On the Efficiencies of Business

So, I’ve been going to therapy for a few months now to deal with depression. One of thing that has come up is how I don’t really release a lot of the emotions that I am feeling and one of them is anger. I typically swallow that to stay diplomatic and deal with whatever situation as well as I can. I think that I’ve been stewing about this for a while and mentioning it to my friends periodically. I don’t feel that business leaders respect my career path and don’t understand how to actually make their businesses more efficient.

Excluding the past two years, the majority of my career has been focused on Lean, Six Sigma, or Lean Six Sigma (yes all of them are different in terms of how you approach continuous improvement). I have run projects, developed courses, facilitated strategic planning events for companies like AMD, but the entire time, I never truly felt secure in my role. At Samsung, we had lay-offs and last some employees, at AMD, we definitely lost some and my Director actually decided to be let go to save a number of my coworkers. This is in spite of the fact that our group had saved the company measurably millions of dollars over the 1.5 years I worked at AMD. We were always on the chopping block. Then while working at Cambia (Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield) I was laid off, even though the result of my training program included winning a national Blues award and saved the company a lot of time and money. My team easily paid for itself more than once over while we were there (my team was me and my employee Phil).

As we all know Insurance companies are always raising premiums. The underlying assumption is that these businesses are actually working to continually drive down their financial overhead, but those damn regulations keep getting in the way to drive up cost. This is just flat out wrong. These businesses don’t actually know how to drive improvement in their organizations. The only way they can even imaging improving their business is to hire an organization like McKinsey or BCG which costs millions and gets little to no result. The results they do provide are typically brought about by recommendations internally to the organization that leadership is unwilling to implement unless told about them by an expensive consulting group.

This is problematic because it doesn’t actually change the culture of the organization to drive continual improvement and innovation. As I’ve written in the past Innovation and Improvement are positively correlated. Furthermore, these training classes help expand people’s networks, which also significantly improve innovation as well.

So, first of all, I’m pissed off at corporate leaderships for not understanding the value of continuous improvement. Second, I’m pissed off that it’s just accepted that businesses always figure out ways to be more efficient. This isn’t true. If it was true there wouldn’t be a large number of people in their mid-50’s looking for work after a very successful career in continuous improvement. If these businesses didn’t think that the best way to improve efficiencies was to cut costs and then have someone else do two people’s work, this wouldn’t be a problem.

You can reduce headcount and drive up efficiencies, but only if you provide your people with the right tools and the requires true investment in the business. Although, all continuous improvement efforts pay for themselves if you aren’t just looking at how much a few people cost that are part of the team. You need to weight that against the positive gains they are making for the organization.

I’m pissed off about this because I feel like Michael Bolton from Office Space “I shouldn’t have to change, he’s the one who sucks.” I have had to completely change my career, which I was really passionate about because I don’t trust corporate leaders to try invest and buy in to continuous improvement. Maybe this is short sighted and I just need to find the right company. But I’ve looked I’ve been at a number of them and I’ve heard stories from other people that have been laid off (while i was interviewing for the position Phil filled) for exactly what I’m talking about here. So as a response I’ve tried to protect myself from that by avoiding applying for those jobs.

I loved doing that work because I knew at the end of each day and each project, I made someone’s work life better. Which is awesome. You listen to their problems, which helps them, but then you provide them with the tools to make change and to fix their current situation. When they look at how that aspect of their job is going to work after you finish the project, you can just see how much happier they are. You can see that it allows them to focus on the thing they were hired to do, not deal with some bullshit that was there because it’s always been there.

Businesses need more of this. The culture needs to change from top to bottom. It’s the role of the Lean Manager to change the culture so that people want to do continuous improvement. It’s the role of the business leader to provide the right incentives to do this as well.

On Being a White Liberal In Portland OR

Portland Oregon has been in the news a lot lately. Mostly for not very good things. The city has a great image generally, but that’s because the people talking about Portland, generally look and think like me. White, bearded, and generally liberal. However, there’s a history to Portland that’s rarely talked about, which is that it was essentially founded to be a White Utopia. Oregon Public Broadcasting has a great article interviewing people of color after the Max Light Rail attack, I recommend you read that here, because they do a great job explaining the background.

