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Do Government Leaders Think We Are All Terrorists?

June 7th, 2015 · Politics and Politicians Gone Awry

The recent national security debate in Congress over renewal of the Patriot Act was more about the constitution and individual freedom (not to mention presidential politics) than it was about the threat of terrorism.

One of the more interesting – if not convoluted – congressional debates in recent history dominated the Senate last week. At stake was the expiration of key parts of the USA Patriot Act. Driven by the heat and passion of the time, the Act was written, debated, passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush, less than six weeks after the 911 attack.

The stated purpose of the law was to give government the tools necessary to provide security against future terrorist acts. But this hastily drafted and complicated legislation patriot-actcontains over 1,000 different sections, making it doubtful that many Congressmen or Senators and even fewer constituents read or understood the scope of the law and the broad powers granted to the government. Moreover, even if you didn’t know all the legislative minutia the law entailed, how could anyone be against fighting terrorism or against any flag-waving legislation labeled a “patriot” act?

The seeds for last week’s debate were planted when the law was passed. At that time, enough members of Congress were concerned about the potentially abusive powers this precedent-setting act vested in the executive branch of the government and wisely enacted a provision that it would expire after 10 years. But in 2011 President Obama signed a new law extending the key provisions of the Patriot Act for another four years. It was the imminent expiration (June 1) of these key sections of the act that embroiled Congress in the current debate.

Despite the concerns of some, what most in government expected (wanted) was an unquestioning part-and-parcel rubber-stamp renewal of the Patriot Act; what it got instead was a rancorous party-splitting debate. After six years of spiteful acrimony it was surreal to witness President Obama and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell joined at the hip, pushing the legislation along. Maybe even more bizarre was to see liberal Democrats coming together with Tea Party Republicans in Congress to support extension of the Patriot Act.

The threat of an imminent catastrophic terrorist attack – maybe even greater than 911 – was used by those in favor of the Patriot Act renewal to cloak the debate in a discussion of national security and in an effort to intimidate those who opposed the most intrusive elements of the security law. The arguments of those who favored renewal were simple: They were interested only in protecting the safety and security of Americans against terrorist attack. On the other hand, those who wanted to reign in the most intrusive sections of the Patriot Act, such as the unrestrained NSA collection of “bulk data” on every American, argued that this activity was an unwarranted invasion of privacy and a fundamental violation of the fourth amendment (a guarantee of privacy and unreasonable search and seizure) to the Constitution.

By far the most interesting irony in the debate was the position taken by so many Republicans. Those in the Republican Party position themselves as great stalwarts against the evils of big government and any infringement on individual freedoms. Yet here was the vast majority of Republicans pushing for bigger government and increased government involvement in the lives of all Americans. And it was surprising how vociferous was their condemnation of the few fellow Republicans who were against renewal of the Patriot Act. Correct me if my logic fails, but I just don’t see how the Republican call for adding thousands of government workers to spy on Americans, significantly increasing military spending and becoming militarily involved in new wars around the world is the recipe for a smaller government.

Is It Abuse Of Power If The Law Grants The Power To Abuse Power?

Legality aside, it was the release of millions of secret government documents by WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden that complicated the rubberstamp renewal of the Patriot Act. When these previously secret documents reached the light of day they offered clear evidence that under the guise of national security the government abused the powers granted in the Patriot Act to commit illegal acts and violate the constitutional rights of all Americans. (This raises an interesting philosophical question: Is it a crime to expose a crime?)

The debate over the renewal of certain sections of the Patriot Act became rancorous because, after 14 years of living under its provisions, people had become aware of, and concerned about, the government’s rampant and secret abuse of the powers granted by the act and the resultant threat to basic individual rights and privacy. Although few citizens are knowledgeable about Section 215 of the law, they chafed at its result that allowed the government to collect and store any and all private electronic communications of all Americans, with no probable cause or transparent court authority.

Let’s Understand What We Are Talking About Here

The real debate – or at least it should be – is not about elements of the Patriot Act, but about the conflicting choice between a desire for freedom and a need for security. Which 911_attacksis more important – freedom or security? Freedom and security are both positive elements, but like the positive poles of magnets, they repel each other. The more freedom desired the less security that must be accepted. The more security that is desired the more freedom that must be sacrificed.

Those who wholeheartedly support the Patriot Act argue that some loss of privacy, individual freedom and unconstitutional acts are justified in the name of increased security needed to prevent a terrorist attack. Others argue that any acts that erode – even in the slightest way – privacy, individual freedoms and the rights granted in the Constitution begin a journey down a path that would ultimately do more damage to America than any terrorist attack.

There can be some reasoned and responsible balance between freedom and security, but it is a discussion that must be open and transparent. The fundamental problem with the Patriot Act is that it grants to the government, rather than the people and the constitution, the power to decide the balance between freedom and security—and to do so in secret.

What Are We – Frogs?

What is most disconcerting about the Patriot Act debate over freedom vs. security is that once we accept the premise that giving up even a small bit of our privacy, individual rights and Constitutional protections in the name of national security, we start down a road that goes only one way.

