Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

Making America the Best Place on Earth to Work

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Leo GerardNot the wars. Not greenhouse gasses. Not even the deficit. The issue most important to Americans is jobs.

Despite that, jobs failed to make an appearance in the State of the Union address.

The talk was all about business. Business was doing better. Business needed taxpayers to help pay for research and innovation. Business will get government help to eliminate pesky regulations. Business must have lower taxes.

The most telling statement was this:

“We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business.”

Especially because it wasn’t matched by a companion:

“We have to make America the best place on Earth to work.”

The speech expressed a policy in which business is the focus of government, taking precedence over workers.  The American colonists created a government for their own benefit; they did not constitute an agent to serve business. A policy giving corporations primacy is risky for American workers.

The state of the union noted that happy days are here again for corporations and banks:

“Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.”

Never mentioned, however, were the 14.5 million unemployed Americans, the sustained record rate of foreclosure, and the increasing poverty and food bank reliance among citizens of the richest nation in the world.

The state of the union outlined a plan under which the government will coddle corporations, essentially proving companies government welfare using American workers’ tax dollars. If businesses create jobs for workers as a result, fine. If they don’t, there’s no plan to exact a penalty.

For example, under the policy described in the speech, American workers will fork over tax dollars to pay for research and development for businesses that are sitting on a record $1.8 trillion in cash reserves — hoarding it rather than creating jobs.

The president said:

“Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology — an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.”

Maybe it will create new jobs. Hopefully. But no guarantees were offered. Mentioned as a business success story in the speech was a Michigan company, Luma Resources, which began manufacturing solar shingles with the help of a $500,000 government grant. It created 20 jobs, $25,000 a job.  American taxpayers might think that’s a little pricey, but what’s worse is the potential for Luma Resources to go the way of Evergreen Solar, squandering the corporate welfare.

Evergreen, the third largest maker of solar panels in the U.S. and recipient of at least $43 million in corporate welfare, announced earlier this month it would close its main American factory in Massachusetts and move manufacturing to China. Eight hundred Americans will lose their Evergreen jobs by April.

Evergreen officials said China will give the company even higher amounts of corporate welfare, which, of course, makes sense since China is not a capitalist country. Its economy is government controlled. And that government routinely violates international trade regulations – by providing banned subsidies to industries and by deliberately devaluing its currency.

No matter how better educated American workers get. No matter how much more innovative. No matter how much more productive. No matter how many tax dollars the government spends on research and development, if the corporations that benefit move manufacturing overseas, the American workers who paid for it will suffer.

In fact, it’s more than suffering; it’s betrayal by their government that provided tax benefits to companies for off-shoring jobs. It is betrayal by their government that fails to stop violations of trade laws by countries like China that lure away firms like Evergreen.

At the end of the State of the Union speech, the president said:

“From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream.”

An ordinary American dreams of a family-supporting job, owning a home, saving enough to pay for a child’s college education, helping to build a safe community. Corporations aren’t Americans, no matter how often the U.S. Supreme Court grants them rights that the U.S. Constitution guarantees to human beings. Businesses aren’t citizens. Their allegiance isn’t to America. It’s to profits. They dream only of dollars. They concede no responsibility to family, community or country.

They were not included when the president said:

“Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater — something more consequential than party or political preference.  We are part of the American family.”

The top priority of the American government must be making America the best place on Earth for Americans.  If that’s good for corporations, great. The government must never place American citizens second.

*This post originally appeared in United Steelworker’s Blog on January 31, 2010.

About the Author: Leo W. Gerard is a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Committee and chairs the labor federation’s Public Policy Committee. President Barack Obama recently appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations. He serves as co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of the Apollo Alliance, Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute.  He is a member of the IMF and ICEM global labor federations and was instrumental in creating Workers Uniting, the first global union.

What do you believe about work that is wrong?

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerAfter fifteen years of writing Working Wounded/Workplace911, I’ve concluded that there are a lot of myths about work. I thought it would be fun to tackle some of the bigger ones in this week’s blog. Check out my list below and send me some of your favorites.

It’s impossible to be overpaid when someone else signs the paycheck. Let me offer a short translation of this rule—as long as someone is willing to pay you a ridiculous amount of money to work for them, then you aren’t overpaid because they have established a market for your services. I disagree. Corporate salaries are absurd. Cost cutting, layoffs and a myriad of other organizational sacrifices should float more than just the boats of the CEO and a few top executives. I’m no Marxist, CEOs do deserve a big paycheck when they are successful. But this escalator only seems able to go up.

Greed is good. The biggest problem here is that when Oliver Stone came up with this mantra for his Gordon Gekko character in the movie Wall Street it was meant as parody. Yet I hear some variation of it whenever I talk to traders, salespeople, etc. Henry Ford, hardly a commie himself, once said that only a fool holds out for the last dollar. I think wretched excess is a terrible way to run a company.

