Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Go Long .... Strategic Perspective

In going through some old files this morning, I came across this writ of three years ago that I wrote to focus my Integrated Business Policy / Strategy students the vital nature of strategic thinking. I had completely forgotten I wrote it frankly.  After reading it I thought it worthy of my blog audience in light of the massive array of strategic issues our nation is facing.  I hope you agree with why I chose to post this this morning!  

“Go Long …!”

January 31, 2009

Jim Williams

If you have ever played football as a child, you know the meaning of “Go Long …!”  The tallest kid in the neighborhood would usually lust for the position of quarterback.  He would drop back shouting to the short, fat kid to “go long ..” and if the fat kid dropped the pass, well, you know the rest of the story.  If he caught it and scored, the quarterback was elevated to hero on Hill Avenue for yet another day. With this little story in mind as we begin the journey of grasping the importance of management at a Strategic perspective, it is vital that the practitioner / student break all the chains of the short term, tactical, dimension of management.  Both are integral to success or failure for you can have tactical success without strategy but you will never have strategic success without integrated tactical victories as the tent poles of our tent.  So you must have both tactical and strategic ingredients but our focus will now focus on the long view, the horizon, the galaxy, the place we know instinctively and intuitively as where we want to go but are not sure the pathway to get there.

There are so many metaphors that one can become dissolved in the rhetoric and lose sight of the imperative.  Strategic Management is management toward the long view which sounds so simple and almost an academic or like a consultant’s exercise with a group of leaders.  However, from my own personal and professional experience, the depth of the success or failure of a strategy rests in clearly establishing, communicating, committing and investing in the gateways of that strategy.  The horizon of strategic in the long view is murky, seemingly immeasurable, and fraught with apathy or worse, misguided enthusiasm for political posturing rather than focused energy forward for success.

With the world focused on the NBA Finals with Orlando and Los Angeles, perhaps focusing our example / metaphor on that experience is a great insight binocular for us so let’s exploit that channel.  As a former collegiate basketball player, the different dimensions of this metaphor is perhaps more real to me than for some of you.  We hear about King James, Superman, KoBe, Shaq, Magic; ringing any bells?  We gasp when we hear three digit million dollar salaries for athletes that did not finish high school and are torn between how wrong that is and the joy of seeing such athleticism that surely deserves such financial rewarding; a dichotomy no doubt.

On all the sports on the world scene, there is none that better represents and is itself a microcosm of our very world in the new century than basketball at the NBA level.  There are more and more great athletes we have to nickname for we cannot begin to pronounce their real name. We call the Z or Pav or Hedo. There are many countries now playing in the NBA that most Americans cannot locate on a map such as Lithuania, Turkey, Poland, etc.  So at a macroeconomic dimension, the NBA is our new century with a game, an American game, now more and more represented through the skills of disbelief at times by men and women that seem to have arrived on a spaceship rather than on a basketball court. 

I believe the pivotal source of energy for the globalization of this American sport is clearly David Stern, the Commissioner of the NBA.  Let me insert Mr. Stern’s position description:

“David Stern leads a league that is a model for professional sports in league operations, public service, global marketing and digital technology.”

So, he manages the entire league operations, assesses fines and penalties, is the public face of the NBA, is the master marketing of a game that is purely ENTERTAINMENT and has been the energy cell behind many innovative pathways with digital technology. He is tough. He is fair. He is personable. He is a connoisseur of the game. He is the consummate STRATEGIC leader in world of oversized men and women physically and in egoism.  He is The Man in a sport of entertainment that maintains strict tactical guidelines and rules yet with expanding policies to grow the game throughout the earth with a standard set of expectations and deliverables.

Then there is, say, Phil Jackson, a consummate coach that was a former marginal NBA player that has coached some of the great players of the past and currently such as Michael Jordan and now Kobe Bryant.  Massive egos! He worked the problem for he built a philosophical process and went about “cat herding” the array of egos into the arena of success.

Then there is, say, LeBron James, the most celebrated, revered player of any sport on earth today arguably.  Still a very young, still somewhat immature, gifted athlete that has become great, famous and rich is ways mortal man dreams about yet still creates this quiet sense of, “it just ain’t right nor fair” in the minds of so many struggling with unemployment, student loan debt, debilitating sicknesses, etc, etc.

