valuation baseline as a starting point that would be equated here with the once strong valuation of the above cited currency example, from before its printing presses were turned on and simply left on.

There is no such thing as perfect in the real world, but there are actively and carefully thought through examples of good and of intended best. As a baseline positive example that I am familiar with in detail, I turn here to one from my own work experience as a point of comparison here.

One of the industries that I have worked in as a consultant is automotive retail. And my largest scale assignment in that arena involved my taking an interim Chief Information Officer position with a large, roughly $400 million dollar automotive retail group with both new and used car sales outlets, and auto maintenance and repair shops, and direct business-to-business collaborations with for example, a partner financial service for setting up auto loans for their customers. Their goal was to offer a one stop shopping experience for their customers and both for purchasing a new or used car or truck and for maintaining these vehicles. And one of the core objectives that I went into that job with, was to remediate and expand a new but dysfunctionally disconnected call center that had been set up for the business as a whole.

There were a number of phone system and networked computer system hardware problems that I had to help unravel in turning that facility around, as well as significant software disconnects and related problems. Those issues are all worthy of consideration and discussion in a blog of this type, and I have in fact at least briefly touched upon at least a few of them in this blog. But my focus of attention here is different from that and in fact involves a basic functionality that I was trying to both maintain and strengthen while working there: their customer and potential customer calling system per se, that this new call center was supposed to facilitate and streamline.

Let’s consider the types of calls that the phone representatives working there were expected to make:

• They were supposed to call current customers with cars and trucks under warrantee to remind them when their vehicles were coming due for free services that were included in the terms of their purchase agreements. This included checkups and oil changes and a variety of other manufacturer or dealer provided basic maintenance options. And as these services were already covered and paid for as benefits to these customers, these calls were essentially always welcome and appreciated.
• These call center representatives were also supposed to keep for-fee maintenance and repair customers informed on information that they would need for scheduling work done. So for example if a customer needed repair done on their car that called for a replacement part that had to be special ordered, a phone rep would call that customer to tell them when this part had arrived, and certainly if there was going to be a delay in that so they could schedule their repair work. When special order parts where back-ordered and there might be delays in their delivery, this offered real value to the customer and was also generally appreciated.
• But these phone representatives also made sales calls, and to both established customers as their current vehicles began reaching a certain age, and to new and prospective customers as well.
• Let’s focus here on those new and prospective customers who had never purchased anything from any of the storefronts owned and run by this dealership group. Like essentially every other auto dealership, this business purchased lists of potential customers who were supposed to have been carefully selected and prequalified for inclusion on the basis of their meeting specific demographic and other qualifications. They would for example all live in an area that this dealership had found to match that of its current active customer base. Dealerships would specify where their customer catchment areas were when entering into agreements with these list aggregator businesses that they would purchase these potential new customer lists from, so they would only pay for leads from their area.
• And prospective customers included on these lists would have to fit a realistic profile for income and related criteria that would make them financially capable of buying a new or used car. And they would selectively include people with active driver’s licenses.
• And critically importantly, these lists needed to be up to date as the people most sought after were ones who might be interested in buying a car or truck, but who had not already done so somewhere else. Old listings tended to include people who had done that and who were no longer in the market to buy again.
• This is just a partial list of the types of filtering criteria that these leads aggregators use in assembling the lists that they sell to dealerships. To add one more, dealerships of necessity insist on buying exclusivity in their leads contacts lists; they do not want to buy leads that that aggregator is simultaneously selling to other, competing businesses, or that other aggregators are also selling to their business clients.
• So there were a variety of criteria that would go into assembling these lists, to increase the likelihood that anyone called on one of them would both drive, and would be interested in purchasing a good, reliable car or small truck of the type that this dealership group offered, and that they would want to do so in the right area geographically to make that one of their showrooms a good choice for them.
• In practice, one of my work responsibilities while there was to manage these leads list provider contracts. And I worked with one of my best sales managers there in doing so. The basic questions that came up in this due diligence exercise were very simple:
• How many of the prospective customer leads that were provided by each of the aggregators that they were in contract with, actually turned into completed sales? And what did this business actually pay for these leads when the overall cost of the complete lists paid for was amortized across those much fewer successful sales? And how did this cost compare with the potential profit margin that this dealership group could expect from these completing those sales, net of having to purchase these sales leads in the first place?
• It turned out that many of their leads providers were failing them for the low levels of conversions to completed sales achieved from their lists and a couple of them consistently, month after month failed to yield even one completed sale at all. I had to find ways to get this dealership company out from under the contracts that they had signed with a large percentage of the lead providers that they were buying these lists from because quite literally, so few of the entries on them were leading to sales that the dealership group was losing money on them when leads costs were properly taken into account.
• I worked with some very good people there and both for the managers who I worked with and for their hands-on call center and sales personnel, and together we were able to turn that part of this business around. I add that I got to work with a good attorney on this too, as well as with members of their Information Technology staff and a wide range of others. And I hold that up as my positive example where all effort was being made to only call the people who would be receptive to being called and who would see value in doing business with this dealership.
• Even under the best circumstances, only a relatively small percentage of calls of this type, and certainly cold calls to new potential customers actually work out and lead to completed sales. But all effort was made to at the very least make sure that no perspective customers who were called would have reason to hang up feeling irritated. That, among other things meant not taking a high pressure sales approach and always being polite. It meant listening as well as speaking and it meant knowing when to end a call that was not working too, and doing so with a thank you.

There is no such thing as perfect in the real world but there is and can be good and there is and can be polite, and real effort can be made to limit call lists to target audiences that actually make sense to the merchant calling. And that is my positive end of the scale example for this posting and its discussion. And it brings me to robocalls and badly framed ones that would leave anyone receiving them wondering what type of scam was being attempted on them – or convinced that they already knew.

