All posts by Dr. ESP

Sticks & Carrots


Creativity101:  A valuable tool when it comes to creative thinking is the “unrelated stimulus,” taking an image, experience or lesson from one discipline and applying to a totally difference situation.  The power of this technique grows exponentially when you draw on multiple analogies.  Today’s post is inspired by two totally unrelated experiences.

Changing the culture of any organization occurs only when the individuals who lead and work within that culture modify their personal behavior.  There are two ways to do this.  We can either punish those who violate standards and norms or we can reward those who contribute to the fulfillment of the highest values and expectations.

Meat Processing use of HOClAs demonstrated by the following example, shifting from a culture of punishment to one of reward can make a significant impact on outcomes.  For most of its history, promoting safety in the meat processing sanitation business, one that involves high-pressure, scalding hot water and chemicals, has been stick-oriented.  The overwhelming majority of injuries, and even fatalities, have resulted from “pilot” error, employees’ not observing safety procedures.  Violations resulted in suspensions without pay or, in the most grievous cases, termination.

Employee turnover is among the highest in any industry.  It is not the most desirable way to make a living. Crews arrive after the second plant shift (around midnight) and must complete their tasks before USDA inspectors arrive the next morning.  If the plant fails inspection, crews are called back to address regulatory violations.  In these cases, the contracts between the processing company and the cleaning business generally require the latter to reimburse the former for lost revenue if the morning shift cannot start work on schedule.  In this industry, time is money and the focus is on systems and procedures.

Until someone outside the industry took a different approach.  Lance White, a financial analyst at ChemEx, which owned DCS Sanitation Management, was asked to prepare a prospectus to sell the company.  While evaluating the venture’s worth, White determined the business had substantial growth potential and decided to make an offer himself.  Upon taking the reins at DCS, White chose to prioritize employee safety as workers compensation insurance and client reimbursements for lost revenues were a major drain on profitability.

White decided to take a different tack from the industry norm.  Instead of docking employees for safety violations, he created a bonus schedule based on the number of days each employee completed a shift without an incident.  The result?  Fewer injuries, less payout to clients and eventually lower insurance rates.

30 years of innovation continues to carry out Mr. K's promise ...The second unrelated stimulus was Project Choice, a program of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City.  Mr. K, as he was affectionately known to friends and business associates, wanted to help the largely minority student body that now attended the high school where he had studied as a young boy.  He viewed education as the way to break the cycle of poverty and incarceration which were a part of so many of these students’ family histories,  But Mr. K also believed in personal responsibility.

Mr. K melded these two principles in the design of Project Choice.  He offered to sign a contract with each boy and girl who entered Westport High School, beginning in their freshman year.  If that student graduated with a B average or better and stayed out of trouble, he would fully fund their college education (tuition, fees, books, room and board).  In some cases, the payout included graduate school or professional training.  As Mr. K would say at each assembly when new Westport students were introduced to the offer, “When others did not give you a chance, we wanted to give you a choice.”

I have thought a lot about Lance (a Miami University graduate, who I invited to speak every semester in my Imagination and Entrepreneurship class) and Mr. K over the past 10 days.  In particular, I wondered if the lessons I learned from each provided guidance to help us move beyond the anger, frustration and division which have plagued the nation since the murder of George Floyd.

Of the two, Lance’s approach to worker safety is an obvious alternative to law enforcement officers being fired and charged with crimes for excessive force and endangerment.  Imagine a system where police are rewarded when they demonstrate compassion and understanding for the residents of the communities in which they serve.  Or receive bonuses in incidences where they deescalate tension in situations which might otherwise lead to unrest and violence.  Do not tell me law enforcement budgets cannot support such payments.  Compared to the settlements and legal fees associated with civil suits, an economic case can be made that rewarding good behavior would be much less expensive than cleaning up after bad actors.

The relevance of Project Choice to the current racial environment is much more complex.  Putting aside those who have resorted to violence to achieve political goals, I cannot help but think looting, for the sole purpose of obtaining something to which the looter thinks he/she is entitled, has been exacerbated since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.  Economic analyses show the increase in black unemployment since the outbreak is two percent higher than the population as a whole.  And more than 50 percent of African-American men are currently out of work.  As strange as this may sound, watching celebrities on late night television  and journalists/pundits on cable news shows from their spacious and well-appointed homes is a reminder of the disparity in lifestyles between the rich and famous and the average black household.  It is just one more piece of evidence of the income and wealth gap which has existed since the first African slave arrived in the new world 401 years ago.