Then there is, say, Big Bird, a faceless, passionate ticket purchasing man that is perhaps giving up something for his family just to get into a game to watch the King do his thing with mighty slams, sweet swishes or star struck passes nobody else on earth could have seen. But, Mr. Big Bird was there!

So exists our cast of characters as a microcosm of a transitioning global economy; the have’s, the have not’s, the want to be’s and those that have it all! So what does all this have to do with the Go Long … perspective?  Simply, it is about well placed, well directed, well articulated, well communicated, well enforced STRATEGY.

The NBA as our example is our example for it represents as clearly as any example of an institution redefining itself from an athletic sport to a global entertainment industry. Think about that! Total redefinition, refocus, re-alignment, re-everything!  That is what strategic management, to be effective must encompass, which is complete clarity of the new horizon and then create integrating systems and processes the becomes the gravitational pull toward the new horizon.

Mr. Stern, no doubt, spends most of his mental time and energies on expansion of markets, new marketing approaches while ensure the tactical elements of the game are maintained. The management of the game’s officials while ensuring the game rules are enforced strongly are vital elements of growing the sport through integrity.  Fining King James $25,000 for skipping a post game news conference was not to punish Mr. James but to send a clear signal to the global world of basketball under the crown of King David Stern that that behavior will not be tolerated.  A reinforcement of a boundary htat strengthens the tent poles of our tent.

Strategic management is a capstone to the pyramid of success.  The NBA is a wonderful but only one example of seeing how strategy and tactics meld into the pot of success.  The long view is not without failure; look at the Ford Edsel debacle!  To use a military example, presidents look at continents, generals look at countries, colonels look at mountains, lieutenants look at trails up the mountains, sergeants view the trees and the soldier cleans his weapon.  Going Long! is vital so our challenge is to  Think Long via expanding the footprint of your perspective. 

If this is done correctly, the tall kid that threw the pass shouting “go long” is still the hero but also is the fat kid for having gotten to a position to capture the stardom of success. Ah yes, the long view!

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Perhaps it is part of getting older but also perhaps it is part of appreciating this phenomenal thing called life but with each passing day I find myself more and more amazed at the roller coaster of life.  Like the old adage says, "if you have your health, you have everything."  That is so very true.

I guess I was reminded of the precious commodity health really is as I listened to prayer requests at church last evening with some new, some seemingly endless with different issues of health of a person or family and I found myself in driving home thanking God for health, a good mind, a continuing drive to want to make a difference in the lives that intersect with mine, how blessed to have children, spouses and grand kids that are strong, vibrant and love each other; a treasure!  Please know that I am certainly not writing this as a brag-o-gram but more a thank you note to God for the blessings on my life.

As this semester unfolds with nearly one hundred young minds, each time we come together or interface on an issue, I realize that this is my calling for I love it. Even when issues arise within the teams that have to be sorted out or a new team leader gets frustrated or angry about a team member and I get to invest myself into the "fix" of the matter; I love it.  But the love comes less from the fix but more from the opportunity to teach this young leader through pointers, stories, coaching or exampling a way to find a solution to the issue for that is where lifelong learning is fertilized! I love that about about I get to do.  Just this morning I had an email of thanks awaiting me from a student I had over  a year ago now on the West Coast loving her new position with a major company.  Her words were like honey when she spoke about realizing, now, the touch of the wisdom she gained in retrospect by the learning journey we shared. Wow!

However, I realize many that will read this, for them, life is not as enjoyable and rewarding.  There is so much pain, agony, angst, frustration, worry, health issues, mental issues, family issues, siblings in prison, etc, etc, that slow or impede the true enjoyment of this phenomenal thing called life.  Realizing I have former students residing in prison as I write this sickens more due to the bad choices made. In some way I take those bad choices very personally for I feel like I had the opportunity to touch that life in a way that would preclude the bad choices. But with bad choices come consequences and I have no issue with bad consequences for that is where the learning generates I believe.

