April 21, 2018

Nice Guys Finish First!

At work we were talking about some people we worked with, who retired or transferred to other projects. Remembering them fondly, their quirks, and how they helped us. My program is in sustaining / cost saving mode, so there are a lot of former teammates. 

Interesting thing is no matter how successful they were, manager or higher, the people who came to mind were all nice. We did not waste our time on difficult people.

Later in the day thought about other co-workers over my 4 decades in manufacturing and business. Wondered where they went, their careers, retirements, and how they were doing? These people taught skills, they helped with problems, they asked for input and help as well. We do business with people we like and trust.

Have great friends from college freshman year, 43 years ago we started having Saturday dinners together. Still in touch though spread out over the country. 

Met their fathers, and like mine they were successful. More importantly they had character and were nice to those who could not help them. They raised us to stand on our own, ask questions, try something new, to fail and succeed. Our parents raised our siblings and us to be good citizens, charitable, as well as nice to people. 

What we learned has helped us through hard times, layoffs, relocating, new assignment, illnesses, marriages, and divorces. We pass on what we have learned to coworkers and the next generation. My family and friends have great children, and we get to spoil the grandkids.

Leo Durocher famously said, “Nice guys finish last.” He was wrong.

Nice guys and women build families, build churches, build teams, build great businesses and build communities you want to live in. Nice Guys Finish First!

“Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people -- your family, friends, and coworkers, and even strangers you meet along the way.” -- Barbara Bush

April 15, 2018

Artificial Intelligence Not Replacing All Humans

Saw an article this week the 100% of all human jobs will be replaced with Artificial Intelligence by 2050. I respectfully disagree.

Computers are easy to program to do linear thinking well. But that is a group of humans telling computers what to do. Computers do not extrapolate and apply knowledge to different situations near as well as a child.

Humans know how to experiment, to combine lessons learned, and to make jumps in logic to solve problems.

The first hint is the self-driving killing a pedestrian in Arizona. She was walking a bike across the road in the dark. There were no vehicles nor obstacles to possibly block the lidar & radar views of her. Yet the car still hit her.

Self-driving cars should have been programmed to avoid people walking into the street, and avoid bicyclists. But were they programmed to avoid a person walking a bicycle? 

Suspect the issues is what happens when the self-driving vehicle comes into situations it does not expect. Nature, other drivers, pedestrians, skateboarders, bicyclists and children do not always act in predictable ways. Can you program a machine to avoid a tornado driven house on the road?

As a technologist / engineer think quite likely we will see self-driving vehicles. It will take longer than the optimists think. Self-driving trucks are set up for well mapped out freeways with limited on and off ramps. City streets and country roads are still too difficult. What would they do in a blizzard without human intervention? 

Drove from my brother’s rural house in New York down to JFK airport on a narrow parkway and city freeway. Was able to use the radar cruise control most of the trip, and appreciated the lane drift warnings. However could a self-driving car on an unfamiliar road know to move to different sides of the lane or straddle the lane markers to avoid potholes and wet patches? 

What about dogs, cats, deer and other animals crossing its lane?

What about the parking at McDonalds with a dead truck in the middle of parking lot lane and cars parked all over? Would it know how to figure a safe place to park out of the arriving tow truck’s way? Could it manage the drive thru?

Does AI know a ball rolling into the street means a child may follow?

AI will be a helper for humans, and make roads safer in the long run. Lets face it the biggest safety problem today is distracted drivers. Computers will not replace creativity and deep thinking.

Scientific American interviewed Leonard Mlodinow about his new book, “Elastic”. Leonard Mlodinow believes the future belongs to the elastic mind. Read here: 

April 7, 2018

Free Time for Professional Growth

Life is too short to think only about work.

“Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise.” - Lin Yutang

There is no way to be healthy, wealthy and wise working 14 hour days. You will be too tired and frustrated to learn anything. Your productivity started to fade hours before the end of the day. Monday may have been productive, but by Wednesday or Thursday you are not sharp. Friday you come home and fall asleep on the couch.

How are you supposed to think? Thinking and learning are how we get more efficient and productive. New skills earn us more money. Not brute force.

I use to schedule an hour or two a week to read the business articles I cut out during the week. Found ideas and tools from other industries that improved factory productivity. Reading was not a waste of time.

Your goal is not to be a good worker. You want to be a complete, well-rounded person. Emotionally healthy, physically sound, and mature are desirable goals.

It is not the long workdays you think about when you get older. You think about time with friends, family and loved ones. Think about adventures and experiences. You think about mentors and classes who changed our life. Successes and the strange paths they all took. 

