Over The Top “End Is Nigh?”

I’ve had quite a lot of feedback from both readers, subscribers, family members, and more about my most recent post on Ebola.

I was at first taken back with some of the feedback. Some were from both sides of the gambit. e.g., “I never thought about it in those terms or scenarios…” where others said, “Just what we need more gasoline on an already controlled fire…”

The more I thought about it, I could see where many were coming from. And many were valid criticisms too a point. However, many of the criticisms I found when talking to a few people were based on what they read in about the first 25% of the article.

As soon as the read the example I used involving a “nuclear power plant’s control room” they basically didn’t read any further into it and more or less just skimmed, while noticing I used other examples such as “medications” “police” and others which they immediately inferred that I was (to use an example) “nothing more than flame-throwing.”

I can understand why one might skim for it was nearly 2500 words and was basically me thinking out loud on a very important issue. And for those that have been visiting this blog for a while have come to know – this is where I don’t hold back. Here, I’m unfiltered.

Whether that’s for good or bad can only be judged by you. I tend to say what others wont, and look at business in ways others not only wont, but many will refuse to.

Again, at least one knows where I stand and too me – that’s really all that matters.

But let me get back to this post and why I wrote it as to explain something that’s very hard at times to express unless one has actually been through it.

First: No one ever thinks bad things will happen. It’s part of human nature. And in many ways it’s one of our greatest attributes of being human. If we didn’t have any trust. Or, if we thought every move would land one into jail, court, a hospital, ________ (fill in the blank) we’ld never do anything. Period.

Yet, too not look at events and understand just how fast something can turn around along with the implications for that as far “as you were concerned would never effect you,” or happens to someone else or else where. Let me give you just one small example where one would think: “C’mon that will never happen to me!” For I once felt the same way – till many of them did.

I know some are aware but for those who may be new September 11th is a little more personal in nature for me. Many don’t remember things like that weren’t supposed to happen especially after all the “security” measures instituted after the first Trade Center bombing and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. Then to find out not only does it happen, but one of your friends is on the first plane to strike the towers. It changes the way you look at things forever.

Another: The Occupy movement takes hold. As I wrote in an article before Zuccotti Park even took hold or was even mentioned as a movement I warned of the potential dangers a business could find themselves in. Then suddenly businesses found themselves in situations that crippled many. And some never recovered from the loss of revenue because they were basically shut down for no one could (or wanted to ) get through the protesters to conduct business at their locations.

Then: it is me that receives a phone call from my wife as she is being evacuated out of her office building because of a bomb threat. The building (which just happened to be a banking building but my wife was working for a totally different company that was also a tenant) was being protested by an Occupy movement. 1000 miles away from what every one is watching take place at Zuccotti.

Receive a phone call from your loved one as they’re being evacuated for fear of their lives in a building 1000 miles away from New York and Zuccotti Park but being protested in solidarity and: It changes the way you look at things forever. (You can read my real-time thoughts here.)

Those are just two which I hope helps one to understand why I look at things the way I do. I’ve had more experiences in life which at times makes me sit and question as I stare into the sky: “Are you giving these examples on purpose? Or am I just extremely lucky/unlucky? Because I don’t know anyone else even close that can share such stories!”

I truly believe this whole Ebola crisis could take a turn for the worse. However, I am fully aware – we just don’t know. And that is fine. Yet, acting like it can’t with something that has the potential to alter a landscape just a rapidly as waking and finding your country has gone too war  – is ludicrous.

You don’t wait till you hear the bombs dropping, or soldiers fighting in your streets to then make plans. If you’re paying attention to the right things you quietly but decisively construct plans and make adjustments, so that if a worse case scenario rears its ugly head one at least has the opportunity to react proactively. Rather than being caught flat-footed.

