Labor Day 2019

I think about Labor Day and a lot of different thoughts go through my mind.

What’s the origin of the holiday in this country?  “Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor, ” according to Wikipedia.

What, if any, is our U.S. Labor Day’s association with International Worker’s Day on May 1st?  Turns out that “May Day” is linked to an ancient traditional festival time in Europe, and similar labor movements in that region selected that date to also associate with honoring and further the cause of workers. That occurred around the same time in Europe that it did here in the U.S.

I think about the early 20th century novel, “The Jungle,” and the fictional account of very real working conditions in the meat packing industry in the northeastern U.S. around that same time period.

How far have we come with regulations and minimum wages in that time, to give rank and file workers safer conditions and enough income to live a reasonable life?  Lots of data, some objective results, but plenty of subjective opinion on those topics to be had, for sure.

Then I consider the hardest, most physically demanding jobs and who does that work.  Think about the people that work in extreme physical conditions, so that others might benefit from seasonal produce or the freshest catch.  How difficult is that work?  How much do those folks make?  Would I want to do that work?

I think about people I know that do white collar work and make good income; some are associated with organized labor, some are not.  I consider the various aspects of work today, and the manner in which plenty of white collar, high-skill workers also can be exploited and might benefit from organizing. 

Throughout the world we can say that collective bargaining has been good for workers in the industrialized world over the last one hundred and forty-odd years. We can also say that wages have increased, working conditions have improved, and society on the whole enjoys a higher standard of living along that same period of time.

Sure there’s still more work to do.   But I’ll spare you the red star or the fist clenched in the air.  We have to say that the owners and the governments and society in many countries have supported the workers’ cause, to everyone’s benefit.

In my humble view, Labor Day should be a day when we remember and appreciate all those workers, of all shapes and sizes and trades, all the rank and file whole make our economy churn.   Those that, through there hard work, make our country a better place to live.

We should appreciate, and honor labor, on Labor Day,  and everyday.


More on:

Labor Day

May Day

The Jungle


Collective Bargaining

At Capacity

Lots of context for this concept. You might be “at capacity” in any of a variety of ways.

At capacity in learning, a sort of plateau of absorbing new things;

At capacity with activities, not able to fit another event on your schedule on a given day;

At capacity in repetitions, not able to do another pull up or arm curl or plank;

At capacity with projects, every day already full with no room for another thing;

At capacity eating your vegetables at dinner; this affliction happens on nearly a nightly basis at my house.

You get the idea. But here’s the thing.

Capacity is a dynamic quality. It’s a parameter that must always be considered. Capacity might be limiting in the immediate, in the short term.

But in the aggregate, it’s just another variable that must be considered in striving for optimal outcome.

You should always consider capacity, and you should also test its limits. Carefully, thoughtfully, but for sure, test, push, strive to expand the limit.

The outcome?

It will make you better. It will help you reach your goals. It will make things GOOD.



Numbers are cool. And they’re everywhere.

Measurements, calculations, logic…maybe as far back as humans could think about deep stuff, we’ve had numbers on their mind.

And in the last half century of course, there’s software. Think binary code, and a hundred computer languages, think the first work in space exploration, think EVERYTHING now: cars, phones, toasters, personal computing, and everything in between.


My father was a math teacher. One of his central messages when he would help me with my math homework:  Don’t be afraid,  don’t be intimidated by the numbers, the logic.   Take your time.  Think deeply.  Figure it out.  Good life lesson there too, come to think of it.

PV = \frac{FV}{(1+r)}
And then I learned a different type of math, different applied logic, in business school many years later.  Big picture topics like the various facets of finance and accounting. The Time Value of Money,  Percentage Gained, Lost;  Run Rates, Currency Conversions, Depreciation of Capital Equipment, and on and on and on, slowly soaking in and expanding my mind with numbers further.  Also cool.  And important when you’re trying to make a profit.