I think generally, it’s safe to say, that Portland encompasses both the best and worst of being a white culture. You’re able to find good high paying jobs in technology. You are able to be around other white people because you have a similar background. I can’t decided if those two sentences are the best or worst. On the one hand it means that generally white people are well off, but that also means that we are exclusive and not well integrated with the rest of the community at large. This leads to ignorance, in liberals it results in something of a White Hero mentality, regardless of good intentions. In Conservatives it can manifest itself into hate, including white supremacy and neo-nazi’s. The former wants to make friends with minorities to understand them better, but that can result in tokenism. While the latter ends having “our Mexican” who isn’t like those other Mexicans out there. Which is a justification for liking one Mexican while hating all other job stealing Mexicans.

I’ve become acutely aware of this over the past several years in Portland. I am married to a Mexican-American woman as many of you know. In Austin these issues didn’t come up as often as they do now, and I think that was more due to the people she was working with during her PhD studies and Post-Doc. However, whenever she started working at Intel, which has a big problem with diversity, these issues became a focal point of many things she does. She’s been heavily involved in Women’s groups at Intel. She’s a member of the Saturday Academy working to get under privileged and minorities involved in science and technology at an earlier age. These were things that, to be honest, are fairly new to me as a thing that needs to be done.

Growing up in Grove City, you didn’t really realize that you had it pretty well. It was a very very very White community. The school system was really good. Opportunities were there for anyone to join Saturday Science, there were ways to easily take more advanced classes in any subject if you were on the college path. Since Grove City was a really small school, our High school had 800 some odd students, we didn’t have the massive disparities due to differing socio-economic. They were there to be sure. It was a handful of kids rather than the majority of the kids as some rural or inner city schools see.

I guess it’s really fair to say i grew up sheltered and started to experience more diversity while studying at Pitt. I have been lucky since going to Pitt to marry my amazing wife, study in Europe meeting people from all over the world. People from countries the US has foreign policy issues with.

Even despite that, I’m still uncomfortable around people that I don’t know how to start a conversation. I think it’s important to be honest about that discomfort to myself and use that as an opportunity to grow. The only way to get rid of the discomfort is to meet more people. I don’t want a black friend because they are black. I want and need more friends of diverse backgrounds to grow into a better person. My wife has opened my eyes to her family’s cultural. I really enjoy Mariachi music now, Son De La Negra is one of their favorite songs and one of mine too.

So how does all this relate to being a White Liberal in Portland? Well, I think for a start, we need to meet people where they are, try to understand their world and world view. It’s very different than ours. We need to start joining groups and becoming part of the larger more complex city of Portland or whatever city you currently live in. The other thing that we must do is listen. When people are talking about their history and where they came from, you’ll hear both a lot of similarities and many defining differences. You can build bonds on the similarities, while using those differences to understand people in a way you never could before. These differences can be painful because it forces you to look into the mirror and really think about where you came from and for you to grow as a person it requires to potentially reevaluate how you got where you are. I know that I grew up in a pretty special area that gave me a huge amount of opportunity. My parents were in a position where they enabled me to go to Pitt leaving with minimal debt. This makes me very fortunate and puts me in a very different place than people who built up a lot of debt going to school or came from an area where they weren’t enabled to succeed.

Upon self-reflection, I need to do more listening and growing.

An Alternative To Just Resisting

One of the problems with simply resisting is that it seems passive. That there’s nothing else there. The Democrats need to take another play book from the Republicans now that they have some momentum on Healthcare reform. We all know that the ACA (aka Obamacare) is an imperfect law, as any law is, so there’s plenty of room for improvement there. Why not take advantage of that, but do so using their own requirements against.

One of the main arguments against ACA is that it’s expensive. According to Bernie Sander’s pushing Medicare to all would save individuals somewhere between just under $4,000 and just over $5,500 per year. That’s a lot of money for most people, in some cases over 10% of their income. One study is putting the savings for the overall economy at an absurd half TRILLION dollar saving. In one year. Let’s say that we’re less optimistic and say it’s 20% of that, so a cool $100 billion dollars. That’s 1/7 the amount of TARP, which was used to bailout the banks. When we injected $700 billion into the economy it saved it from the worst banking crisis we’d seen since the ’30s, injecting that much extra money into the economy at the individual level would have a huge multiplicative impact on the economy, much more than just pushing that money into a single location.

