April 2008


I’ve been reading Mere Christianity lately, and I ran across this paragraph and think it says so much.

Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible (Lewis, p. 132).

This is why we need to resist any and all sin constantly. If we don’t, one leads to another to another to another. Before long, we’ve lost our way and are mired in things of this world. But it’s also why when we take small steps in the direction God wants us to go, the steps get greater and greater.

— Lewis, C. S. (1952). Mere Christianity. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

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Ever needed to find an in-house expert on a topic at your company, but didn’t know where to look? That’s the subject of this article related to “information networks,” or how we find information.

The authors studied how people found experts in a large multinational consulting company, and mapped out the number of steps each attempt took. They found that three groups of people had the most difficulty finding the experts:

  1. Employees who were relatively new,
  2. Employees who resided at the periphery of the organizations social network, and
  3. Female employees.

New employees and those who are at the periphery of the social network of the company I can understand, but female employees being in there intrigues me. Is it the “boys club” nature coming through again? Or could it be some other factor?

The obvious solutions to finding an expert were mentioned in the article, “One potential solution is a mentoring program that not only pairs newcomers with veterans but also tries to match people across various social lines” (p. 9).

Another idea came to me, which also is good for building a skills matrix on employees. Companies should build an intranet where the employees are listed along with skills the company markets. Let everyone vote for who they think are the experts in the field. As the number of votes rises, the “real” experts in a particular field should rise to the top, and then the information is available for anyone to search.

— Hayashi, A. M. (2008, Spring). The World Might Be Small, but Not for Everyone. MIT Sloan Management Review. http://sloanreview.mit.edu/smr/issue/2008/spring/04/.

According to Val Rahamani, general manager of IBM’s Internet Security Systems, “The security business has no future” (¶ 2). The rapid growth of threats recently, as well as reports that 90% of websites are vulnerable, has made me wonder if we, as IT people, can keep up. I do think Rahamani has it right with this statement:

“The security industry is flying by the seat of its pants,” Rahamani said. “Security infrastructure has been dictated by the bad guys… as new threats arise, we put new products in place. This is an arms race we cannot win” (¶ 3).

But what is the alternative? According to Rahamani, “security companies must sell their customers solutions that assume ‘everyone is infected’ so that they can safely do business, which makes a business sustainable” (¶ 5). It will be interesting to see what IBM ISS does bring out in the future. But throwing this challenge out at RSA Conference 2008, it better be a good solution.

— Higgins, K. J. (2008, April 10). IBM: The Security Business ‘Has No Future’. Dark Reading. http://www.darkreading.com/document.asp?doc_id=150830.

As leaders, influence is our “stock and trade.” It’s what allows us to get those jobs done that we need our team to do. But are we influencing people the right way? Subtle changes can make a message either very effective, or cause people to dig in their heels against the message and resist the change. This article describes a situation that describes this subtlety well.

Consider the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, which loses more than a ton of petrified wood each month because of theft. In hopes of preventing the vandalism, the park has instituted a deterrence program in which prominently placed signs make visitors aware of past thievery: ‘Your heritage is being vandalized every day by theft losses of petrified wood of 14 tons a year, mostly a small piece at a time'” (p. 85).

The sign sounds good. It alerts people to a problem in the hopes that people will realize that they shouldn’t be stealing the petrified wood. But the result?

… a woman he described as someone who would never take even a paperclip or rubber band without returning it – he was astonished when, after reading the sign decrying vandalism, she whispered to him, ‘We better get ours now'” (p. 85).

The core to the problem in that sign was an implicit approval of stealing because others were doing it also. How many times have we seen people do something at work because someone else was also doing it. Or, have you mentioned to your team the amount of time that some people are doing something that is a waste of time, and it only seemed to encourage that pattern of behavior?

In order to test this assumption, the authors created a situation in hotels with the “help save our environment by reusing towels” cards in the rooms. By changing the wording on the cards to, “Join your fellow guests in helping to save the environment,” they were able to increase participation in towel reuse by 34%. By implying that everyone was doing it, other hotel guests began to join the program.