Think of the seemingly endless flood of those calls as a counterpart to turning on those Treasury Department printing presses and leaving them on, and seemingly endlessly. And this vast toxic background and context that any good practices calling and cold calling in particular would be embedded in, renders them valueless too and to all concerned – and certainly to any business attempting to make them.

And to complete this example’s narrative, I cite businesses such as Nomorobo that provide automatic blocking services to prevent scam, spam, phone phishing and other offensive calls from getting through – and for both robocalls and in-person calls as would come from a call center of the type just described.

Robocallers see their costs per call as being so low that they can make money even if only the tiniest percentage of their calls actually get through and succeed for them. They are not looking for repeat business, and certainly for more dubious businesses that pursue business this way, they are only looking for one time scores from anyone they can convince to buy into their pitch. They, in game theory terms, pursue a win-lose strategy with their prospective “customers” and they only need to win occasionally to win big, overall. So the types of Gresham’s law style calculations that I would cite here do not matter to them. Businesses such as the automotive dealership group that I cited above seek to develop and long-term customers and seek to pursue win-win strategies and those calculations can mean the difference between success and failure for them. And the dynamics of this disparity drive the shift in valuation of customer calls, and of cold calls in particular down towards zero – and even into a “loss at best” territory and for all, and certainly for legitimate businesses.

• Bad money drives good money out of the marketplace.
• Bad calling drives good out of the market too, in this case converting it and certainly in its cold call forms into essentially guaranteed money losing propositions.

You can find this and related material at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1. And I also include this as a supplemental posting to Section VI (Some Thoughts Concerning a General Theory of Business) of my Reexamining the Fundamentals directory.

Rethinking national security in a post-2016 US presidential election context: conflict and cyber-conflict in an age of social media 1

Posted in business and convergent technologies, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on May 12, 2017

We all face two fundamental challenges: two fundamental limitations in our thinking about risk and how to respond to it, and I am not sure which is more problematical:

• We can and all too often do, get so caught up in our standard routines, that we fail to pick up on and see what in retrospect were even clear warnings of new and emerging risks and threat vectors faced from routinely, automatically following them, and
• We can and all too often do overestimate both the range and reach of whatever security and risk management systems that we have in place now, and the range, reach and effectiveness of any newest and best add-on security solutions that we do institute.
• And that second presumption just starts with our tacitly assuming, for example, that if we have just uploaded the newest update patch to our anti-viral and anti-malware software in place, then our computers and networked systems must be essentially completely secure from those types of threat now, as if new and locally known but yet to be exploited zero-day vulnerabilities were now impossible. That second presumption can and all too often does find its way into all of our information systems security thinking, as an at-least starting point default that we have to continually watch out for and challenge.
• The two challenges noted in the first two of these bullet points in fact represent different sides to a single overall security risk phenomenon, and it is one that is much more wide-reaching than would just be encompassed in my simple if commonly familiar anti-virus/anti-malware example. And those two challenges comprise differing sides to that one larger source of risk that can and do interact with each other and build upon each other with an ongoing toxic synergy.

Let’s think past the walls and blinders that this synergy can and does create for us, and in more open-ended and general terms. What do we currently actually face? We might know, for example, of ongoing online problems such as social media troll behavior (see, for example Trolls and Other Antisocial, Disruptive and Divisive Social Networkers – Part 1 and its Part 2 continuation, and Cyber-Bullies, Cyber-Stalkers, Trolls and the Individual Social Networker.) And we might know of ongoing problems that we face societally such as how our online potentially-globally connecting community has been effectively shattered into separate epistemic bubble-limited groups and demographics, each with their own accepted “news” and opinion sharing sources and their own echo chamber validation of all that is known and presumed within them, and with no outside alternatives allowed in (see for example Thinking Through the Words We Use in Our Political Monologs .) And by now everyone should know about computer hacking and how sensitive and confidential information that is surreptitiously stolen from a targeted computer system can be publically posted online and through social media and related channels to cause explicit targeted damage, through resources such as Twitter and through sites such as WikiLeaks. But we do not necessarily connect the potentially connectable dots that emerging problems such as these create, to see how they and a constellation of other closely-related, weaponizable options could be used together to launch and carry out new far-reaching forms of unified cyber-attack, and against a business or organization, or even against an entire nation.

Note that when I wrote my above-cited 2010 cyber-trolling related postings, I explicitly did so in terms of individual online behavior, and in terms of what were for the most part still just lone individuals acting on their own initiative and in pursuit of their own personal agendas. That side to this challenge, of course still happens. But now the disruptive potential inherent in that once more localized and impact-limited form of antisocial behavior, has been weaponized as a key element for launching closely coordinated, targeted attacks too, with networks of trolls working together in a systematic centrally organized manner.

Think of this as scaling up the dark side to online social media for use in cyber-attacks, exactly as taking over veritable armies of individual, otherwise unrelated and geographically dispersed personal computers in assembling malware-controlled botnets can be used in launching attacks against even the largest organizational networked computer systems. And that quantitative shift on the trolling behavior side of this, makes troll behavior and related, a qualitatively new threat element too, just as coordinately suborning control over distant personal computers through assembly of organized botnets, made that a qualitatively new threat – and a qualitatively new weapon too.

And if new arises when the nature and scale of single specific potential cyber-vulnerabilities and cyber-threats such as these are scaled up individually, it also arises as at least initially, seemingly disparate and unrelated attack options and supportive circumstances for them (such as the ones noted above) are brought together and coordinately organized as new overall tools for new forms of potential cyber-warfare.

Let me add a third fundamental challenge, and limitation on our part to the above two that I began this posting with:

• Regardless of how many times we have stumbled for doing so, we all tend to prepare for the last battle faced and fought: the last war that we had to deal with and its learning curves, and not for the one that might be coming towards us.

