• A "superpower" for everyone...

    ">iframe>

    Video produced by Code.org, starring Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, et. al. 

    This video was produced by Code.org, to promote the idea of learning how to write computer programs. Listening to the men and women on the video--it seems like fun.  Lots of today's programming can be done with logic, organization, and problem solving skills rather than higher-order mathematics. Considering how important these skills are in the marketplace, it is baffling that programming isn't a graduation requirement for a college degree.

    I have a little experience with this. Back in 1973, "Intro to Computing" was a programming class, not a class to become a skilled application user.  We learned a Fortran language called WATFiV.  Our programs had to be typed onto punch cards and dropped off at the computing center to be run, and then debugged if necessary, then run again. Writing the programs was like solving a puzzle, and actually very satisfying.

    My first job at Coopers & Lybrand (long before it combined with Price Waterhouse) was to use their closet-sized punch card computer to run "What-if" scenarios for limited partnership prospectuses. Basically, the programs I wrote and adapted were just a more clumsy version of what, a few years later, was Lotus 1-2-3 and then Excel. In 1983, I bought my first PC, and have been a "user" ever since.

    Today, there are several computing frontiers--apps, biomedical, transportation, mobile everything, computing everywhere.  A lot of the money to be made in the future will be made by knowing how to not only use computers, but more importantly to control what they do.

    That's computer programming.

    Source: "What Most Schools Don't Teach" by Code Org, YouTube, February 26, 2013.

    Follow up:

    • Have you ever taken a programming class? What computer language?  What kinds of programs did you write?
    • If you don't know a computer language, do you know another language besides English? How will you enhance your ability to communicate world-wide 25 years from now?
    • Do you have an idea for an app? What have you done to get it working and in the marketplace?
  • Tech company "tax dodgers" avoid tax on $225 Billion


    image from PUNCH, March 10, 1982

     

    There is a fine line between tax avoidance and tax evasion. The line that divides the two is drawn by the "letter of the law." Nevertheless, those laws have been influenced by corporations lobbying for benefits that they can legally take.  And, according to research done recently, it looks as though several very profitable Silicon Valley firms are benefiting from laws that allow them to avoid taxes by "permanently reinvesting" cash overseas:


    This arrangement seems to some observes to be a lose-lose deal for middle class American taxpayers.  Not only is part of the nation's potential revenue foregone by this law, the reinvestment in foreign countries prevents growth investment in American jobs and communities.

    None of the tech companies agreed to comment for the researchers or the follow-up press reports.

    Sources: "Apple's not the only US Giant Dodging Taxes: Report" by David Brancaccio, audio interview, Marketplace Tech Report, American Public Media, February 25, 2013.

    "Silicon Valley Firms Shelter Assets Overseas; Slash US Tax Bill," by Matt Drange, The Bay Citizen, February 13, 2013.

    Follow up:

    • How does the concept of "business ethics" play into aggressive tax practices such as shifting income overseas to avoid taxes?  Check out the definitions of "tax avoidance" and "tax evasion" using the internet or other resources.
    • According to the Bay Citizen article, what other tax benefit did tech companies get as a result of the "fiscal cliff" deal?
  • Facebook's female COO: Leaning In to Break the Glass Ceiling


    from www.forbes.com  Sheryl Sandberg

    Sheryl Sandberg has quite an impressive curriculum vitae:

    • Graduated with highest honors from Harvard in Economics
    • Served as a research assistant to Lawrence Summers at the World Bank
    • Earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, with highest distinction
    • Worked as a Management consultant, McKinsey & Company
    • Served as the Chief of Staff to the US Secretary of the Treasury during Bill Clinton's presidency
    • Held the position of Vice President of Global Online Sales & Operations at Google
    • Currently is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook
    • Is married and is the mother of two young children

    Meanwhile, she has written a book, which will be published in March 2013, but has gotten a lot of advance press:

    Ms. Sandberg wants to start a movement of "Lean In Circles," described as "half business school, half book club." She wants this movement to change the way that women behave in--and change the way that women are perceived in--the business world. Lean-In Circles are structured monthly meetings, with strict guidelines:

    • No more than 2 meetings per year can be missed.
    • Meetings begin with a 15 minute update.
    • 3 minutes are allotted for each person to give a personal update.
    • There is a 90 minute presentation.
    • The presentation is followed by a discussion.

