Tag Archives: Business

Preserving My Past

This is kind of a #FlashbackFriday#FF, since I missed #ThrowbackThursday#TT, though it’s more of just an addition to my life story as made possible through the wonders of Facebook and, especially, the Timeline. Since its inception, I have seen my Timeline as a way to share contemporaneously, as well as retrospectively. I have used it as a way to share both my present and my past, the latter being primarily with the thought my two daughters will one day be able to see who I was, in some sense from the beginning. If others enjoy it, that’s a bonus. Hell – I enjoy it myself once in a while and it gives me a reason to slowly digitize some of my favorite actual, printed photos, which would not be shareable other than in person if I didn’t scan and post them. This seems like as good a place as any; better than most.

The picture I am here sharing was taken quite some time after I owned the business that resided in this small, unassuming space. Nevertheless, the size and location haven’t changed since January of 1967, when my father (fearing I was on the road to becoming a bum) purchased what was then DEB’s Snack Shop and I began managing it. We were partners. My job was to spend 14 hours a day there and his job was to show up once a day and get pissed at me for something I neglected to do or didn’t do properly, as he saw it. He was very good at his job and so was I, though you wouldn’t have known it by how well he performed his special task.

This little place consisted of 14 stools and about a 10′ takeout counter. It sat in a parking lot across the street from the main entrance of the May Company store on Hill St., between 8th and 9th Streets, in downtown Los Angeles. It was small, but it was busy . . . and quite lucrative, especially for a nineteen-year-old who had recently just barely escaped High School.

It was here I learned some of the more valuable lessons I’ve been fortunate enough to benefit from. Perhaps the most important of them was given by my father when he admonished me to never ask anyone who worked for me to do something I wasn’t willing to do as well. I had five employees and every one of them was older than me, one by around thirty years. Earning their respect was of the utmost importance. Now that I think about it, I was fortunate to be raised with respect for most everyone. Another valuable lesson, which made this primary business one much easier to aspire to.

I also learned what I have always considered my first real marketing and sales lesson. This place was a snack shop. Hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos, burritos, ham sandwiches, fries, etc. We also opened up early enough for breakfast, so eggs, bacon, hash browns, etc. Of course, there were other items and most of the food was marked up 300%, that is the cost of the food item was generally 1/3 of the price we charged.

Then there were soft drinks, none of which were served in cans or bottles. We had a dispenser. The cost of a large soft drink was marginally more than a small one and the difference in cost of the cups was about a penny. The difference in profit, however, was spectacular, with the price of a large drink around two and a half times what the small one went for. I think it was $0.10 and $0.25. Let’s say I made $0.07 (in today’s money that would be $0.50) profit from the small drink. Since the cost of the large drink was marginally more than the small – let’s say $0.05 instead of $0.03 – I made a profit of $0.20 ($1.42 today) on the large drinks.

That’s the data behind it, but the real lesson was in behavior. Over a period of time, I did some experimenting. I didn’t keep a little notebook, nor did I design a devilishly clever test. People would place an order like “I’d like a cheeseburger, onion rings, and a Coke.” I merely responded in one of two ways and noted the difference in results. If I asked them “large or small” they would frequently opt for the small. However, if I merely said “large?”, they would seldom say “no”.

I don’t know how much more money I made by doing this, but I’m reasonably certain it was on the order of a few dollars a day. Extrapolated out over a year’s time, that would be around an extra couple of grand in today’s money. Not a bad result. Unfortunately, I didn’t last a year, but that’s another story. I have no regrets, btw.

PS – The name of the place in the pic is JEMP’s, which stood for Jerry, Eileen, Marshall, and Penny . . . the Silversteins. Jerry, who had worked at the Grand Central Market with my father for many years, bought the business at a discount when I kind of abruptly told the old man I was through with it. Shortly thereafter I found myself in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. This was the Summer of Love, 1967. The rest, as you no doubt know, is history.


Power To The People

Corporations, conglomerates, and industrial organizations aren’t the enemy, ipso facto. In fact, they make socialism not only possible, but necessary, IMO.