So my proposal, which is more modest than Medicare for all, would be to propose Medicare to everyone that makes less than < $30,000 year or maybe 20% above the minimum living wage in a city/region. Regardless, this would help the people that are protesting most loudly, the rural red states. The rest of Obamacare could stay the same, it would just really help the bottom of the population. We could even extend it to small business owners so their employees get a perk of Medicare and all those benefits without that employer needing to worry about their employee’s healthcare. The other benefit is that companies like Hobby Lobby wouldn’t be able politicize healthcare and would allow individuals to make decisions about things like birth control for themselves.


ICE has been brutally cracking down on immigration the past few days. Democrats should introduce a comprehensive immigration reform that protects the country and aliens. I think that this is something that red states and red parts of blue states are going to be filling the pinch on. Apparently, farmers that supported Trump in California are now worried about losing most of their work force. This is a pretty valid concern. In Austin Texas, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted raids of illegal aliens by targeting their children. There are reports of their cars following school buses waiting for children to get off the bus to ask the parents for immigration paperwork.

While Arizona was enforcing their paper’s pleas law the state lost between $300 million – $1 billion in agricultural output, while losing out in another $147 million in cancelled conferences in the state. Arizona isn’t known as a agricultural powerhouse, if something similar happens in California, the entire country is going to feel the impact with massively increased food prices. Arizona’s Ag output is about $7.3 billion while California’s is estimated closer to $50 billion, if we lose 1/7 of California’s ag output that’s losing as much as all of Arizona (Az lost about 1/7 of theirs due to papers please). That’s a huge hit to that economy, ripple that out across the entire country and we’re potentially looking at a recession with food prices skyrocketing. Furthermore, many of these illegal aliens are actually paying taxes, of the estimated 11 million about 6.1 million pay taxes which equates to billions in federal and state revenue.

Democrats should instead offer reform that allows non violent illegal aliens a path towards citizenship or some sort of migratory work visa that is designed and so that the workers that want to use that program can go home when they are finished with the year’s work. This should guarantee access to the US for a number of years in such a way that people feel they are safe to go back and forth across the boarder. Partner with Mexico to vet the candidates for these types of visas to ensure that they were upstanding citizens in Mexico and that there are no gang connections. Furthermore, work to protect these migrants so that there’s no need for them to ever mule drugs across the boarders. Require that these workers get car insurance, licenses, and health insurance while they are here (or at least pay taxes for them to cover their portion of Medicare if the above passes). As for those that are already here, stay the course with Obama’s practices, which were more aggressive than past administrations, but still more human than what Trump is doing. Provide a path for citizenship for those that are here. Even toss in a requirement to learn English if you want to mollify the far right.

That still leaves the question of refugees and the Muslim ban. First, I think we need to make sure that the people we train here with PhD’s should be enabled to stay easily. This shouldn’t even be a question, we should in fact require it for any one that is trained in the US or require them to pay back the entire cost of their education immediately. This is what the Netherlands does – or at least Eindhoven University of Technology does. Additionally, if we’re concerned about too many foreigners taking these positions we need to incentivize American students to pursue higher levels of education so there are few spots for immigrants. I personally think that for the best result science and business needs diversity, so I’m for getting more people more degrees.

Beyond this though, I don’t really know what remedies to offer, someone with greater immigration reform experience should weigh in here, but generally, we need to accept refugees for crises we created.

Reigning in the Cloak and Dagger

It’s time we ended cover operations like the one in Yemen. They create resentment towards the US and since they are covert we don’t know what’s being done in our name. We need to end drone strikes and use diplomatic channels to address these concerns. Democrats should introduce bills that require increased oversight of these operations and reduce the executive power to conduct military operations without Congressional approval and/or a formal declaration of war. It is very unlikely that this will pass at all, but there are a lot of people on both sides of the aisle that believe there needs to be more constraints on what the President is able to do without approval or oversight. We have now been conducting these raids for 15 years and there has been no increased safety in the US due to them.

