Archive for March, 2009

A thought experiment in leadership and identity

March 31, 2009 1 comment

Here is a thought experiment to get your mental juices flowing

Who am I?

  • a multi-billion dollar enterprise
  • with a long and distinguished history, filled with notable achievements, and some dismal failures
  • have for held a position of international leadership for decades
  • associated with a core function of any modern nation and economy
  • provides products and services that are indispensible to modern life
  • lately, appears to be disconnected from the “customer base” and out of touch with changing global trends
  • have had operational failures attributed to leadership failure
  • leadership executives have a clear, extensive career path and are carefully selected for promotions and positions of increasing responsibility
  • current leaders are highly successful, career professionals with decades in the operational environment at the helm, and supported by world-class analysis and qualitative advice.
  • Little to no evidence of cost control  over their core processes
  • Constrained by long term contractual obligations that are too expensive to maintain and too expensive to amend
  • Recent failures have become so visible and widespread as to be an object of public scorn and disgust.
  • Current leaders are by all accounts bright, loyal, innovative, articulate, humble, decisive, experienced, highly educated, nuanced, intelligent, thoughtful, good listeners, respectful of other points of view

Underwhat conditions do the positive attributes of leadership become irrelevant to the current situation?

By what criteria should we evaluate the situation to determine if those conditions are met?

Can we know the causal factors that reliably lead to success? How would we know we are right?

Can success come from unpredictable variables? If so, what does that say about our model of leadership and the qualities we look for in leaders? Has this dialogue affected your opinion of the concept of leadership? What are your reactions?


Hyenas fighting over the carcass

March 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Not a single thought concerning the appropriateness of shovelling other peoples money at favored constituencies; only concerned about elbowing her way into the trough:  yeah Maxine! Now if you would just cheat on your taxes you could be in line for Treasury

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Monday criticized the lack of minority participation in the government’s financial bailouts and suggested that President Barack Obama isn’t doing much better than his predecessor to ensure diversity.”We are not going to sit by and allow billions of dollars to be dumped into this economy and have the same old players being advantaged by it,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.

I am hopeful we can change from tax cheats to violators of privacy

March 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Now this is the kind of change we can all hope for:

 President Obama’s nominee for secretary of theNavy was involved in a divorce that drew national attention for his secret taping of a conversation between his wife and his family priest that he used against her in court proceedings.

Did Team Obama runout of tax cheats like Mr Geithner?

Reflective learning and Self Talk

March 30, 2009 Leave a comment

At our trading workshop this weekend, wr reviewed a numbver of what I consider to be milion dollar ideas:  ideaswhich, over the course of a lifetime should produce a net value add greater than a million dollars in trading performance.  While we  were doing that in the middle of our assembled traders and institutional money managers, the idea of reflective learning came up several times.  here is a key insight.

When you are viewing charts of previous trades and you suddenyl see a pattern or a technique that was not apparent to you the first time, it is easy to classify the failure to see it and act upon it as a “mistake”.  Think about the power of the words we use to characterize these kinds of events.  If you call it a mistake then you are basically treating your reflective learning as an opportunity to beat your self up.  Is it really healthy or useful to feel terrible about missed opportunities that you only discover by opening yourself up to the possibility of learning? No wonder we hate school.

Its not fair to label the person we were in the past in the heat of the moment of trading, sitting here in the comfort of our ivory tower, no stress and with the perfect insight of hindsight.

Geithner, the tax cheat, to select winners and losers

March 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Either geithner was too stoopid to figure out how to pay his taxes, in ehich case he doesnt deserve to be Treasury Secretary and also deciding which businesses will win and lode  or he was an intentional tax cheat, in which case he also doesnt deserve to be Treasury Secretary.

Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), probably the most knowledgeable man in Congress about the car bailout, and someone who argued months ago in favor of a pre-planned government-sponsored bankruptcy for GM and Chrysler, calls the Wagoner firing “a major power-grab by the White House on the heels of another power-grab from Secretary Geithner, who asked last week for the freedom to decide on his own which companies are ‘systemically’ important to our country and worthy of taxpayer investment, and which are not.”

Corker calls this “a marked departure from the past,” “truly breathtaking,” and something that “should send a chill through all Americans who believe in free enterprise.”

Hey Mr Geithner, ( the Tax Cheat): how about payng your taxes without first being ordered to do so before you tell us who is worthy of winning and losing?

Leadership in Complex Adaptive Systems

March 30, 2009 1 comment

Team Obama is placing their bets on the idea of Leadership being responsible for results.

The latest manifestation of this is in the call for the resignation of the CEO of GM, Rick Wagoner.  The proposition is that Obama, from his vantage point of President, USA (CEO, USA?) is in a position to determine that the causal factor in the failure of GM and Ford and Chrysler can be attributed to leadership and not, let’s say, to one of the reasonable and possible outcome-states that happen all the time in the conduct of business in a complex adaptive system of world markets, where  complexity precludes certainty.