To end this discussion let me give you the gist of one conversation that I had. This person in an attempt to knock me back on my heels stated: “And what did you do or think when the Avian flu was posing a threat? How did that all work out? All you types were scare mongering around and come to find out all the protocols they put in place worked. This will probably end the same way. Much to do about nothing”

He was my response: “You have a point and you’re also making my point. For I’m not sure by what you just said that you know, all those protocols that were put in place as to quench something like this before it starts has been reported by many media outlets they were either rescinded or they are just no longer in place. That’s why I’m more nervous than I was before.”

Here’s the PDF file pandemic-influenza-implementation for those wanting more info. Or wanting to judge for themselves.

And one last thing: No one wants to be more wrong than I do. Believe me.

© 2014 Mark St.Cyr

Why An Ebola Outbreak In An Advanced Economy Has Even Harsher Ramifications

(Editorial note: The following could be read by some as trying to be controversial for that sole purpose. That is not the intent. Its raison d’être is for the sole purpose not to spur some “thinking out of the box” it’s to remind, more often than not, “there is no box.” You might want to visit this accompanying article first to understand the rationale behind it. Or, as a follow up.)

As we sit here today the Ebola disease has now moved not only off the African continent, but has made its way past all the barriers, checkpoints, safeguards and more that we were told are “in place.” And, has been officially diagnosed in a patient in none other than one of the United States most populous areas Dallas Texas.

I needed to make that review for it should provide some insight and background as I move forward and express other thoughts. For it is important that we keep things in perspective, as frightening as they just might be.

Along with this let me put out a few details about myself so there is also some context for the standpoint of where I’m coming from.

First, I’m a businessman. I write, speak, and help business people of all shapes and sizes address issues others just either can’t, or don’t even see. That said I also have background in the understanding of government protocols in one of the most encompassing areas: food safety.

I was part of the first in the nation to be trained, certified then formulate procedures, and protocols into a documented corporate standard operating procedure in accordance with U.S.D.A. approval and oversight when they introduced its new and revised Food Inspection Service program incorporating the NASA inspired H.A.C.C.P. program.

So with that said, it is for this reason why I am discussing this issue of Ebola in the ways I am. For I am not an alarmist, nor do I want to be seen as someone banging pans in a central square with a placard around my neck stating “The End Is Nigh!”

However, what I do want to get across is what may be in store along with the evolution of that process with its possible speed. As far as I can surmise, not only is no one talking about some alarming risks. Rather – it seems no one is giving it even the slightest hint of any consideration.

Here’s what we know. We currently have what is now being referred to as “Patient Zero” in a Dallas hospital under quarantine. What we also know is by all accounts the reporting of the possible contact or spread to individuals has gone from only a handful the day of the report, to now it’s been reported over 100 people including school children and others.

Adding too this both the response and the subsequent isolation and cleanup measures have done more to instil more cause for worry – than anything resembling reassurance for control or containment.

And that’s just Dallas. Now there are reports of Hawaii, Utah, DC, and possibly others where we just don’t know yet. Again, what we do know, is that – it is here. Period. And with that comes a whole new set of lenses to view possibilities through if one wants to be active and possibly be ahead of the curve in one’s business.

The reasons and consequences to be proactive should be self manifest. This is now uncharted territory and only prudence and eyes wide open with all scenarios on the table thinking will help one self inoculate from what might be in store. Or at the least help in minimizing potential losses.

Let’s explore a few “what ifs” and understand the potential impact that the general population at large just wont understand along with what is glaringly obvious; the main stream media willfully wont address.

Currently the focus of the potential spread of this disease is on the impact of infecting a large swath of the general population at large. And that alone is a frightening aspect.

However, the problem with this thinking is that it fails to address the more relevant factors in an advanced economy. i.e., What happens when just a small yet vital minority of the population gets hit? As in – the specialized work force?

Today the focus is on what we do if a large percentage of the population comes down with symptoms, let alone the actual disease. If one is symptomatic and feared exposure is present, quarantine will be inevitable.