I wrote a series to this blog beginning in September 2010 that focused on targeted malware, and with the stuxnet computer worm offered as an at least initial poster child example of that, that I built a more comprehensive discussion around. See Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time, and its postings 58 and loosely following for Parts 1-15 of that series, and particularly see its Part 3: Stuxnet and the Democratization of Warfare.) We are all still thinking and planning in large part in terms of malware and target-specific malware as exemplified by stuxnet as a then game changing example. And we all think in terms of big systems attacks, such as large-scale botnet-driven dedicated denial of service (DDoS) attacks on business and government network servers and server farms. Those are still ongoing concerns, as are a great many other older sources of vulnerability that we should be more effectively managing, and limiting for their effectiveness against our networked systems. But the next big cyber-attack faced, and certainly any next such attack that rises to a level of impact so as to qualify as an act of cyber-warfare, is going to be led by and even build around weaponized use of social media and the interactive online, and other new and related, still just emerging threat vectors.

I have written repeatedly in this blog about how we do not learn from threats already faced and certainly when they have only been carried out somewhere else and against someone else, when updating and safeguarding our own computers and networked systems. I recently addressed that issue here in the new and still just emerging context of our still embryonic and forming internet of things, in Rethinking online security in an age of the internet of things: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

And this brings me to two areas of discussion that I have been leading up to in this posting:

• Russia’s recent forays into election interference through cyber-attack and both in the United States and in Europe, and
• A generally stated reframing of the overall cyber-security threat theatre faced and its dynamics, that would include within it an awareness of new and disruptive threat possibilities and influencers such as the ones I have just touched upon here.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will delve into those issues, starting with Russia’s recent interference in the 2016 United States elections, and on Great Britain’s Brexit vote and in recent European elections.

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.

On the importance of disintermediating real, 2-way communications in business organizations 1

Posted in social networking and business, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on May 8, 2017

I write on a recurring basis in this blog, on a variety of basic business strategy and operations issues that come together in this posting. A list of such issues would include making a business lean and agile, and more flexibly resilient in the face of change and its pressures. And any such list would essentially automatically have to include information management and communications, and identifying and remediating business systems friction there, where friction per se militates against lean and agile and resiliency, and essentially by definition.

There are two basic approaches that I could address this posting’s topic from: reactively and in terms of after the fact correction, and proactively and from a more preventative and opportunity creating perspective. My goal here is to pursue both of these faces to this complex of issues and in that order, and with a goal in doing so, of presenting an argument for actually pursuing the later so as to at least limit the need for ever pursuing the former. Though I will add in an at least seeming-complication to that too.

My primary focus in all of this is on making communications more direct and impactful while at the same time effectively meeting any and all realistic, and realistically necessary information and communications compartmentalization requirements, as for example arise when dealing with:

• Customer’s or employee’s sensitive personally identifying information,
• In-house proprietary information such as trade secrets, or
• Business intelligence from supply chain or other business-to-business collaborators that has to be kept secure and confidential.

And I begin doing so by citing a famous, if fictionally literary counterexample to the approach that I offer here, as can be found in Jonathan Swift’s novel: Gulliver’s Travels. (See for a free downloadable PDF version of the full text of this book.)

One of the peoples that Gulliver is said to have encountered in his far-reaching journeys is the Laputians: a race of deep thinkers renowned for their grasp of mathematics and music but who were at least equally impractical in day-to-day matters as well. They tended to get caught up in their own areas of interest and expertise, and to the exclusion of all else. So when one of them had to converse with anyone from outside of their community, they employed the services of special servants who were known as Flappers, to facilitate that. These servants would carry about with them a special rattle on the end of a long stick, and when a Laputian they worked for was supposed to speak, they gently flapped their lips with it to remind them and to in effect enable them there. When their master was supposed to listen, they would similarly flap their ears with this device, and when they were supposed to look at something as a part of one of these conversations, they gently brushed this device over and near their eyes as well as a necessary cue for that too.

Of particular importance here, if a Flapper did not want their master to speak, or to even know if they were facing a possible conversation, they simply refrained from acting. They did not flap. If they wanted to end such a conversation, they stopped flapping and that was that. And if for whatever reason, a Flapper did not want their master to see something, they controlled that too.

Flappers were the quintessential information gatekeepers in Gulliver’s universe. And while modern businesses do not generally employ their exact counterparts, the gatekeepers that they do employ can have as far reaching an impact, and as much consequential control.

My goal for this posting is not to discuss or describe specific implementations of how a business can be better organized so as to facilitate more effective communications, and the information and knowledge development that would lead to it. Good practices, and certainly best practice solutions to that type of challenge are business and business-context specific, and depend on a variety of factors that can at times create conflicting organizational demands that would have to be reconciled. And the factors and forces at play in specific businesses that would shape and resolve these at least potential congruences and conflicts, include but are not limited to:

• The business model of the specific business under consideration and how functional areas are set up and connected together, and why.
• The scale and size of the organization, where larger organizations with more functionally and task-oriented specialization can demand more complex overall structure and both laterally in a standard modeled table of organization, and vertically in its system of management and supervisory oversight.
• The levels and types of sensitive and confidential information held, and the nature and pervasiveness of access restrictions that have to be in place in order to safeguard it according to required due diligence and risk management standards.
• And the range over which employees, and in general and in specific areas of the business, have to reach across table of organization boundaries in order to jointly carry out tasks with more distant colleagues, that call for multi-specialty, multi-functional area participation.

It is at least a necessary goal of effective strategic and organizational planning, that the people responsible for it take these issues into account when doing so, and the overarching need for developing and maintaining more effective information and knowledge development and communications. And this brings me closer to what I would in fact discuss here: the question of how they would do this.

I answer that question with the Laputians and their Flappers in mind, and by posing a set of basic due diligence questions:

• Who in fact has taken on an information gatekeeper role in your business?
• Was this intentionally planned out and implemented, and do these information and communications intermediaries have specific thought-through gatekeeper responsibilities and areas of responsibility, and guidelines in place for when and where and how they should exercise this responsibility?
• And how is this activity being monitored and tracked, and performance-impact reviewed, and by whom and how often and under what circumstances?

