Two pillars in the doorway

1) We build our culture on virtue not vice.
2) People are not their behaviors.

As for the first, we build our culture on virtue not vice, just like the sun rises in the east not the west. The idea that we can legislatively replace virtue with vice without catastrophic consequences to the family of man is a ridiculous as the idea that the Kansas City Hyatt skywalk collapse was the result of too many angels dancing on the head of a pin.

What does one have to do with the other? Absolutely nothing! Just like there is no correlation, no relationship, no historical support for redefining natural law to suit the whims of a vanishingly small minority. Why are they vanishingly small? Because they cannot reproduce, they can only recruit – so they’ll always be a fringe element.

Do you believe planes fly? As in, is global air travel just a hoax?

Would you allow, say, your dentist, who after all, is really smart and has passed certification boards and everything related to dentistry, to fly a commercial airliner without training?

Of course not! Or if you did, you are personally responsible for the carnage that ensues.

So if we can understand skill in one field gives no capacity for effective performance in another specialty without adequate grounding (pun intended), why have we allowed so-called experts to redefine

  • the very foundations of society
  • the very definition of the family

in the face of overwhelming evidence that these outcomes are tragically harmful to the very people they claim to help?

Only tyrants do this. Only the capricious, who lust for power to feed their ego, seek to force their beliefs on others against their will. For those who watch MSNBC|CNBC and have repeatedly lost arguments with their reflection in the mirror, the Crusades were a response to Muslim Invasions. On this All Hallow’s Eve of 2015, it’s appropriate to recall the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary (Our Lady of Victory), just three weeks ago Thursday 7Oct15, when we celebrated the 444th anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, where the European & Papal States navies led by Don John of Austria trounced Ali Pasha’s fleet 4:1 and Ottoman expansion was halted in the West.

Fast forward to today. Not only do we have the same attacks from the same people (somethings never change, “haters gonna hate“), yet the flipside is that we have petty and not so petty tyrants on our home shores, striving to impose their failed ideologies on the American people.

Sources of inspiration

From Europe:

Lautsi v. Italy

From America:

Rock on Christina!
Suck it up AAUP:

Carpe Diem!

Just another cracked lens?…a fresh perspective on Indiana

Spyglass superimposed on Lighthouse against a stormy ocean background
Image: © 2012 Alexandra Ionescu, used by permission.

The answer is so simple I’m not sure why it hasn’t been rolled out already.

The answer to what? If, dear reader, you have been blissfully meditating in a cave, far from the madding crowd, Indiana recently enacted their own version of the federal Religious Freedom & Restoration Act.

When someone asks if we support discrimination, ask them if they believe in gravity. It will silence them for a second, which is all we need. Then ask them if they believe the sun rises in the east. For everyone – for every culture, every ethnicity, every demographic distinction – does the sun rise in the east every day that it’s not overcast?

The only rational answer is yes. Once we have re-framed the discussion, [1, 2], it’s a simple, easy step to explain that gravity and the sun rising in the east are objective truths – they do not depend on someone’s opinion, on whom they love, on an evolved attitude – they are that way because that is the reality of living on this planet. It’s not opinion, it’s physics.

From the natural laws of physics, it’s a short walk in the park on a sunny day, to the natural laws of biology.

Shifting gears, (by this time the smart ones have recognized they’ve painted themselves into a corner), it’s simple, easy and straightforward to refresh the public awareness of a Supreme Court decision that’s been on the books for over 90 years. Back in the 1919 case, Schenck v. United States, Oliver Wendell Holmes coined the now-famous phrase that we are not free to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre.

Nor are we free to open fire in a theatre with weapons of any kind. In the theatre of the mind and in the spectacle of the public square, a tyranical minority of activist judges, media talking heads and self-appointed elites, are opening fire with a narrative that makes about as much sense as saying one doesn’t believe in gravity or that the sun doesn’t rise in the east.

It really is that simple. In a recent issue of Perspectives, Tony Jameson writes:

It is a hallmark of maturity to seek the answers the data tell us rather than seek the data that will give us the answers we want to hear.

Celebrating our diversity

Just as framing the discussion sets the likely outcome, the spectacles or lenses through which we view the world tell more about us than about the issues themselves. Celebrating our diversity comes through recognizing the inherent dignity of the human person, therefore appeals to preferential treatment of class, race or gender all fall short. Today’s self styled elites make the same mistake as prior decades’ villains, the Nazis and Marxists. Nazis viewed the world through the lens of race and Marx through class struggle. Many of today’s talking heads and media darlings call to mind the petulant juvenile who demands her rights without any move to fulfill her responsibilities as a member of the family of man. With breath-taking clarity Francis Cardinal Arinze calls such an individual “a brat.” Those who embrace the long view, to climb the steps of the lighthouse to reach the lens room, can see over the modern media fog.