I have been warned by more than one person to be careful about using the term reparations; so, I will let readers decide what to call the following analysis and proposal.  Regardless of label, the goal is economic justice and racial reconciliation.

Here are the facts.

  • In 2019, there were just over 17 million household described as “black alone” meaning they were not inter-racial.  Those represented 13 percent of the total 128.6 million American households.
  • That same year, the median annual household income in “black alone” households was $41,361 compared to $63,179 for all households, a difference of $21,818/year.

Suppose, as recognition of  the “knee that has been on the neck of black America” for four centuries as Al Sharpton preached at Floyd’s memorial service, Congress passed legislation which would allocate the differential in median income to each black household for one year.  The total cost would be just under $375 billion.  I know, budget hawks will be screaming bloody murder (one more false equivalency).  But it is nothing compared to the bailouts to corporate America since 2008 when one totals the housing bailout, the Trump tax cuts and now the COVID19 CARE package.

There are two more points that need to be considered.  First, some opponents of this concept will argue, “Why include every black household? Not all African-Americans are descendants of slaves.”  That is the easiest objection to address and is the main reason the use of the word reparations can be misleading.  Did Fred Trump ask those he prohibited from renting Trump housing whether they were descendants of slaves?   Did the NFL owners ask Colin Kaepernik if there were slaves in his family history when they blackballed him from the league?  As he pressed his knee on George Floyd’s neck, did Derek Chauvin think it mattered if his detainee was the great-great-grandson of a slave?  Every African-American, regardless of when and how they came to this country, has been impacted not by direct lineage to pre-Emancipation status, but by the underlying rationale for slavery, that people of color were less human than those with pale complexions, and thus, less deserving of equal housing, equal pay, equal justice under the law and equal rights delineated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The second and final point is a recognition by African-Americans that they can also use this opportunity to make a reciprocal gesture to those who over the years have been the victims of illegal behavior by members of the their own community.  What if public officials and clergy in the black community began a discussion about how best each family could use the federal payment to promote reconciliation.  For example, what if black leaders suggested that anyone who had looted during the Floyd protests make an anonymous payment to the store’s owner?  I am not idealistic or naive enough to believe this would happen on a grand scale, but no movement in history every started with an expectation everyone would jump on the bandwagon immediately.

Every entrepreneurship class I have taught or attended began with some variation of the model devised by Jeffrey Timmons which described the three elements essential to any successful venture:  opportunity, team and resources.  The size and makeup of the team and the amount of required resources depended on the magnitude of the opportunity.  If the demand for change precipitated by George Floyd’s murder is as big an opportunity as some believe, we should not be afraid to assemble the proportionate team and resources to respond in kind.

For what it’s worth.


Visual Evidence


How many times has Donald Trump asked us, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”  Or tried to walk back remarks by claiming the words he used did not mean what they normally mean.  You know, it was a matter of semantics.

Well, it happened again yesterday when the Trump campaign demanded media outlets retract reports tear gas was used to disperse the crowd in Lafayette Park so Trump could show the American people he was strong enough to lift a book.  A spokesman for the U.S. Parks Police claimed their weapons of choice were “smoke canisters and pepper balls.”  Too bad they did not check with the CDC first which defines tear gas as “an umbrella term for various non-lethal riot control agents, including pepper spray.”

As legendary sportscaster Warner Wolf would say, “Roll the video tape.”  There was the visual evidence.  Protesters with watery eyes.  Individuals splashing water in their faces to dilute the irritant. The only thing missing was Kellyanne Conway promoting the alternative fact these people were Trump supporters crying for joy because her boss stood up to those thugs and anarchists who had no respect for the rule of law.

