Quote attributed to James Altucher.
Sometimes, that line has more meaning than I would care for; and far more truth than is spoken. When my colleague and friend suggested I partner with her and join her startup firm, I enjoyed the sound of carving your own way and genuinely helping people change their lives was the sort of drive my passion needed. For the first three months, financially and emotionally speaking, it was great - new clients being helped, my living expenses were covered and we were making a difference. We were "crushing it", in the business parlez.
Now at the eighth month, it's a different picture. Months behind on many living expenses, my colleague ill and falling behind, the economy soured and we have clients who are not paying and few new clients are too much of a risk.
What has changed? Life. Something that every business school fails to truly install in its' students. Sometimes the picture changes; sometimes, unforeseen events "crush" your firm. It is truly something that makes the heart heavy and your shoulders droop. Seeing only failure and ruin. Hence, keeping the pointies away.
And yet, despite the financial challenges, we have made a difference in people's lives. We have won Court cases in which there was little chance of prevailing, yet we did. We have patently waited for the right moment and then proceeded with a heady mixture of confidence, chutzpah and quiet civility and won the day. We have forced uncouth and unethical lawyers to think twice and then run away. Sometimes with determination, sometimes with quiet resolve and sometimes grabbing the sod by the collar and explaining the unvarnished facts (yes, to my embarrassment, I did this).
It is in this I am grateful and have an abundance of gratitude. And should we fail, we fail financially.
And I'll keep the sharp objects for later.
Each year at Christmas, I am reminded of this sentiment. It was born from the cold nearly penetrating my heart at a young and tender age, but overcoming.
You see, as a child, I had a very warm and comfortable upbringing. In our neighborhood, in Chicago, we had a quiet street; filled with children to play; parents who were attentive; with lots of barbeques where all the neighbors gathered for hot dogs & hamburgers as soon as the weather was warm. Winters were always cozy with friends gathering on Christmas. Our home was modestly decorated with a single and simple Christmas Tree, but it was always warm and comfortable. That is until I was age 6.
In the spring of 1968, my Father was injured in the line of duty. As a result, we lost our home on that quiet street with all the children and neighbors and barbeques; and move into my maternal Grandparent’s modest loft in a four-story house built in 1900. My Grandparent’s lived in the country, 70 miles away, where a very practical and stoic people dwelled. That meant accommodations were equally, stoic. The loft was built by my Grandfather for primarily studying, but was updated in in 1945 as a bed room and again in 1967 with a more modern bath tub.
Modest, is a bit of a stretch. As is the concept of updating.
The loft was four rooms: A bathroom come storage area, a kitchenette which could fit two people, the living room – cum – Bedroom for my parents, and our bedroom and playroom. The update was to include an oil-fueled furnace built sometime in 1920, which required both manual fueling and manual ignition (that is sticking one’s arm into the furnace to light). It was warm in the afternoon and all night, but needed to cool all morning and through lunchtime. Gone were the barbeques, as this was impractical; gone were children play in the street, there was work to be accomplished with some time for children only after the work was done. Gone was the cozy and warm.
And then came the winter.
It was a bitter, cold, winter. Complete with blizzard which made playing outside impractical. My Father, too, became bitter and cold. Falling into alcoholic stupor, divorcing my mother (with a quite word from my Grandfather, never to appear again) and finally his death. All winter long, the cold was beyond description. The cold found its way into your brain, your heart and deep into your soul. I cannot recall a single day that winter when I felt a modicum of warmth. Christmas was equally cold. No tree, no decorations, and not a single stocking. We ventured downstairs on Christmas day. Although the temperature was warm inside my Grandparent’s quarters, the reception was anything but warm. I received two hand-me-down fire trucks as gifts from my older cousins (built sometime in the 1950’s, complete with sharp edges). I didn’t care, I played with those trucks for three years almost every day. It was a bright, merry spot in an otherwise cold day. Which, shortly thereafter, was retreated back to our cold loft. Fortunately, spring finally arrived. Warmth and renewal of a life came to all things, including our fortunes.