What is the enemy is unbridled greed, rampant cronyism, nepotism and, especially, the codification of deep income inequality. It is not good for a society when individuals can amass fortunes they can’t possibly spend. That they then turn some of that fortune into philanthropy and charitable organizations doesn’t change the fact that it should be criminal for one individual to take that much surplus value from the workforce that made their fortune possible. It’s estimated Jeff Bezos makes (not earns) around $2,500/second. Dafuque does he do, other than own Amazon stock?

I’m not saying inventors, creators, entrepreneurs, etc. aren’t entitled to profit from their efforts, but they shouldn’t be able to continue siphoning profit off an organization that has reached a point where it could easily survive without them. By the same token, intellectual property law has expanded patent and copyright protections way beyond their original intent, creating other avenues of indecent profit-making.

And getting back to what I said about making socialism possible and necessary, without large profitable organizations, we’d all be living off mom & pop’s and craft-making. Many of the products we enjoy, and that provide the grease that skids civilization as we know it, would not be possible without large factories, laboratories, and other institutions. By their very nature, though, they transcend the control and direction of any one individual, and I believe our pay/profit structure needs to take that much more into consideration, providing a larger share to the workers who have helped make the org successful.


Working Remotely? Here’s Some Help

The need to address the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic may have done more to accelerate the digital transformation many have been working towards for years, than all of the bitching, moaning, hand-wringing, and pearl clutching heretofore expended on cajoling knowledge workers to adopt and adapt these technologies.

Five years ago I served as the developmental editor on the 2nd edition of “The New Social Learning.” I had the pleasure of working with the co-author of the 1st edition, who was the principal author of the 2nd, Marcia Conner. Marcia is one of a handful of people who recognized the need for, and the power of, such a transition . . . and this book was an attempt to help leaders and organizations move forward to adopt these new ways of working, and working together.

I recommend this book highly for everyone who is now finding themselves either working at home or dealing with today’s need to be more “distanced” from our colleagues. There’s a wealth of good info here. I urge you to check it out. It’s about far more than just learning.

“The Workplace Has Changed. At this moment, your people are already learning through social media. They’re reaching out and connecting in powerful ways. The question is, can you recognize, appreciate, and take advantage of the power inherent in this new level of communication? Do you want to facilitate or debilitate? Do you want to play a part in what and how people learn? Or do you want to try to stop them? Will you restrict them? Or will you free them to do the work they were hired to do—and will you do it with them?”


A Bit of My History in Hair

For the third time in my life I’ve let my hair grow. It was always something I wanted to do, but back in the 60s it was very much frowned upon. In my very late teens I was the lead singer in a rock and roll band called “The Night Owls”, but I also had to still answer to my family, so I purchased a wig and wore it when I performed. I wasn’t terribly happy with it, but there wasn’t much I felt I could do at the time. I was rebellious, but not that much . . . not back then.

I don’t remember exactly when I stopped performing with them, but it was probably around the time my father stumbled onto an opportunity and, since I seemed to be heading in a direction no self-respecting, good Jewish boy was supposed to go, he took advantage of a chance to purchase a small snack shop in downtown L.A. He had spoken to me and expressed his wish that I take on the responsibility of running it. I was midway to my twentieth birthday when we took it over; the last week of 1966.

Somewhere in this house – quite possibly in a box hidden deep in the garage – is a picture of me in my teenage splendor, wearing the wig underneath a short-brimmed, felt hat, hanging from a walk/don’t walk sign that controlled pedestrian traffic to and from Deb’s Snack Shop and the May Company across the street.

Shortly after that picture was taken (with film, and it was developed on paper!) I told the old man I didn’t want to continue with the business. I knew I was letting him down, but I had grown weary of getting up at 4:30 am and getting home at 7:30 pm, Monday through Friday. On Saturday, I was usually home by 4:30, but it was still a long day. I remember going out on a date after I had been working at the business for a few months. It was a Saturday night and I fell asleep at dinner. Part of me was worried I was watching my life slip ignominiously away. I feared one day I would awake to find myself with a nice house, a car, who knows what else, and nobody to share it with and no time to enjoy it. Remember, this was at the height of the Summer of Love. 1967. The Haight was calling me to a field study.

