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Thursday
Mar172011

The Origin of Varieties

by Gene Stowe on Tuesday, 15 March 2011 at 23:51 

When I was the farm writer for The Charlotte Observer some 25 years ago, a turkey farmer told me of a breeding project gone bad: genetic engineers (the old-fashioned kind, who used sex or at least intraspecies cross-breeding) had aimed at expanding the popular white-meat turkey breast -- and succeeded so well that the bird couldn’t stand without snapping his legs. It was about that time that in any number of fields, people suddenly realized that the gene pool was going shallow, and the loss could have disastrous results. Heirloom tomatoes and vegetable seeds became the rage, and some people planted brown cotton that had almost gone extinct in the drive for dye-friendly white fiber. I still have a boll from my own crop somewhere.

 I think about that a lot these days, because I believe something has gone fundamentally wrong in our discourse – a simple, easily corrected error of metaphor that is wreaking havoc as it runs unchecked through our political, social, religious and other conversations. From Peter King’s hearings to Stanley Fish’s latest column on Kant, from the labeling of a 1970 tire commercial as “misogynistic” to the unquenchable otherizing of Barack Obama, the same mistake echoes. I believe we are confusing “species” and “variety.”

 The misclassification, as I see it, amounts to this: Differences between persons, between cultures, between religions, between economic schools of thought – pretty much all differences we encounter among human beings – are being treated as if the other were of a different species rather than simply another variety within our own. The positions therefore are as unreasonable as they are unreasoned, for we are, in fact, all of the same species. One example: Setting aside constitutional niceties that might apply, even if Barack Obama were a Kenyan Muslim Socialist, he is still a human being, a member of our species. Nation, religion and economics are only varieties within that species, and the common humanity must be the starting point for the discussion. He is not the aliens of Independence Day, and neither is Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich or Glenn Beck. The movie allusion is deliberate: The problems we face, like the fictional invasion, are too big for us to remain divided. We must approach economic meltdowns, earthquakes, tsunamis, and the suffering of whole populations (Libya, Gaza, etc.) as a united humanity. We are one species.

 But I believe the opposite danger is just as real. We are one species, but we must not become one variety, or we could wind up like the turkeys unable to walk. The danger often comes under the heading of “American exceptionalism,” meaning not merely that Americans are an especially healthy variety of human beings and human social/political organization, but in fact that they have achieved the singular good in all those fields, and the goal should be for the rest of the world to be like us. (Singularity is the enemy of variety; “the good,” biblically speaking for example, is not a simple form but a creation teeming with differences.) I am very happy to affirm what is good in America, just as Pope John Paul II did – our love of freedom, our respect for human dignity, etc. I am happy we are the variety we are. But for our own good, we should let other varieties flourish. We never know when we might need to transplant a gene of, say, rigorous education or curbs on hate speech or universal health care to keep our own system flourishing.  

 The emphasis on “universal human rights” deserves some special care as we approach this on a cultural level. Too often, I am afraid, Americans take it to mean “they should be like us.” I expect we can agree on fundamental rights, including the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that come intrinsic to every person, although they may not in every place imply the sort of radical individualism that has grown up around “liberty” and “pursuit of happiness” in America. Take what I hope is an easy example: Egypt, a traditionally Islamic (and tolerant) nation could become a democratic state without granting a right to sell alcohol in public. (I read after the revolution that the young people were discussing appropriate organization for themselves, such as, perhaps, private sales.) Other topics come with increasing difficulty.

 The line between universal human rights and the right to culture may be in a different place than we now think. For starters, equality does not mean sameness. Cultures, including states with cultural identities, have a right to organize their domestic institutions – marriage, inheritance, punishment for crime, gun possession, social welfare, for example – in ways significantly different from the American approach (outlawing, for example, Holocaust denial), just as Americans have a right to organize their own institutions (upholding, for example, the free speech of Westboro Baptist Church). While every innocent must be defended from actual physical harm, remaining in a culture is a tacit agreement to obey its laws, or, in the case of civil disobedience, to accept the consequences. Of course, the right to emigrate should be guaranteed. I believe that respect for a wide variety of approaches will lead to opportunities of cultural experimentation that can provide invigorating cross-pollination among cultures, in customs and practices if not in laws. Certain expressions of modesty in one culture, for example, might demonstrably reduce teenage pregnancy rates and provide a model for other cultures. The success of problem-posing education in one culture might free some others from their emphasis on rote learning, or some synthesis better than both might appear.