Information security management, as a specific case in point is one area where at least some form of gatekeeper activity is likely going to be necessary and even required. But even in a seemingly clear cut context like that, a requirement for having information access gatekeepers in place does not necessarily mean that they are all working according to a same, single, and up-to-date set of guidelines. Arbitrary and ad hoc create deleterious friction, and it creates increased risk at the same time too, and both from allowing information access in specific cases where that would probably not make the most sense and by denying it or delaying it where it is in fact justified and necessary.

• Is the information access management system that is in place for this, consistently framed and enforced and throughout the organization?

That is, in fact something of a trick question. Many organizations in fact see genuine need to in effect carve out special areas in their overall systems where special and perhaps more restrictive rules of access and of communications might apply. So this question addresses an area of this overall discussion where a simple one size fits all approach is unlikely to work, or at least work best and certainly as a general rule.

But even when a business is so compartmentalized and with need, consistent enforcement of the rules that are in place, and certainly within any given same-approach area of the business, is essential. And everyone should know that whatever specific contextual rules they face in their particular functional area and in their part of the table of organization, information security per se is insisted on and followed, and fairly and consistently and throughout the entire organization as a whole.

And this brings me to the issue of change, which I at least briefly make note of here:

• Is this system being maintained and kept up to date, and both with regard to outside legal and regulatory and other requirements, and to meet internal to the business needs?

I have already at least briefly noted the issues raised in that bullet point in passing in this posting. I highlight this area of concern here as a significant due diligence issue in and of itself, and as one that calls for further consideration. But let’s return for the moment to consider processes and practices per se for this.

Is the system in place for managing sensitive information, explicitly spelled out in rules-based terms and with records kept on who has legitimate access rights to what specific types of sensitive data, and when and where and for how long? Does this rules based system distinguish between read-only access, and read with permission to maintain locally save copies of sensitive information while it is being used? Does it distinguish between read-only access rights and of whatever type, and read-write access rights where a holder of that level of authority can add, delete or alter records in place? How do you maintain archival records in the event that a recovery to an earlier stored version of your databases proves necessary from read-write error or from networked computer systems failure, and both for who has access to what, and for the information that these people would in fact access and for what they have accessed?

And this brings me to the issues of reactive and proactive systems that I made note of towards the start of this posting. Reactive systems essentially always have functional gaps in them, and both for what is officially supposed to be done and by prior-developed and established processes and procedures in place, and in how those processes and procedures in place are actually carried out. Reactive systems are always playing catch-up, and both from picking up the pieces when rules in place were not followed, and in attempting to improve those rules when they are but are found lacking. They are always playing catch-up to keep them relevantly in focus, so they address the right issues and situations actually faced, and to do so in ways that encourage their being followed and even when reactive per se engenders real uncertainty as to what should be done next.

That description addresses efforts to reactively remediate after perhaps multiple day-to-day, incident-by-incident failures and inefficiencies, when an effort is finally made to fix what has palpably locally been found to be broken and for a long time. And that description also addresses how they identify – usually with added delays, when a truly disruptive challenge has arrived and how that would be remediated as well.

Proactive systems seek to step out in front of all of this and to anticipate, and to build for flexibility and to implement accordingly. And this brings me back to those Laputians and Flappers again. The Laputians arrived at their system because they were attempting to proactively prepare for next and new contingencies and needs – when by nature they were more than just somewhat absent minded and inattentive and knew it, and when they thought that they needed specialized gatekeeper help to stay in focus when dealing with outsiders on matters that went beyond their own areas of real interest. It is not enough to simply be proactive. Proactive only works if it represents the right forward thinking and preparation, that is going to be put in place. And this means thinking through the possible contingencies and the possible adverse outcomes that a proposed proactive solution might engender and it means consistently performing reviews and analyses of performance results achieved from them to track how they have actually worked out. And that means proactive depends on reactive, or at least post hoc in order to keep it on track. Proactive without a backward looking experiential foundation cannot succeed, in and of itself.

And this brings me back to the reality check due diligence questions that I bullet pointed above. Add to them a set of questions that would help specify what particular information should not simply flow freely throughout the organization, and where it can go and still meet due diligence and risk remediation requirements. Now where are the barriers in place, to effective communications that are counterproductive to the organization and its functioning and either in principle for their being in place there or in practice from how they are implemented?

I am going to continue this discussion in a next installment where I will explicitly consider innovation and the innovative business. And I will discuss how both effective and unduly restrictive rules-based information management guidelines can and do impact upon information and knowledge development, and on communications systems that can at least in principle help turn what is known into realized value. And turning that around, I will address how innovative initiatives and the drive to achieve them shape and reshape information and knowledge development, and communications systems development and implementation too – and those rules-based systems.

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.

Donald Trump and the stress testing of the American system of government 17

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on April 29, 2017

This is my 22nd 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 17th installment here since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, and with many already deeply concerned as to his competency for holding office – and at just the 100 day mark since his swearing into office, counting January 20, 2016: his inauguration day as his day one as president. Many, in fact have held deep reservations as to Donald Trump’s capabilities from even before he was elected too.

I have been writing this series, and certainly since its Part 6 installment, with a goal of outlining and analyzing the issues that we face from Trump’s election and from his presidency. And this has meant delving into legal issues and historical parallels and precedents as they would shed light on a US presidency that is more than just shadowed by questions of mental health and incapacitation in that, and by illegalities that might arguably rise to impeachable levels of significance, and by simple incompetence where that might in principle be judged according either of those two approaches if sufficiently extreme. Donald Trump has repeatedly and consistently displayed all of these challenging behaviors and as consistent patterns and traits, and so have many in his inner circle, and in his key Cabinet appointments and in his most senior staff. And he has wrapped all of this in a cloud of obfuscation and opacity, blocking any and all effort at real transparency into the doings of his administration. And he has immersed his administration in a cloud of cronyism and nepotism, and of special favors offered and granted too.