The winter of 1969 was not as bitter. And, surprisingly, brighter. My mother found ways to keep our loft much warmer. That included putting a cast-iron pot on the furnace to create steam which would keep us warm well into the morning. I remember the first time she tried this, I felt cozy! It was a memory the warm my heart, the feeling of warmth for Christmas after a long and bitter winter. Equally in my memory was the brief sting of cold. My Grandfather on Christmas eve had an unusual request, to help him bring a bucket of water from our loft, down the three flights of stairs to place outside our door to water the Reindeer. I felt the cold pierce through my fingers as I lugged that bucket down the stairs. When I finished and returned to the loft, I found two things that immediately warmed my heart. The first was a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, filed with my Grandparent’s old ornaments and a topper that dated back to the 1940’s. It was the most beautiful tree I had ever seen. The second was flashing on the wall. I likeness of Santa Claus, lighted by a bulb which flashed off and one, creating a warm glow in the room. I would treasure that decoration for many years, until I had to retire it in 2010. It would not be the only surprise that Christmas.
That night, my Mother showed me something extraordinary, on my bed was an electric blanket. It was set at a modest temperature, but I did not care, for the first time I would go to bed warm and wake up warm! You could have knocked me over with a feather I was so happy. The next morning, as the snow had fallen, my mother lead me to the window to show me a wondrous site. In the snow outside that window, were reindeer tracks! Just how my Grandfather did this I will never know. Which of course meant, if there were reindeer tracks, Santa must have visited. And he did. Under that beautiful tree was a stocking for me and my sister, and a huge wrapped gift for me. I had to wait until friends arrived. Friends! At Christmas. Just like in the old neighborhood! Children laughing and running around, adults laughing and chatting. And when I opened the gift, it was a “Light Bright”. Beyond my wildest hopes! I played with that “Light Bright” that day, and almost every day for many, many years. That had to have been the warmest Christmas ever, but I would be mistaken.
The year 1970 would literally change my world. My Mother remarried and her new husband decided on buying a new home in the suburbs. So, that summer, we moved in a brand-new house on a quiet street. There were children to play with all day in the streets. Although there were no barbeques, there were outings planed by our neighbors to the beach, or the zoo or the watching eachother’s kids while the parents went out. No more hard work, now just time to play and be a child again. But the most curious part of that winter, central heating. From a gas furnace, which heated my own bed room and the whole house. I remember on that Christmas eve, sitting by the grate and feeling the warm suffuse me. I remember that evening, going out to eat – us, going out to eat on Christmas eve! We had pizza by a warm chalet styled fireplace. My Mother and Step-father recreated that beautiful Christmas Tree. There were lots of toys and our stockings overflowed. But that was a secondary memory in my young mind.
The main thing I remember, above everything else, I was WARM.
Many things have happened since 1970, some good, some not. But the one thing I remember, not matter what, was to make Christmas WARM: Figuratively, and literally.
May your Christmas be equally as warm.
I recently took a side-project with a startup. One of the focuses was deploy or create a platform for multiple users to access one of five calendars for various projects, appointments and dates. One issue that delayed deployment was, the stakeholders (that is the Chief Executive Officer ‘CEO’, and Chief Information Officer, “CIO”) could agree on which platform to use, and the CEO and CIO both had different needs and calendars already trying to work from. So here I am, the hot-shot MBA with experience in deploying calendars and, being brilliant with lots of deployments under my belt, decided on creating a solution for the company: If no stakeholder could agree on a single platform, I would recommend a platform and begin organizing, programing and deploying.
So, I chose a platform I was comfortable as a single user and configured for multiple users and for the platform’s software to run from an iPad. Simple and elegant. I made my recommendations on a Monday and spent the next four days creating and deploying the platform.
The result was less than encouraging. In fact, it was rather discouraging. “Well, that didn’t work…not at all!” was a gross understatement. It was not simple nor elegant.
The platform scrambled the dates, names and the contact information making the information useless and suspect. The CEO kept getting email bombed with useless reminders and calendar links which didn’t work, and the CIO was completely locked out of the platform. Needless to say, that Friday, they were both very unhappy with the results and wished to tell me so. In no uncertain terms. My ears were ringing an hour later after that meeting.
So, the following Monday morning, I met with both stakeholders and we agreed & decided on a simpler solution and an agreed platform. It took me less than a day to configure and deploy. It took about a week to fine tune without email bombs and verified the data was 99.9% accurate. The Monday thereafter, both were overjoyed and pleased the platform was up and running.
So, what went so wrong with this deployment? What did I learn from the project? Simple!