The bigger the jerk, the better the boss. Probably my favorite quote on management came from President (and General) Dwight Eisenhower. He once said, “Hitting people over the head isn’t leadership, it’s assault.” Sure jerks do get your attention and possibly results over the short term. But most employees will flee at the first chance they get. There are just too many sane bosses out there to continue to slave away for a jerk.

You’ve got to be first to market. Microsoft seems to me to be the only company that consistently puts second-rate products on the market and lives to tell the tale. It worked for a long time until Apple recently passed them in market capitalization. The rest of us have to pick our spots and often the first to market position can’t justify launching a crappy product. So it often pays to wait.

Innovation is the middle name of American corporations. Despite rising productivity, I believe that corporations in the U.S. are running on fumes. Don’t believe me? Listen to most people talk about the management of their companies. It’s not a pretty sight. I see far more innovation right now coming from abroad and from the not-for-profit sector and I think it’s time that corporations started walking their talk.

Corporations are drowning in regulation. Tyco, Enron, WorldCom, etc. left in their wake Sarbanes Oxley and a host of other regulations. Undoubtedly Lehman, Goldman Sacks, etc. will leave their mark too. There is a lot of talk now about how corporations are being held back by senseless regulations. I hate filling out government forms as much as the next guy, but these laws came into place because of abuse by corporations. And in order to maintain the trust of the average investor these regulations need to remain in effect, no matter how much whining you hear from big business.

The bottom line isn’t just the bottom line. If I’ve learned one thing as an observer of business and the founder of four corporations, it’s that there are many bottom lines for a business. In addition to economic there are also social and environmental considerations. The financials really only are a part of the picture. The sooner that corporations take a broader view of the bottom line, the sooner they’ll begin to fully reach their potential.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Unlikely Pairings

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerI was reading the newspaper yesterday and I came across two words that just didn’t go together. They weren’t exactly an oxymoron, just moronic. At least that’s how they struck me. “Playboy radio.”

According to the article that I read, one of the satellite services is taking the bunny to radio. This challenged everything that I thought I knew about guys. That we’re visual creatures and that we’re not the best abstract thinkers. Playboy radio?

Okay, I get it that there is a thriving business in 900 phone numbers. So there is some precedence for talking dirty on the radio. But this business summed up to me everything that a real guy would have no interest in. Which got me thinking about other things that I would have never put together—like Poker TV, men’s mousse and “Adult Outlet” (I saw that on a billboard in Las Vegas a few years ago).

Unlikely pairings. And the more I thought about it they’re one of the real keys to innovation; the ability to put things together in a new and innovative way.

Meeting the needs of your existing customers is a challenge. You’ve got to watch and listen. And be prepared to shake things up when they aren’t being served. But the really tough part is serving the needs of your customers that they don’t even know they have. Their unrealized needs.

How do you find someone’s needs that they don’t even know they have? It’s not easy. You’ve got to understand their business so well that you can anticipate totally new solutions for today’s and tomorrow’s problems. For example, how many of you out there ever imagined the Internet or email before you had your first computer. Be honest.

Most of us can’t imagine something that is a few steps beyond anything we’re currently using. Take hybrid cars or the iPod. Both are relatively small leaps from things that already existed. But I’m guessing that they were a totally surprise to most of you. Heck, I’ll admit, I never saw either of them coming. And now I find both essential.

Sure there are some innovations that just come out of thin air. But most of them come in a more pedestrian way, they come from combining two unlikely things to create something totally new.

So the next time you see an unlikely pairing, and trust me you will, appreciate the leap of faith that someone took to create it. Sure it might be a bridge to nowhere, but at least they asked the questions and explored a new direction to take things.

And hopefully the unlikely pairing will motivate you to explore your own unlikely combination. Something that will push you in a new direction. I’d like to continue with this conversation about innovation, but I’ve got an important radio program that I need to listen to.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Also check out his newly revised best-seller “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

What Do You Believe About Work That Is Wrong?

Monday, October 12th, 2009

After fifteen years of writing Workplace911 and its predecessor Working Wounded I’ve concluded that there are a lot of myths about work. I thought it would be fun to tackle some of the bigger ones in this week’s blog. Check out my list below and send me some of your favorites.

It’s impossible to be overpaid when someone else signs the paycheck. Let me offer a short translation of this rule—as long as someone is willing to pay you a ridiculous amount of money to work for them, then you aren’t overpaid because they have established a market for your services. I disagree. Corporate salaries are absurd. Cost cutting, layoffs and a myriad of other organizational sacrifices should float more than just the boats of the CEO and a few top executives. I’m no Marxist, CEOs do deserve a big paycheck when they are successful. But this escalator only seems able to go up.