The other area where the same operatives are heavily engaged is mass surveillance in the US. Democrats need to introduce a bill that stops. Simple as that. It’s been shown not to work as with any large data set it’s possible to create find correlations that really don’t exist. It’s possible create sinister reasons for why a person is doing completely innocuous things.

I think if Democrats repeatedly introduce bills to attack these areas, they will get more and more support as the Trump administration continues to crack down. These sorts of initiatives will show they have a backbone and that they really are actually striving to make things better. Without at least these three changes, there’s no way that Democrats can mount a serious “resistance” to Trump. We’ve seen how loud and upset people are with Obamacare, the next step is to figure out how to do the same with the other two.

I was an immigrant, let’s have some empathy

You probably don’t even think of it that way, but I was an immigrant to a foreign country under a student visa/residence permit with the expectation that I would stay in that foreign country for at least 3 years. Things didn’t go as planned, but I was an immigrant. I’ve written some here in the past about those experiences, since I started blogging on this site over 5 years ago when I was still living in the Netherlands.

While I was in Europe I grew up a lot and I experienced things that I would have never experienced in the US. However, before I get into any of this I must preface this post. My experience abroad was easier than most study abroad programs. My courses were in English. I’m an American Citizen. Nearly all government documents along with University documents had English translations. Nearly all Dutch are fluent in English and all my friends spoke English. This made these extremely easy. So easy at times it was easy to forget I was an immigrant.

While living abroad I lived with a group of people I jokingly referred to as a model UN. There were two Colombians, two Pakistanis, a Turk, an Iranian, and a Chinese woman. Everyone had a story to tell me about my homeland that cause them direct personal pain. My Colombian friends told me what it was like growing up in the 80’s and 90’s with the FARC threatening things while the US was running missions in their country. My Pakistani roommates told me about what my country was doing to their country at that time. My Iranian roommate was initially terrified to meet me because I was an American. He assumed that I would hate him because of where he was from.

Learning about the impact of the US political system on every person that I met while living abroad was truly sobering. As an American living in the US we simply do not understand the impact and the weight of the US to the rest of the world. Furthermore, we simply take it as a given fact that this is how the world is and always will be. However, that’s not true. When I first arrived in the Netherlands it was clear there was still ill will towards America for George W. Bush, that was tempered a great deal by Obama, but not all of his policies pleased Europeans, specifically many of the bombings we were doing. I believe that we’re losing even more respect with trump as our President now.

I got the idea for this post because a friend of mine shared a link about a Syrian student at CMU was thinking of transferring outside of the US for his PhD. This hit really close to home because, while I was studying in the Netherlands, my wife was finishing up her PhD and my Grandfather passed away. If I had been unable to go home and return for my studies in the Netherlands because of a ban of travel between the US and the Netherlands I would have seriously reconsidered my decision to even study there. Being away from my wife for the first year and a half of my marriage was incredibly difficult, losing my Grandfather was heart wrenching, the mere thought of not being able to go home for his funeral is completely unimaginable. As it was, my family pulled together and got me back to the States for his funeral, which was extremely touching.

Beyond just the though of never seeing my wife or missing my Grandfather’s funeral, it brings up the moral question of “do I want to live in a society that bans people from my country?” For me, as an immigrant to that country, it’s a clear no. I do not want to live in a society that bans people from my country or any other country for the reasons that trump has outlined. These policies affect people, people that don’t have a true say in that country’s government. If there is a problem with the government it should be treated in an international body rather than attacking the people of the nation. Here’s one example of a person negatively impacted by the ban. He is completely devastated.

As I said in my post yesterday we, America, need to be the shining light on the hill. It is the reason why immigrants chose to come here. I would not come here as an immigrant from any country right now because I would never know when that ban would arbitrarily descend on my country, so that I could never go home to see my loved ones or could never have my loved ones join me.

I’ve been an immigrant, I was lucky that I was able to control when and why I became an immigrant. Not everyone is lucky like me.

What is even happening?

I, like many of you out there, are really wondering what the hell is going on right now. Has our country gone crazy? Have we elected a man that is going to bring ruin down on us all? Should we protest? Should we resist?