Carpe Diem! Blessings to all people of good will in this 2015 Easter Triduum,


Gender equality follows the equality of personhood

RE: Emma Watson’s UN speech launching the HeForShe project.

Greg Portell makes several good points for why & how she has demonstrated qualities of an effective spokeswoman. (UN speech link for convenience

The “residual risk” in the HeForShe message, is that without careful pruning of some key codewords, Emma’s speech launching HeForShe is just an updated, more nuanced expression of the same failed ideologies that have created such solipsism, such divisiveness, in the past.

A natural order

In a nutshell, gender equality follows the equality of personhood, never the other way around. Healthy people understand that priority on a subconscious level, independent of geography, culture, politics, income and other class-warfare tactics instituted by FDR, so powerfully detailed in Amity Shlae’s book, The Forgotten Man.

While brevity rules out a line-by-line analysis, multiple themes in the Watson speech are the very opposite of what she and others claim them to be. One sage has called talks like this sausage logic: “the skin of reason, stuffed with a lie” because the rights of one group cannot trample on the rights of another, less advantaged group without harmful consequences for society as a whole and all the individuals within it.

Unfortunately for Emma’s thesis, feminism has the same credibility as aryanism and worse yet, for similar reasons. US President Theodore Roosevelt famously said “to educate in mind but not in morals is to prepare a menace to society” which is more visibly true than in the past 50+ years.

As long as we Americans had the Dred Scott decision and Jim Crow laws, any talk of gender equality was just the gong and cymbal of 1Cor13:1.

An effective cultural expression that fosters true gender equality is powered by “the power in powerlessness” which leverages humility and servanthood. Today’s popular quests for various “rights” somehow rarely get around to addressing the responsibilities that give rise to those rights beyond the most basic: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In a post-Gosnell world, no person seeking credible expression of human equality can deny that equality to the most vulnerable persons of our human race.

A few quick points

1) Serious students of science and the arts, from Camille Paglia to Christina Hoff Sommers recognize that we have been floating adrift for well over a century, as a cabal of mongrel minds (Marx, Engels, Freud, Nietzsche, Sartre, de Beauvoir) worked tirelessly to recruit passengers on Das Narrenschiff (the ship of fools). Sebastian Brant’s 1494 satire describes many media pundits “to a T” because they say good-sounding things and do bad things.

2) Several code words that doom the #HeForShe project if they’re not revised: “right to control my own body” is widely recognized as the countersign for abortion.

If the HeForShe movement’s leaders choose to embrace this scandal (a wolf in sheep’s clothing if there ever was one), I suggest this well-intentioned movement will quickly fade from the world stage.

By definition, the abortion movement can only recruit, they can’t reproduce (!), so the philosophy, cause, movement is doomed, in a very literal way, to die out within a couple of generations. The Soviet Union had nearly unlimited resources and it lasted a scant 70 years. Hitler’s “thousand year Reich” less than 1/10th of that.

Justice Blackmun himself wrote (pp. 156–157 of the Roe opinion) that “If this suggestion of personhood is established, [Jane Roe’s] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the 14th Amendment.”

3) JPMorganChase, a sponsor in the footer of, is currently under multiple attacks, not only for the 76MM accounts hacked (nearly “4 score” millions of people with their digital lives compromised), but also for their aggressively pro-same-sex bullying and formal company policy that is nowhere near neutral.

4) Agreeing that oppression is wrong, we can celebrate when the state requires (compels) secular oppressors to cease their meddling ways, as the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights did in Lautsi and others v. Italy. See specifically p. 20, para 47; p. 28, para 62; pp. 42-43, para 3.5 – 4.2 inclusive.

In conclusion: Women Deserve Better is an alternative movement that addresses these residual risks and deals with resolving the “cause of the cause” of this all-too-real gender inequality that was the veneer of Emma’s heartfelt remarks.

Carpe Diem,


Why an Engineer should run your HR: Risks of Not Learning, Part II

This is the long-awaited sequel to “The Risks of Not Learning” part I, which was all the way back in Jan 2012. Simply put: engineers, like farmers, are deeply wedded to objective truth because their work is embedded in the physical world.

As often commented in this blog, “when culture encounters physics, physics wins.” Toyota is justifiably famous for using advanced, often counter-intuitive measures of data analysis, such as the House of Quality, to improve esoteric elements of consumer satisfaction, like keeping a car door open on a hill. Countless aspects of our physical world,

  • weight (or mass)
  • spectral response of color
  • material melting points at given temperature and pressure

are empirical realities. They are not subject to whatever politically correct winds may be blowing across the bow of our ship of state. The central fact of objective truth is opinion doesn’t influence it. Gravity is still a constant, regardless of whether Greece defaults, governments create more fiat money or a candidate’s political machine commits sufficient election fraud to claim victory.