What if one or more of those forcibly quarantined works for say a nuclear power plant? What if they were showing signs where transmission concerns are valid and they were at work during a day, an hour, what ever?

Do you now quarantine the entire control room staff if that’s where they were? And if so – who and how do you get replacements? Not only to fill their positions, but to actually go into what many will consider a contaminated area? Can you clean it in a  timely manner? Can you clean it at all?

For those who may be thinking “Here come the fear mongers” that’s far from the case. The above example is only to get one thinking, for if I may be so bold, when I wrote “Clarifying Why’s With What If’s” a great many lined up to tell me just how foolish of a notion that thinking was. Yet, within days we had reports of possible cases, and now only weeks later, not only is it here, but we have growing concern it’s far more wide-spread than first thought.

So lets move the nuclear power plant scenario off the table for those that can’t get their heads past the implications, and move to something that can have just as much impact: Our nations port workers.

We’ve all seen the pictures of merchant ships coming in from different countries loaded to the brim with cargo containers stacked so high many wonder how these vessels even float let alone sail. And many never stop to realize, nearly everything we touch or use on a daily basis comes to us via those ships.

What else many fail to realize is all that cargo, all those thousands upon thousands of containers that are removed as well as loaded onto these vessels: is done by no more than a handful of specialized crane operators.

What if one of these infrastructure critical workers were to become ill? What’s worse – what if they were to become symptomatic where transmission was possible within the actual cab itself? Who could replace them? Who would? Just like the scenario I asked in the prior example: could you decontaminate the area as in the actual crane cab?

The issue that has so many looking in the wrong direction is that they are looking at the spread and its implications via the lens of what is viewed as a third world environment and populace.

The issue is that as horrible and as devastating of loss or infection within a population can be, the effects within an advanced population can have potential impact to millions just as fast – even though they may be hundreds of miles.

A third world populace by its very nature is more of an economically self-contained environment. In an advanced economy water alone for a million homes, or waste treatment for 6 counties might be handled hundreds of miles away by only a handful of specialized workers.

Sound hyperbolic? Fair enough, but what exactly happens to an airplane, or airline, or for that matter all the passengers when the first occurrence of a hazmat suited team boards planes and removes passengers as that which happened in Newark just yesterday becomes wide-spread?

That’s why every single case of Ebola has the potential for disruption that can effect millions in ways an advance population wistfully thinks won’t or can’t happen here.

The default way of thinking is “Well we have the healthcare expertise to deal with this.”

Well, yes that might be true. But here’s my counter: “Expertise in medicine means nothing if you have to shut down a port, power plant, police force, water treatment facility, air traffic control tower, ___________ (fill in the blank) as you wait for 21 days just to see if there’s even something to treat.”

The disruption to a population during that time can be near as devastating as having the actual virus. Again – and they can be perfectly healthy and hundreds of miles away.

What happens to our banking infrastructure if an employee was found symptomatic at a clearing center? What then?

How about our stock markets which are by all accounts 70% if not more total volume dependent on High Frequency Trading? What happens if one of these facilities or a few technicians becomes symptomatic and contagion concerns are warranted within their offices?

The havoc that one scenario alone could cause along with its own monetary contagion fears throughout the world economy has the potential to dwarf the initial impact of any actual virus.

There are other scenarios just as scary – and just as feasible .

We all can understand the potential impact at the food supply level in the where or how people react or panic if food supply lines are disrupted.

However, what happens to a seemingly well-behaved town or community if suddenly their local pharmacy can’t supply their medications because the distribution warehouse has experienced a lock-down because a dock worker was found to be symptomatic and possibly courageous?

Suddenly you would have not only routine maintenance prescription users in jeopardy (e.g. blood pressure medication, etc.) but rather in many communities just as large of a populous suddenly made to go cold turkey off some very powerful, and highly addictive medications from pain to psychotic.

These are the issues any professed business person needs to take into account and prepare for the best they can. Not later – but now.