Each of us are the result of many brushstrokes by many people we connect with on this journey of life.  For each brushstroke delivers an image, a thought, a memory but all those brushstrokes on our unique, individual canvas are what makes us what and who we are.  There have been so many that have touched my life through the years but then but a small handful that touched me deeply and forever. Those very special ones  have created deeper trenches in my heart that now provide the real impetus to play that touch forward in the lives that intersect with mine in so many ways.  Please take a moment as you read this and think about those few very special painters that have touched, colored and challenged your existence into what life really is for you.  If you still can, take the opportunity today to say thank you from the depth of your heart for that touch!    

This is the day that this Lord has made so let us rejoice and be glad ... straight from Scripture and so very, very true. None of us can know what this day will bring or hold in store. For some it will be joy yet for others another day of pain. For some it will be a mountaintop and for others the worst valley ever experienced.  All I can say here at 0630 in Canton, OH with it still dark outside, whatever comes my way this day I will rejoice and be glad for this day is a gift which is true for each of us.

I will close with a song, a song that touches me every time I hear it or sing it. I will be singing this song at my church Sunday evening. It is entitled, I Then Shall Live, and as you watch this great song being sung, please appreciate this gift that only a Loving, Caring God could create and present us. Find a way to enjoy this day in a very special way.  And thank you for the gift of your friendship!


Saturday, January 21, 2012

What a week!

Sitting here looking at the beautiful blanket of glistening snow, I feel like that little boy in Alabama the first time I remember seeing, feeling and yes, tasting snow. I had to have been about seven or eight so what did I do? Got me a shovel and started door-to-door asking if they wanted their sidewalks shoveled. My first day haul of cash was $18 early 1950 bucks; it was heaven so I loved snow from the start; economically!  I guess you could say I developed a passion for business early and that has remained to this day.  Just thought I would share that little morsel of my life!

This week has been, well, another most interesting dose of the strangeness of our new world in our new century. So many Americans, including me, are caught up in the Republican debates for we realize another four years of the current transforming presidential leadership will land us in 1920esque Russia and I do not use that analogy loosely.   It was interesting to watch Newt tear CNN news moderator's spleen out for the world to see with the very first question about Newt's personal life and to hear the raucous applause and cheers in support Newt's angry attack. I thought the question out of place and ill timed as well but it was, the moment, the scowl, the focused energy the lightning bolt of the debate and continues to abound with pundits, columnists and opinionators.  Just read three stories in NY Times all devoted, now, to the issues around "open" marriage as a possible way to stem the escalating divorce trend .... how sick is that?

Soldiers shot out of the air this week with barely a media whimper.  The stock markets are at best wallowing around the no growth level. The Middle East and Syria specific continues to kill its people with total disregard even from warnings from the Arab League.  Iran, well, that should be enough said. A drunken sea captain finding himself the worst human on earth for leaving his ship but waiting on dessert to be deliver to he and his lady dining partner while the ship began its murky submerging. Are you getting my point; yet another week of dismal, heart breaking news. But the world spins on its axis and life just, well, goes on!

On the bright side for me this has been a great week for my classes as I see the teams forming well and working well together.  That little gem is the joy of the work I get to do in seeing small groups of students in a relatively short period of days transform into operational units actively embracing a heavy load of work and enjoying the journey.  What a joy to witness that semester after semester!  I am more and more encouraged by these young minds for I realize all over again that our future is bright and that as importantly, students want structure, they want respect and they want feedback; three powerful incentives!

This has been a week when I have felt better physically but have felt much worse so in the main, a great week.  Getting to be in our nice home, warm, great breakfast consumed, our time with God in our devotional concluded for another day, prayed for this day and our church services tomorrow and for a little girl that was seriously injured in a sledding accident last evening with our grandchildren; our week continues to be filled with good and not so good but still filled with life.

Life is great!  This morning I am touched all over again with the stories of my students and the challenges many of them much daily overcome just to come to my class, embrace the work, withstand my frankness and energy in the educational process as they seek to better themselves; what a blessing to witness. Today, regardless of what is going on in your life, find a way to grasp the beauty of this life which is a gift from a God that loves us in spite of ourselves at times.  Find a way to show something special to someone that needs it but would never express it. Just listening is a powerful force!