Perpetual juveniles or PJ’s go apoplectic at the thought of objective truth, because their carefully crafted worldview falls apart if they have to face the dual facts of living on this planet:

  • actions have consequences
  • rights come with responsibilities.

In this regard, engineers are similar to finance professionals and farmers. In finance, income less costs = profit (or loss). Creating off-book accounting nightmares is not a finance issue, it’s an ethics issue. As an example, it’s not opinion, we have empirical evidence that Timothy Geithner can’t count. Heck, he can’t even figure out how to file his taxes (or at least pay someone to do it properly for him), but I digress.

For a farmer to say to their spouse, “Yes honey, I planted the crop” has a easily-witnessed validation, unlike so much of what is passing for guidance, direction and leadership in the human capital or talent acquisition sectors over the past few minutes. See Ps 90:4 to make that mental leap from minute-to-month-to-year.

Objective truth (OT) is so refreshingly rare that spontaneous demonstrations of it break through the incessant chatter and capture the world’s attention, if only for a moment.

What is the OT in the video of the young NYC cop? Simply this: we are not units in the human collective. Each of us is to be cherished inherently for our own sake, not because of our looks, income, fame, power or any other measure.

Practical business considerations

Even more profoundly, any project manager with half-dozen projects under their belt understands that love is a decision not a feeling. Gifted professionals in both technology and business often get side-tracked when the music behind their words doesn’t harmonize with their worthwhile business goals.

Real Communication is driven by real listening.

Walter Ong gave a workshop back in Sacramento, Calif, in the fall of 1989 where he spent much of the day delivering two profound messages: writing transforms thought and love is essential to communication.

Whether it be with the butcher, baker or satellite maker, there has to be a certain love between us to make the connection, the bridge, that makes cor ad cor loquitur (heart speaks to heart) conversation possible. Ask yourself, do you withhold details from people you do not trust? Yes or yes?

Heart speaks to heart (cor ad cor loquitur) before
mind is open to mind.

How many times have you told your husband, ladies, “I know you are hearing but you’re not listening”? Nothing here is even remotely related to the sappy sentimentality that drives much of Hollywood. Does a Marine Corps Drill Sergeant love his men, yes or yes? Watching these objective truths of tough love play out in dozens of environments across four continents and two round-the-world deployments, has transformed my life.

Without this love, Ong contends, we may hear each other, yet we won’t “connect” in the manner that inspires hope, trust and confidence.

Much of leadership is delivered as words, yet rings hollow if not fulfilled by human action that resonates with love.

Cross-disciplinary insights

People in finance, operations, HR, chemistry, physics, logistics, all use a common tool, the telephone. Imagine if someone told us that a certain smartphone would only work for a left-handed 20-something female MBA in the Moroccan bakery industry yet not work for an ambidextrous 50-something male rancher on a sheep station Down Under? Wouldn’t they get laughed off the stage before even reaching the punchline?

Given that understanding, that the same tool perfectly fills a common need across wildly different industries, what leads people in the fields I listed above to think that they can get a true picture of the risk relationships across their entire business (large or small), if the tools they use look at risk in isolation? (e.g., this tool for finance, this tool for logistics, etc.)

Highly unlikely that you’ve ever heard an engineer say, “I’m no good with numbers,” yet we hear that all the time in the so-called soft-skills sector. Why is that acceptable? We would never hear the end of it if a Board Chairman or a Secretary of State said “I cannot read.”

One of my dearest friends has a doctorate in linguistics, yet as she rose to be Dean of a university, she certainly had to deal continually with budgets as much as, or more than, the academic side of the house.

With that in mind, the tagline for my company is engineering the human side of enterprise.

Without the practical operational experience that comes from being embedded in a project making tangible products, many people do not make the connections that people decisions require courage, a raw material that seems chronically in short supply in American business and political leadership today.

(I have excluded any software-related aspects in this post: unlike an ingot of steel or a pallet of paneling, we never run out of “bits to code with,” so the scarcity that has paradoxically driven human maturity and character development in physically-linked industries, is absent from the digital sector.)

As Casey Haksins and Peter Sims remark in The Most Efficient Die Early, it makes no sense to think about human capital and logistics in the same way – yet all too often we do.

[for a resilient, sustainably creative culture to flourish…]
It must be safe to tell the truth. ~Ed Catmull in How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity

In closing this collection of musings on the HR profession, it is left as an exercise for the reader (I used to hate that expression in textbooks!), to compare and contrast, Henry Petroski, (among his classics, To Engineer is Human) and Lou Adler, of One-Question Interview fame.

If you enjoyed this, subscribe (in the upper right)! Catch my latest tweets, @systhink.