    Sandberg's website and organization will provide supportive materials, such as lectures and upbeat personal essays from successful female executives.  She also plans to spread her ideas through a supplement in Cosmopolitan magazine, and through community colleges, according to the NYT article.

    Already there is substantial controversy about her ideas: Ms. Sandberg seems to be advocating that women do more, when many women already feel as though they are overworked.

    I'm not going to pass judgment on her work before I have given it a thorough examination. I find that the attitude "Take what you like and leave the rest," to be quite useful, so I imagine that some of her ideas will make sense and some will not.  I hope to find that Ms. Sandberg includes an element of compassion for herself and for other women. I look forward to exploring Ms. Sandberg's work with curiosity an an open mind.

    Sources: "A Titan's How To on Breaking the Glass Ceiling" by Jodi Kantor, New York Times, February 22, 2013

    "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead," by Sheryl Sandberg, via Amazon.com, to be published March 11, 2013.

    Follow up:

    • What does the acronym COO stand for?  What are the duties and responsibilities of a COO? How long has Sheryl Sandberg held that position with Facebook, and how did she get it?
    • Do you want to be inspired by Sheryl Sandberg? Check out her TED talk from YouTube. What are three key pieces of advice she has for women in that video?
  • Boring thumbnails, dull headlines and Cute Kittens Doing Funny Things


    image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/recommendly/7326970512/

    Improving "click-through."  What a concept!

    I did a post earlier this week about Ford Motor Company's announcement recruiting 100 social media fans. The compensation? A car, gas, insurance and a chance for widespread ads that could launch a career.  Sounds pretty fantastic, right?  All you have to do is to stay in touch with your social media friends and participate in fun activities. I also posted the thumbnail to this announcement on my Facebook page (I have a lot of twenty-something Facebook "friends").

    A few days later, I checked out the feedback at my disposal:

    • no hits on the blog
    • no "likes" on the Facebook page

    Hmm...What could be the problem?  I knew that the underlying opportunity could have generated a lot of interest among students and those recently launched into the workplace, in the process of pulling together a creative career that could also support them.  But even I could see that the thumbnail for the Fiesta announcement looked boring. And the headline I chose for the blog piece about the campaign was not interesting, either. 

    It turns out that I was not clued into "creating lovable marketing."



    Maybe I should have gone with a cute kitten or other baby animal.  I could have placed an ad in the sidebar, or commingled it with the cute baby animal itself.

    ">iframe>
    YouTube


    Sources: "Make Love Not Spam" by HubSpot, Inc.
    Improving Clickthrough

    Follow up:

    • How careful are you about your email subject lines? Do you use them to enhance your business communication and the likelihood that you will catch the attention of your recipient, as they peruse a probably crowded Inbox?
    • What encourages YOU to "click-through" and why?
  • "Inflation R.I.P." obituary: CPI rate is 0%


    INFLATION R.I.P. audio

    The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the month of January 2013 was 0%.  This prompted the somewhat tongue-in-cheek "obituary for Inflation" on Marketplace this week. 

    One reason for the 0% rate of inflation, according to economist Paul Krugman, is that "It's very hard to get inflation in a depressed economy." So 0% inflation means that there is good news and bad news. This is an aspect of inflation that is always a bit ironic--we want our paychecks to inflate, but we do not want the prices of goods and services to increase.

    Out here in California, the average person on the street might be shocked to hear that the inflation factor for January was 0%.  Our gas prices have increased by over 25 cents per gallon over the last few weeks.  And since housing inventories are low, supply and demand has pushed up housing prices over the same time period. Since transportation and housing are major components of the CPI calculation, it is baffling that the inflation rate for this month averages out to "no increase."


    We'll see if there is a shift upward in February...

    Source: "Inflation R.I.P." by Kai Ryssdal, Marketplace, American Public Media, February 21, 2013.

    Follow up:

    • In your recent experience, would you say that the inflation rate is 0%? Over the last year, how have the prices in your "personal market-basket" changed?
    • According the Marketplace podcast, what did Paul Volcker say about inflation while he was chairman of the Fed?
  • A Social Remix: the Fiesta Movement needs amateurs to create ads


    image from www.brandchannel.com

    Ford Motor Company plans to recruit 100 social-media-savvy consumers to create an ad campaign for its 2014 Ford Fiesta. This is a renewal and expansion of the campaign started in 2010 via social media.
    Check out this video announcement:

    ">iframe>

    Those selected will receive a car, insurance, gas and several "missions" to complete. In return those selected will "share their experiences via social media" and be given the opportunity to create videos and advertisements. Ford learned some lessons from their first experiment with a social media campaign, and the company plans to professionalize the output of the recruits in perfecting the campaign for the 2014 Ford Fiesta.