You know the story of boiling frogs. It is said that if you put a frog in a pot of boiling Frog-in-Boiling-Waterwater, it will jump out. But if you place the frog in warm water and then gradually bring the water to a boil, the frog will contentedly accept its fate. Our current government leaders may be well-intended in their focus on protecting Americans from the terrorist threat. But when the price to be paid for this security is the gradual erosion of privacy and Constitutional rights, we have to ask ourselves and our leaders whether it is worth the risk of what could happen in the future. Today’s leaders may be good, honest people, but what if the leaders of tomorrow are not?

Giving any government the power to be abusive is an invitation for that government to be abusive. It all comes down to asking: Is security against the possibility of terrorist attacks worth the risk of gradually giving up freedoms that could lead to tyranny (and loss of all freedoms) in the future? And if you don’t think that could happen, just ask the frog.

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Live for the Future but Act in the Moment

May 31st, 2015 · Building Better Business Managers, Business Management, Improving Your Business Leadership

If it’s not possible to predict the future, why do so many business people try to?

One staple of the business world is the ubiquitous “business plan.” These “plans,” in effect, are a detailed attempt to predict the future by anticipating the environment, actions and results of a company for the next one, three, five or even 10 years. Tell me this: Have you ever met a business plan that has not been reforecast, ignored or forgotten by the time the future it was supposed to predict arrived? Neither have I.

It’s not like these business plans are a broad narrative of the intent or vision of the BusinessPlancompany. No, the typical business plan endeavors to predict the most detailed minutia of the company’s future operations. Right there printed in black and white are the specific prognostications for such things as sales, revenues, taxes, expenses and profits. And then each of these categories is further broken down into specific details. Things like the number, timing and average sale size; employee count, cost of capital, facilities size and overhead are all there down to the last dollar. Right alongside these numbers are extrapolations for what the internal rate of return on invested capital, total return, shareholder equity and something called EBITDA will be years from now.

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that if a rational person steps back and objectively looks at this effort they have to ask: Are you kidding me? Who in their right mind would waste their time or put any credence in this type of fortunetelling? (It has been estimated that the cost in time and money wasted on annually developing business plans is greater than the entire GNP of Norway.)

To my way of thinking these business plans are the Tarot cards of the business world. And yet, these concoctions of numerals are used – indeed relied on – by (supposedly) highly intelligent individuals when deciding to invest millions in the operations of a company. Private equity firms are famous for basing a significant part of their investment decisions on the “due diligence” of a company’s business plan. When it comes to start-up companies, venture capitalists have nothing to base their investment decisions on except an out-of-whole-cloth, pie-in-the-sky business plan presented by the entrepreneur. Despite this hocus-pocus sleight-of-hand, investors go forward because the Tarot cards look good and are aligned in the right order. (Or maybe it’s because the PowerPoint presentations are so pretty.)

The Wrong and Right of Business Plans

The real weakness in the traditional business plan process is the failure to acknowledge that getting to the future requires dealing with a multiplicity of possibilities. The only thing static in the business world (other than business plans) is that the world is not static. It is impossible to anticipate what possibilities might become reality and even if that could be done, they do not lend themselves to control.

It is much like the chance of picking a specific set of numbers that will emerge from an infinite number of numbers. In the real world that is called a lottery; in the business world it is called a business plan. No matter how many variable possibilities are planned for, there are an infinite number of possibilities that are not able to be anticipated. This means that the failure of even the most thought out and detailed business plans is about the only thing preordained in the plan.

So what’s the point here? It’s not that you shouldn’t have a plan, but the plan should not be to predict the future, it should be a plan to shape the future. You see, even though it is not possible to predict the future, it is possible to influence and shape it. And that should be the real intent and focus of a business plan.

The best business plan starts with a clear vision of what the company seeks to look like Futureand achieve in the future. This vision must above all be concise, coherent and plausible. Once established the vision must be consistently communicated and staunchly adhered to.

At its founding, the five-year business plan for my company – LifeUSA — was: “In five years LifeUSA will be a national company competing effectively against the largest companies in the industry.” This plan allowed those associated with LifeUSA to live in the future while operating in the moment. Each year the planning process would be predicated on responding to two questions:

  • What can we do better this year to improve on what we did last year?
  • What can we do this year that we didn’t do last year that will get us closer to achieving our plan?

These questions were not answered by plugging wishful numbers into an evanescent future, but by targeting ideas and actions for the present moment in time that would ultimately produce the numbers. This approach to planning offered the flexibility to deal with emerging possibilities – both good and bad – that could not have been anticipated.

At the end of each year those involved in the management of the company were asked to list five specific actions they would take during the next year that would help LifeUSA move closer to its long term vision of being a national company. Once the numbers for the current year were finalized, that same group would be asked to develop specific actions that could be taken to simply make the numbers better in the upcoming year. Other than for budgeting purposes, there was no specific targeting of numbers; only that they increase from the previous year.