Carpe Diem,


Ideas Have Consequences

[this post continues the message started in With all thy getting, get understanding…]

The IT Security Group Hackformers inspired me to revisit my notes from their outstanding event of 15 March 2013, as we open this new year of 2014.

The Spanish writer Ortega y Gasset made quite a stir with his assertion: “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia” (“I am myself and my circumstance”). The challenge I’m having with Ortega y Gasset is that he seems to be a philosophical brother to Husserl and Hegel, both of whom John Paul II opposes:

  1. Husserl, because he continues and expands Cartesian positions (which drive toward Rationalism, pushing God-Creator-Savior to the fringes)
  2. Hegel, because the master/slave element in his 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit (JPII says) places “in doubt the truth about God who is Love and leaving man only with a sense of the master-slave relationship.” [from Crossing the Threshold of Hope, below]

From reading briefly on OyG, it appears that he transcended the #epicfail of DesCartes’ ‘cogito ergo sum’ when he proposed his ‘razón vital’ in his 1935 History as System. The thing I like about “raciovitalismo” (philosophy of vital reason) is how it agrees with JPII’s 1994 Letter to Families, Gratissimam Sane.

In the spirit of celebrating Time’s 2013 Man of the Year, Pope Francis, and the media’s fascination with him speaking in multiple languages (when most popes of the past century knew 3-4 languages, minimum), here is the same quote from John Paul II’s “Letter to Families” to enjoy three-fold:

(in English)

The family itself is the great mystery of God. As the “domestic church”, it is the bride of Christ. The universal Church, and every particular Church in her, is most immediately revealed as the bride of Christ in the “domestic church” and in its experience of love: conjugal love, paternal and maternal love, fraternal love, the love of a community of persons and of generations. Could we even imagine human love without the Bridegroom and the love with which he first loved to the end? Only if husbands and wives share in that love and in that “great mystery” can they love “to the end”. Unless they share in it, they do not know “to the end” what love truly is and how radical are its demands. And this is undoubtedly very dangerous for them.

(en español)

La familia misma es el gran misterio de Dios. Como «iglesia doméstica», es la esposa de Cristo. La Iglesia universal, y dentro de ella cada Iglesia particular, se manifiesta más inmediatamente como esposa de Cristo en la «iglesia doméstica» y en el amor que se vive en ella: amor conyugal, amor paterno y materno, amor fraterno, amor de una comunidad de personas y de generaciones. ¿Acaso se puede imaginar el amor humano sin el esposo y sin el amor con que él amó primero hasta el extremo? Sólo si participan en este amor y en este «gran misterio» los esposos pueden amar «hasta el extremo»: o se hacen partícipes del mismo, o bien no conocen verdaderamente lo que es el amor y la radicalidad de sus exigencias. Esto constituye indudablemente un grave peligro para ellos.

(in italiano )

La famiglia stessa è il grande mistero di Dio. Come «chiesa domestica», essa è la sposa di Cristo. La Chiesa universale, e in essa ogni Chiesa particolare, si rivela più immediatamente come sposa di Cristo nella «chiesa domestica» e nell’amore in essa vissuto: amore coniugale, amore paterno e materno, amore fraterno, amore di una comunità di persone e di generazioni. L’amore umano è forse pensabile senza lo Sposo e senza l’amore con cui Egli amò per primo sino alla fine? Solo se prendono parte a tale amore e a tale «grande mistero», gli sposi possono amare «fino alla fine»: o di esso diventano partecipi, oppure non conoscono fino in fondo che cosa sia l’amore e quanto radicali ne siano le esigenze. Questo indubbiamente costituisce per essi un grave pericolo.

Crossing the Threshold of Hope

JPII hammers Hegel’s master-slave construct in the conclusion of Crossing the Threshold of Hope, (in fulltext English, see p. 117):

Is contemporary man truly moved by a filial fear of God, a fear that is first of all love? One might think – and there is no lack of evidence to this effect – that Hegel’s paradigm of the master and the servant is more present in people’s consciousness today than is wisdom, whose origin lies in the filial fear of God. The philosophy of arrogance is born of the Hegelian paradigm. The only force capable of effectively counteracting this philosophy is found in the Gospel of Christ, in which the paradigm of master-slave is radically transformed into the paradigm of father-son.

The father-son paradigm is ageless. It is older than human history. The “rays of fatherhood” contained in this formulation belong to the Trinitarian Mystery of God Himself, which shines forth from Him, illuminating man and his history.

This notwithstanding, as we know from Revelation, in human history the “rays of fatherhood” meet a first resistance in the obscure but real fact of original sin. This is truly the key for interpreting reality. Original sin is not only the violation of a positive command of God but also, and above all, a violation of the will of God as expressed in that command. Original sin attempts, then, to abolish fatherhood, destroying its rays which permeate the created world, placing in doubt the truth about God who is Love and leaving man only with a sense of the master-slave relationship. As a result, the Lord appears jealous of His power over the world and over man; and consequently, man feels goaded to do battle against God. No differently than in any epoch of history, the enslaved man is driven to take sides against the master who kept him enslaved.