Hey, and I know right now next week will be yet another week of events, challenges, opportunities and highs and lows!  Be blessed!!!!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Amazing what fifty years will do to the mind and wisdom


That YouTube link is the MLK I Have a Dream speech made in Washington. I remember it like yesterday which, at times, I wish I did not. I remember seeing King in 1959 leading a protest march down the streets of my home town that coincided with the longest strike in steel industry history for my father and most of my family worked there.  One hundred twenty-nine days; oh do I remember that strike.  I remember, on my bike, riding to the picket line at the front gate of the huge Republic Steel mill; the largest in the world at that time to get little bottles of chocolate milk as I watched and listened to the strikers.  I remember Marlon Brando, Paul Newman and  other Hollywood stars coming to Gadsden to support the march and the events that were engulfing my world; a very white world!  At ten years old, color really never strikes at your heart until something catastrophic happens.

This is the day set aside to honor Dr. King. For many years, frankly, I felt it a wasted holiday for surely there had to be more deserving reasons to not go to work than that. But as my hair quickly moved from very black to very gray and working all over the world, including South Africa, I was cast in the fire of realizing just what a powerful and unique force King forged. The Freedom Riders blaze through my mind like it was yesterday and that sense of anger and wish to lash out at the "troublemakers" down here, the south, from Yankee land.  I remember the dogs in Birmingham and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four little black girls.  I think for me that was that moment when all the bells quieted in my very white mind and in the silence I was made to realize, the culture of the South was so wrong and look what it has brought us to! I was sickened at the thought of such mercilessness and waste.

I remember the first time I drove by that Baptist church several years late and I began to cry for no apparent reason other than it had to be at the place where the terrible met with reality.  So when you hear about the Freedom Rides, the killings, the colored water fountains, back door entrances to doctor offices for the blacks, Selma and her famous Edmund G. Pettis Bridge I have since walked across myself, etc, etc, it comes to today; nearly fifty years later.

Having beautiful glistening back grand daughter from Ethiopia has been the point of cleansing for me in so many ways. That child is captivating at just over two years old. She loves her Poppy, that would be me. She is loving, funny, engaging, full of life and inquisitiveness.  She makes you want to pick her up, kiss her, hug her closely so with each of those physical and emotional events with her, I realize the cleansing of some terrible memories and ideologies of my culture are being washed clean. So Ms. Hope has been that lightning rod of cleaning for this Southern boy and I thank God for that cleansing and for her every day. You realize, at the aggregate, how really stupid and inhumane is this thing called racism and yes, we all are stained with that terrible disease in some way or another. 

So I figured I would on this MLK day I would listen to his most famous speech and realize how phenomenal the words of the future were as they are delivered on those steps beneath President Lincoln! I wish you would take a few minutes and watch and really listen to the video..  Nobody could have or would have ever imagined the power of that little man's voice in a world now five decades hence.  Is the mess cleaned up? Certainly not but he and his words began a cleansing that is still flowing to this day. I can tell you one that is totally cleansed of the taint of racism and that would be me.  Thank you God for bringing Ms. Hope into my world.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"we are lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by a resentment of success."

Let this sink in for a moment:  "we are lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by a resentment of success." This is a quote by Romney yesterday and it has resounded with me as I sit here readying for a full day of things going on.  The resonance came quickly and loudly for in those few words, he has captured the cultural norm of today in America in large part.  The media, the politics, the debt, the deficits, the ineptitude of political leadership, the recession, the rhetoric; all have painted we as a nation into a place where we really are being dragged down by a resentment of success which is exactly opposite of what brought this nation to it global prominence and wealth generation.  Americans, generally now are suspect of the wealthy and that, frankly, is very sad for it kills the fuel cells that drive the desire to gain wealth thus throwing more and more Americans on the soft mattress of government supports and safety nets. So sad, really!

This nation is great because great people fought bitterly and steadfastly to make something of themselves and as a result the nation was made stronger and wealthier. Yes there are and always have been and no doubt always will be those that will take advantage of the process and the fruits of wealth but I am just dumb enough to think that number is well into the twenty percent whereas the eighty plus percent are still those that long through effort, energy and risk seek to a place of wealth.  Wealth, not greed, is good if properly made and properly used.  The Free Market is founded on the principle of wealth generation. 