 I come at this, of course, as a person who has in the past year made a fundamental self-identification move, and it wasn’t speciation. Part of what I believe about this is explicit in my faith: God could have made all human beings alike if He had willed, and the fact that He didn’t should give us pause if we are tempted in that direction ourselves. Part of this comes from my personal experience of finding out that entire groups of people I once considered “them” turned out to be “us” as human beings, whatever the variety of expression. Having seen two durable, comprehensive, identity-producing systems from the inside, I have a hunch that the experience of us-ness would be replicated across other groups as well. Part of this, as most of you know, was already present in my understanding of justice, solidarity and common humanity.  Whatever else the buzzword “diversity” means, I hope it means respect for the variety of human beings and human cultures, and an end to viewing our brothers and sisters as belonging to a different species, like H.G. Wells’ Martians. Let’s keep the cultural gene pool deep.

 

Wednesday
Mar162011


USAFA National Character & Leadership Symposium Speech 
Charles V. Bush  
Diversity Is A Leadership Issue  

My speech to the three US Air Force Academy annual National Character & Leadership Symposium 2011(www.ncls2011.net) sessions on Diversity went well. I was received well, twice in a lecture hall(capacity ~100) and received a "standing O" in Auditorium D-1(capacity~300-400). My thanks to the audience--Visitors, Cadets, Alumni--Denny King '63--Sr Leaders--LtGen Gould, BGen Clark,BGen Born, Dr Vila--and Col Joe Sanders and Faculty and Staff.  
It has come to our attention that a number of normally well informed folks were unaware of the progress made in the area of diversity, i.e. the creation of the Military Leadership Diversity Commission (http://mldc.whs.mil/) and recent progress in USAF and USAFA, until my speech. This speaks volumes about the state of our institutional communications. However, as a first step to remedy this deficiency, I am releasing my speech (attached) for limited distribution.   
I encourage USAFA African-American cadets and grads to join or renew their memberships in the USAFA Way of Life Alumni Group (http://usafaway.org/), in order to enhance our communications with USAFA and with one another.
 
                                                                              Chuck USAFA '63

 

Sunday
Mar062011

Transforming From Within

~ A Simple Survival Guide ~

By John T. Hewitt

Founder & CEO of Liberty Tax Service


[Third in a series of articles on managerial and company building successes by John Hewitt.]