    "The Fiesta Movement is back. It's bigger. It's bolder...and it just can't live without you!" says the promotional video.

    Are you interested?

    Sources: "Ford Turns to 'the Crowd' for New Fiesta Ads" by Stuart Elliott, Media Decoder, New York Times, February 19, 2013.

    Fiesta Movement Website

    Follow up:

    • Were you aware of the Ford Fiesta social media ad campaigns before reading this blog?  If so, where did you hear about them? What is your opinion about their efficacy?
    • What is "crowdsourcing"? Where has it been effective or noteworthy?
  • Bribe inquiry involves Chinese film industry and Americans


    image from chinafilmbiz.com

    The film industry in China is booming--and American production companies, studios and other investors want to partner with this huge market.  What stifles the partnerships, however, are ongoing investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) involving bribery.

    The SEC investigations involve violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  More specifically, because there is an import quota on films from the USA and other countries--and because blockbusters routinely sell over $50 million in tickets in the Chinese market--there is an incentive, and apparently some evidence, to bribe Chinese officials to ensure that an import slot goes to the company that pays (illegally) for the privilege.

    Recently, the situation has changed a bit.  Because Chinese film-goers are showing a new interest in Chinese-produced films, American studio investors want to get involved at the production level as well as the distribution level.  This increased involvement has expanded the SEC's interest in investigating exactly what payments are made to whom.

    Few insiders have been willing to comment "on the record," because of the ongoing inquiries and the huge sums of money that may be involved.

    Sources: "Inquiry into China Film Trade Unnerves Hollywood," by Michael Cieply, New York Times Business, February 17, 2013.

    "To Bribe or Not To Bribe: Is That Really a Question?" by Robert Cain for China Film Biz, April 29, 2012.

    Follow up:

    • What American film is alluded to in the words of the captioned photo above? Do internet research if necessary to identify the quote.  What ethical issue is under scrutiny in THAT film?  
    • The photo, by the way, is taken out of context. To what bribery scandal does the Hu Jintao photo refer? Can you determine the current status of that dilemma?
    • What do you think about bribery as a way to ensure market share, if bribery seems to be a common practice in a certain situation? What are the reasonable penalties for violation of bribery laws?
  • "NO": a new film about the power of advertising in Chile

     


    This weekend the film "No" opened in theaters.  It is historical fiction (much like "Argo" or Zero Dark Thirty") that portrays a 27 day period in Chilean history, preceding a special election.  Under considerable international pressure, a vote was called for a democratic election to determine one issue.  The options presented were:

    "Yes": continue with dictator Augusto Pinochet in power for eight more years; or

    "No": remove Pinochet from power and form a democratic government.

    A new political twist, brought on by international pressure, was that television time of 15 minutes per day would be allotted to each side.  For the first time in more than 15 years, opposition leaders would have access to television time to make their voice (or voices) heard.

    The movie's protagonist, Rene Saavedra, is a creative project manager at a successful advertising firm. He is approached by a coalition of opposition leaders to create content for these 15 minute slots.  The opposition leaders have no hope of actually winning the vote.  They just want to use the time slots to make the atrocities of the Pinochet years apparent to all.

    But Saavedra has a different idea. He wants to use tried and true advertising techniques to create a campaign to actually influence the vote.  It is not easy, and the movie is a great story about the power and the failings of advertising. What makes it exceptionally good watching is that it is also about the power politics involved in any organization, at the individual level.

    Sources: "The Story of 'No' is the Story of Modern Chile," by Mandalit Del Barco, National Public Radio, February 14, 2013.

    "No," a film by Pablo Larrain, starring Gael Garcia Bernal, reviewed on Rotten Tomatoes.

    Follow up:

    • Read the article or see the movie. What successful marketing principles are used by the character Rene Saavedra?
    • What techniques, advocated by many opposition leaders, were doomed to failure?  Evaluate the ethical underpinnings and consequences of the success and failure of these two types of content.
  • Elizabeth Warren makes life tougher for bad bankers

     


    image from the US Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee SD538

    VIDEO: Elizabeth Warren asks tough questions of bank regulators

    In the first hearing attended by Elizabeth Warren as a member of the US Senate Banking Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, bank regulators were speechless, then scrambling to answer a clear, simple and basic question:

    When was the last time the regulators took any of the banks to trial for their misdeeds?