After all I have said, I could summarize my response in the following paradox: In order to set contemporary man free from fear of himself, of the world, of others, of earthly powers, of oppressive systems, in order to set him free from every manifestation of a servile fear before that “prevailing force” which believers call God, it is necessary to pray fervently that he will bear and cultivate in his heart that true fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom.

These multiple languages and advanced concepts all have a point: marshmellow-heads never have the joy of seeing their work land on the surface of Mars, or other signature achievements across fields requiring advanced study in any industry. They are only kept free by the efforts of those better than themselves, adapting John Stuart Mill’s famous quote that war is not the ugliest of things, from Fraser’s Magazine, Feb 1862.

Recapping the closing paragraph of yesterday’s post, With all thy getting, get understanding…, the key security message Keith Lowery delivered to Hackformers on 15 Mar 13, was that hidden risks and security gaps are the elephant in the room for environments that are not open to learn.

The more experienced architects and maintainers of big data approach their craft with an increasing humility as they learn more and more about the complexity which we so often confuse with wisdom, intelligence and understanding.

Carpe Diem!


With all thy getting, get understanding…

From second to segue
From magic moment to meaningful movement
From poignant pause to powerful proposal for progress

We change our level of awareness all the time. How much would we gain if we chose to be more clear to ourselves and to others, about who we are, what we believe and how those beliefs inform our actions in the marketplace?

Creating Understanding requires You to Me and I confirm that back to You.
Image: Rock Eel Digital
Many blog­gers teach oth­ers to keep things light, breezy and un­der 600 words. This post is none of those. If that’s what you’re look­ing for, I cheer­fully in­vite you to come back an­oth­er day.

This post is tar­get­ing those people who know that per­son­al de­vel­op­ment in­volves work and they are ready, will­ing and able to com­mit. Ex­po­nen­tial im­prove­ments in our busi­ness, and in resolv­ing the hid­den risks in our busi­ness arise out of liv­ing the truth that per­son­al growth is worth the work.

A series of in­ter­ac­tions yes­ter­day cla­ri­fied why I’ve al­ways chaffed at the “mem­ber­ship” pro­grams so pre­val­ent on the web. They are un­mis­take­ably prof­it­able and per­haps it’s not to much of a stretch to re­mark that they are the dom­in­ant form of web-based re­sid­ual in­come. For this par­tic­u­lar self-styled busi­ness ex­pert, their walk didn’t match their talk. That’s the take-away mes­sage: I’m for re­sid­ual in­come and I’m for mem­ber­ship pro­grams, yet I’d soon­er give up chocol­ate than

  • own
  • lead
  • or be a part of

programs that fail to deliver value arising out of the character witness of those involved. In our current market valuations recalling the Dutch tulip craze, making oodles of money is only loosely correlated with delivering value, (for the Startup Dot-coms out there striving to be the next Instagram or its current parent Facebook).

In the worldview to which I and roughly a billion-plus other people ascribe, while a perfect program can theoretically exist (such as the martial arts 11th Dan, which has never been awarded), any program is populated by imperfect people, so striving for character improvement is as much a business driver as a personal objective. Programs only deliver value consistently and sustainably if the leader models and witnesses that value through the character of their personal life. The idea that one can separate private character flaws from business performance is as foolish as the Cartesian idea (cogito ergo sum) that the mind is separate from the body.

To jump up several orders of magnitude, the US Navy SEAL teams definitely follow-the-leader, yet they also relentlessly cross-train so if the leader is compromised or lost, they regroup on the fly and the mission succeeds in spite of the tragic loss. Such is not the case with this individual, nor I would guess with most of the membership programs, on-line or off-line. In order to scale, humility is essential. Let me repeat that:

In order to scale effectively, humility is essential.

Without the humbleness born of a servant’s heart, which Joel Manby covers so well in his bestseller Love Works, so-called experts who refuse to learn from everything and everyone around them will fail from the outset. Learning from those who think differently is the essence of exponentially improving our risk posture, because it is those elements which we “know cannot fail” that bear the fruit of catastrophe most often.

To scale with people requires, counter-intuitively, doing things which don’t scale, to set the example of giving more than getting, for a stratified leadership structure (SLS) to work. “Why SLS?” is simple. If we use our so-called expert’s self-supplied example: they get 100 requests a day into their paid membership program that each would require 15 minutes, that calculates out to 25 hours. Clearly, even those who built can tell That Dog Don’t Hunt, as we say in Texas.