     We all know that change is inevitable. And we all know that human nature has a tendency to fight it. Status quo can be so comforting; and understandably since any change intimates having to deal with an “unknown”. While it does indeed take a certain type of personality to feel comfortable with change, the reality is that as a company leader, you do not have to do this alone. Speaking from experience, having led two successful franchise businesses, I can attest to the fact that successful corporate transformation must start first from within, before it can be appreciated by the market at large. That means that in order to be successful at transforming your company, you must first understand that this goal covers a broad spectrum of business activity aimed at improving performance, and of course, productivity. And I can guarantee that none of this will happen through one single person’s efforts. Just as it is said that “it takes a village to raise a child”, no successful company exists based on one individual’s activity. Granted there must be a leader, but a savvy leader also recognizes that corporate culture and stakeholder involvement is paramount to achieving successful organizational transformation. These are the fundamental anchors of my simple survival guide for corporate transformation.
     Having been a Franchiser for the majority of my professional life, specifically within the tax industry, one might think that it is pretty much a “cookie cutter” business model.  But this is far from fact. Just as technology changes, so does the client expectation and the business environment, as well as their demands on corporations. Realistically, those practices that might have been considered standard operating procedures at one time, now require internal evolution to meet the needs of this world-wide transformation. When I started Jackson Hewitt in 1982, the business climate was quite different than it was when I started Liberty Tax Service in 1997. Technologies had advanced, staffing profiles had changed, and even the tax industry and the IRS were morphing into a “brave new world”, so to speak. Along with these changes, the franchising model also had to transform in order to provide the best work environment for our employees, and the best business practices and opportunities for our franchisees, who in turn, would then be able to provide the best service to their clients.  
     It’s true that many companies approach transformation through downsizing, layoffs, shifts in assets and resources, or even a combination of these. However, the way in which an organization is transformed, and the way in which that transformation is managed, depends almost exclusively on the style of leadership and the culture of the organization. A leader must equally appreciate the task and the people on whom he/she is relying to achieve this task.  That is to say, success in leading a corporate transformation directly relates to a leader’s ability to balance these two intrinsically related dimensions.
With Liberty Tax Service, we have continued to grow and expand our offices and franchisees consistently, even during a time in which many consider our economy to be somewhat challenged. Our competitors, on the other hand, have proven to do the opposite. While they are closing offices, we are opening hundreds more a year. Why? Because, at Liberty, we have created a culture that strives to maintain clear corporate values and direction. Most importantly, we believe it is incumbent on us to share these values with employees and franchisees so they can properly engage in our internal transformation. Leaders must always remember that sustaining a culture of change requires consistency and personal investment. Without these, credibility is challenged resulting in constant organizational chaos. After all, there is a big difference between ‘transformation’ and ‘perpetual reorganization’.
Sometimes it’s tough to keep your entrepreneurial spirit at the forefront. And yes, sometimes it is easier to just make a day out of going through your email. Keeping your creativity levels high while keeping an eye on “what will happen and what will change” in your industry, and the effects these two intangibles might have on your company, is not only challenging, but it can be exhausting. But, buckle-up, because this is what you chose when you decided to become a successful leader!
     In our industry, we are always in transformation mode. Tax laws change yearly and restrictions abound in synch. So, a process that might have been successful one year, may easily prove to be inadequate the next. Successful leaders must always have a broad view of the business landscape so they can remain in tune with the needs of an ever changing environment. Diversity has played a major role in the transformation of businesses across the nation, and those companies that understand and embrace this emerging influence are going to rise to the top every time. (We’ll discuss this extremely vital piece of the transformation equation in another article.)
     Essentially, successful transformation requires that leaders build-in “unpredictability” into their strategic focus, and accept the reality that adapting at break-neck speed should become the norm within your company’s and your stakeholder’s processes. This does not mean forsaking planning; but it does mean that the spirit of experimentation should be integrated as part of your decision process. While you may occasionally make a mistake, you will also have learned exactly what went wrong. It is important to bear in mind that the most damaging property any leader can embrace is maintaining a steadfast allegiance to conventional thinking. By virtue of its definition, transformation often requires out-of-the-box strategies, and only leaders who ‘get it’ will be able to claim success in their industry.
     Bottom line –  every successful leader’s “transformation survival guide” should include the basics:  know the business you are in; apply your internal collective brainpower; and finally, extraordinary leaders stay imaginative and resourceful. Equally, boldness should be incorporated into a true leader’s DNA. This should not be confused with brashness. Instead, it means that “nothing is unreasonable to be thrown on the table for review and consideration”. Then, you bring in experience, expertise, knowledge, foresight and processes to create well-thought out implementation tactics.
Wednesday
Feb232011

DIVERSITY AS AN ECONOMIC ENGINE
Post by
Scott Thibeault
Advisor
Strategic Talent Innovations


For far too long, corporate America has considered diversity an initiative to add persons of color to their management teams and payrolls in efforts to be perceived as employers of choice.  Regrettably, these underfunded efforts have done very little over the past twenty-five years to balance the racial diversity scorecards of most of American businesses.   Repositioning the microscope on this issue reveals that American business is not leveraging the defining asset that makes this country great and will be instrumental in preserving our dominance in the global economy.

Diversity must not be viewed as a corporate initiative but rather as a way of life.  Lady Liberty standing in New York Harbor beckons the world to - "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"   These words have welcomed millions of immigrants from all parts of the world.  This symbol of freedom represents the rich melting pot of humanity that makes us American.  Our founding fathers understood that we are all human and all deserving of equal rights.  Our governing foundation was built to allow individual freedoms while preserving the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.  The three branches of government were established in recognition of peoples’ diversity of ideas and thoughts.  The three-branch system allowed for the diversity of ideas to be raised by all, reviewed by elected representatives, enacted into law by subsequent reviews and ultimately clarified or interpreted by a judicial review panel.

Diversity is not a measure of the color of our skin, but more a tapestry of our varied experiences and ideas.  Diversity exists and should be considered anytime there are two or more people.  Our founding fathers represented a diverse group by way of their varied experiences and independent ideas.  They came from different families, different backgrounds, different lands, and different experiences.  While their skin color may suggest they were the same, they often disagreed on matters big and small.  Their ability to freely express themselves and to civilly debate issues allowed them to find common ground giving way to what has been deemed the best political system in the world.