Also, I was really sick of getting blasted by my father every day. My old man was one of those who was very good at pointing out one’s shortcomings, but highly averse to handing out praise or acknowledgement. When he was finished with his deliveries nearby at the Grand Central Market, where he sold distressed lunch meat and cheeses to a half dozen or so of the numerous stalls to be found there still, he would stop by to see what I had fucked up how I was doing.

Invariably, my youth, inexperience, naivete, cluelessness, or stupidity had grabbed me by one of my still wet behind ears and slammed me against a well-known business tenet or a shop-worn rule-of-thumb. Although I couldn’t win for losing, back then the cliches did not come so easily to me. So each and every day, with the exception of Saturday, he would be in my face.

But I digress, which (in case you haven’t noticed) I’m pretty darn good at.

So he sold the business. He lost $5K and was pretty pissed at me. It wasn’t until years later I decided to use a time value of money calculation to see what the present day value of his loss would be. I won’t say it was staggering, but it was a chunk of change I wouldn’t particularly want to part with. As of this writing, it’s value would be $36K. That knowledge would be somewhat disconcerting had my father and I not reconciled our issues a couple of years before his untimely death. It still bothers me to know I was such a jerk but, thankfully, guilt is not a component.

Oops! I’m digressing still.

Hair. I really want to talk about hair. Not because it’s all that important to me, but because I can . . . and I had one of those flashbacks today, when I thought about something I hadn’t thought of in many years.

Rick's Hebro

I Called This My Hebro. It Does Look a Bit Like a Brillo Pad, I Suppose.

As I said, I’ve grown my hair long three times in my life. One of the reasons I’ve done it this time is that my hair is no longer as curly as it used to be. When I was a young man, and up into my late sixties – I think – I had really thick, really curly dark brown hair. It was somewhere between kinky and wavy. I still have a lot, but it’s not quite as thick, and most of it is gray. And the gray ones, which first started coming in with these weird, almost right angle bends in them, now are pretty straight.

Now to that flashback. Long ago, in Junior High School, I had a “friend” who gave me two very distinct nicknames. I’ll leave it to you to suss their significance. He called me “Brillo” and “KinkyJew”.

I hadn’t thought of these nicknames for many years until yesterday. The memory was interesting and caused me to think of how my hair has changed over the years. Since the last time I grew it out, I had pretty much decided not to grow it again; it was a giant pain in the ass to take care of. However, with it being so much straighter, it’s much easier to handle. It’s still not really straight straight, but you can see the difference pretty clearly in the two photos I’m including here.

I also find it interesting to recall I never took much offense to those nicknames. I suppose they were better than “kike” and “hebe” and I’d had to put up with a lot of that shit in my

An Old Fart

Livin’ large, I’m enjoying the home stretch.

youth. In fact, the younger brother of the “friend” (he was a close neighbor) had once called me a kike and he and I had had a couple of fights over the years. Nevertheless, I considered these names mostly sorry distractions from what was really important; having fun and cutting school, which my “friend” and I did quite frequently.

I’m somewhat thankful I still have a lot of hair. Mine’s getting a bit thin in front on top, but I don’t see it going away anytime soon. If it does, I’m quite willing to shave my head. I’ve always wanted to discover if I have a curly scalp. It kind of feels like it, but it’s hard to be certain with all the hair what, exactly, is causing me to feel like my skull would look like a University of Michigan Wolverine’s football helmet.

It would be fitting. When I competed in swimming, I shaved my head, my arms, and my legs. That was about 53 years ago. I can’t quite recall what my head looked like. I was only interested in competing as best I could. Time is now threatening to leave me hairless, but I’m hanging in there. Either way, as long as I’ve got another decade or so I’ll be a happy camper. I want to see my daughters to adulthood; get to know them a bit before I check out forever.