Again, this isn’t to be alarmist, this is prudence, because all these scenarios are currently on the table. Whether or not they come to fruition is something we’ll all gladly breathe a sigh of relief in when warranted. Yet, as of today, anything lackadaisical in thinking, planning, and viewing all potential disruptions to one’s business would not only be foolish, but downright irresponsible in my book.

Some might be thinking “OK, but they have to be infected, or symptomatic first, and the transmission we’re being told is not that easy unless they are.”

Yes, that may be true. Again I’ll reiterate: “What if the people critical to certain infrastructure needs is fine, has no issues, but ( and it’s a very big but) lives in an area, or an apartment building, or has family such as a wife or child that has just been isolated as in quarantined?”

Are they going to leave their family member in what they may perceive as a dangerous environment? (Think hurricane Katrina and the Superdome™ environment for clues to back up the term “dangerous.”)

Will there be a sudden need to forcibly “quarantine in place” these highly specialized workers in the chance of an outright pandemic situation? What impact might that have?

Time flies when there are no perceived dangers. But forcibly demanding and instilling 21 days in isolation or quarantine for the purpose of locking down key personnel, away from their own families during a crisis, whether it be for water, police, distribution, technological, and more, will be viewed as imposing a life sentence in prison for those involved should the right forces cross paths at the wrong time.

And it doesn’t take a lot. Just a few of the “right” ones to send shock waves throughout an economy and the citizenry at large.

Many also forget 21 days is just about what any local supermarket has on hand for inventory at any given time. And that is when everything is going as planned. Not when the undertones of a nearing panic starts to take hold.

Most people living in today’s day and age of an advanced economy have forgotten that with all those advancements we’ve made – we’ve also created some weaknesses as well as strengths.

One of those flip sides of “strength” is the weak point of disruption in a “just in time” inventory market place. Or to put it more succinctly: Many times what you perceive as being in a backroom of an establishment for reserve inventory is not only not in the backroom – there is no backroom.

What you may pick off a shelf might not have even been in the same state let alone store just days prior. Inventory management along with modern distribution channels give the seamless impression there is always more at the ready. But that’s not the reality. And it doesn’t take anything more than a power outage, or weather related event to remind one of this fact.

I’m not saying you need to be hunkering down in some spider hole waiting for the end of the apocalypse. However, what I am saying is that whether you’re a solo practitioner, or the CEO of a Fortune 500™ or even a Fortune 50™: to not be sitting down with key personnel and opening up discussions of thoughts and asking tough and pointed questions on the how’s or if’s that can transpire to effect your business and formulating plans to the best one can as to possibly deal with known variables is not only foolish, it’s down right lunacy.

Let me further my argument with this point. Back in early 2011 before protests and protesting took hold in the way we’ve seen of late I penned the following article:  Protests at home and abroad and what it means for your business .

This was when the first inclinations of how unrest and more were being seen in Greece. At the time no one thought they would go any further than within the Greek population for they had issues that we were told by the so-called “smart crowd” we don’t have here and as such “would not be any need for concern here.” Then the Occupy movement took hold.

Forget about all the others that have taken place since then. Now just look at Hong Kong. Imagine trying only now to formulate a plan on how to deal with the disruption if you were located or had to do business on that thoroughfare.

Not looking at the total risk and asking what impact things could have while asking relevant questions and putting into place prudent measures on the best way to deal with them as something such as this makes its way through the economy again isn’t just crazy – it’s nuts.

It’s almost as absurd as what we are now being told by the people supposedly in charge, and in control of what is currently transpiring.

You know, where you’re told at a national press conference that “It’s illogical and wrong-headed to consider quarantine or isolating the source country as to help contain this deadly virus.”

Yet, the first thing we are to do when we determine its whereabouts here – is to isolate and quarantine it as to not spread it.

Do I need say more?

© 2014 Mark St.Cyr

Average is Doomed

Anything that is close to average is not only where you don’t want your product to be, but neither do you want you job, your sales presentation, your meetings, your whatever to be “average” either.