To put it bluntly, this is something our country hasn’t seen before. We’ve had issues before where there were disagreements over how to run the country, but there really weren’t blatant attempts to completely destroy the current political infrastructure in place. There was an implicit acceptance that while you may be a Democrat and the President a Republican, you’d still do your job and be trusted to do so. That trust has been breached. Furthermore, there were norms to ensure that the experts at least had a crack at what was going to be turned into an Executive Order, but that’s gone now too.

Our Executive Branch has gone crazy, the rest of the country hasn’t, well maybe the silent majority of the Republicans in office have, but everyone else is still doing the right thing.

You see, I think that America should be a shining light on the hill. Our ideals and values, in many ways contentious, really have the opportunity to lift people out of a rough life and into something that is greater. Right now, we aren’t even a flash light shining on a puddle of mud as a government. As a people, we’re doing right by our ideals. Protesting, one of the most American things you can do; welcoming refugees, originally, the US was founded by refugees or asylum seekers – it is only right we continue in this vein. Fighting injustice and oppression – we’ve gotten this wrong, a lot, but we also have had a history of continually moving in the right direction, despite our fits and starts. We Americans are doing this now in the face of what is only the beginning of push back from Trump.

We have a pretty clear idea of what will happen to anyone that is a government official and they refuse to obey trump. They will be fired and if possible I’m sure trump will figure out a way to prosecute that individual. Today, trump fired Sally Yates for up holding her oath as a public servant. His response is absurdly juvenile and was clearly penned by the president himself.

Trump's note for firing Sally Yates

Trump’s note for firing Sally Yates

This is an embarrassment, but this is the type of person that we are dealing with here. I don’t think that this is even a partisan issue at this point either. When the president of the US decides that he can ignore the rule of law we’re at the point where the government itself is at risk of no longer being a democracy. I believe that we can put aside our differences here and protest together. Pushing for Mike Pence or other subordinates to impeach trump. If he is unable or unwilling, I believe that an organization like the ACLU will ultimately sue to impeach trump regardless. However, this is a time when the leaders on the right need to stand up and say, “No, country before party, we will not be pulled into a dictatorship, we are a democracy. In a democracy you must obey the rule of law.”

Should you protest, though? I think this is a really personal question, but I think that you must protest in some form or another if you want to see this stop. There are many ways to protest that don’t include holding a sign, but you must at least commit time, energy, and possibly money instead. I have already donated $20/month to the ACLU and another $10/month to an anti-corruption organization (which is non-partisan looking to elect both D and R). You can write, you can tweet, you can also run for office. There are a lot of ways to stop this, but you need to decide what you can or cannot do. For me with my travel, it’s difficult to get my bearings in whatever city I’m in to effectively protest. Instead I will write, donate, and support anyone willing to make a difference. I am also working on a podcast with a few friends. The goal, like my goal on this blog, isn’t to preach or really push my ideals, but to try to educate so you can make your own informed decisions.

So, let’s make America the shining light on the hill. Let’s fight against corruption, fight to level the playing field so that everyone has an equal chance, fight so that women feel like they have control over their own body, and to fight to make sure that we can take in those huddled masses.

It’s Not Hubris, It’s a Conviction that Dems aren’t Legitimate

Point of clarification: When I refer to Republicans in this article I’m referring to Republican leadership

Yesterday a friend linked an article which talked about the approach that Mitch McConnell is taking for the appointment of cabinet members, where he won’t wait for until ethics reviews are completed before holding confirmation hearings. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the same standard he held the Democratic party to under Obama, where he specifically wrote a letter outlining the requirements before holding hearings. While he believe that these standards are required for the Democrats he doesn’t believe the Democrats should be able to hold the Republicans to the same set of standards, because they lost the election.

I don’t believe that this is arrogance, or even that “Do as I say not as I do” approach. I believe that this comes down to the basic fact that Republican leadership doesn’t believe that have a legitimate right to ever govern, no matter how many people vote for them. To be fair, I don’t believe that this is only applies to Democrats, I believe that it applies to all other political parties.