The philosophy behind this approach was simple. If the company consistently improved its performance in the moment at hand, the future would always be better than the present. This type of approach to business planning allowed management to quickly adapt to the multiplicity of possibilities that could emerge at any time, but that never can be predicted. In effect, any unanticipated changes – good or bad – played into the strength of our business plan; rather than destroying it premise and credibility. Unlike other company business plans, we didn’t have to worry about trying to predict the unpredictable. Instead, the LifeUSA business plan process allowed the company to concentrate on doing what we could do in the present, so that we could shape the future.  

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Passion and Fear are to Entrepreneurial Success What Air and Water is to Life Itself

May 24th, 2015 · Building Better Business Managers, Business Management, Effective Leadership, Improving Your Business Leadership

The longing for success will keep your dream alive, but like a respirator – it only allows you to hang on.

If you think about it, despite all the high-minded philosophical rhetoric, the driving force for the American Revolution boiled down to a very simple concept – Americans wanted to “be their own boss.” And they were willing to do what it took to achieve that end.

This notion of America becoming independent of the British Empire did not just pop up in 1776; the very idea of gaining the freedom to be in control of their own future was the motivation for colonists to come to America in the first place. The desire for a new country that would be free to “be its own boss” had been a dream of Americans for over two centuries. But it was not until after Patrick Henry expressed the passion of “Give me liberty or give me death,” that Americans rose up to realize that dream.

The yearning to be an entrepreneur in order to “be your own boss” is an American dream that has persisted for over 200 years. It would be difficult to find anyone, who at some timeBeYourOwnBoss2 in their life, has not dreamed of being an entrepreneur and their own boss. For most, this dream is visualized in the form of starting their own business. It really makes no difference the size of that company; it can be anything from a car repair shop to a car factory, the impetus to be one’s own boss is the same. The perceived incentive for becoming your own boss is a deep sense of the freedom to decide your own future, unencumbered by the restraints of others. What could be more appealing than that?

Unfortunately for most, the dream of being their own boss is like dangling the carrot on a stick in front of a mule harnessed to a wagon. It’s right there encouraging them to plod forward, but the carrot always remains just out of reach; they never get close enough to take a bite. Often this failure to move ahead is not caused by a lack of desire or opportunity, but more a lack of true passion and fear that causes the dreams of so many to be their own boss to go “poof.” Instead they just keep pulling the wagon forward for others.

Where’s the Passion?

I can’t count the number of individuals who have come to me with dreams of entrepreneurial success and the desire to be their own boss. Some are still in the phase of “thinking” about making the leap, while others have already jumped. All have what they believe to be great ideas and plans for their success. Sure, some are just beguiled by the chance to be their own boss, but still they have specific plans and ideas.

As I listen to their presentations there is one thing I always look for and unfortunately rarely find. What is often missing from their dream is a deep-seated visceral passion for their vision. They lack the passion that causes them to simply have to do something, not just a want to do something. People may have an idea or goal and want to achieve it, but it is passion that makes them do it. Passion is the powerful motivator that not only fuels action, it steels the would-be entrepreneurial boss with the resolve to move forward, meet the challenges and overcome the risks to achieve their goal. It is true that passion can blind one to reality, but I would take “passion” over “want” anytime. Even if passion leads to failure, at least you know you attempted to do what needed to be done.

Many may want to be their own boss as an entrepreneur, but few have the passion it takes to initiate the action to do so or the resolve needed to see it through. I have known individuals who have complained for years about being unhappy and unfulfilled in their current situation. They may even have great plans for moving forward, but they Passionare filled with more wants than passion, and so they keep plodding along chasing that elusive carrot. I have known others who were driven only by passion – lacking realistic ideas and plans – who may have failed, but they were still happier than the carrot-chaser, because at least they tried. (Who can really determine if a passionate person’s ideas are realistic? Was my passion to start a new life insurance company – LifeUSA – in an industry dominated by established giants, realistic?)

It may not be possible to see passion – it does not lend itself to detailed business plans – but you know it when you have it, because it is a feeling that keeps you focused, determined and driving toward a goal no matter what roadblocks are in the path. Without passion, there is little chance you will ever get what you want, because you may never try. With passion propelling you forward, at least you have a chance.

Fear is not what Should be Feared

One of the roadblocks faced by many who want to become their own boss is the fear of failure. They become frozen by the question: If I give up what I have for what I want, what will happen if I fail? This apprehension causes many to continue to dream of being their own boss, but they are forever paralyzed to act. The problem is that they are asking the wrong question. The real question should be: What will happen if I fail to even try to act on the desire to be my own boss?

Fear is as powerful an emotion as passion. Fear is either bad in that it cripples the ability to take action or it can be good in that it motivates action. Fear of trying and failing is threatening and can prevent acting on a dream, but the fear of what will happen if you don’t even try, can be a motivator to take action.

Many are prompted to take action to be their own boss out of fear that if they don’t, others will continue to control their future and failure will be guaranteed.Quote Nothing can be quite as fearsome and demoralizing as looking back on life and thinking, “I should have at least tried.”

In the end, being an entrepreneur and your own boss comes down to having an unquenchable passion to do what you know you should do and the fear that if you don’t act, you will end up feeling more of a failure than if you had tried and failed. Trying and failing is one thing, but not having the passion to act and the fear of not trying is an even greater failure.

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