Average is the new term for disposable. Average is the key word, or mindset, that will make a buyer decide they don’t need to hear any more of your presentation, or opinion. Average is quickly becoming the first sign of business atrophy.

Businesses, people, organizations of any kind need true expertise in this business cycle. Average was viewed as “acceptable” when only bodies were needed rather than thinking beings. Today: any position along with almost anything that fits into average, will be viewed as the first thing to be replaced or cut out all together.

This doesn’t apply to just people. This applies to systems, interfaces, education, management, online, physical locations, you name it. Anything and everything is now up for review and will be changed at rates far faster than many ever dreamed.

The opportunity to stand out, to show your value, to make the case why you are not an expense but rather an asset – is today. In this landscape.

Not when the times are easy, but when they are hard for if you can just imagine; most of your competition will not do the hard. They will do the easier; which is to complain about how hard it is. That is a losing position and will eventually lead to even worse circumstances.

You will stand out from the crowd and people will listen to your offerings if only you veer from this business chilling point alone.

People want solutions, they want help, they have needs, but what they don’t need any more of is a defeatist attitude from other businesses or people. They don’t need to hear “how tough it is for the average business or person in this environment” or more from anyone else. They’re probably telling themselves the same far more often than they’ll admit. And many are down right sick of it.

What they need is, “Here’s what I can help you achieve in this environment.” “Here’s what you should be doing to maximize X in this environment.” Or better yet, “Here’s what I need to do in this environment!” I believe you get my point.

Start from where you are, regardless of where that may be, and make the hardest commitment of any journey: The commitment to be better than you were yesterday. To move away from anything average and start striding towards excellence.

That’s all, nothing more. Just that one thing alone will propel you, and give you, the needed fuel to thrive while everyone else is just trying to “get by.”

It seems so simple, so small an act. Yet, it’s usually the smallest of acts that set the course for where the journey needs to go. And while everyone else is waiting for their next “big break” you should be engaged in doing the little things first – that make those breaks appear on command.

© 2014 Mark St.Cyr

Perception vs Reality – A Personal Example

I was asked the other day in reference to a line I stated in one of my posts if I could extrapolate a little more on exactly what I meant about the “perception” aspect. Here was the line they were asking about. It was in a rant I posted about my utter frustration with surveys.

“Remember tools are useful, but in the wrong hands or deployed willy-nilly they can turn into weapons used against you that can ruin what sometimes is more dear than reality. i.e., A customer’s perception that you are as good, as you think you are. Or, that you actually do care as much as you say you do.”

To many it may seem self-explanatory however, the discussion it moved I found interesting as it progressed. When I gave the following example I could see light bulbs go on everywhere so I thought I’d post the example here.

Years back when I was cutting my teeth in office management after just being promoted from working on the docks in the meat industry, I was taught (as in shown) a lesson in human nature (or buyers psychology) that has never left me.

I started at a fascinating time when most businesses were still run via adding machines, hand written ledgers, invoices and more. There were no “fields” to type the numbers or info then get the calculated answers. You had to add each number yourself entering every single digit into a desk calculator.

Sometimes there were hundreds of entries 3 or 5 digits long with decimals out 2 or 3 places. You would have to hand write each one, then add them, (twice for accuracy, if not – rinse repeat from scratch only to then hand it off to one more person that would double-check you) before the orders could go out the door. Today, I can still use a calculator and add pages of numbers without looking at my fingers nearly 30 years later.

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 5.47.22 PM Of course this was done on a calculator similar to any desk top still used today. (e.g., One that has a roll of paper attached. Not a pocket style.) However, what we still had on a few of the desks even by that day’s standards were

Friden Electro Mechanical Calculator
Friden Electro Mechanical Calculator

these gargantuan Friden Electro-Mechanical Calculators. These machines were incredibly loud, stood as tall as they were wide, weighed well over 30 pounds, were like having two cinder blocks on your desk, and almost mind-boggling in their mechanical complexity. Although they were inefficient to use any longer they still served a purpose that no other could fill.