Greed is good. The biggest problem here is that when Oliver Stone came up with this mantra for his Gordon Gekko character in the movie Wall Street it was meant as parody. Yet I hear some variation of it whenever I talk to traders, salespeople, etc. Henry Ford, hardly a commie himself, once said that only a fool holds out for the last dollar. I think wretched excess is a terrible way to run a company.

The bigger the jerk, the better the boss. Probably my favorite quote on management came from President (and General) Dwight Eisenhower. He once said, “Hitting people over the head isn’t leadership, it’s assault.” Sure jerks do get your attention and possibly results over the short term. But most employees will flee at the first chance they get. There are just too many sane bosses out there to continue to slave away for a jerk.

You’ve got to be first to market. Microsoft seems to me to be the only company that consistently puts second-rate products on the market and lives to tell the tale. The rest of us have to pick our spots and often the first to market position can’t justify launching a crappy product. So it often pays to wait.

Innovation is the middle name of American corporations. Despite rising productivity, I believe that corporations in the U.S. are running on fumes. Don’t believe me? Listen to most people talk about the management of their companies. It’s not a pretty sight. I see far more innovation right now coming from abroad and from the not-for-profit sector and I think it’s time that corporations started walking their talk.

Corporations are drowning in regulation. Tyco, Enron, WorldCom, etc. left in their wake Sarbanes Oxley and a host of other regulations. Undoubtedly Lehman, Goldman Sacks, etc. will leave their mark too. There is a lot of talk now about how corporations are being held back by senseless regulations. I hate filling out government forms as much as the next guy, but these laws came into place because of abuse by corporations. And in order to maintain the trust of the average investor these regulations need to remain in effect, no matter how much whining you hear from big business.

The bottom line isn’t just the bottom line. If I’ve learned one thing as an observer of business and the founder of four corporations, it’s that there are many bottom lines for a business. In addition to economic there are also social and environmental considerations. The financials really only are a part of the picture. The sooner that corporations take a broader view of the bottom line, the sooner they’ll begin to fully reach their potential.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. His web site, workplace911.com, contains a comprehensive archive of strategies for surviving today’s workplace. He is a fan of Workplace Fairness and can be reached via bob@workplace911.com.

The Annoying Part About Innovation

Monday, September 21st, 2009

One of the most important innovations of all time—the tin can—was first patented in 1810 by a British merchant named Peter Durand.
 
What’s so important about the tin can? It dramatically extended the reach of the British fleet, providing its sailors access to well-preserved food which allowed them to go on much longer voyages.
 
Which leads to an important question—what year was the can opener first patented?
 
The answer is in the next paragraph, but I’m going to stall a bit for dramatic effect. I’d really like for you to guess before you look at the answer. Come on, it’ll be fun.
 
Ezra Warner, an American, got the patent in—drum roll please—1858. For almost fifty years, if you wanted to open a can, you had to hit it with a chisel and hammer and spew most of the contents on the wall or floor. Or you could try a hack-saw and get lots of little shards of metal in your food.
 
If you read most books and articles on innovation, it makes the process seem so logical, structured and orderly. Obstacles come up and they are overcome. The correct decisions are magnified and the mistakes minimized. So the entire process of innovation is sanitized, homogenized and glorified.
 
This is dangerous because it gives a false sense of security to organizations that they can actually “manage” a process of innovation. And nothing could be further from the truth. Like an unruly pet or teenager, innovation is often survived—not managed.
 
Take Viagra. It redefined the entire field of male enhancement products when it was first discovered and has generated huge profits. But the drug was discovered almost by accident when a certain side effect started to rise in male patients recovering from heart attacks.
 
The other problem with innovation is that we all spend a lot of time studying things that worked. I maintain that we can often learn far more from things that didn’t. For every Starbucks or 747, we can learn a valuable lesson or two. But we can learn even more from the New Cokes and the Enrons and the other colossal failures of our time. Unfortunately most of us tend to be success junkies and we don’t have the patience to sort through the tales of woe from a bunch of losers.
 
But there is something even more annoying about innovation. As interesting as it is to read about the innovations of others, the most valuable stories about innovation are from within your own organization. That’s right. If you really want to understand why innovation is such a struggle, do some digging to find the last few attempts at innovation in your organization.
 
If your experience is like mine, you’ll discover that your organization has its own immune system that seeks out innovation and kills it. Corporate policies, management and profit targets are just three of the villains.
 
However, if you are grounded in the reality of what, and who, has been successful in your organization, you’ll dramatically increase the odds of success as you embark on your voyage of innovation. Hopefully this article will help to provide sustenance for you to maintain a can-do attitude when the journey gets bumpy, as it undoubtedly will.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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