FIRST - IF NO ONE AGREES, THEN NO ONE GETS DEPLOYED:
It should be a no brainer, and yet sometimes innovators forget this simple concept. If you cannot get the people who will be paying for and using the platform to agree, in unison, you will never get a happy users. I should have walked the plans through with both the CEO and CIO, gotten their consent which included the benefits and downsides of any software or platform (cost, training time, easy to use, etc.) and get an implicit agreed; even if it meant holding their feet to the fire. Once the stakeholders agreed, the rest was simple.
SECOND – DON’T LET MBA THEORY CLOUD THE FACTS:
All MBA graduates have one shortcoming; they sometimes confuse theory for hard facts. They are trained to use theory in lieu of experience or fact to facilitate their careers until fact and experience can be obtained. The downside of this training is that MBAs confuse theory for hard facts and proceed untested with that theory. With consequences. I have seen it time and time again; sometimes MBAs lose lots of money, sometimes ending their careers. I had seen enough to avoid most of the pit falls. What I failed to take into account was my own mental blind spot. Because I had successfully used a platform as a single user, I theorized the platform could supply multiple users easily; the literature suggested it was not only possible but probable. This is what a good MBA does, researches the literature.
So instead of A-B testing or Stress testing or any reasonable amount of testing prior to deployment to gathering factual data, I proceed with the theory only.
The result was predictable. Had I stressed tested, or even A-B tested, I would have found multiple users crash the platform and the iPad could not handle demands of multiple users.
No matter how the theory appears to be sound, it is not practical until you put it into fact. And that means testing theory in harsh reality. If it survives, so do you. It's as simple as that.
THIRD – SIMPLE IS ELEGANT:
Although the latest and greatest toys impress your friends and adversaries, it does not mean it’ll work. In Gregory Moore’s 2002 book, “Crossing the Chasm”, a large part of his book discusses how consumers who want the latest and greatest usually are the test subjects for capacity and errors. It looks shiny, but doesn’t work. However, Moore believes that the greatest market to focus your sales effort to is the second or third generation of a technology which now has been tested and create the desire that everyone wants that technology.
Even the great Harvard Business School Professor, Clayton Christensen, espouses that, sometimes, the simpler technologies or existing technologies re-purposed to other uses, are the most efficient way to capitalize on technologies.
In other words, simple is elegant.
Just because this was a startup company, I should have not proceeded with a fancy and complicated system. I should have just stuck with something old-school and dependable and made my pocket richer quicker than my ear ringing. Now, they are happy and my ears can stop ringing.
Simple and elegantly.
The results of mistakes have been the subject of much reflection on my part. Humanity will always make errors or mistakes. It is not a question of if but when. The true question is how we respond to errors and mistakes that effects our minds and outlook on life.
To the legal mind, perfection is a not only a goal to strive for, it is a ridge code; as rigid as ancient Japan’s Bushido. No imperfection is minor. And the slightest infraction is warranted as virtual death. The example I like to use is that a law firm created a template for a lawsuit which had a comma inserted into the wrong position on the template. This was used by the other side to discredit their entire body of work – arguing that such an error was sloppy workmanship and that all other arguments which followed should be treated as sloppy. This was the argument presented and came very close to destroying the other side’s case completely. Suffice to say, that template was changed shortly thereafter.
On the other hand, the business mind is not immune to mistakes or errors, rather, the response is like the ancient Chinese philosophy – danger leading to opportunity. The example I like to think of is a wine maker’s error which made him a tidy profit. He had used a different yeast for his Merlot instead of the recommended yeast, simply wanting to try something different. The result was, instead of a semi-dry to dry Merlot, he got a “sweet” Merlot. Almost 100 gallons. At first, he was ready to dump the entire lot, when his son gave him an idea: Sell it as a unique wine at a premium price. The result was a successful vintage which netting a very, very tidy profit. And still a popular wine today.
It’s very easy to get into the mind of errors and mistake are fatal – you never try anything new and you are hyper cautious. Granted, errors and mistakes should not be treated as casual for new opportunities as some errors and mistakes can prove fatal. The key is finding a balance. The lock which that key opens is, freeing your mind of fatality and gross risk taking.
If given the two, I shall look at errors and mistakes as chances to find opportunities. Without the mess of Hari-Kari.
A late note. I came across this quote from the painter, Vincent Van Gogh: "I tell you, if one wants to be active, one must not be afraid of going wrong, one must not be afraid of making mistakes now and then. Many people think that they will become good just by doing no harm – but that’s a lie, and you yourself used to call it that. That way lies stagnation, mediocrity."
