Category Archives for "Keith’s Journal"

Arm’s Race in High School Football?

 This is a football geek post. I now go to our local high school football games (my daughter is on the dance squad – so I support the team of course). After having gone to two games this year, I’m already seeing a pattern. Teams are breaking out these incredibly diverse offenses to try and offset some of their physical weaknesses against stronger opponents. In one situation, it worked for the team – they knocked off a better opponent. In the other instance, the ploy almost worked – it kept the game a lot closer than it should have been even though the fell short by one score.

 

I sat next to a gentleman at the last game that played back in the 40’s and 50’s – and he jumped up and said look “they’re running the old double wing offense, haven’t seen that in decades!” We know the story about some of the new offenses we see across the NFL, NCAA and High School: there’s now the pistol, the wildcat, the double wing and a host of new innovations in football “offenses”.

 

There’s a morale to this story – two actually. First, remember that the more things change, the more they stay the same. There is nothing new under the sun (figuratively speaking), so most “new” things are variations and modifications from older things. Don’t forget that there is a time and place for digging out the old play books and running a variation of the old “double wing offense”.

 

Second, we still have to push for constant innovation and creativity. There are times when it is necessary to change our approach – throw out the old playbook and reach for a new one. And in the case of these two schools, both went to schools in the south that had been successful with those offenses and worked with coaches at those schools to borrow the playbook. Non-competing schools working together to better both – interesting concept.

 

Well, time to go see if I can pull out the old “Wishbone” to use in our company, could be really interesting to introduce the “option” in the marketplace.what a cool concept.

The Burden of Knowing Top Secrets

Once upon a time, I thought that knowing a bona-fide Top Secret would the coolest thing in the world. As we age and come into maturity and are exposed to more “secrets” in business or intelligence, we realize that Top Secrets (those that have true meaning) carry with them a tremendous burden and responsibility. Someone I knew in the intelligence industry used to get a lot of confidential information. Keeping it secure was an hourly concern. But, his answer to this was just as surprising as him telling that “knowing was a burden”. He said that one of the best hiding places for that information was right in a pile of stuff in the middle of his desk. He locked drawers and cabinets market “Confidential” and “Authorized Eyes Only”, and those were the likely targets for theives. Everything in those files was misinformation. Simple. And yet, brilliant, risky, etc. at the same time.

The more clandestine and “Jason Borne” we try to make things, the more attention it draws. I’m not sure that I really have a point here. I would throw in two bits of information that I think are important for us to all understand (and I get this from years of working with real guys in the intelligence field).

1. Nothing is as glamorous as it looks in real world intelligence and yet, nothing is as simple as it looks. If it looks too easy, you haven’t thought it through nearly enough, you are missing something. And if it looks really complex, you’re overlooking something simple.
2. Nothing is as bad as it seems, and nothing is as good as it seems. Highs are likely a bit south of where they feel and lows are not quite as despairingly bad as they feel. Somewhere between the highs and the lows, we find the truth.

For instance: Iran.

A. I wouldn’t underestimate their ability or willingness to actually acquire and use a nuclear weapon. To think less would be foolish. Someday, they will have one.
B. But, they likely aren’t nearly as far along as we fear. Truth probably has them further from developing a bomb than most outspoken activists would like us to believe. And yet, catching the right party, on the right day, with the right incentive, they might be able to buy one.
C. And, the leadership of the country does not the entire population make. Not everyone in Iran wants to obliterate Israel. Over generalizations are dangerous, and we have to kick ourselves in the shin once in a while to ensure that we aren’t guilty of that.

When asked one time whether I wanted to stay in a room where some corporate secrets were being discussed (items that I didn’t need to know to do my job), I actually excused myself from the room on that day given that particular topic. There are times when plausible deniability is a viable strategy. We don’t believe we would ever use that tactic – but the more mature we become and among the many intelligence officers I have known, it gets used quite a bit more frequently than you would expect. We want to know everything possible to allow us to do our job better, but not a single piece of top secret information more. It sounds crazy…but its the truth.

Just thought I would share an insiders perspective.

College Kids and Jobs

This is a bit of an anecdotal piece – and therefore I’m throwing it into my private journal section – but it is serious from the perspective of jobs and the economy.  I have a college age daughter that, in turn, has an extensive Facebook network. So, she is looking for a job and can’t find one. Even the local grocery stores aren’t hiring. If she were desperate and didn’t have a part time dance teacher position, we would push her harder to “just find something”. But in talking with her and taking a peak on Facebook, many of her peers (and their peers) are having the same problem. If we were to take just a straw poll of the people we know with college age children, the employment rate would seem to be about 50%. It could be higher nationally.