Hard work is necessary to be successful. But choose the right work to do. Happiness is important.

“The three American vices seem to be efficiency, punctuality and the desire for achievement and success. They are the things that make the Americans so unhappy and so nervous.” - Lin Yutang

Credit Mark Skousen’s “The Art of Letting Go” inspiring these observations.

March 31, 2018

Seth Godin Calls AI Future

Seth Godin, marketing guru, goes through introduction of past technologies. Covered who developed them, how the technology progresses, and what happened because of it. Wedgewood, Model T, Kodak missing electronic camera market, and more examples to give you perspective.

Then Seth analyzes how customer service will use Artificial Intelligence.  To be used successfully AI has to make customers lives easier. He talked about an airplane reservation he had that got cancelled/rescheduled. All he got were text messages on his phone, he did not see until he woke up.

Seth had to search his and other airlines to get new reservations to make his presentation on time. Seth’s point is the airline computers had all the information. Knew his location, schedule and destination. The airline could look up schedules including competitors and automatically rebook his schedule to make his destination. This is where AI could serve your customers.

Seth further talked about what AI has to do solving problems. It is a design problem to be always available, anticipate needs and focus services for high value customers.

Seth gave a hierarchy for Customer Service:
1. No Service Needed (Good design)
2. No Service Seen (In background)
3. You Fix It (and then Tell Me)
4. I Call You (Fail)
5. You Put Me on Hold (Super Fail)

Watch this presentation and think about your industry. After all, we are all in customer service. How can you design your customer’s experience with AI?

Note - Seth Godin sponsored by IBM Watson.

March 24, 2018

Labor 2030 Bain Study on Demographics, Automation and Inequality

Not good for average workers, and challenging business leaders.

Demographics are changing due to the aging boomers retiring and smaller birth rates. Bain is predicting employment growth to drop to 0.4%. Smaller workforce growth is a negative for economic growth. 50% of US GDP growth has been due to larger workforces.

Recruiting new and replacing skilled employees will be a challenge. Bain believes this will benefit younger & high skill workers in the short term. Companies will offer higher wages, flexible work arrangements and more attractive corporate cultures.

Mid- and low-skilled workers, the majority of the workforce, face at least a decade of disruption due to new automation technologies. Automation has the potential to increase income and wealth inequality. Bain believes only 20% of high skilled workers will benefit. Approximately 80% of workers will be affected in the coming decades by some level of wage stagnation, displacement or a combination of the two.

Bain estimates that by 2030 these technologies could increase labor productivity by an average of 30%. Any big jump in productivity can be highly disruptive. By 2030, employers will need 20% to 25% fewer workers, equivalent to 30 million to 40 million jobs in the US. The coming phase of automation could eventually eliminate up to 50% of all current jobs.

Bain concludes resilience is a higher strategic priority. Resilient businesses invest in their ability to quickly recover from disruptions and regain momentum. Prepare for volatility and macro changes to business environment like rising interest rates. Be close to your customers. Instead of financial engineering, faster adaptability, lower debt and increase reserves.

Bain wrote this great report for businesses. We can learn from it as well.

We need to be resilient in our careers as well. Take on additional projects and responsibilities. Keep learning new skills, new software and take classes. Keep improving your services and offerings. Rote repeatable jobs are the ones that are going away. Learning and changing times are not.

March 10, 2018

Why Aren’t Raises Going Up?

Today’s job report was strong with 313,000 new hires. However January’s burst of wage inflation was a mirage, only 2.6% wage increases February. And that is before adjustments.

With 4.1% unemployment, why aren’t wages going up? The Fed Reserve keeps pointing to the Phillip’s Curve, which shows inflation should follow low unemployment. But it is not happening.

Alan Greenspan, Former Federal Reserve President is one of the critics of the Phillip’s curve. It predicts inflation, which does not appear. Paul Volker was another skeptic of the Phillip curve. The Federal Reserve’s issue may be they do not have a replacement model, and the appeal is low unemployment causing inflation is simple to understand.

Like most complex issues, there are several contributors to the problem. Believe the Federal Reserve is missing critical observations from their models:

The global economy and technology means companies can shop outside local neighborhoods and the United States for lower costs. My company is training engineers to outsource manufacturing planning to Russia and India. Unfortunately the planning quality has been poor to mediocre. Until recently high corporate taxes and low transportation costs have made moving manufacturing overseas desirable.

After 6 months of unemployment, you are no longer considered part of the work force. Many workers stayed in college, took social security, disability or retired early because of not being able to find work. These people are coming back adding to competition to find jobs.