We used one routinely at the desk where customers would come in and pay for items C.O.D. (cash on delivery) or pay on their outstanding balances. I was an outspoken proponent for why we should get rid of these. Too my thinking they were just inefficient and no longer needed in an “out with the past and in with the new” implied tone. The owner (who had taken me under his wing and I owe a great deal to my career) sat and listened to my explanation, then he showed me what I was not paying attention too.

As I stated earlier this was the meat business. And during this time it was routine that a store or person would come in and purchase a large side of beef or multiple cases of product weighing several hundred if not thousands of pounds and pay C.O.D. (and I do mean cash!)

These items were routinely sold in tonnage quantities and the prices per pound were let’s say for example $1.50 per pound. So a person would come into the office with a slip provided by the docks with their weights listed and needed to be tallied.

He sat me at the main desk where one of these machines stood and right next to it was what we still use today, a modern paper printing desktop calculator. He said, “OK, how much money do you need to collect if I have two sides of beef weighing 1438.35 lbs. at $1.78 per lb?”

Like greased lightning I punched the keys in the desktop and said near immediately, “$2560.26” “Right” he said. Then he asked, “Anyone ever ask you if your numbers are right when you sit here at times? Maybe they have even asked for you to double-check and add them again?”

I replied, “Sure, happens all the time, no biggie, I just do it, no issue on my end.” Then he said, “Do that same calculation on the Friden.” And so I did.

It took what seemed like a lifetime (was only a few seconds in reality but compared to instant, it was a lifetime) the noise, the gears crunching, the carriage moving, and more. Then when it finally stopped I had to look carefully to make sure I read the numbers correctly and said, “Yep, they’re the same, $2560.26 What’s the point?”

He said the point is, “They are the same, but really they’re not. You say to a customer you want them to hand over to you $2500 after adding on that electronic one – they’re going to question your math all the way out the door. They’ll probably even add it up themselves on the back of an envelope in their truck, and then again on a calculator when they get back to their shop. But standing here, in front of that machine, as it churns, and whirrs, and seems to take forever to come up with the same number? They’ll never question it. They’ll say too themselves “it must be right, look at the work it did to calculate it.”

He was absolutely correct. I have never forgotten that lesson. Although we do like to think of ourselves as smarter than average, or on top of more things than another, we are still human. And in being human, there are times where perception trumps reality.

Not everywhere, not every-time. But knowing that in this digit-age where it’s too routinely taken for granted that speed is always better: there are places where perception trumps reality, and sometimes for the better.

It’s in the knowing that there is, as well as the continuous looking for, then utilizing the when, where, and why to correctly make use and apply it that will keep you ahead of your competition more often than not.

For a great many in this digital aged, binary coded era have forgotten: On the other side of all screens is another screen with a human face reading what’s there. And sometimes speed is not the only concern for what is to be shown. Sometimes, a little theater is needed; even if it makes the sales process just a little bit slower.

For there is no better time in a sale than a customer that perceives your offerings as unquestionably valued, and believes with a qualified “yes” in their minds – gladly pays you for them. For that is time well spent.

© 2014 Mark St.Cyr

 

For those wishing to really see these machines in action I found a Youtube™ clip of exactly the same machine I used. It’s about 9 minutes long and shows the machines attributes in detail. However, for those that want to get right to the quick, start at 6:00 minutes in. You’ll see exactly what I was trying to describe above. That is basically what it sounded like if you were calculating the example I used above. And as what was alluded too earlier: he was absolutely correct. I was never questioned regardless of the amount, and became so used to using it, calculating took on an almost theater like quality. In a way it’s too bad this nostalgic part of a simple task is now gone. It truly was something you didn’t see everyday and now – you don’t see it at all.