It makes a person wonder whether there are similar explanations for other Trump gaffes or incriminating comments.  Let’s take one example, the infamous Access Hollywood tape.  I know, you thought he was talking about himself when he said, “Grab ’em by the pussy.  You can do anything.”  But sometimes, interruptions in audio transmission can change the essence of the message.  Remember Neil Armstrong as he stepped off the ladder onto the lunar surface.  We heard, “One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”  Armstrong actually said, “One small step for a man…”

You also have to consider the audio filter associated with Miles Law, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”  If you are just an average voter and believe Donald Trump is a vulgar, misogynist you hear one thing.  But, if you are a member of the Secret Service detail assigned to the Republican (and I use that term loosely) nominee for president the Saturday before the general election, you take his words to mean something entirely different.  As was the case at a Reno, Nevada rally on November 5, 2016, you hear something consistent with your duty to protect your charge, “Grab the pussy.  You can do anything (to protect him).”  (As was the case with Armstrong, “em by” was lost in transmission.) Visual evidence the Secret Service responded accordingly is provided below.

Donald Trump is rushed off stage by Secret Service agents at ...

FOOTNOTE:  The above incident began when Austyn Crites moved toward the stage brandishing a lethal sign which read, “Republicans Against Trump.”  Only a cardboard president would feel that threatened by another piece of cardboard.  For the record, at the time Crites was a 33 year old Eagle Scout and a registered Republican although Kellyanne Conway accused him of being a Democratic plant on the Sunday talk shows the following morning.   And of course, Junior retweeted posts which characterized Crites’ protest as “an assassination attempt.”

For what it’s worth.


Bizarro World 2020

Bizarro World (Htrae) (Location) - Giant BombAn iconic moment in cinema history is the instant when George Taylor (Charlton Heston) realizes the world on which primates are the superior beings is actually future Earth.  A novel idea based on a 1963 story with the same title Planet of the Apes by French writer Pierre Boulle.  However the concept of an alternative universe was introduced three years earlier in the guise of Bizarro World which first appeared in the April 1960 issue of Action Comics (#263).  This strange cube-shaped planet is ruled by the following code.

Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!

The concept regained notoriety in 1996 as the central theme of the 137th episode of Seinfeld when Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) has to chose between her current partners in nothingness and new friends who physically resemble Jerry, George and Kramer, but whose personalities are the exact opposite.  They are respectful, generous and discuss important issues, not “Do you think it’s effeminate for a man to put clothes in a gentle cycle? (Seinfeld episode #47 “The Outing”)”

While both iterations present the flipside of the environment in which the title characters exist, there is a major distinction.  In the DC Comics version, Earth strives for goodness and Bizarro World for evil.  On Seinfeld, Elaine applies the term to a better version of the community of which she has been a part since meeting Jerry and hanging with his cadre of eccentrics.

Americans have always believed in the Superman version of Bizarro World.  We were the good guys,  You know, truth, justice and yada, yada.  This morning, I am not so sure.  Consider the following.

In 21st century America, the United States spent $718 billion on defense in FY2020, equaling the total expenditure by the next seven nations.  In Bizarro World 2020, you never see a bumper stick which reads, “It’ll be a great day when the schools have all the money they need and the Pentagon has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”

In 21st century America, a black man is murdered by law enforcement officials for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill while Wall Street bankers peddle billions of dollars in counterfeit securities and are bailed out (pun intended) with taxpayer dollars.  (I thought reparations were meant for the victims of injustice, not the perpetrators.)  In Bizarro World 2020, George Floyd is fined if proven guilty and occupants of the C-suites at Wall Street firms declare bankruptcy before heading to jail.

In 21st century America, the occupant of the White House thinks the answer to anger and frustration over the lingering stain of racism is white dominance, vicious dogs and photo ops.  In Bizarro World 2020, a gangsta rapper named Killer Mike implores the aggrieved to work within the system.  “It is time to beat up prosecutors you don’t like at the voting booth.”

In 21st century America, that same chief executive stands in front of a church with a Bible he has never opened as a symbol of America.  In Bizarro World 2020, protesters stand in front of the Supreme Court with a copy of the Constitution.

It does not take long to realize 21st century America is closer to the dystopian vision of Bizarro World created by the writers, illustrators and publishers of DC Comics in 1960.  Instead of superheros, the planet is governed by greedy, heartless adversaries more akin to Lex Luther who will do anything to gain and hold on to power.  However, for every wannabe George Constanza whose only goal is to be “master of his domain,” there are more Kevins, Genes and Feldmans.  Maybe it’s time we recruit our national leadership from that demographic, those who occupy Bizarro World 2020.

For what it’s worth.