There are 20 million people missing from the work force. Approximately the same number of people with drug convictions due to the War on Drugs. This hidden source of workers is beginning to rejoin the workforce.

The Federal Reserve has also contributed to lower inflation by keeping lending interest rates low. Companies have sure investments in low risk bonds with borrowed funds, rather than developing new businesses. Low inflation contributes to low wages.

Jonathan Tepper co-author of “End Game” and “Code Red”, wondered why a leading indicator for wages that had worked for decades stopped working since 2014. We are in a growing economy with a booming stock market. His article is on MauldinEconomics.com ‘Outside the Box’. His conclusions:

Companies are keeping more of the profits. They are rewarding investors with either dividends or stock buybacks.

Companies are able to keep more profits because of mergers and acquisitions have decreased competition. There are fewer companies with larger market share.

Many workers are living in non cities have limited choices which companies to work for. Combine that with weak Unions to negotiate higher wages.

US CEO wage gap inflation versus regular workers. UK CEO make 22 times average workers. US CEO make 276 times average workers. Less money to spend on worker salaries.

Do not see a burst of wage growth in the next 2 years for the reasons above. However the economy is strong, and wonder if the Federal Reserve has recognized they have finally created 2% inflation? Stronger inflation will increase wages until the next recession.

March 3, 2018

Grief Old Acquaintance

In honor of Charles

Recovering from cross-country trip for a funeral. It is wonderful to see family, even for a sad occasion. Do not travel as well as a few decades ago. Jet lag, plus a headache that has not gone away for 2+ days. Fortunately today responding to aspirin (wasn’t before).

The parents I went to see lost a newborn. The worse because we all start with such hope for the future. Suddenly there is a problem with development. Medical science offers an option. Then nature says no. Losing a child is just devastating. No one to blame.

My nephew’s father-in-law lost his mom this week. This is easier because more expectation at her age and health. Lost dad about 2 years ago now, and miss him. My stepmom is still devastated he is gone. Mom when to the Lord 16 years ago suddenly, and still there are days she is really missed. Always hard to lose parents.

My wife has been expecting her mother to recover from old age and dementia for years now. Only recently since her last trip has she started to face facts. Been afraid she was setting herself up for a hard time.

My good friend Bob is grieving his loss of health to cancer 8 years ago. Bladder surgery saved his life, but he has been reduced from healthy worker to disabled residential care patient in constant pain. Not a life any of us expect. He went from highly respected professional employee to depending on aid. He misses his old life. You would too.

Have had to move between companies and several states to keep working in my field. You grieve for the loss of friends and coworkers who you depended on. You are often lost until you get to build social networks in your new life. But we miss the old comforts of your old life.

We all have or will experience grief. Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief are well known - Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression and Acceptance. Grief is a process, not an event to recover from.

My experience is you have to be kind to yourself or the grieving person. Let yourself/them grieve, remember and talk about it. Nobody does grief the same way.

Be patient. This is measured in months or years. Grief does not resolve itself quickly. Too many push for normalcy now.  We are uncomfortable. But we/they are not over it. The process takes time. My stepmom is finally showing signs of being herself after 2 years, and she is not done yet.

Don’t isolate yourself. Isolation leads to being stuck in the process, self-medication and other unhelpful behavior. Find others who have been through similar experiences. Charles parents should find Bereaved Parents of the USA, a church grief group, or a grief group through the local hospitals or YMCA/YWCA. No one should be alone during this time.

If you are upset, yell at God. He is big enough to take it. Better than taking it out on people around you. And being upset is part of the process.

Not an expert at grief. At a funeral of a father with young children, an 18 year old friend was crying while we tried to talk. She tried to apologize. Told her it was okay to cry. I did not feel any better than she did. I just had more practice being older.

Fortunately there are angels among us who show their love. In every event see friends, neighbors and coworkers bring food, company and support. Impressed by the volunteers at church for receptions. Thank them so much.

Give the last word to Charles father. He spoke “How he had never know such love as when Charles was born.” It is up to us to give love to the grieving, or experience love in healing.

"The key to emotional health is to learn how to handle grief. The person who reacts to sorrow only with anger becomes embittered, hardened, and cynical." - Nido Qubein, President High Point University, Author

Charles parents have requested donations to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Will include a link if anyone would like to join me.

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Bereaved Parents of the USA

5 Stages of Grief and other resources

Nice Guys Finish First!

At work we were talking about some people we worked with, who retired or transferred to other projects. Remembering them fondly, their quir...