If we start with this framework, which really began to be applied in the ’90’s with Clinton in office, we can begin to see a behavior, that successfully, stripped authority from the Democratic party. They continually attacked and continued to come up with new ways to attack the Democratic party and ideas until they were gradually pulled more and more right. They used an approach like OODA loop to continually keep the left on their heels. It worked.

However, they truly felt that they didn’t have the right the govern, which is why the Republicans were in the “right” to do this. Moving forward, we can see continually pressuring the right of predominately Democratic leaning voters. Where many organizations like Think Progress and the ACLU believe that the Republican party successfully suppressed voting.

There is something of a virtuous cycle going on for the Republican party when it comes to sidelining and suppressing votes, the more they suppress votes, the more then can sideline strong blue areas, which allows them to continue suppressing votes. They have been able to do this through the repeal of portions of the voter’s rights act which reduced Judicial oversight of state ‘s that had historically racist voting practices, like much of the south. This combine with Gerrymandering which, as the link shows, can be used to take a predominately Democratic district and string them all together so that even if it was 60% Democrat and there were 5 districts Republicans could still win 60% of the votes. This is happening and has happened in the past. In fact, during 2012, there were definitely cases where more Democrats voted in the house elections, but still lost a more seats than Republicans.

With such a concerted effort to continually win more and more power, the only reason why it’s a MUST do, is that the Republicans do not think that the Democrats have the legitimate right to govern the country. They continually undercut their right to govern, in fact, going so far to curb the authority of the Democrat governing coming into power in NC.

Using this perspective, I believe that this further supports the agenda to impeach Trump. However, this will not stop the Republicans as they definitely seem themselves as the only party with the right to govern. This has to change if the US is going to have an effective government for all the people in the near future.

“Infighting” in the Democratic Party or Who represents the future of the Dems?

Today, I’ve been seeing a lot of people saying that Bernie supports need to just give up the “Bernie would have won” attitude. I find this exceedingly problematic. First, it’s an opinion and like assholes everyone has one. Second, there is some evidence, based on the polling that Bernie would have crushed Trump. Third, there’s anecdotal evidence of people switching from Bernie to Trump or just stayed home from voting. Finally, this implicitly means that these folks need to just shut up and get back in line with everyone else.

This last point simply pisses me off. I’ve always had something of a chip on my shoulder when it comes to authority or the status quo. I get really pissed off when people talk about how these giant cities are god’s gift to man, when the smaller cities i’ve lived in are amazing places in their own right. Places that have a lot of character and the difference of perspective is important. I wrote about this irritation in my article right after the election.

The Democratic party needs this discussion, this in fighting. There can and should be general alignment over general resistance to Trump. The policies that are proposed to counter their proposals can and should have serious discussion about what the future should be. The reason why people bring up the primary and that Bernie would have won, is that they support his policy positions and believes that these positions should be the dominant theme when challenging the Republican run Government. The idea being that Clinton’s ideas are a continuation of the status quo, the status quo that lost and lost badly in the electoral college – which is the only vote that matters right now.

Bernie and Clinton represent two different potential futures for the Democratic party, we need to look at it that way. I believe under the Bush years, the Democratic party essentially was the Party of Clinton, which really was a centrist party that was easily pulled to the right. During the Obama administration this held true as well, where the Democrats tried to pull the country a little left, but stayed towards the center in hopes of getting something through. Which resulted in a great deal of center right policies simply through obstructionism.

Now, if the Democratic party wants to learn from the Republican party, rather than working to meet with them half way, which will ultimately pull them to the right, again. They need to start with a stated position which is significantly farther left than what they might be when they are in power. This would mean that when the policy finally gets approved, that it’ll be much more centrist. Furthermore, most of those policies would help the people that need it the most, that ended up voting for Trump, because they believed he would help him.

The fight over Bernie v. Clinton is a battle over the heart and soul of the Democratic party. If you aren’t willing to talk with the people that are saying that Bernie and thus his ideals could have beaten Trump, then you aren’t willing to listen at all and should not be in a position of power in the Democratic party. The party needs to be inclusive of radically different views, take advantage of that diversity and use it as a way to drive change in Washington to help everyone.