But, this brings up an interesting dilemma. For those who can’t find jobs, it affects the amount of money that they will have when they return to college this fall. This will affect the economics of the college and university systems, reducing spending in those key areas of discretionary income where it helps college campuses to break even. Retail stores are likely to feel the pinch as well, consumer credit changes have also made it more difficult for this population of young people to get credit cards (not that we want them to rack up debt!).

I’m not sure I have a strong point here other than to highlight the challenges that our college age students are going to experience. We’ll see this in the retail figures for the fall – let’s hope that it isn’t too drastic an impact.

2011 American Idol Winner

I live in a world of prediction, forecasting, processing intelligence and high stakes strategy in Corporate America.

But I do have a fun side that the family gets to see. For instance, I love American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Top Shot, Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, you name it. I’m not much of a Suvivor fan, but I will watch Dual Survivor (for those of you who know what that is) – love Cody – what a cool freak. I can even get my daughters to sit and watch Project Runway or The Voice with me.
So, for kicks, I’m going to try and predict the winner of American Idol for the year. Here’s my rundown in finishing order and why or why not this person has a chance:

1. James Durbin – It’s James’ to lose. He is a great story (family guy trying to make it, a few mild disorders to show that anyone can overcome adversity, and he has rocker support), he’s shown versatility, and I’ll bet that he and Steven end up singing together before the end of the year, doing an Aerosmith medley of some kind. Unless he completely self-destructs, they are grooming him for Idol stardom and he’ll bring home the goods. He wants it so bad – he has that all-or-nothing desperation that people can feel. And right now, at least up till this week, he has made all the smart calls.

2. Haley Reinhart – Surprise. I’ve got Haley and James in the final. Haley has the look (she’s a beautiful young lady) and she’s “quirky cool”. She does have a problem – she can sometimes slip off the radar – but her performances are getting stronger and I think she’ll surprise Scotty in the long run. I’ll bet she has a lot of producer support and advice working for her – you can see it in her maturation over the season.

3. Scotty McCreery – O.K. Picture a 20 year old George Bush – that’s Scotty in appearance. He’s got a professional career sewn up. Just as soon as the Idol thing is over, he’ll don his first cowboy hat in public to tell the world that he is 100% country cool and he’ll be at the Grand Ole’ Opry the week after. But, to make the final two – he’ll need to really find a way to go right down the middle – something he doesn’t want to do and those that will manage his career will want to avoid as well.

4. Lauren Alaina – sweet girl but she just gives us an aire of being petrified most of the time. When she relaxes and belts it out, she’s as good as anyone on stage. She just has to really step it up in the final couple of weeks – and I think she might be a little psyched out.

We’ll see what happens. Starting Thursday…

Daddy’s Hands

An uncle of mine passed away at a fairly young age, and at his funeral he wanted the song “daddy’s hands” played. That song popped into my head today and I thought about the lyrics and my children, and wondered if they would have the same feeling about me that was portrayed in that song. Ironically, another song “small town southern man” popped into my head shortly thereafter – and again the lyrics got me to wondering the same thing. Working until our fingers bled, disregarding a back that was so out you couldn’t walk – but you still put in a full day of work, etc.  You get the idea.

A very kind gentleman painted our house a couple of years ago, and I was standing talking to Bobby at the end of one of the days. He told me a story about his youth when he was an apprentice to the meanest, hardest working painter in a local union. Each week, the employees would stand in line and collect their paychecks – one after another. This old fellow would jump in line right behind Bobby and in the early weeks of Bobby’s apprenticeship to this fellow, his older mentor would stand behind him saying in a low gravely voice: “ a man that put in a week like you did…you don’t look that man in the eye when you take that check”.  This went on for weeks until Bobby got angry one day and decided that “he’d show him”. He worked his tail off for the whole week, giving it everything he had. He went above and beyond the call of duty and tried at every turn to outwork his older co-worker. At the end of the week he was exhausted and beaten. Standing in line at the end of a hard to collect his check, he said that he was so dogged tired that he was standing, head down, physically exhausted. Behind him, he heard an old gravely voice say: “a man that put in a week like you did…you look that man in the eye with pride when you take that check”.  He recommended Bobby for a pay raise and put him on the most lucrative jobs thereafter. It was a life lesson and a turning point in Bobby’s life.