The argument of  complex adaptive systems (CAS) is that we lack the ability to compute cause and effect relationships and that we cannot “know” with anything like certainty, that a particular factor is the probable cause of a particular result at a particular time.

The problem with having a pattern-making evolutionary brain is that it uses pattern-making processes that lead to success in individual survival issues, where cause-and-effect is more plainly seen, and applies it inappropriately to situations that are fundamentally different in terms of size, scope, complexity and uncertainty.

Imagine a monkey that beats on a drum and is rewarded with a banana, regularly. Given enough iterations, he would be entitled to conclude that one event influences if not causes the other.

Imagine the monkey then gets  thirsty and beats on the drum and it happens to rain and his water bowl fills up and he drinks. Do you imagine the monkey not concluding that his drum has certain important properties? And what if the tribe of monkeys gets mad at the first monkey because now when he beats on the drum it doesn’t rain? Would they conclude it is a failure of leadership? The monkey lost his mojo?

Silly monkeys.

We know better than that. We’d never make that foolish mistake. Its obvious that drumbeats have nothing to do with rain. Clearly drums make bananas appear! Look at the evidence!

Is it a reasonable proposition that Obama can diagnose the  carmakers’ business  environment and conclude that it was leadership failures of Mr Wagoner that were the cause of the problems at GM …AND …. that the appropriate solution, here and now, is to fire him?! and this will have some direct measureable effect on performance in the foreseeable future? and that somehow the President has this ability to diagnose, assess and treat, when the collective wisdom of auto executives and boards, who have life long experience in the nuances of this complex business environment are unable to see that? And is it reasonable that this is his decision to make?

Take a look at Wagoner’s background and experience and the collective experiences of the boards and senior leaders of GM and Ford and compare that to the executive experience, and the private commercial business experience of Obama and Team Obama. Now decide that IF YOUR LIFE DEPENDED ON IT, which group of people  were in a better position to know what to do with GM going forward? The farther you are from the problem the  more certain you are that your simple solution is both obvious and correct.

Now, take that same philosophical approach and apply it to the recommended solutions that Team Obama is applying towards every major issue of national concern and consider the complexity of each decision domain, and then consider the laws of unintended consequences, and the connectivity of the various elements of society and how they can affect each other in unforeseen ways, and consider just how smart it is to allow the newest kids on the block to make sweeping changes of national magnitude in very little time, with little to no public debate.

Then reflect on the wisdom of the Founding Fathers in creating a cumbersome system for creating change which prevents “the wisdom of experts” from changing things too far and too fast. We’ve plenty of evidence of what happens when you let “experts” run everything according to “expert plans”

My sense is that our national leaders are going thru a shaman’s dance to assign blame and hope for the best. We might as well be selecting who we want to hold the rainstick to shake at the clouds to end the drought..

Seriously.  Obama is qualified to say that Wagoner should be fired? How about, stick to your enumerated powers and leave the markets alone. Get us out of entangling alliances. bring the troops home. Secure the borders, enforce the rule of law. Stop borrowing money to get out of debt.

Geithner the Tax Cheat had the nerve to lecture the nation to stop worrying about how much we make and focus on what we can  accomplish with what we can keep. How about shut up until such time as you pay your taxes?

Leadership in complexity takes on different dynamics when the cause and effect rules of the system cannot be known.

My working hypothesis is that the adaptivity is improved by maximizing decentralized execution, combined with limiting the consequences of individual situations to the local areas much as possible. This design REQUIRES inefficiency, to allow other elements of the  network to react, adapt and respond to ‘brushfires” in time to save the rest of the network.

This happens to be why DNA is the most successful adaptive construct on the planet: gazillions of small decisions, rapidly tested, where success is rewarded all out of proportion to the initial investment risk, but where failure is localized to immediate surroundings.  Bad mutations die fast, and that’s the end of it, sorrowful as the individual case may be. But the successful mutations thrive and propagate and benefit the entire species.

In that kind of model of society or organizations, our understanding of leadership, of what it can do and be and what it should do and be, and how we evaluate it as effective or not, must be radically adjusted.

No, let me eat my own cooking, and say our understanding of leadership should carefully evolve.

St Obama continues to spend, while China licks its chops and waits

March 24, 2009 Leave a comment

“ We’re in a government-dependent financial system; I never thought I would live to see the day… We’ve got to fight to get away from that.”– Paul Volcker

Meanwhile China lays the ground work for the slow but steady disassembly of the US economic strength worldwide by proposing an IMF managed global reserve currency which will erode US hegemony.

Meanwhile St Obama never met a 1T program he didn’t like, nor a salary too small to penalize.