• In the course of writing this series’ discussion, I have also delved into issues of political demographics and the divisions that divide us as a society in the United States.
• And I have at least briefly explored the questions of what, for example a determination of mental health-based incapacitation would even mean, and certainly where a legally binding but politically shaped and driven decision might be reached concerning that set of issues, and with that carried out in accordance with the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
• And I have delved into the issues of what have historically qualified as impeachable offenses, as they would be determined and ruled upon in accordance with the United States Constitution and its Article 2, Section 4.

Any decisions that would have to be made according to these constitutional processes would specifically serve to determine whether a sitting, serving president of the United States, and/or key members of his administration would be allowed to stay in office or whether they would be removed from it. Obviously if impeachable offenses were considered in this, that could mean permanent removal from office. But in the case of mental health incapacitation, even ostensibly temporary removal from office would probably mean permanent too. See Part 12 of this series for background information on Article 2, Section 4 processes and their history in the United States. And see Part 7, Part 8, and Part 9 for a discussion of mental health diagnoses and the challenge that this complex of issues would raise in any 25th Amendment, Section 4 determination of presidential incapacitation.

I turn here to at least briefly explore one more area of consideration in this series, and it is one that many Americans would find distasteful to consider and for a variety of admittedly conflicting reasons. Those who view the Trump presidency with a measure of what can perhaps best be called anger and despair, would object. That is at least in part because I start out this posting by assuming that regardless of justifying evidence, Donald Trump will simply remain in office and continue on there, and even if as a historically tragically flawed president, considering the level and type of responsibility that he carries there. Those who still support Trump and his presidency, and from the alt-right, and from those who he has convinced he supports from among the left-behind in society, would object to this too. And they would do so for the same basic reasons that they would object to essentially everything that I have been offering here in this series. I start out in it acknowledging that the Trump administration and that president Trump himself are burdened with a great many very serious problems and challenges that all ultimately stem from Trump himself, and from his failings and limitations. His true believer followers would consider that starting point as anathema to all that they fervently want to believe in.

• The basic question that I start this posting from is one of what could be done next, to at least somewhat correct or remediate a Trump presidency, assuming at least a full four years and one full term in office of that. How could a Trump presidency be made to work?

One obvious answer to the challenge of president Trump and his administration as it is now, is resistance from the left and from both the Democratic Party and from Independents and from more moderate Republicans as well when they can be convinced to challenge their own political party. And that is shaping up as the steady and consistent response to Donald Trump and to all he seeks to do through Congressional action. Many Republicans, and certainly Republican members of Congress who view themselves as being more conservative have been vehemently objecting to this tactic, proclaiming it to be unconscionable for how Democratic stonewalling is blocking the agenda of an elected president. They, of course forget while doing so, that they themselves wrote the playbook for that approach to political resistance when Barack Obama was president and they sought to block all that he attempted to do, and whenever and wherever possible.

But set that detail aside for now: the Democratic members of Congress have at the very least sought to hinder Trump agenda bills. And they have succeeded, and certainly up to now, for blocking Trump’s vision of healthcare reform: one of his key agenda goals. And they have succeeded there on at least some other legislative measures as well, and certainly when a fight seemed to be worthwhile for them to pursue. But as long as the Republican Party holds control of both the House and the Senate, the most they can do is to protest and to seek to gain at least single issue support from the edges of a Republican majority, as for example for Trump’s first repeal and replace effort for doing away with the Affordable Care Act: Obama Care.

Given this at least current reality, the Democratic Party, has to actively seek to regain at least control of the Senate in the 2018 off-year elections if they are to have any actual voice in federal government decision making and action again. But November, 2018 is a long way off, as of this writing. And the next presidential elections in the United States are even further away and by two more full years. So let’s focus on the here-and-now and on the Trump administration as it might somehow be course-corrected – and as noted above when assuming he simply remains in office.

Do any of the lessons of change management, as that would be pursued in a business context, hold value here for addressing this type of organizational and leadership challenge? Do change management processes or practices that are used as tools for organizational and leadership remediation per se, offer value here too when we confront the de facto ongoing crisis in government that we see coming out of the Trump presidency? I have brought up the possibility that this might reasonably be answered in the affirmative towards the end of each of the last two postings to this series before this one (see Part 20 and Part 21.) And the one real possibility that I could think of for arriving at that affirmative, involves finding ways to implement some of the key change management approaches that can be used when remediating family owned business challenges, and particularly where a strong and dominating family leader is the leader of a family business too, and one who is dogmatically opinionated and always seem to be “leading” from crisis to crisis from that. That description, unfortunately, captures the Trump administration and as an uncomfortably close fit to what we actually see coming out of the White House these days.

How does a business consultant work with a resistant family patriarch, or the occasional family matriarch who rules a family business with an iron hand but also with closed eyes, ears and mind? Simply trying to persuade them directly is not likely to work and particularly when others in that family business and in their family itself have already directly seen most of the specific areas where the enterprise is underperforming, or even failing outright – but without being listened to for that. The real question here is one of identifying who this family leader does actually listen to and on what issues or matters and under what circumstances. Who do they communicate with best, and two-way for that and how and where and when? And how could these sources of possible communication channels and of influence be cultivated and developed in remediating the business involved here too?

That is where I hit a real wall in this discussion. Who does Donald Trump listen to? Who does he surround himself with who would even just in principle be in a position to provide a positive voice of influence for him? As I have outlined and in some detail in this series, both candidate Trump and now president Trump have selected people for their loyalty to him and not for their professional experience or competency, or for their desire to serve the needs of the country or of the American public as a whole. This shows in his Cabinet and senior staff appointments, and it shows in who he has allowed into his inner circle. For a telling news piece on that, see:

Trump Reaches Beyond West Wing for Counsel.