You need only look to your immediate family to recognize diversity exists all around us.  How many times have you thought or heard, “How can these kids be from the same family – they could not be more different?”  The point is:  perspective, experience, and independent thinking create diverse reactions.  While the tapestry of family diversity may vary only in hues, the tapestry of cultural and ethnic diversity is rich and vibrant and contains every color of the rainbow.  Diversity is nothing to fear, it must be embraced, as it defines our greatness.  Diversity is the American way, the American advantage.

Embracing diversity is a certain recipe to success in a free market system.  What would happen to an automaker that chooses to deliberately embrace diversity by actively recruiting a culturally diverse management team to identify new market segments by understanding different cultures and purchasing behaviors?  What if this new marketing group designed smaller cars, with replaceable quarter panel skins and offered the vehicle in vibrant green, red, yellow and purple colors?  And what if this vehicle’s sales process included a ritual blessing upon delivery of this new vehicle?  Would there be anything gained by making these changes?

The family-owned big three automaker reaped huge rewards for embracing the above strategy.  Responding to India’s growing automobile market, understanding the need for compact vehicles given the narrow roads and high-density population, the reality that fender dings are daily occurrences; observing the Indian preference for vibrant colors and strong religious beliefs; the automaker developed the Figo to respond to this market sector.  The results include a 184% growth in Indian car sales for 2010.  For the 1st month of 2011, the automaker saw a 309% increase over January of 2010.  Needless to say, this automaker will continue to study market demands and by leveraging its diverse management team that not surprisingly, resembles the target market segment, will continue to adapt to these local market trends.  You can expect the automaker to add Chinese employees to its design and marketing groups to aggressively mine that exploding market segment.

Closer to home, the motorsport spectacle that played out in Daytona this past weekend appeared to lack broad-spectrum diversity.  While the grandstands appear to have been sold out, one cannot help but wonder what motorsport revenues would be if it appealed to the broader spectrum of our population.  Can any business today survive if it doesn’t have wide spread appeal?  Might more people be attracted to motorsports if the participants were more diverse?  It seems like there might be plenty of athletes who cannot find a home in the NFL that could be great tire changers, jack-men or gasmen.  Could a team of second string NFL athletes that can run the 40 yard dash in 4.8 seconds and bench press 250 pounds 30 times, compete on a pit crew?  Put a Deion Sanders behind the wheel of that car and your viewership would likely soar.

Another example of potential missed opportunities plays out weekly in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.  The Research Triangle gets its name from the three anchoring universities that draw incredible talent and produce excellent research out of North Carolina State University, University of North Carolina and Duke University.  The area has a great college basketball tradition fueled by the competitiveness of the three great programs.  The university basketball programs have a great following and the three programs are able to generate tremendous revenue for their universities.  Why is it that the only professional sports program in the area struggles to fill the arena?  The team can claim to be diverse with American-born, Canadian-born, Finnish-born and Russian-born players; however relative to the local population with 65% white, 23% black, 9% hispanic and 3% asian*, the minorities don’t appear to be relatively represented.   While it may be difficult to immediately enlist minority players into the league, could minority representatives on the sales and marketing team bring ideas on how to draw minority fans to the arena?  And would more minority fans encourage minorities to become participants?  Would young minority fans be more likely to join these teams if they were more familiar with the sport?  Might the franchise revenues be boosted with the addition of Williams, Johnsons, Browns, Garcias, Martinezs, Patels, Chopras, Subramanians, Lees, Wangs and Taos to the roster?  Maybe not the player roster immediately, but how about getting this type of representation on the employee roster to start?

The success of the giant automaker teaches us that an employee population resembling our target market population will deliver huge returns.  American business, at this critical time in our economic restructuring should take this example to heart.  America is the most diverse nation on the planet.  Our diversity is our competitive advantage.  Embracing broad-spectrum diversity will strengthen our economic position relative to the rest of the world.  

As a business owner, does your employee population resemble your target markets?  Are you creating a compelling reason for your customers to buy your product or service?  Could your business benefit from a 35%, or higher, market expansion?  Make broad-spectrum diversity inclusion a way of life in your company.  Your financials can only be improved.  

Having difficulty finding diverse talent to help broaden your market share?  Strategic Talent Innovations (STI) through an alliance with Racing Towards Diversity has a deep database of diverse marketing and sales talent to support you.  STI is in business to help improve your business.  Call us at 919-650-3954 to jump- start your diversity expansion.



* Demographic stats from Wikipedia.