So be aware of “how” you’re saying something when you’re working with your team. You might be inadvertently encouraging the behavior you’re trying to stop.

— Griskevicius, V., Cialdini, R. B., & Goldstein, N. J. (2008, Winter). Applying (and Resisting) Peer Influence. MIT Sloan Management Review. http://sloanreview.mit.edu/smr/issue/2008/winter/20/.

Here’s an interesting article on who is paying the most in taxes. Is it time to “stick it to the rich” as the Democratic candidates think? Consider these statistics:

  • The bottom 40% of Americans had, in aggregate, an effective tax rate that’s negative (meaning they got back more from the government than they paid in taxes),
  • The top 10% of tax payers paid 70% of total income tax,
  • The top 1% of tax payers paid 40% of all income tax.

While I firmly believe those are the bottom end of the income scale shouldn’t have to pay much in taxes, should so much of the Federal government (and state government funding supplied by the Federal government) be paid by just a few? From a sustainability point of view, that’s not good. Suppose they decide not to work for a year or two?

Maybe it’s time for the flat tax, 10% of everyone’s income is paid to the Federal government. No deductions, no tax shelters, no credits. How would you spend the average 10-20% more in income you would receive? A quick look at the adjusted gross income for 2005, as reported here by the IRS, was $7.4 trillion. So if everyone paid 10%, that would give the government at least $740 billion to spend for the next year.

I know there are other nuances to this issue that are beyond a blog, but think about spending 10% of income on taxes instead of 20-30-?%

— Colvin, G. (2008, April 2). The Tax Debate We Need to Have. Fortune. http://money.cnn.com/2008/03/31/news/economy/tax_debate.fortune/index.htm?postversion=2008040211.

There’s a good article on Fortune this week called “Wall Street Whiners.” Read the whole thing, but I really like this section of the article:

The various reports may have gotten one big thing right: Many argued that a broad, principles-based approach to both accounting and regulation would work better and cost less. But living according to principles requires a certain maturity and a long-term view of where one’s self-interest lies. Right now, Wall Street seems like a child who can’t keep his hand out of the cookie jar, even when the cookies are going to make him sick (¶ 9).

Good advice for Wall Street…and Main Street.

— McLean, B. (2008, April 1). Wall Street Whiners. Fortune. http://money.cnn.com/2008/03/31/news/economy/wall_street_whines.fortune/index.htm.

Amazon is definitely good at disruptive business practices. It’s first round of offering books over the Internet has changed book buying for many of us. But now, it’s offering a new way of buying that doesn’t involve the web at all. A NY Times article describes how you can now text-message the UPC or ISBN of an item to Amazon which responds with two prices for that item. If you want either one, you can text back a 1 or a 2, or you can text ‘M’ back and get more options.

Amazon TextBuyIt, which launched late Tuesday, lets people text the name of a product, its description or its UPC or ISBN to 262966 (that’s ”Amazon” on the keypad) from anywhere their cell phones work — including from inside physical stores” (¶ 2).

Retailers better look out, because now shoppers are going to be even more prepared to negotiate the price posted on an item when they go shopping. This situation reminded me of a previous article on NY Times about how people are negotiating pricing at large electronics stores, using quotes from web sites to get the best deal they can. Now people don’t even need to negotiate prior to showing up in the store. And retailers are going to have about 5 minutes to make a deal or lose it to Amazon. And I’m sure other internet sites will implement similar technology before too long…unless Amazon has a patent on it. 🙂

It also makes me wonder how many retailers are investigating the use of cellular disrupter technology today. 🙂

— Associated Press. (2008, April 2). Amazon Launches Text-Message Shopping. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/technology/AP-Amazon-Text-Message-Shopping.html.

— Richtel, M. (2008, March 23). Even at Megastores, Hagglers Find No Price Is Set in Stone. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/23/business/23haggle.html.