    Not one of the regulators was able to recollect any time that the banks under indictment had been brought to trial.  Warren made two points in favor of trial over across-the-board settlements:

    • trials, over weeks of testimony, can bring to light many more details about the transgressions of the perpetrators;
    • an actual trial would enable the justice system to "make an example" of bad banking practices, much in the way the that judicial system sometimes "makes an example" of individual citizens, such as Aaron Swartz.

    Said Warren,"There are district attorneys and United States attorneys out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds and taking them to trial in order to make an example, as they put it. I'm really concerned that 'too big to fail' has become 'too big for trial'."

    In addition, a court judgment could provide a benchmark of what penalties were available by that route, as well as disclose the levels of information that could be ascertained via the trial option of achieving justice and resolution.

    Sources: "Elizabeth Warren Embarrasses Hapless Bank Regulators At First Hearing," video by Ryan Grim, Huffington Post, February 14, 2013.

    Follow up:

    • What is Warren's primary point about the difference between a trial and a settlement, in terms of public information?
    • How can bank regulators determine the efficacy of a settlement, in terms of maximizing dollar penalties vis-a-vis a potential trial judgment, if they do not have as a benchmark actual trial history?  
  • Warren Buffett adds ketchup to his plate


    image from www.telegraph.co.uk:  Warren Buffett and an image of a Heinz Ketchup bottle label.

     

    Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway group is partnering with a Brazilian company, 3G Capital, to buy H.J.Heinz, Co., maker of the iconic American "ketchup." The purchase price is $23.3 billion.

    Buffett's company also has a major ownership stake in Dairy Queen, and with 3G Capital, owns TGI Friday's.

    It looks like Buffet won't be going hungry any time soon.

    Sources: "Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway to Buy Heinz", National Public Radio, Morning Edition, February 13, 2013.

    "Warren Buffett puts Heinz in his Pantry", by Mark Mammott, NPR blogs, February 14, 2013.

    Follow up:

    • What other two food-related companies has Buffett considered investing in recently?
    • Why is Buffett looking for these types of investments now?
  • Super Bowl promotion goes HORRIBLY well

     



    When Gardiners Furniture and Mattress placed ad relating to this year's Super Bowl, they had no idea it would turn out so well for its customers...but turn out to be so unprofitable for the company. 

    In order to boost sales PRIOR to Super Bowl Day, Gardiners offered this deal:  All the furniture bought between Thursday, January 31st and Sunday, February 3rd at 3:00 pm EST would be FREE...IF someone on the Baltimore Ravens team returned a kickoff for a touchdown.

    Gardiners was betting that sales would increase in the days before the game...and that it was very unlikely that anyone would return a kickoff for a touchdown. Gardiners sold over $600,000 of furniture during this period.

    Fortunately for Gardiners' customers (and for the Baltimore Ravens!), Jacoby Jones made a touchdown by running the ball back over 108 yards after a kickoff. This hasn't happened since 2007.

    Unfortunately for Gardiners--they had to make good on their promise to give away $600,000 of furniture.

    Fortunately for Gardiners--they had purchased an insurance policy for $12,000, and it covered most of the cost of the free furniture.They hedged their risk by buying the insurance policy, which they figured was less of a cost than the additional profits they'd make due to the sales increases in the pre-game days.

    Gardiners worked out all of the numbers in advance, and all of the costs--including the insurance--were within their 5%-of-sales advertising budget. The newsworthiness of the "loss" created free advertising for them, so on the whole the adventure was a "win."

    Will they do it again? We'll see if the Ravens make it to the Super Bowl...

    Source: "When a Super Bowl Promotion Goes Right" by Gene Marks, New York Times: You're the Boss: the Art of Running a Small Business, February 12, 2013.

    Follow up:

    • Where did Gardiners get the idea for this promotion?  Who helped them with it?
    • What were the odds against a touchdown on a kickoff return?
    • What were the tax consequences, if any, for the customers who received the free furniture?