Strategically building relationships that he can personally benefit from has always been one of Trump’s greatest strengths. But in this case and in his current position, his more narrow-vision approach to pursuing relationships can only come back to haunt him and everyone else as well, as he only selects and allows in those who would simply reinforce the ongoing one-sided message of his personal epistemic thought bubble. Who would a good business consultant look to as a source of insight and as a potential ally in positively influencing a family business leader such as a Donald Trump? I look over the lists of potential candidates that Trump allows into his circle and both in his administration and from outside of it, as appear in the news and on lists in news pieces such as the above-cited one. And I do not see all that good a selection to choose from, and particularly given the personal partisan agendas that most all of these people hew to, while striving to stay in Trump’s good graces. And the way that Trump can and does make even the most long-term consequential decisions that he faces, entirely on his own and even contrary to any information or opinion offered to him, and even from his inner circle, does not bode well here either.

When Trump began what seemed to be a shift towards the middle in who he listens to, with a downplaying of Steve Bannon’s position in his administration among others and a seeming turning towards at least apparently more pragmatic business professionals, I at least briefly thought that an effort from, for example leading but still more moderate Republicans to cultivate more moderate members of Trump’s inner circle, might offer hope of possible positive change. Those more moderate Republicans would definitely include members of Congress who are currently caught between being Republicans and having to face and support voting constituents from their own districts who would suffer under Trump’s more alt-right leanings. That is what I was looking at when I first proposed the possibility of there being a way to make even a Trump presidency work more effectively, or at least less chaotically ineffectively – with this type of reality check added into his inner circle conversation.

Then the problem would become one of identifying and cultivating the right Republican, or at least recognized conservative bridges, who could help facilitate meaningful conversations with the right members of Trump’s more immediate team and with a goal of influencing him in a more moderate and less chaotically spontaneous direction.

Now I am not so sure that approach could work, and at the same time I wonder if “more effectively, or at least less chaotically ineffectively” could even begin to be a good thing even if it did. What would a more efficient Trump presidency do and seek to do, and would any of it realistically seek to serve the interests or needs of the country as a whole or the American public as a whole?

So I said that I would write about possible change management approaches that might offer hope for at least somewhat addressing the chaos coming out of the White House under a Trump administration. And I held off on actually writing about this to more fully see what this would mean, and particularly as president Trump has come to see that 100 days in office benchmark approaching, when he would be as likely to flail into action as he would under any circumstances. Now I am no longer hopeful that anything like this could be made to work, or that it would be beneficial even if it could be.

And this brings me back to the three basic challenges that president Trump and his administration face from within and from him in particular:

• The possibility of president Trump being so hampered by mental health challenges as to render him functionally incapacitated and to the extent that he cannot perform his constitutionally mandated duties of office,
• The possibility that he is so entangled in criminality as specified as grounds for impeachment in the Constitution, so as to justify or even demand his removal from office for that,
• The possibility he is simply so incompetent that he cannot fulfill his duties of office,
• Or some combination thereof.

And this brings me directly back to the difficulties that acknowledgement of and action regarding each and every one of these possible challenges to an ongoing Trump presidency faces, and certainly when he himself would be the target of an investigation and of possible action, but even when it is simply a key member of his inner circle team who would be. Michael Flynn and his ouster from the position of being Trump’s first National Security Advisor, showed that it is possible to move a member of Trump’s inner circle and core team out of office. But Trump’s still active supporters and certainly in Congress, would probably be much more reluctant to pursue that type of path against a second senior member of his team, and particularly against a Cabinet officer, and even when a significant number of those officials face conflicts of interest challenges of their own that might be impeachable too. Any attempt to pursue any of these possible avenues of removal from office against president Trump himself would initiate a veritable partisan political World War III.

And this is where things stand as we reach that often cited if artificial test point for a new presidency: the measure of his performance and achievement in his first 100 days in office.

I will simply note here in that context that while Trump ran on a campaign promise of reaching tremendous new heights of performance in his first 100 days in office, far exceeding those of any of his predecessors in office, he now calls this an inconsequential artifact of bad news reporting. And meanwhile, he is rushing to push a new and still fatally flawed healthcare reform package to and through Congress as quickly as possible, and a tax reform measure that by all reports so far looks even worse, and for fiscal conservatives and deficit hawks in his own party as much as for anyone else in Congress. The chaos continues.

I am planning on posting further installments to this series, but on a less regular basis now and primarily as specific events and developments arise that would call for them. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1.

Finding virtue in simplicity when complexity becomes problematical, and vice versa 2

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on April 28, 2017

This is my second 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 Part 1.)

• And my goal in this is to consider communications per se,
• And also at least a few of the common contexts where developing and offering the right message in the right level of detail, and for the specific audience receiving it, can be vital.
• As a general rule, consider this goal as always being vital, and certainly when the successful completion of a business endeavor is important to it, and when a failure of communications can derail it.

Think in terms of one-off tasks and projects here, but at least as importantly think in terms of more cyclically recurring business activities here too – where that can also include project work per se. Individual projects might be one-off and as non-repeating endeavors, but any business that at least periodically has to develop and carry through on projects and project work, needs to develop and maintain clear and consistent systems for doing so, and ones that take advantage of ongoing learning curve opportunities for making next projects run more smoothly and more cost-effectively.

• Effective communications is a key to all of this,
• And under-communicating,
• Over-communicating and particularly on the extraneous,
• And miss-communicating in general
• Can and too often do kill workplace efficiently and the timely effectiveness of results achieved.

Let’s consider cyclical business processes here, and project-supportive business systems as a source of working examples. And I choose project work here precisely because it can and often does raise novelty issues for at least some of the participant stakeholders who have to be brought into this type of work context for the specialized expertise that they can provide.

I write here of hands-on employees and managers who are more routinely responsible for what for them have become standardized tasks, goals and priorities at work, who suddenly find that they have to step outside of what might be their more usual comfort zones for this new workplace responsibility. And that can mean their facing novelty in what they do and certainly for the specific details of what they will contribute to a project, and novelty in whom they have to work with and communicate with in this, and both individually and by areas of expertise.