I always tell me students on day one that the much maligned Baby Boomers of which I am proudly one, generated more wealth than any generation in the history of Man.  Likewise, the generation after the Baby Boomers, the ones I stand in front of daily, will be the first generation since this nation was founded that will earn less wealth at the aggregate than the previous generation. That, again, is a sad testimony but it pretty much is what it is for an array of reasons. But let me speak to this generation I get to invest with if I may ...

This generation of twenty somethings carries as much capability as any I have seen including my generation.   I see drive, desire to succeed which translates, sadly, to desire to escape but then didn't we all have that same drive for I know I certainly did at that age?  I see a generation in surround sound of wireless devices that too many times are used for nonproductive purposes instead of harnessing the phenomenal power of potential the wireless devices present us.  I see a generation in many ways scarred by war physically and emotionally.  My generation saw our fathers returning from WWII never to talk about the experience.  This generation is pretty much detached, for the most part, from those that choose to wear the warrior cloth which, for me, is something that concerns me. I see a generation that has grown up in a world of safety nets of entitlement, broken families, marriages, divorce is the norm instead of the exception, etc, etc.

In other words, this generation is wired differently than mine which is certainly not all bad. They are a generation where FB is not amazing but rather it is simply, well, another way of communication. I have found humor in coming to understand from these young folks that they are moving more toward Twitter and away from FB for their parents and grandparents have embraced FB so therefore they are looking for safe haven from the eyes of those parents and grandparents for we the BB were always embracers; just another example even in our sixties.

But let me close by restating the genesis of this writ; "we are lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by a resentment of success." It is my greatest challenge and hope in my teaching and leading and exampling of these young minds that they will be inspired to rise above the chains, the resentment of success and aspire kinetically to lift themselves and their future generation to desire to succeed and succeed on a grand scale.

This is a great generation and it is for us, the "older kids" to teach, coach, encourage, direct, push, scream, bleed, be relentless, etc, etc in our role as the generation with less years in front of us than we do behind us to invest in this generation. Honestly, it excites me every time I have time with these young folks for I see such potential IF they will throw off the chains of anchoring them in the mire of safety nets.  By the way, each of us reading this has a stake in this venture for these young folks for I have five grand children ages nine and under and realize there is more I can do to be part of their future as well. 

TODAY, find one of these futurists and add a star to his or her wagon of tools they are developing. Believe me, it will make you feel better about yourself for having taken the time and energy to invest your capital into these young minds ... there ARE worth it!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A New Beginning --- 2012

Well good morning and let me welcome us to a new year, a new beginning, a new set of chains to use a football metaphor.  I took a short break from blogging during the holidays and getting my classes knitted together and launched yesterday and am very pleased with both groups of young minds I will get to watch grow and expand during this semester.  It is going to be a great one I believe.  

There are, as always, a myriad of thoughts flooding my brain but the tent pole I will tap into the ground will have its bedrock with the Alabama / LSU contest for the BCS National Championship played last night.  So many emotions, thoughts and wonderments triggered by that game but for me it was less about the game and more about the horrific scenes we have mostly forgotten at that Superdome during the hell of Katrina. We were all transported to a third world country as we watched helplessly as the thousands being driven into that same venue we saw so spectacularly last evening.   As I watched the cheering and at times jeering fans last night, my mind was racing back to the stench, fear and sense of devastation that sat and lived in those same seats such a short time ago.

But then the parallel hit me like a brick!  This is a nation that can take a licking and keep on ticking we used to hear on an old watch commercial.  When the aerial camera would pan the glimmering of the Big Easy and the Mighty Mississippi winding her way through that glimmer, it caused my brain to replay the hues of anguish that were created in a relatively few hours on a people that, to some degree, are no doubt still recovering.  We see the bright, happy BP commercials now about how wonderful things are along the Gulf Coast, that they, BP, are there for the long haul, we see the throngs of people flooding Bourbon Street, etc. But just under all the gleam, for me at least, New Orleans is a microcosm of our nation but also our world.