Now lately my work has me into inventory management systems, the logic of part number nomenclature and the organization of things. Cycle Counts, Reconciling differences, Spreadsheets, Data Analysis all take up minutes and hours, churning through as the daily tasks are completed.

Yep, numbers are still cool.

Momentum: The Magic Potion

Finding a little momentum goes a long way.

This fact is especially when you’re sharpening up your focus to get sh*t done.  The approach isn’t new or complicated, but it is important.

Check your list.

If you don’t have one, write one down.  Depending on your level of motivation and focus as you begin, I suggest writing everything down.  The more items, the more focus you’ll have.

Consider the priorities you’ve got in front of you. Consider the time it will take to complete the various tasks on the list.  Don’t get overwhelmed by the list, be empowered by your effort to get it all down in front of you.  Once you’ve got a good representation of what needs to be done, it’s time to get after Number One.

My personal approach is to target a couple quick hits, items I can accomplish pretty quickly, to get some positive energy going in the right direction.  As you line out items on your list, you can feel the sense of accomplishment. Your focus will increase, your resolve to continue down the path will strengthen, you’ll be one your way forward.

So make that list and get after it.

The momentum you create will make the difference in your effort.  It will make it GOOD.

The Power of Silence

The power of silence can cannot be overstated. For some of us it’s harder than for others. The effect can be a devastating tool for good.

Consider serious conversation. Consider talking with your spouse, your kid, your employee, your boss. Make your case and then be quiet. See where it leads.

Want a second, similarly powerful tool? It’s called “patience”, and can be applied with equal effect. In fact, in goes hand in glove with silence, often times. After all, the more patient you are with outcomes, the easier it is to sit with situations and allow them to play out.

Practice both of these skills. You’ll be surprised by the results, and the peace they can afford you when honed properly.

Remembering Andy Grove

When Intel was well on the rise and Andy Grove was the commodore of the fleet so dominant in the seas of the micro-processor sector, I was a young sales guy trying to win business from the likes of Intel and all their neighbors in Silicon Valley.

At the time I remember reading a lot about various leaders of the companies and industries in the valley.  I looked for ways to hone my sales strategy and pitch to prospective companies’ own business objectives.

I found this article about Andy Grove somewhere along the way and liked it so much, I saved it.  In hearing about his passing today, I post this piece in remembrance of a great thinker and leader in American business.

I attended an Intel annual meeting several years back, after Grove had stepped down as CEO.  He was in the audience though, and I remember him looking relaxed, in a black leather jacket, crew-neck and khaki’s.  He chuckled and waved when the then CEO made reference to Grove sitting in the audience.

So here’s to you, Andy Grove.  As the hashtag goes around twitter currently #RIPAndyGrove ~

“A Cubicle Suits Him Just Fine” [original article written by “unknown author” c.1996]

As Intel has grown, Grove’s office has shrunk. It used to be that an executive’s climb up the corporate ladder was accompanied by a series of moves to ever-larger (and plusher) offices — culminating in the final move into a mahogany-paneled corner office from which the CEO ruled over his business empire.

But often, shielded by a phalanx of administrative assistants, the CEO had only a foggy idea of what was really going on at lower levels of the organization. That’s
definitely not the case with Andy Grove.

Not only does he take a vital interest in what’s happening throughout Intel’s far-flung realm, but he disdains the mahogany-row syndrome.

His office is remarkably compact. In fact, it’s not an “office” at all, but a partitioned-off cubicle crammed in among similar-sized cubicles on the fifth floor of the Robert N. Noyce building, which serves as Intel’s headquarters in Santa Clara.

Pam Pollace, who works closely with Grove as vice president-worldwide press relations, occupies an adjacent cubicle. Pointing out that increased staff hiring has

forced the company to squeeze more cubicles into a finite space, Pollace finds it humorously ironic that, as the size of Intel’s manufacturing facilities and corporate revenues have increased dramatically, Grove’s office has grown smaller and smaller because of the “compression” effect. (He does, however, have a window
with a nice view — his only evident “status symbol.”)