To expand at least briefly on that, these new-to-project work participants might very well start out not knowing the areas of responsibility of fellow project stakeholders who they will now have to effectively work with, and particularly in large and organizationally complex businesses where few if any really know and understand their business as a whole, beyond their own general areas of involvement there. Even if they have a basic idea of what an otherwise distant functional team of their business does, that they now have to work in collaboration with on a project, they are unlikely to start out knowing in any usable detail, the precise goals, priorities and challenges faced there. And it is even less likely that they will know and understand the communications needs or preferences of the specific individuals who they will work with from those more distant parts of the business, too.

Let’s consider what the stakeholders to a project would collectively, collaboratively do, considering all such participants as a group in this from the most senior project leader on down. What at least categorically would they do together? That would, in broad outline at least, include:

• Planning, and setting goals and priorities, and determining how much next and future-step detail to include in that assessment and for who, and with several or even many individuals involved in this for at least their areas of responsibility.
• And so is explicitly reaching mutually agreed to buy-in of what is arrived at in that planning, with that based upon mutual understanding of what is to be done and how and why and by whom and when – and with everyone involved knowing what they need to do in order to complete their part of the overall task and in a coordinated manner,
• And this means everyone involved knowing enough of the general context of what they would do, as well as knowing their part of it, for them to understand at least basically how their contribution fits in and what the project seeks to achieve with their contribution to it. This, among other things, is essential for gaining and keeping a sense of buy-in for all of this.
• And this level of communicated knowledge and understanding is just as important for post-project review and analysis too, and both for better understanding and I add better implementing what has been done and for better understanding and planning for what should be done next – and as both ongoing standard business process and in any next-step project work as well.
• Basically, what I am doing here is to map out a need for effective communications that meet the needs of involved participants, as this requirement plays out throughout what can be complex project-organized, business process cycles.

I have probably seen more projects that get into trouble, do so as a result of communications mishaps than from anything else. Materials and specialized equipment availability problems can and do occur, but effective communications that involve all necessary stakeholders can limit the impact of that type of problem to the extent it can be ameliorated at all – and it usually can be at least adjusted for. Scheduling problems for coordinating project participant availability to meet project timetables and needs, while still meeting other priority needs can be worked on, and certainly where communications are good. But a real breakdown or failure in communications can stop everything here.

• Communications problems drive scheduling mismatches where a stakeholder A has not laid the groundwork for B to do their step in a project that is dependent on A’s contribution, to cite a common source of project work flow breakdown and schedule slippage.
• And this can happen as a stand-alone issue involving just two stakeholders and their contributions to a project, but it is also one that can readily turn into a cascade of scheduling mismatches and with essential resources unavailable when needed: access to essential bottleneck equipment or specialists definitely included. And to clarify this point, I am not writing here of either A or B not taking this work seriously and I am not writing here of either A or B simply pushing this project and their part in it aside in their own work schedules and on their own initiatives. This can and does arise when other more standard-for-them work requirements force that, forcing them to delay and put off their project work, and even if they actively seek out permission from their usual manager or supervisor for time to do this too – where their manager or supervisor might be under real pressure too.

That last bullet point and its details are important here, and certainly in what can be the crucible of project work, as it takes shape in the context of ongoing routine work. It is not just the immediately participating stakeholders who work on a project and those who would directly receive its productive output who are involved here. And it is not just the direct project participant’s more usual managers and supervisors, and the teams that hands-on and managerial level project participants routinely work with, that would have to be added into consideration here either. This also includes wider-ranging stakeholders who also require the time and effort of those more directly involved here, and who can become either project-blocking or project-enabling gatekeepers in this:

• And for access to and effective involvement of essential project participants,
• And for access to critically limited resources that they might need – such as a specialized piece of equipment that others need too in a business, and that that business only has in very limited supply for anyone to be able to use,
• And for access to critically important business intelligence that a project would call for and that might be sequestered in just one area of the business – or that might be fragmented throughout it.

Include there, any possible bottleneck resource that might become significant in the specific business and project context. Part of good project management is thinking through and anticipating where access problems of this type might arise and preparing for those possibilities.

I have been writing in general terms here, of projects and the resources that they require, and about effectively communicating as a means of driving project success. I am going to shift directions in my next series installment to consider this from the perspective of project management and leadership best practices, where different organizations and I add different types of projects might face different best practices alternatives for managing the issues that I raise here. And after more fully discussing communications as a project enabler per se, I will turn to consider an at least brief set of other business contexts from a communications best practices perspective, where effective information development and sharing can hold overriding value.

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.

Donald Trump and the stress testing of the American system of government 16

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on April 21, 2017

This is my 21st installment to a now-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 16th installment here since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, and with many already deeply concerned as to his competency for holding office – and at just 92 days since his swearing into office, counting January 20, 2016: his inauguration day as his day one as president. Many, in fact have held deep reservations as to Donald Trump’s capabilities from even before he was elected too.

I have been successively addressing a number of issues in this series that relate to the Trump presidency and to the question of his capability of fulfilling the terms and duties of that office. And one of the core issues that has at least hovered in the background through all of that, and even when not explicitly stated, is the prospect of a disorganized president Trump with a chaotically disorganized and largely unformed administrative team supporting him, facing a genuine national crisis.

That, more than anything else has given me pause for concern as every modern US president has faced at least one major crisis and generally early on in their administration. President Trump and his ineffectualness as president, has in effect invited crisis as that would be offered as a test of who he is and what he in fact can do, and by essentially any foreign power that would seek to gain power from his failings. And the range of possibilities here does not preclude natural disaster arriving as well, such as a new, next Hurricane Katrina: which perhaps began as a natural disaster but that became the crisis that it turned into because of systematic failures in the emergency response that it provoked, on then president George W. Bush’s part.