So leaders worthy of the term understand their largest role (as a fraction of their time invested), is in growing their people, so that the role becomes a reward rather than wearing them out. This is not the latest management fad, it’s biblical, Ex 18:21-22, so it’s several thousand years old and has been verified in every conceivable combination of conditions worldwide, across every organizational culture ever implemented. the_kings_speech_movie_poster

Simple has never meant easy. We applaud the cash flow enjoyed by folks who just sell software; yet they’re not even in the same ZIP® code as those such as King George VI, whose strength of character at overcoming his personal challenge of stuttering, inspires the world, spawns the creative genius of filmmakers who produced The King’s Speech and consequently, delivers its own form of residual income, which is the point which inspired this post. The rest of this article will go live tomorrow.

In a great presentation which Keith Lowery gave at Hackformers on 15 Mar 13, experienced architects and maintainers of big data approach their craft with an increasing humility as they learn more and more about the complexity which we so often confuse with wisdom, intelligence and understanding.

Carpe Diem!


Beware the Experience Trope

As a globally-experienced safety & risk innovator, let me share some tough love. If you are either in the job market hearing the line or you are a recruiter whose boss is telling you the line “only experienced candidates who can hit the ground running,” be very afraid. The “needs experience” trope is a smokescreen for trying to buy talent rather than pony up the institutional discipline (commit the precious time & money) to develop the deep bench in-house.

A deep bench requires more than a quarterly glance at financials; it requires a leader with the passion and drive to inspire technically talented yet quirky, flawed individuals, to learn the life-long lessons of reading people and developing a resilient structured question methodology.

With over 7000 hours on the training platform and innovations across 9 work cultures, I can report than nothing less will do. Two powerful industry examples prove the point. More is just piling on words.

  1. BP had 70 safety “experts” on the Deepwater Horizon team. So clearly having relevant experience didn’t save them.
  2. The US Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion program famously takes history majors and turns out remarkably proficiency reactor power operators. I won a full-ride Navy scholarship, but didn’t want a career on submarines, so I didn’t go Navy nuke (I did surface line w/a brief hitch as a spook).

The Navy Nuke Power Program has one of the most envied safety records of any industry, while the construction trades as a whole have the worst, with no other field a close second. So the construction market is growing, yet their reputation precedes their reach. In this economy, people will take nearly any job offered. Once we get beyond this pack of Amateurs, the talent will flow into other more rewarding areas.

Poster from movie Shooter
Image: IMDB
The candidate destined for success in a safety & risk role is like Michael Peña’s character Nick Memphis in Shooter: confident, relentless and uncompromising when pressed to deny what he knows to be true and has the evidence to back it up.

An excerpt from 19 Days™ to Business Intimacy highlights the findings of the global re-insurance giant Allianz. The survey results dramatically show what I have referred to as the challenge of building business intimacy – a small town|big city dichotomy. Let me illustrate:

The German insurance giant Allianz did a survey of 300 of their largest clients, 97% of those surveyed in middle management and 99% of those in the C-suite didn’t even consider internal risks (the small town) and confined their top-ten focus to big city concerns.


What good is the most advanced software in the world loaded with the answers people thought you wanted to hear? Accurate predictions start with accurate data.

  • To do that you have to gather accurate data.
  • To do THAT, you have to actually have interactions with people who will tell you what you need to hear, not what they think you want to hear.


Small Town/Big City distinctions

These small town/big city distinctions are just as effective in defining the chasm between the first world and the rest. A couple of real world stories from Peru and Romania to bring the point home:


When I was flying to Lima roughly every six weeks, I asked my host for two very different things that shine a beacon on data discoverability, with very different results:

  • Peanut butter
  • Mid-size non-stick bandages.

Lima is a tremendous city of over six million people, with the dominant grocery chain, Wong, every bit as technologically advanced as the Texas market leader HEB, (in fact more, they have currency conversion at the checkout register!). While my Castilian was accurate in describing peanut butter, it took three store clerks before finding one who could even conceive of why someone would want such a product.

After all,

  • Why sell a product that nobody would buy?
  • Why know where to find a product that we don’t sell?

I did find and buy the PB, yet after visiting a grocery and two pharmacies, my host and I concluded that mid-size non-stick bandages were simply not available, at any rational price.


A conversation with a publishing partner in Bucharest, Romania, involved licorice, the real kind made from anise. I was utterly dumbfounded when she told me (completely seriously) that “we don’t have licorice here and especially in the countryside, outside of Bucharest, people don’t cook much with spices.” Whether it’s true or not is almost irrelevant, she believes it to be true and makes decisions based on that belief.


Building resilient organizations

Building resilient organizations with exponential improvements in risk discovery requires the optimum blend of high tech and high touch:

  • the deep experience of the seasoned professional with the right equipment and “big data”
  • saved from hubris (and catastrophe) by the innocence and willingness of the freshest face on the team to ask questions about sacred cows and other taboo topics.

So long for now.