     

  • "LUV" for Southwest may be on the decline

    Southwest Airlines is messing with its market niche, and that might mean trouble for Southwest, whose stock ticker name is "LUV." They seem to be ignoring the maxim, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it": Southwest has just had its 40th straight year of being profitable, and it is the only airline that can make that claim.

    What has set Southwest apart from other airlines has been its attitude toward service (check out the "market niche" link above).  In addition, for those customers for whom money is the only consideration, Southwest still allows two free checked baggage items, and it has kept fares low by adopting a "no frills" policy--no meals and no seat assignments. I think the no-seat-assignment policy may have a secondary consequence that also helps Southwest's bottom line--getting to the airport in plenty of time becomes a priority when that means a better seat...and it may contribute to Southwest's great performance with respect to "on-time" flights.

    However, in the perception of many long-term customers, Southwest now seems less concerned about service, and more concerned with the bottom line. They have cut legroom and made their frequent flier program less appealing.

    Southwest contends that, to maintain its profitability, changes were necessary.  Profit margins have been slipping in recent years, and adapting to change is one way that Southwest has been successful. Still, annoying loyal customers by creating big fees for early boarding may lead to a change in perception that Southwest airlines has the customers' needs at the heart of their mission.

    It will be interesting to follow the profitability of Southwest "LUV" Airlines over the next few years.

    Source: "Is Southwest Airlines Losing the LUV?" by Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times, February 10, 2013.

    Follow up:

    • Have you flown on Southwest Airlines? Have you flown on a variety of carriers over the last few years?  How would you compare and contrast services on various airlines? What makes your favorite carrier stand out?
    • What are the dangers of changing a product's market niche?  What could be the positive outcomes, if any?
  • If your watch was a computer, would you wear it?


    image from businessinsider.com  This is NOT the Apple prototype...

    I'm from a generation that wears watches.  I have owned successive Seiko watches from the time I got my first full-time job.  But my young adult daughters? No way! They use their smartphones to tell time.

    ...but they also lose their smartphones, because they are not strapped (conveniently) on their wrists.

    All this might change. Apple is currently "experimenting with wristwatch-like devices made of curved glass," according to sources who wish to remain anonymous, due to confidentiality agreements. It is definitely possible: last year Corning Incorporated solved the engineering problems around the development of bendable glass.  This product, called Willow Glass, would be a major component of the technology used in the wristwatch computer.


    Willow Glass by Corning

    The idea of a wristwatch computer has been around for a long time--from the comics of my youth to James Bond movies.  Google's take on a wearable computer is different: the Google eyeglasses. But it seems as though Apple's take would involve the special Willow Glass that could be form-fit around a human wrist. We'll see.

    Of course, observers are already calling it the iWatch.

    Source: "Disruptions: Where Apple and D Tracy May Converge" by Nick Bilton,, New York Times BITs, February 10, 2013.

    Follow up:

    • Do you wear a watch?  If your smartphone were styled to be worn on your wrist, would you do it?
    • How would you market a wrist-mounted smartphone?  Do you think your potential market is more with watch-wearers like me, or with younger folks? How might a wrist-mounted computer be used differently?
    • Do you think the people who leaked the information about this potential product acted unethically in disclosing this information?  Why or why not?
  • From $705 to $450: Apple's stock slide surprised analysts


    image from cultofmac.com

     

    When Apple stock was selling at around $700/share, 50 out of 57 analysts said to buy it. That was in September, 2012. The advice to "buy" continued, even as the price fell. Now, five months later, Apple stock has lost more than 1/3 of its value. This "crowd mentality" of bad advice seems alarmingly like the bullish onslaught of "buy" orders that created the dot-com bubble.  The collapse in 2000, with the subsequent SEC investigation and passage of the Sarbanes Oxley Act, should have put an end to the overly-positive "research" that Wall Street analysts promulgated in service of higher returns for their investment-banking colleagues. 

    Since research and investment are now (supposedly) segregated, how could so many analysts have been so wrong about Apple?

    One answer comes from Carlo R. Besenius, CEO of Creative Global Investments. On October 3, 2012, when Apple was trading at $685, he changed his advice to "Sell" (and he thinks that Apple may bottom out as low as $320 per share). According to Besenius, the only way to go against the grain is to start your own firm, which he did after decades of working for Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers. There were "so many conflicts of interest in trading, investment banking and research" it was impossible for Besenius to continue working for a big firm.