Every president in recent US history and in fact going back for many decades has faced at least one mettle-testing crisis. Some faced several. President Kennedy, for example, found himself confronted by a Bay of Pigs invasion fiasco: a crisis of his own making as he agreed to pursue an in-retrospect ill-conceived plan to topple the government of Fidel Castro in Cuba, that was only half-formed under an earlier presidential administration and that he and his administrative team never thought through or vetted. This failure made this new young US president look weak, and an expansionist Soviet Union decided to take advantage of that perceived weakness with an attempt to base nuclear weapons bearing ballistic missiles in Cuba that would be aimed at the United States. That led to a next crisis for the United States as a whole and for the world, and certainly for the Kennedy presidency: the Cuban missile crisis.

It is important to note how Kennedy in effect brought the first of these crises upon himself by taking ownership of an at best dubious plan for overthrowing Castro’s communist government, that his administration had no hand in shaping or planning. And the wake of this event, and with all of the weakness and lack of experience and judgment that it suggested, led directly to the second of them. And that crisis, with all of the palpable risk of that it entailed, including that of possible direct risk of escalation in tensions to the level of nuclear weapons exchange, threatened us all with the unthinkable: a nuclear World War III. Only brinksmanship negotiations saved us from that, and with all of this risk that a brinksmanship approach that should have been avoidable, entailed.

Crisis and ineffectualness and a strong perception of them, can lead to crisis and certainly to international crisis. And one crisis can lead to next crisis too. And this is a toxically dangerous pattern that I see as uncomfortably likely to arise in a Trump presidency and particularly as he and his administration face an increasingly dangerous North Korea and an increasingly belligerently active Vladimir Putin and Russian government. And they represent only two of a much wider range of fronts that international crisis could erupt from. And international crisis and its prospects have real competition from more internal, national crises and potential crises too, and with that only starting in the Trump administration itself and from all of the conflicts of interest challenges that face so many of his own core team: the confirmed members of his Cabinet definitely included.

For background references on the above-cited Trump administration issues and challenges faced, see for example:

Trump’s Shift on Russia Brings Geopolitical Whiplash,
China Warns of ‘Storm Clouds Gathering’ in U.S.-North Korea Standoff,
A ‘Cuban Missile Crisis in Slow Motion’ in North Korea, and
With Trump Appointees, a Raft of Potential Conflicts and ‘No Transparency’.

The first of those news story links involves both Russia and Syria. And I add here that the possibilities of the United States bring drawn directly into Middle East conflict in Syria, constitutes a third arena of possible international crisis in and of itself, that a Trump administration could lead us all into, to go along with the first two listed-here and potential crises that might arise from within the Trump administration and from within the United States as a whole.

President George W. Bush and his administration faced the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as briefly made note of above. And the failures of his administration in responding to that, and with those failures only beginning with the inaction of his Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director: Michael D. Brown, turned this natural event into a seemingly unending political crisis and series of them too.

Did president George W Bush’s apparent disorganization and ineffectualness, as was already visible in his decision making, and with vice president Dick Cheney seemingly in charge on so many issues, enter into Osama bin Laden’s calculations when he decided to launch a massive terrorist attack in the United States on September 11, 2001? We will never know the answer to that, but I do see at least potential parallels here to what apparently happened in Moscow as their leader, Nikita Khrushchev made his decision to move Russian missiles onto Cuban launch sites. Perceived lack of capacity to effectively lead brought Khrushchev to test a seemingly weak Kennedy with challenge and crisis. Hurricane Katrina itself happened after bin Laden’s attack, but Bush had already established himself as having something of the reputation of being a buffoon in office so his apparent weakness in office and his inabilities there were already visible and for all to see in 2001 – and for anyone to calculate from.

• What are president Trump’s visible weaknesses setting both him and his administration, and the United States and the world as a whole up for?
• What is Trump making both more possible, and even more likely and particularly when he is both disorganized and facing a possible removal from office challenge and with all of the disruption that that conveys?

I offer this as my briefest and most single-issue focused posting to date in this series, and certainly since Trump’s inauguration as president and since I posted Part 6 to it. And I offer this as more of source of open questions than of answers too.

• President Trump’s lack of experience in governance and the similar lack of that in his key administration members enter into this narrative,
• As do Trump’s own missteps and those of his inner circle, as they variously seek to function in office from the limited perspectives of their narrow partisan agendas.
• The still so skeletal nature of Trump’s administration as a whole enters into this too, with many and even most key appointed positions that call for Congressional confirmation still unfilled, and with everyone who has taken appointed positions there still facing real learning curves that they have not all even begin to traverse successfully.
• And a lack of either public trust or public support of president Trump and his administration enters into this too. All of these points and more can only be seen as indicating profound weakness in this president and in his capacity to address the unexpected and challenging.

Any president needs public support when facing crisis, as they have to make difficult decisions that would have wide-ranging impact. President Trump comes across as erratic and as being dangerous from that, but he also comes across as weak and unorganized and as being unprepared and unable to take systematic action where long-term and systematic would be essential. And he appears to be functioning without any real support and from either his own administration or his own political party as a whole, or from the American public as a whole. This is an invitation to disaster.

I am going to hold off on writing my next series installment here for about a week and will probably post my next installment to it to go live on April 29, 2017. And that is where I will finally address a set of issues that I have offered to share my thoughts on for several recent installments to this now: change management considerations as to how at least some of the Trump administration challenge might be at least lessened if not remediated for its seemingly ever-ongoing negatives – assuming that he simply stays in office and does not face 25th Amendment or Article 2, Section 4 Constitutional challenge. I have proposed addressing this from a failing family owned business perspective, where the family patriarch in charge is not going to leave and where they would be reluctant at best to change – but where their approach to managing the business might be negotiable if effectively framed and presented. In anticipation of that discussion to come, I note here that I have already at least briefly touched upon what might be considered useful pieces to the puzzle of assembling such a resolution already, in earlier postings to this series. And I will bring them and a few other puzzle pieces together in my next installment in offering what I would hope to be at least a starting point for further discussion, and by members of the general public if by no one else.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1.

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