Carpe Diem!


Does Y.o.u.r. Brand Tell a Story?: developing brand richness

The Holy Grail of many businesses is to have a legacy brand, a brand that is iconic beyond their industry. McDonald’s golden arches, Coke’s bottle design, the facebook lowercase f in a bluebox, and others you can surely name meet this test. While [1]DeutscheBank and [2]Crédit suisse are large organizations with cool logos [1],[2], their brand imagery wouldn’t be recognized by most people outside the finance industry.

If a picture is worth 1000 words, then y.o.u.r. message, your vibrant brand tells a story that inspires a song people want to sing along with you. In introducing my upcoming book, Leadership Lessons of a Sushi Chef, Whitney Johnson targeted the key message:

Artistry is discipline on display. A layered brand identity acts as a symphonic flourish that draws people in, because it gives irresistible evidence of what lies beneath the surface.

In the book we use a sushi or Far East food theme, for obvious reasons. In this series, we’ll take a ‘music school’ approach to cover the lessons of “brand richness” step-by-step to show how central they are to effective leadership. A vibrant brand with a richly layered story serves as a two-way street: infusing the founders’ vision throughout the company and attracting new faces, new voices and new energy to the brand and the company, keeping y.o.u.r. message fresh and relevant. Rich brands are like timeless music, ever ancient, ever new.

Tell the Story You Know Best: Your Own!

Since we know our own story best, we’ll use the development of our brand family to showcase the process covered in the book. For those who think we or any other person, firm or agency have “brand | leadership | strategy” pixie-dust and can sprinkle it on you or your firm, let me clear than up at the beginning. No one has a crystal ball. Many of the examples I’ll share are things that didn’t work, so we can see what does work.

Staircase Wit

Imagine yourself at the foot of a spiral stair, with the flash of staircase wit (or l’esprit d’escalier for our Canadian and EU friends), that comes in the moment of quiet reflection right before one is moved to act decisively.

Many of today’s most gifted young professionals get stymied when their message (their technical or professional skills), does not resonate with the music behind their words (the in-person experience so lacking in today’s screen-absorbed generation).

This has been going on for a while. In fact, when I interviewed Gisella Bradley in the summer of 2003, then-director of the Law Office Management Program, State Bar of Texas, she related that the single largest complaint category to the Texas Bar was not performing as contracted! In her recollection, these all revolved around:

  • not listening
  • not answering the question asked
  • not performing the task asked.

My moment of staircase wit was when I realized the phrase I had been using for years should come into its own as our brand logo!

Describing an esoteric product

Quite some time ago, we had a corporate palette established by a professional designer. It has served us well, because we know the sandbox to play in, so we can focus on the real work of creating the castle. Our flagship product and brand is a risk modeling language called Systemkey™ and the family of products that arise from that must fit together as harmoniously as the brass and woodwind sections of an elite orchestra, or the song we sing for our supper is going to be shrill indeed.

The genius behind the Systemkey™ logo is graphic artist Stephen Chavez,

Systemkey logo
Logo designed by Stephen Chavez
whom I highly recommend. We met for a couple of sessions in person, but much of the core work was done via email and Skype. The logo reflects the central message that the Systemkey™ Risk Discovery Platform is a dialog-driven model, focused on tough questions with real answers, rather than mere software, which requires lab-coated geeks to run. [RANT ALERT!] Software always has and always will be subject to GIGO: garbage-in, garbage out. Our 150+ industry competitors sell very expensive software, and the results depend entirely on the data the these so-called experts put in.


When asked about the skills they most needed in their firms over the next 5 years, 1500+ global managers responded – by a 3:1 margin – that CDI or cross-disciplinary insight, was the talent most vital to addressing the complexity they face.

That mouthful (cross-disciplinary insight) is how I get my hands around the otherwise nebulous term: innovation risk. When the startup company Instagram was sold to behemoth facebook for a billion dollars, writers in the popular press asked why Kodak or Polaroid had not come up with Instagram. The “iceberg” answer is that “it was out of their field of view” which is a nearly perfect definition of residual risk!

So what story does our brand tell about discovering and resolving innovation risk? Funny thing about people. Some of the same things our grandmothers told us still work, in spite of the so-called digital divide.

  • 1° listening = advanced risk management
  • 2° stellar customer service = advanced risk management

In the risk biz, when we assign someone the label of “expert” that means “I can ignore that now, because Joe handles it.” Innovation is when people notice new things, or think of combining features/functions in a new way.

As an example of cross-disciplinary insight, the colors in the Systemkey™ logo come from our palette, yet the combination of the golden sun and cerulean blue arose out of seeing the Polaroid film pack two-tone labeling years ago. (When the blue & yellow lined, up, the film was correctly aligned to insert). A future episode of this series will address strategically combining colors into brand families. If you’re interested in getting the free spreadsheet Calculate y.o.u.r. Colors, tweet it!