    Another expert, Stuart R. Gilson, a finance professor at Harvard, points out that the bias toward more "Buy" orders than "Sell" orders is inescapable, because the firms make money on trading commissions:


    "If you’re an analyst and one way your report brings in revenue is through increased trading, a buy recommendation will do this more than a sell. For a sell, you have to already own the stock to generate a trade. But anybody can potentially buy a stock."

    Another academic, Bruce Greenwald of Columbia University, explains the analysts' herd mentality in a more general way:

    "The analysts are in the end sales people. Their credibility depends on their not upsetting their investors too much. Everybody loved Apple, everybody did well. The bears were always wrong."

    In other words, analysts are only human--susceptible to the urge to please others and go-with-the-flow rather than buck the trend, go out on a limb, and maybe be wrong...and alone. 

    Source: "Following a Herd of Bulls on Apple," by James B. Steward, New York Times, February 8, 2013.

    Follow up:

    • What sources of advice do you (or would you) use in managing your investment portfolio?
    • Describe one or more of your own experiences in acting as part of a "herd mentality" rather than thinking independently.  What might you do differently, if you could do those things over again?
  • Girl Scout Cookies: $785 million in business lessons


    photo by Sean Patrick Farrell, New York Times: Mary Ruiz sells Girl Scout Cookies

    It's Girl Scout Cookie season again. In this video, Ron Lieber interviews Mary Ruiz the "Cookie Titan of Tuscon," and her mother, Pilar. Mary enjoys selling--and the rewards it brings--and her mother is impressed by the organizational, financial literacy, time-management, and business communication skills that Mary has developed through this activity. Experts such as Daniel Pink (author of To Sell is Human) would agree that a successful sales program, with a product that the salesperson believes in, can produce positive and life-affirming outcomes.

    Others judge the sales activity of the top school-age salespersons as exploitative or unhealthy, according to Lieber's article. But for Mary, selling Girl Scout cookies allows her to set idealistic goals, and feel satisfaction and happiness in the process.  Her mother is impressed by Mary's interest in other financial matters, such as the family's mortgage and insurance needs.

    Of course, those of us who eat cookies are also happy to have the product. My personal favorite are Samoas...


    Image from cocktailsandcookies.org

    Sources: "More Than Pushing Cookies," by Ron Lieber, New York Times, February 8, 2013.
    Video Link: Ron Lieber and Mary Ruiz

    To Sell is Human: the Surprising Truth about Moving Others, by Daniel Pink, Penguin Group, 2012.

    Follow up:

    • Selling Girl Scout Cookies has taught what business skills to Mary Ruiz, according to her mother? What personal problem has Mary overcome in the process?
    • Do you have any reservations, such as the ones mentioned in the article, about direct sales done by children?  What are the appropriate limits (if any), in your opinion?
    • Have you ever participated in a direct sales campaign, or worked on commission?  What was your experience?
  • Privatizing Dell: what does it mean?


    image from csmonitor.com

    This week Dell Inc. announced that it planned to re-privatize itself by buying back its own common stock.  This action--the opposite of an IPO (initial public offering)--would cost the company $24.4 million, and require that it take on $15 million of debt to finance the buyout.

    Why would Dell do this? The textbook reasons for a company buying back a majority of its stock are to:

    • regain control if stockholders are unruly and unreasonable; and
    • maximize profits for a small number of original owners.

    Nevertheless, "using other people's money" or "leveraging" business assets to maximize the return on investment is a classic way to minimize risks.  And several risks exist for Dell:

    • Dell's market position is slipping as a percentage of the PC market--now just 10.7% where it used to be 16.6%.
    • The PC market is also shrinking, as more users turn to tablets and other mobile devices...and Dell's primary business has historically been in personal computers.
    • "cloud computing" reduces the need for additional desktop computers.

    On the other hand, the expanding cloud computing market could create business opportunities for Dell.

    Dell's founder, Michael Dell, has put up $700 million of his own money to finance the buyout.  He also has support from Silver Lake, a private equity firm, and a $2 billion loan from Microsoft. Observers see the risks involved, but the debt load has been deemed "reasonable" by some analysts. Michael Dell knows that there will not be instant results, but is confident that things will play out well in the long run.

    Sources: "Dell in $24 Billion Deal To Go Private," by Michael J. de la Merced and Quentin Hardy, New York Times, February 5, 2013.