Déjà Vu All Over Again

I’ve been giving some thought to why I blog, what it is I’m trying to accomplish. As it turns out, I have several motivations that are, in no particular order: Share my observations of the business world; discuss politics; wonder about space, time, and infinity; wax philosophical about religion and spirituality; share my experiences with aging as a point-of-the-spear baby boomer; complain about assholes and assholishness; and blabber on about anything that intrigues me. I guess that pretty much covers everything.

Deja Vu

I could swear I’ve thought about these issues before!

I feel fairly confident in my ability to write about most of these things, but I do have one area in which I’m somewhat reluctant to hold myself out as knowing anything. That subject is business. This isn’t because I haven’t picked up anything useful in the past 52 years since my first “real” job at McDonald’s, but rather because I’ve spent the vast majority of the last three decades working at an organization that is a government contractor and I have a tendency to think we’re very different than other, commercial organizations.

It recently dawned on me or, perhaps after nearly five years of retirement and a return to the organization I retired from, it came back to me the success of the comic strip Dilbert should make it abundantly clear most all reasonably big organizations are very much the same when it comes to bureaucracy, organizational stupidity, and waste. So . . . I’ve now come full-circle I believe and should have no trouble writing about my observations.

Not perzackly. When I first returned to work in mid-January of this year, I ran up against the reality that a large portion of the business, thanks to an acquisition by Aerojet, was now defense and missile related and our work on space exploration was more developmental than production oriented. In fact, I am currently working on what used to be referred to as a “Star Wars” program, a ground-based intercept vehicle designed to “get in the way” of incoming ballistic missiles. As a result, one of the first training modules I was required to take and pass an exam on was regarding Operations Security.

The material wasn’t all that comprehensive, so it requires some real judgment to decide on what I can talk about and what I should not share. It gave me pause – still does, actually. However, I am coming to the conclusion I can speak about any part of normal organizational issues that others (for whom Dilbert continues to resonate with the “truth”) struggle with as well. I think this means issues of communication, knowledge sharing and retention, organizational silos, and cultural constructs that block meaningful progress are probably available targets. Let’s see how good I do.


Tweaking Facebook

Facebook Like Icon

Use the Like, Luke.

I am — at least, I was — a Knowledge Management professional. It’s what I did for over a decade at Rocketdyne, starting when it was a business unit of The Boeing Company, up through my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a division of United Technologies. Pratt & Whitney paid for me to earn a Masters Degree in KM online from CSUN’s Tseng College. It’s such an exclusive degree they don’t offer it anymore. 🙂

I mention this because it affects how I share information, especially here on my blog. One of the tenets we tried to drill into people’s heads, and follow ourselves, was to avoid reinventing the wheel. That is, make it a habit to reuse information and knowledge that’s already been won at some cost to one or more individuals and the organization in which it was produced. This means, among other things, I am not interested in rewriting what others have written, while adding my own twist to it. This doesn’t apply when how I perceive an issue is substantially different than others, but it does when I’m sharing things I mostly agree with.

Yesterday and today brought me two great, and related, examples of things that need sharing and for which there’s little for me to do than announce them. The first I will actually place second, below, as it’s the subject of the second, which is a post by Dennis Howlett, which he published today in diginomica. What Dennis discusses is a Google Hangout Robert Scoble conducted, wherein he described what he has learned in thousands of hours of tweaking Facebook’s algorithms — primarily through his educated use of lists, likes, shares, etc.

Both Dennis and Robert are still far more embedded in the business world than I am and, rather than attempt an explanation through my eyes, I want to leave it to both of them to help you out. If you are using Facebook for your business or profession, or even if you just want to have a much better experience when using Facebook personally, I suggest reading the post and watching the video, which I am also including here. As Dennis points out, Robert is very generous with sharing his knowledge, something this KM pro really admires. You really should take advantage of it.


Get Out There And Buy The Book Already!