The today Katrina is the Noah-level flooding of sovereign debt, the near collapse of the single currency as a result unfolding in Europe. We see the great economic engines of China and India and Brazil cooling down which means dire predictions for a teetering economy in the US and Europe.  I am still amazed by the prognosticators that hearken to go back to the 1950s, "Buy American", reduce the military, fight no more except in the streets of the US, lessen the strategic footprint of the US and see never ending campaign cycles instead of really governing. That is all our Katrina if you roll it all into a collage!

So the question! What will it take to restore the gleam we relished and took for granted in our country for that gleam is surely dampened and dimmed as never before in my lifetime.  I addressed nearly one hundred students yesterday, many of them freshly out of high school beginning their collegiate journey. As I spoke and moved around the classroom, my mind kept being transfixed by the global wall map in the room and realized all over again that these young minds will fight their career struggles, successes, loses, etc, against that map representing the GLOBAL economy.  That was never even a thought when I sat in those chairs at 18 years old in the mid 1960s.  We were fighting a war in Vietnam yes and I was losing friends there which I could not really grasp but as to a job; certainly not a problem. 

This young minds are facing a world of enhanced technologies in all sectors of industry.  Technology is designed to spawn efficiency which translates to fewer jobs. That is the WHY the job market continues to stagnate for industry, rightly, has spent its capital in the recession period on technology to reduce the need for manpower; it really is that simple and it will not change.  So the world in 2012 for these one hundred young, smart minds is a very different world from my mind in 1966. As I told both classes yesterday, the days of when a piece of paper called a college degree assured one of a good job are, well, not there. Students today have to get that piece of paper which almost, barely, gets them even with millions of students globally. So students today must not only perform academically very well but must further differentiate themselves from the competitive forces of the labor market in any way they can. It really is that simple! Just getting a degree, while admirable, requires much more in the days ahead.  Students today are competing with students all over this world that are multi-languaged, more voracious in their assault for an education. My many Asian students present that very demeanor in every case I have had them in classes. They are "hungry" for knowledge on a scale I see very infrequently in their American counterparts.

So in closing, how does America take the Katrina hit, reinvigorate, rise above the flood waters and destruction and establish that grand American glimmer we all want to see again? It begins with leadership of our nation and it is there my greatest concern resides. I see no real, credible, forward thinking charismatic leaders; just professional campaigners beholden to lobbyist, PACs and now SuperPACs, MONEY$$$$.

Can America reestablish ourselves? Certainly but it begins with one and cascades to each of us in this GLOBAL village pulling more closely together. More than every before, WE NEED EACH OTHER!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Another Soldier Has Gone Home

That is a great song but today the meaning of it seems more appropriate as a great soldier in the army of our Lord has left us. Kay Harbison has fought a good fight and her reward is now being realized as her family and countless numbers of friend grieve that departure.  It has been many years since I saw her there at the East Gadsden Baptist Church but it seems as yesterday I can see her with that unique, gentle grin nodding her head looking up at me as I would sing I'M STANDING ON THE SOLID ROCK.  That little smile would remove any of the butterflies you get at times and that smile is so fresh still.

The wife of one of the greatest men I have ever known and the mother of a family of men and women that have all done well on this earth.  We all grieved the loss of her son just a short time ago even from a thousand miles away.  Through the miracle of Facebook I have been able to remain linked into that precious family. It was with tears that I read of her home going yesterday with that family she loved so dearly around her singing together and her husband, Brother Bill, praying a sweet prayer over that departed saint.  I felt like I was there also!

Most of you never knew Kay Harbison.  Most of you missed so much by that gaping hole of not being blessed to have known her, laughed with her, poked fun with her; she was a true, true joy.  She has fought a tough fight in recent months but still a great fighter and yet, still a great encourager.  So with all the heavy issues of our world, it is easy to read a few words about someone most of you never knew but believe me, you would be a much better person today had you had the chance as I did not know this wonderful Christian woman and friend.

I ache for the family but I yearn to see that smile and that slow head nod of positive acknowledgement when I get to sing to her again one day. 

Through my disappointments
Strife and discontentment
I cast my every care upon the Lord
No matter what obsession
Pain or deep depression
I'm standing on the Solid Rock

Thank you Ms Kay, you never let me flat a note or miss a word. I am a better man because of you!