    Follow up:

    • Read the article or do other web research. How did Dell start up? What products and/or services have been Dell's strengths over the years?
    • What trends has Dell missed out on? What mistakes has it made? Do you have an opinion about the re-privatization? What are the pros and cons?
  • Time: a priceless business asset?


    image from 1000 x 1000 jackmalcolm.com

    Two groups of Stanford researchers have come up with different perspectives on time.  Jeffrey Pfeiffer, working with Sanford DeVoe of the University of Toronto, found that:

    "Although it may not have been consciously done, modern management seems to have created a hedonic treadmill in which people want to trade time for money and because of thinking of time like money cannot enjoy leisure activities as much."

    In other words, this "monetary view of time" makes modern workers feel more like they must always be doing things that are valuable from an objective and measurable standpoint.  Internal satisfaction is not part of the equation in how time is spent, and their research shows that this is making people less satisfied...even less satisfied with their supposedly free time.

    Another researcher, Melanie Rudd, has taken a different perspective. Her starting point was the prevailing time pressure felt by many working adults.  Her research zeroed in on a situation where this feeling of scarcity was relieved:

    Melanie Rudd, Stanford PhD candidate, uploaded to YouTube (link below)

    As Ms. Rudd says, time seems to be more plentiful when a person is in a state of "awe." This positive state is comprised of these aspects:

    • a feeling of vastness--either physical or perceptual;
    • a desire to expand this feeling of vastness, by developing the knowledge to further understand and more deeply experience the wonder of the moment;
    • the perception that more "slices of life" can fit into a single unit of time;
    • a change in decision making outcomes
    • the powerful impact of the present moment--and experiencing it to the fullest.

    Because many of the experiences at work are repetitive and routine, moments of "awe" at work may be few.  It may be a reason people seek out the rare and the amazing YouTube video or Facebook post whenever they can.

    But creative managers can create awe-inspiring experiences for their work-groups.  And marketers can use the decision-point created by an awe experience to influence present and future customers.

    Time is a finite resource, but finding ways to experience time in more meaningful and expansive ways can help individuals in the workforce as well as create ways to satisfy needs that exists in the marketplace.

    Sources: "How Awe Expands our Perception of Time" Melanie Rudd, YouTube, uploaded December 13, 2012, via the blog maintained by business author Daniel H. Pink, January 14, 2013.

    "People Now Believe That Time is Money and That is Making Everyone Unhappier," by Max Niesen, The Business Insider, November 14, 2012.

    Follow up:

    • When and where was the last time you experienced a feeling of "awe" or overwhelming wonder and appreciation?
    • What is your relationship to time? Are you in charge? Do you feel rushed, as though you do not have enough time? How are your time management skills? Could they be improved? What is stopping you from making those improvements?
  • Meditation: a tool for developing "soft skills"


    image from ashvogue.wordpress.com

    Meditation was a key element of the management strategy for the Los Angeles Lakers when they were coached by Phil Jackson. But Jackson is no longer the the Lakers' coach, and the Lakers...well, I am wondering if the correlation between Jackson's coaching style and the Lakers current performance may also be due to the cause and effect of eliminating this mental portion of a practice regimen.

    "Meditation" and "mindfulness" are currently popular strategies for employee development and consulting. In the modern world, with all of its stress and multitasking, many businesses are finding that it is difficult to get employees to focus. Meditation practices can lead to an increased capacity to adapt to change and be resilient. Companies such as Google, Target, and General Mills have incorporated meditation into employee training.

    Some might think that meditation is only for Buddhists, but there is no religious component to meditation itself. There is also no "downside risk." It can't hurt. As a break from the workday, it may do more good that playing Solitaire or checking Facebook. Besides, it can help build the soft skills of resilience and calmness-under-pressure.

    Source: "The Lakers Meditate?" interview by Soren Gordhamer, the MBA project, May 18, 2006.

    "28 day Meditation Challenge," by Sharon Salzberg, February 1, 2013.

    "Mindfulness in the Corporate World: How Businesses are Incorporating the Eastern Practice," Huffington Post, August 30, 2012; updated January 7, 2013.

    "OK, Google, take a deep breath," by Caitlin Kelly, the New York Times, April 28, 2012.

    Follow up:

    • Check out the Sharon Salzberg link above and consider giving it a try.
    • What are the seven effects of meditation on the brain and body that are delineated in the Huffington Post slideshow?  Which of these matter to you and why?