I hope we don’t lose sight of the importance of a hard day’s work and a job well done – even if nobody is looking and even if it just means we have a few more calluses on our typing fingers. And, don’t lose sight of the importance of the work you do. Whether it is keeping a multi-million dollar organization running and the livelihoods of 20,000 families intact or keeping the front doors open on a local convenience store – your importance and contribution to the world is important. And, anything worth doing is worth doing well. Just ask Bobby.

No Judging on My Part

Many of you know that I spend a lot of weekends at convention centers watching my daughters in competitive dance events. As I look around the room, there are twenty to thirty different individuals with computers or papers spread out – working on a Saturday between their daughter’s three-minute stints on stage. I’ve been chasing my daughters around for more than ten years hitting these competitions – and I can anecdotally say that times have definitely changed over the past three years.

I don’t know if it is the economy or the tough job market – but we do still keep our promises to be with our children as they do their various types of events. But today, we are wired. I think we can say that we are never really “turned off” anymore. My wife was just answering e-mails on her Blackberry in-between costume changes. And honestly, her boss didn’t know the difference as to whether she was at home working in the middle of a Saturday or doing what we were doing…hanging with the kids.

No judging on my part.  And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – that’s not my point. My point is that times are definitely different and getting work done is no longer a Monday through Friday gig. And, we live in a tough job environment in which we have to compete to keep our positions.

Many of you are executives – especially our members. I know many of you are working non-stop – I get your e-mails and I see the hours that you keep. One of my favorite executives in the group works for a Fortune 500 transportation company – and I get e-mails from him all the time. But, he always manages to keep it light and toned down by dropping a small sentence at the front of the e-mail telling me that he’s sending this from a soccer game or dance event. It let’s me know that he is just like the rest of us. 

Lastly, in the new world of business, knowledge will be a valuable commodity. What we know in bursts (packets of information) that help keep businesses running are worth the two-minute distraction to send a quick text or brief e-mail from a Blackberry (or whatever you use). For me, it relaxes me actually knowing that I’m wired, connected, and if things are quiet – I have nothing to worry about. That’s me – not all of you.

I guess the best way to wrap this up is to just remind all of us that our employees are working at all times of the day, 7 days a week. They are engaged for the most part, and we need to acknowledge the odd hours that they are contributing. A virtual pat on the back can go miles toward keeping them satisfied. Don’t forget to acknowledge the weekend warrior that stays wired…

And more importantly, do me a favor and don’t forget to look your kids in the eye when they ask you a question – and answer them from the heart with as much passion as you answer your e-mails – especially if you are sitting at a dance competition…  

Keith Prather – Managing Director
Armada Corporate Intelligence
P.O Box 733
Lawrence, Kansas 66044

A Lesson from a National Championship

I sat and watched the men’s NCAA National Championship game last night between UConn and Butler and an interesting thought hit me. It came as the announcers were talking about the age difference between the coaches – one being almost half the age of the other. And I wondered about that for a minute. Had Butler been able to hit the broad side of a barn last night with their shots – they would have likely won the game. Flatly, both teams had winning strategies, had been prepared, were coached well, and it all came down to execution. UConn executed. Butler didn’t.

We work in a world in which those with the Wisdom of Years are moving on to retirement and the youth of this generation are starting to hold impressive positions of power. I myself are probably in the latter category – and I aggressively seek mentors that have the benefit of the wisdom of years to help counsel me and keep my feet grounded. We can all use various techniques to build the perfect strategy. You can call my friend Mike Brown at Brainzooming and he can walk your organization through the easiest, most comprehensive planning session you can get – and a perfect strategy to match.

But sitting here, I wonder how many of us really focus on execution. I have had the great pleasure to work with a person that I admire as one of the best Fortune 500 executives that I have been able to know personally, and he focuses on process. He has argued that if he can get a solid process put into place in any organization, it will be successful. And that’s where he spends his time and effort. The answer you give him on a strategy or solving a business problem is interesting to him – but not as interesting as the process that you used to get to that answer or strategy, or the process you will use to execute on it. Without a process – it’s pure chance. Executing successfully on the process is the closer.

It was just an interesting moment watching the game last night – trying to figure out if the Wisdom of Years outwitted youth, or if both organizations had winning strategies – and one just executed better.