Opportunities often come disguised as work!

Inception movie poster
Image: IMDB
The premise of the movie Inception was that time expands the deeper you go into the subconscious. As the movie makes clear, there are risks em­bed­ded within opportunities. What’s also true in our day-to-day world is that there are opportunities em­bed­ded within the hidden risks of your business. Perhaps the easiest way to visualize that is to consider a lighthouse. In centuries past, lighthouse keepers tended a flame. While the light source has shifted from burning to electric arc, what hasn’t changed is the arc of discovery a successful brand delivers to your various publics: different spheres of influence who interact with your brand.

Self-supporting staircase in the US Supreme Court building
Image: Steve Petteway, SCOTUS
As a lighthouse visitor discovers on climbing the stairs (hopefully super-cool self-supporting circular stairs like these), they see the same scene time and again as they spiral up, yet they see further and with greater clarity as they ascend out of the fog. In fact they can see over the horizon of their former perspective.

The same is true when we recognize that reality in our lives. By embracing the discipline to keep climbing higher, learning leaders see the same scenes as they spiral up through the seasons of their lives, yet with the more mature perspective that comes from rising out of the fog of juvenility:

  • A: angst
  • B: bravado
  • C: conceit or misplaced compassion
  • D: despair
  • E: ego
  • F: falsehoods or feel-good shallowness
  • G: greed

Each of these is a sour note that parents understand poses trouble for their children. In his outstanding book, Love Works, Joel Manby has given us a market approach that works from A to T: Big 3 automaker to Theme Parks (and everything in-between).

As it is with our children, so it is with our businesses and our brands. Strong brands inspire and uplift. Brands that hit any of the sour notes above may manipulate the muddled minds of mainstream media for a while, yet those who’ve climbed the steps and risen out of the fog realize that darkened minds…

Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,
Would all themselves laugh mortal.

Measure for Measure, Act 2, Scene 2

That’s all for today. Next episode in the Brand Richness Series: Granularity: How to Build the Story of Y.o.u.r. Brand. We’ll run through the design and production of our brand’s richly layered story via our staircase icon:
Staircase icon logo by Rock Eel Digital Design

Carpe Diem!


Why we require people to qualify

We prefer to say yes, we really do. So why do we do distinctively different things that specifically increase purchase friction, (like pay BEFORE register), or things that challenge the whims of so-called elites, by requiring people to qualify for our workshops, seminars and retreats?

It’s really simple: Tough Love. Our transformative two-way mentoring (some say student-teacher others say participant-facilitator, but we think the latter just scored on a close-out at the syllable store…) is for everyone, yet everyone is not ready to embrace the real work that change involves.

If we grant access to people who are still full of their royal selves, we deny that access to people who are ready, willing and able to personally & professionally profit from the encounter, because we, like Joe Gebbia, co-founder of AirBNB, intentionally do things that don’t scale. Quality is not a number, quality is a promise that what we do matters.

Notice that the words expert, consultant, coach and many other industry jargon terms are missing. If you need an expert, hire a plumber. If you need transformational change that will fix things so they stay fixed and in fact, get better over time (because our work with you exposes latent risks no insider ever realized were there), hire us. You won’t like everything we tell you and we’re ok with that.

Carpe Diem,


Popular Science, R.I.P. (updated!)

Rest in Peace, objective journalism
Image: Vanguard Bears
A shout out to @Stuperb for inspiring this post from an email.

Popular Science magazine has shut off comments on their website. At issue is not the what but the why. The comment has been made repeatedly by others, most recently by Thomas Sowell, that a class of people who cannot fathom they could be wrong seeks to reshape the world, by force if necessary, to match their view.

Since their reshaping has never worked as promised anywhere it’s every been tried in the entire course of human civilization… (not hyperbole, see anyone from Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” to the trilogy by Dr. Sowell – can you tell I like his work?)

…these tyrants, sometimes petty, sometimes despotic, are always clamouring for more resources to achieve their aims. Like all tyrants, they’re not interested in dialog, or effectively vetting new ideas, merely assuring predetermined outcomes that agree with their fad-du-jour.)

With this decision, Popular Science has joined the painfully long list of once heralded magazines who have lost their core mission and purpose. Scientific American is another highly visible member of this ignoble club. The masthead of the Economist magazine offers the best comment on the debasing of the intellectual currency with which these two now have to live:

The Economist was first published in September 1843 by James Wilson to “take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.”

Suzanne LaBarre and others of her ilk are not intelligent, no matter how educated they may be. When this conceit affects even Supreme Court Justices, one wonders if we as a nation are destined for the invectives of Hobbes’ Leviathan.

Carpe Diem!


Quantum potes tantum aude (Dare to do as much as you can)

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