Give the Peace a Chance

The coronavirus is referred to as an “invisible enemy” against which we have been forced to take up arms to defeat.  Donald Trump calls himself “a wartime president.”  And if he had wanted to, he could have fully invoked the Defense Production Act to accelerate the manufacture and distribution of the “weapons” required to neutralize this invader.

If nothing else, under competent leadership, the United States knows how to wage war.  We have both the skilled armed forces and firepower to prevail.  But there is a difference between war and military operations. Winning a war requires a commitment, not only by those in uniform, but by the populace writ large.  If not for the tragic loss of life and property, armed conflicts in which a small percentage of Americans (i.e. volunteer warriors) are expected to shoulder the burden are more akin to strategic exercises designed to alter a geopolitical equation.

Based on this distinction, the battle against the coronavirus is more closely related to World War II than it is to Vietnam or Iraq.   Health and safety first responders are the descendants of WWII draftees and volunteers who put themselves at risk of injury or death each time they engage with this enemy.  But they are not the only heroes.  As was the case in the fight against the Axis powers, the overwhelming majority of Americans have acknowledged victory is dependent on their actions as much as those on the front lines.

The United States will win this war.  Eventually there will be treatment or a vaccine.  Think of it as the medical equivalent to the atomic bomb in WWII.  It will be a dramatic moment.  The virus will surrender.  Crowds will gather in Times Square.  Two strangers–one a EMT, the other a nurse–will embrace and their hug will be captured on Instagram and broadcast across the nation epitomizing the victory celebration.

But victory in war is only half the story and often the easiest chapter to write.  As noted above, we know how to wage war.  My question. As we think about a post-COVID world, “Do we know how to wage the peace?”  Unfortunately, history tells us the answer is, “No.”

Beginning with the American Revolution, armed conflict has been viewed as a win/lose proposition.  Lingering enmity between the newly independent United States and the Crown resulted in a second wave of combat less than 30 years later.  The era of reconstruction after the Civil War is still a scab on the psychic of some residents of the states who joined the Confederacy.  For 70 years, we have been engaged in an armistice with North Korea instead of a peace agreement.  And most recently in Iraq, “mission accomplished” morphed into “mission unknown.”

Woodrow Wilson in WWICertainly, the best example of a failed peace was World War I.  The goal of the allies at Versailles to humiliate and punish their adversaries was a major contributing factor to the rise of Nazi Germany and the onset of WWII.  According to Michael Neiberg, a professor of history at the U.S. War Army College, the Treaty of Versailles, particularly the forced ceding of pre-war German territory in Europe and Pacific Asia, “made Europe a less stable place.”

The lone exception is the United States response at the end of the second world war.  Rather than punish and humiliate the vanquished, the goal was to rebuild Europe and Japan through such efforts as the European Recovery Program, also known as the Marshall Plan.  The message?  Those under the rule of the Axis powers were also victims of their governments’ misguided policies.  And, what may be the greatest example of counter-intuitive thinking, Italy in 1949 and Germany in 1955 were invited to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  In a variation of Isaiah 2:4, if you cannot turn swords into plowshares, try turning enemies into allies.

Which brings me back to the the war analogy when it comes to the current pandemic.  We have only begun to count the casualties from this crisis.  On any given day, I wonder if the 100,000+ deaths, as significant as that number seems, may not be most enduring tragedy.  The coronavirus has ripped off more than a band-aid that hides the cuts and scrapes on the American body politic.  It is more like releasing a tourniquet.  We see more than just a scab or abrasion.  There is a stream of fresh blood, the result of disparities between the rich and poor, between races, between urban and rural, between ignorance and enlightenment and between nations.

None of these will disappear when we eventually defeat the coronavirus on the medical battlefield.  They must be addressed in the peace agreement that follows.  Will the “treaty of Wuhan” result in the United States and China creating a new global alliance to fight future pandemics?  Will the next administration propose the “Fauci Plan” to reinforce the health care system in rural areas and inner cities, both of which have been stressed to their limits?

Former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel once said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.  And what I mean by that, it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”  This is one of those opportunities.  There will be advancements in medicine and science.  But those are weapons of battle.  Will there also be advancements in our civil discourse which give the peace a chance to make America a more perfect union?  Or will the urge to take political advantage of the medical victory over COVID19 make the United States a less stable place?

For what it’s worth.