Books for Sale

Go ahead. Splurge. Buy the book already!

Once I started blogging, which was quite some time ago, I became an author. Truth to tell, I’ve been something of an author virtually all of my life. I just haven’t ever thought of it in terms other than how it served whatever organization I happened to be working for. Whether it was writing advertising copy for my family’s business or my cousin’s wine store, publishing a newsletter in exchange for free range balls and rounds of golf at Simi Hills (that’s how I could afford to learn, starting at 46), or producing a monthly newsletter for the Knowledge Management team at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, I’ve been an author for a lot longer than I give myself credit.

Now that I’m planning on ramping up my writing efforts, including offering my services as an editor and proof reader, I’m starting to think a lot more in terms of what it takes; what my mentality needs to be. I’ve started contacting my connections, the people I got to know over the past six or seven years that I was very active in Social Business (formerly called Enterprise 2.0) and social media in general.

One of the folks I contacted and have communicated with is Nilofer Merchant. She recently authored this great post and I think you should read it. She makes some very interesting, important, and accurate (IMO) points about the way we treat authors . . . and artists in general (in my opinion). Here’s an excerpt:

No one knows how to support an author. So, every author feels slighted. And every friend is simply … stumped.

This is because we lack the social conventions for how to support authors. If an entrepreneur shares aKickstarter campaign, you break out the Paypal account because, of course, you want to help someone pursue their passions. If a colleague is doing a breast-cancer walk or leukemia team-in-training run, you know what to do. If a friend loses a parent, you know to send a card or flowers. If someone shares they are having a baby, you slap the dad on the back, wish the new parents luck (and sleep), and find some ridiculously cute outfit to gift.

But what to do when a friend, or even someone you know only on Twitter publishes a book? What if you don’t care about this topic? What if you think you have that domain covered since, you too, are an expert. What if you are just not a reader?

It is perplexing to know what to do since are no norms, mostly because being an author is rare. And – while most people would never want to admit this in public – they would rather be jealous of another person crossing off a bucket list item rather than get excited for them or support them.

But authors do need your help. They need it is small ways and large and since I have several great friends with books in the near future – books worth reading and supporting, I’m going to write a primer for how to support an author.

If you’d like to read further, her suggestions – and the rest of her post – are here. I have to admit being guilty of this myself, though I have purchased far more books than I’ll ever have the time to read . . . unless I become bedridden, and I’m not exactly hoping for that. Help an author. Buy their book. I’m expecting to be begging you on my behalf soon.


A Less Than Auspicious Anniversary

I have an interesting anniversary arriving in about a week. Actually, it arrives in precisely a week; seven days, that is. May 14, 2012 will be two years since I retired from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. Two years. It hardly seems that long ago I decided to accept an offer to retire early and strike out on my own. To be honest, I’m still not sure I made the right choice, but I did make it and I thought I would spend the next week recounting my “adventures” since then.

Does Retirement Have to Mean "Used Up"?

Does Retirement Have to Mean “Used Up”?

I should point out my retirement wasn’t entirely voluntary, though the choice was mine. I had no intention of retiring . . . ever. All the men I grew up with, including my father, worked until they dropped dead and, unfortunately, many of them – including my father – dropped awfully early. This was not my plan. The way I looked at it, work is what defines us and I expected to have something interesting to do for many a year to come. I though I would work at Rocketdyne well into my eighties.

It didn’t work out quite like I had contemplated, but it has made for an interesting two years and, I trust, will continue to provide challenges for years to come. However, it hasn’t exactly been easy . . . for many reasons. First, there’s the reality that my income has dropped considerably and we’ve been moving backward a bit each month as expenses slightly outpace income. Savings are really helpful, but they’ll be gone at the rate we’re going before the kids make it to college. This I find intolerable.

