Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Christmas Spirit

You know, it's funny how a small change can sometimes have a huge impact. For example, the giving of gifts on Christmas was originally intended to mimic the wise men who gave gifts to Christ. Now modern society seems to have turned it from giving gifts to getting gifts and created a multi-billion dollar industry around the Christmas season. There is so much pressure to give bigger and better things, to make sure people get better gifts than last year, or to out-do somebody else.

I think too many people ask "what did you get for Christmas?" and not enough care if we actually get closer to Christ on His birthday celebration. It's so close. We try to have the spirit of giving at Christmas and we try to live up to expectations. However, I think that many expectations of the Christmas season are not about Christ at all. Perhaps that is where we got lost.

This Christmas season, in celebration of Christ's birthday, are we giving Him anything? The things He asks for are so simple, have no cost, but seem so hard to give. Do we strive to be better people or simply give better presents? Do we help the less fortunate or simply help ourselves? I know there are many people who sincerely help others and it is thanks to them that we have such an outpouring of goodwill at Christmas. That's the true spirit of Christmas. May we all strive to be a little better this Christmas and all through the year.

Friday, December 19, 2008

GM Gets Their Bailout

When the bailout bill failed in the Senate, the cynic in me said that it was sabotaged. That's right, deliberately killed. Why? So that the White House would be forced to use the financial bailout money, which would be given with far fewer strings attached. Well, it looks like that's what happened.

I sincerely hope that the cynic in me was wrong and this wasn't deliberately staged, but I still have to wonder. Where are the union concessions? "Laid off" union workers, as far as I know, are getting 95% of their wages for doing no work. That should be stopped immediately. What about the car czar? Will anybody hold them accountable for their actions and/or keep them on the right track. They have until March to prove that they're "viable", and if they can't - will the government let them fail then? I doubt it. From where I'm standing, this bailout has no real teeth. If I'm wrong, please let me know.

It seems to me that the Big 3 swaggered into Washington DC and demanded money. There was a lot of yelling and screaming about no free lunches, but they are going home with just about exactly what they demanded.

Is this just how things work?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Finding The Balance Between Today And Tomorrow

Do you know anybody who seems to be wasting their whole life waiting for tomorrow? How about somebody so absorbed with today's problems that they're decisions don't anticipate future consequences? Both paths tend to make a person less successful/happy than they could be.

So what's the appropriate balance? OK, that's rhetorical. There probably isn't a general, perfect balance. However, some amount of balance is essential. The nearsighted person is the one who doesn't see the train coming. The farsighted person keeps falling into holes. How do we fix our vision?

The trick is to see both the present and the future (oh, and learn from the past but that's another topic). Have you even seen "The Dead Poet's Society"? That was the first time I heard the term "carpe diem" or "seize the day". We should strive to live today to the fullest, however, we also need to make sure that we can live tomorrow to the fullest as well.

First I want to clarify something. Living to the fullest is not the same as focusing on maximum gratification. Eating out at expensive restaurants, buying designer clothes, getting more house than you can afford, etc. are not seizing the day, they're wasting it. That's where looking to the future comes in.

There are many things in life that bring enjoyment. Sometimes sacrifice can actually make you happy. Consider the purchase of a new vehicle. Buying a more expensive car than you can afford (but it's fast or big or safe or stylish!) is not getting the best for yourself. It's introducing a monthly dose of high financial stress as you struggle to make payments, argue with your spouse about finances, cut back on food and other things, max out your credit cards, etc. I submit that seizing the day is as much about understanding the real consequences of your actions as it is about enjoying every possible aspect of the day. After all, how much nicer is a dinner out when you know that you don't have any past due notices waiting for you at home.

So, my advice to you is to seize the day, not to waste it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Could Universities Help Government Be More Effective?

I had a really interesting idea the other day. I'm currently a graduate student in information management at ASU. As part of the curriculum we are required to complete a project that has the students working with a company to "transform a business through information technology." This is a great idea and the project (I'm about half done) has really helped me understand business and technology better. I'm sure other business schools and other universities do similar projects. Well, here's my idea: instead of focusing on private companies, why don't we have some of them focus on government agencies.

Government has become synonymous with waste and inefficiency. Most people extend that into the belief that government employees are lazy and incompetent. However, as I've worked with some of Arizona's government agencies, I've found the opposite to be true. Many of the people I've worked with are dedicated, hardworking people who are try to look out for the best interests of the people they serve. So why isn't service so much better? Government agencies tend to hire people that focus on the mission of that agency. Social agencies look for social workers, law enforcement looks for police officers, etc, but how many government agencies look for business minded individuals with MBAs and management experience? Many government agencies are dedicated to helping people but don't have the tools to help them run more efficiently.

So, suppose university business programs started creating projects where business students worked with government agencies to reduce waste and increase efficiency. Their focus would be to determine the most effective outcomes and then engineer processes and procedures to get there efficiently. If implemented effectively, this has the potential for reducing red tape, speeding up government functions, and saving tax payers money - all without reducing services (and possibly even increasing some services).

I believe this is an idea with a lot of potential. I spoke to one of my State Representatives to get his thoughts on it and he thought it was a great plan. However, he also pointed out some of the barriers to a program such as this.

1) It cannot be run by the Legislature. Government agencies don't trust the Legislature (after all, they always trying to cut government budgets). This would have to come either from the universities and or from the agencies themselves.

2) Not all agencies are amiable to change. Some agencies just want to keep things status quo. It's human nature to resist change and adopting business principles and accountability into government is a large change. While I stated that there are some very dedicated, hard working people in government that would welcome increased efficiency, not everyone is like that.

3) It can be difficult to keep large projects going. Every time the governor changes, there is a chance that agency leaders will get replaced. If the governor's office switches parties, those chances are really good. So how do you keep a project going when your boss changes? Especially if the new boss wants to head in a totally different direction?

These are very real but not insurmountable obstacles. This program would, most likely, be tricky to implement but I think the benefit potential is huge. I say we quit complaining about government waste and get to work.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Irony of the Automaker's Situation

OK, maybe it's just inconsistency but have you noticed the differences between the bank bailouts and the automaker bailout? To me, it seems like our Treasury is writing blank checks to any bank that's big enough to warrant the label "can't be allowed to fail." On the other hand, the automakers are being grilled mercilessly by Congress, forced to prove they're viable long term, and being offered few assurances that they'll get anything.

Some may say that it's not fair to the automakers. I say it's not fair to the taxpayers. All of these financial institutions out there should not be getting blank checks. They should be grilled mercilessly and be forced to prove their viability. Why the double standard?

So here's the irony: the automakers, who actually produce something (cars and trucks), are being asked to justify their existence while financial companies, who don't actually produce anything (they just move money around), are deemed too important to fail.

So what's more important, money or the things that money buys?