Asked whether the tiny quarters are adequate for his needs as CEO, Grove replies, “Absolutely. . . . I need a conference room for private meetings, but most of the
time I can read, work at my computer, or have phone conversations very nicely in my office — even if Pam often does overhear me.”

Breaking into a chuckle, he adds, “Earlier today, I was having a meeting in my office and everyone was talking about [Pam’s] role — and she pipes up on the other side of the partition and answers the question we were discussing. I have to be cognizant of things like that, but I’ve been living in cubicles since 1978 — and it hasn’t hurt a whole lot.”

Significantly, the open-office environment symbolizes one of Intel’s great strengths — a culture that encourages open and honest communication.

Senior Vice President Ron Whittier observes that Grove fosters open communication by encouraging staffers and others to say what’s on their minds. “People here
aren’t afraid to speak up and debate with Andy,” he notes. As a result, Grove is able to keep in touch with what is really happening throughout the 62,000-employee
company, which has a dozen wafer-fabrication facilities and other manufacturing operations around the globe.

E-mail, which he finds to be much more efficient than the telephone, also keeps him in touch. He estimates that he receives 250 to 300 e-mail messages a week. “As a
practical matter,” he says, “my phone is not nearly as important as it used to be.”

Moreover, e-mail has eased the burden of correspondence. “Back about 20 years ago,” Grove says, “if I went on a week’s vacation, when I came back, it took me about 10 hours to catch up with the regular mail. Now, the paperwork is almost nothing. “When I think about how I used to use correspondence, I would use the margins of memos — and scribble a few lines and send them back. And that is what e-mail does.

When someone writes to you, you respond back with a few lines or a paragraph. It goes back and forth, but it is very brief. . . . And a big difference is [the time element].  If you stick a letter in the mail, it takes a day or two to get to Arizona or wherever. There is no immediacy. But an e-mail transaction usually takes place within hours.”

E-mail, a byproduct of the information revolution that Intel helped to foster, has also reconfigured intra-company communications. “I no longer get internal [paper]
mail or internal phone calls,” Grove says. “If you want to reach somebody, you very quickly discover that the most effective way of doing that is through e-mail.

“If somebody phones while you’re out of the office — and you try to return the call — you ping-pong back and forth so many times that you forget why you called in the first place.”

That comment is proof that Andy Grove understands the real value that Intel helps to deliver to the business world. In fact, if he didn’t use e-mail, it would be a bit like the chairman of General Motors driving to work in a Toyota.

But, obviously, the culture at Intel is radically different from that at GM. And it is reflected in a variety of metrics — including the high-tech firm’s impressive stock-market performance in recent years. And, yes, even the dimensions of the CEO’s office.


Avoid the Rat Hole

I was talking to my brother yesterday.  Through the course of the conversation he said something like, “…not to go down the rat hole on this, but…”.  I’d never heard of the term.

Then last night the neighbors were over for dinner, and I asked K (who works in the tech sector) if she’d heard the term, “rat hole.”

She replied quite assumptively, “Yea, we use it all the time.  Like in meetings.  We even have a separate, rat hole white board, to capture those ideas during the discussion, but not allow the agenda to get high-jacked.”   Ah yes, the RAT HOLE.

This situation got me thinking.  There’s terminology, jargon, vernacular, whatever you want to call it, that’s likely to develop in any business, discipline, group, team, etc.  That’s probably a good thing most of the time.  It gives people with a common purpose a common language with which to move their goals forward.

Just as important as the language though — maybe more so, actually — are the processes and commitment to see things through to the goals that are set.

So to go back to my neighbor’s example, having a white board up during a meeting to note ideas that come up during discussion that aren’t particularly relevant to the agenda at hand is really smart.  It allows the ideas that come up to be captured for future review, but also keeps people moving forward towards their goals.

Figure 0ut ways to hack your behaviors to be more productive, to move toward the objectives you’ve set. You’ll be more successful.  Even more important, you’ll be happier. And you’ll stay out of the rat hole.