To remedy this I’ve tried, admittedly somewhat halfheartedly, a couple of different approaches I will attempt to chronicle in the next couple of days. My first attempt was to provide consulting services to small businesses seeking to use social media to market themselves and teach them how to engage with their target – and current – markets. Not only did the economic conditions militate against my being able to find success in the market I plunged into, but the very conservative nature of this town ensured people were not going to be easily convinced of the efficacy of a social media strategy. I was not prepared for their skepticism and reluctance to push the outside of the envelope. My bad.

One of the adjustments I have made is to lower my expectations considerably and work from there. This includes, of course, adjusting the rate I can charge for my services. I’m working at finding the sweet spot for that part of my endeavors.

Another major aspect of this milestone is that I will be 65 years old in less than a month. As prepared as I’ve been to accept, and even embrace, the inevitability of aging, I am still struggling with aspects I had not anticipated. I will try to go further in depth regarding these aspects in the next week. Suffice it to say that ageism is, I’m pretty sure, still very much a part our culture. The combination of reality and myth is very powerful and impinges on most everything I do. I’ll try and discuss my approach to aging and what has changed for me in the past several years tomorrow.

 


More of That Lifelong Learning!

The Queen Mary from my hotel window

The Queen Mary Outside My Hotel

I just finished my presentation, the last in a group of three on the subject of social media for the American Oil Chemists’ Society’s meeting in Long Beach, CA. This was a huge event, with about 1500 people and lots of organizations in attendance.

The room was set up for nearly 300 people, but no more than 30 – 40 were in attendance at any one time. I have since learned (and am not in any way surprised to find) that the scientists in the organization are somewhat reticent to adopt social media. Actually, I’m very familiar with the problem and even discussed it in my presentation.

One thing I think I’ve gotten out of this, as a result of going through the process of creating my schpiel and also from my conversations with my co-presenters, who both have businesses they’ve been running for about as long as I was at Rocketdyne, is a clearer understanding of what I may have to offer and can build a viable business around.

Both of them told me nobody’s providing much in the way of education and services designed for the use of social media inside an organization. Both of their presentations were about the value of social media, but they were focused almost entirely on how to use it to either market your organization or to connect with like-minded people in order to build your connections or your personal brand.

After I finished, we sat down for a panel discussion. Frankly, I wasn’t feeling all that good about my efforts, but I do seem to be my own worst critic. However, one of the members of the Society, who has been attending meetings since 1976, got up and said he thought ours was the best session he had ever attended. That felt pretty darn good to hear!

One more bright spot. I was asked to write an article on my subject for their industry publication and expect to hear more about it in the next several days. We’ll see how that goes. I’m glad I put this presentation together and now I’m going to refine it and see if I can find other places who would like me to give it. I’m told there’s a market out there. Now I have to find it.


Considering Attending IBM’s Social Business Jam? Here’s How!

I am a VIP guest taking part in a unique opportunity to engage in an interactive discussion about the growing influence of social technology in business.

On February 8-11, 2011 I will be joining IBM to host their Social Business Jam where we will cooperatively explore the value of social technology in business, the mitigation of its risks, and the management system required to drive the social transformation required for its use.  This web-based event will provide an unrivalled opportunity for thousands of leaders from around the world to pool their knowledge and experiences, and to examine this next generation of business.  I urge you to participate. Learn more here: www.ibm.com/social/businessjam

There will be 5 discussion forums occurring simultaneously, where participants can join any time during the event. The subjects of these forums are:

     

  • Building the Social Business of the Future
  • Building Participatory Organizations Through Social Adoption
  • Using Social to Understand and Engage with Customers
  • What does Social mean for IT?
  • Identifying Risks and Establishing Governance
  •  

Participation does not require your full-time involvement during the 72 hours of the event.  You can log-in to the Jam whenever you are available, and spend as much time as you want to comment, read or engage in topic areas you find most interesting. We’re looking forward to your participation!

Please join me in this exciting conversation about the new era of business:
1. Register for the Jam: Please register for the Jam via this link: http://ibm.co/joinsbjam
2. Spread the word about the Jam: Please help us generate buzz about this upcoming event via Twitter (#sbjam) and other channels of communication you have access to.

Thanks.


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