Archive for October, 2008

Business lessons from Obama

October 30, 2008

Conservative NYT columnist David Brooks has nice analysis about Obama’s debate style:

When Bob Schieffer asked him tough questions during the debate Wednesday night, he would step back and describe the broader situation. When John McCain would hit him with some critique — even about fetuses being left to die on a table — he would smile in amusement at the political game they were playing. At every challenging moment, his instinct was to self-remove and establish an observer’s perspective.

Given all Obama has faced from Clinton and McCain, defensiveness could have poisoned his presidential chances. In response to McCain’s attacking debate style, Obama could have produced anger or indignace, simultaeniously lowering his stature and obscuring his core messages. Instead, detatchment, serenity, and presidential stature.

In business, defensiveness can be similarly toxic. In a recent internal meeting, I was presenting analysis on the size of the restaurant industry. My boss wasn’t convinced. “The numbers look low,” he said. But I had reasons for my numbers. I had analysis. I countered: “it surprises me that you think they are low.”

I responded defensively. All of a sudden, the focus of the conversation shifted from constructively understanding opportunities in the industry to defending my numbers as bulletproof.

There are several correct responses to my boss’s comment. “Why” would have sufficed. If I had stepped back from the situation and suppressed the defensive instinct, I could have steered the conversation in a productive direction.

The bottom line: if Obama can detatch – to his advantage – from the mudslinging and personal attacks, we can rise above the much milder criticism we face on a daily basis. Passion can be useful to inspire, but keeping cool is the right response in 99% of situations.


To rise like the phoenix every 4 years

October 23, 2008

Words and phrases that will go into hibernation starting Nov 5th and reassert themselves again in 2012

  • “Vet”
  • “Surrogate”
  • “Gaffe”
  • “Hardscrabble”
  • Alternative Minimum Tax
  • Begala


Interesting business model

October 22, 2008

The World Confederation of Business (WORLDCOB) presents The Bizz Award to leading businesses worldwide for various categories of global business excellence. The award looks sexy and accepting entails “walking down the red carpet” to receive a statue that is uncannily similar to an Oscar.  How curious though that…

  1. A comprehensive list of recipients of the award is guarded on WORLDCOB’s website for “members only”
  2. WORLDCOB discloses no information regarding their sources of revenue
  3. WORLDCOB also offers “Corporate Image Advising”

A friend who runs a medium-sized business in Costa Rica was contacted and offered “nomination” for the Bizz Award. He turned it down because he didn’t know who they were, why they were contacting him, or by what criteria he was nominated. He also guessed that accepting would eventually require paying a big chunk of change and was probably in essence an (ineffectual) publicity stunt more than a legitimate award.

A couple of lessons:

  1. If you’re offered an award, be careful about who is giving it and what it means
  2. If you’re in a position to offer an award, consider the benefits of offering it and how to make it most meaningful for recipients

p.s. CFO Magazine named Andy Fastow “CFO of the year” just before the Enron debacle. Fastow is now in prison for stealing from shareholders. This just proves that even legitimate magazines can misttep with awards

An exercise in symmetry

October 21, 2008

Today’s New York Times headline read:

Kerkorian Sells Part of His Stake in Ford

The move by the billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian is a sign of slumping confidence in America’s auto industry.


Couldn’t this headline just as truthfully read:


Kerkorian Counterparty Buys Stake in Ford

The move by the billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian‘s counterparty is a sign of slumping growing confidence in America’s auto industry.


Apparantly the more famous counterparty always determine the direction of the confidence.

Homer Simpson’s line should now read…

October 11, 2008

… “in theory Capitalism works. In theory.” 

What will the economic crisis do to:

1) The age at which we “settle down,” marriage or otherwise? (Jana’s question)

2) The allocation of talent between industries and professions?

3) The rate of innovation, financially or otherwise?

4) Worldwide economic integration?

My initial guesses would be 1) reduce it slightly 2) better align it to the optimal 3) stagnation over the next year, rapid acceleration of the next five 4) further integration as worldwide capital gushes to shore up financial institutions everywhere.

It is not immediately obvious to me that a dislocation and rebuilding of our economic infrastructure is necessarily a bad thing. Although it certainly won’t be pretty in the short term.