The larger regional firms and AMLAW 200 firms, that is over a hundred attorneys, seem to be slowly adapting; which is to say that the survivors of both the dwindling regional firms and, figuratively speaking, the AMLAW 50.
The mid-sized firms are profiting in this age of adaptation, that is between ten and thirty attorneys, focusing on a small core group of staff with a precise targeted clientele. It is not a matter of adaptation, rather finding a market with ten to twenty year projection for that market. That is, until their clientele finds breakthrough technology or methodology and compels the mid-sized firms to adapt; which will result in smaller firms or less mid-sized firms.
What is left are the small law firms. The most prolific of all law firms in the world. Two to five attorneys, one or two paralegals, possible a secretary and a support staff. In order to survive, a small firm uses a lot of creativity to compete or complete with the case demands; compatible technologies, or templates, or personnel juggling multiple roles. However, that creativity does not lend itself to finding cutting edge breakthroughs or utilizing the latest managerial trends to retain and groom talent or generating more revenue with less effort. What occurs is the same trends as the larger firms - obtain more clients to generate revenue without greater technology or breakthroughs. This leaves a smaller staff to produce a work product at the same level as a larger regional firm without the personnel or technologies, at a greater fragility of financial loss. Case in point, my workload is four times the average workload of my colleagues - with a cap of fifty hours a week in pay but expected to bill roughly one-hundred and twenty hours a month. Without more effective technologies that fit into a small firm without an active IT department, without additional personnel and with only one full-time attorney. The mathematical calculations, regarding input versus throughput versus EBITA, would make any business consultant shy away and declaring this venture a pig.
Almost makes a person want to say, "would you please, make up your silly little minds?!"
The despair is fairly simple to find, the feelings after a long holiday season of such bright lights, giving and feasting; or the lack thereof. The theme of hope is more subtle.
In all the feeds I have read so far, some of the subtle themes for hope are:
Hope that the winter will end and spring will bloom;
Hope that life and prosperity will become greater than the previous year;
Hope that a better life and direction will transpire in the coming year;
Hope that the meaning of the particular holiday you celebrate will have a deeper or more profound meaning;
Some may even have far flung hopes of:
Universal peace, brotherhood or fraternity will break out;
or, some disease will hopefully cured in our lifetime;
or sense and reasoning will suddenly come to our politicians and justice in pure tranquility become reality.
However, what is never written, but present in the undercurrent of the writings is this:
Hope that pressures of life will ease;
Hope of food on the table;
Hope that our relatives and family not irritate us;
Hope our employment will remain in tact;
or in the alternative, a better situation becomes reality;
Hope that in our advocations and hobbies, we find a small modicum of peace.
None of these hopes are new, in fact you only have to look to the Hanukkah blessing:
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe,
Who has sanctified us with His commandments
and commanded us to kindle the hanukkah candle.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe,
Who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe,
Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment.
Or to look to the latin hymn:
Veni, veni O Oriens,
solare nos adveniens,
noctis depelle nebulas,
dirasque mortis tenebras.
Veni, veni, Rex Gentium,
veni, Redemptor omnium,
ut salvas tuos famulos
peccati sibi conscios.
O come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death's dark shadow put to flight.
O come, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven's peace.
This is the reason we have such hope, the underlying theme of the Holidays are hope. To remind us to dare to hope, to keep our hopes alive and sustain our hopefulness until the next year, in the deep of winter when our hope seems lowest.
I could not help but to think, here was a fabricated holiday by the early Christian Church, spring from the mind of a mad and wonderful noblemen & soldier turned monk1, blended with Roman Pantheon, Azur True and a dash of Gaulish Celtic for good measure; which were indeed times of indulgence and celebration for the hastening of Spring.
And if that was not enough, about a thousand years later, add the crazed twists of a mad, brilliant, monk and scholar who gave the world, "Santa Claus", which was fabricated to ease children's hearts during the Reformation2 with a twist of ancient Krampusnacht3 to ensure children were "nice and not naughty". And that as a result of, or countering therein, a wide scale commercial market for decorations and indulgence may have began 3a.
And then, about three hundred years later, add a brutal English Monarch, whose German Mother and Husband (and first cousin)4, brought forth and back in vogue all the decorations, traditions and symbols we associate with modern Christmas; even though England originated the twelve days of Christmas before its suppression by Cromwell. I read in the histories of the time, that although there was still great emphasis on the spiritual aspects of Christmas, it was lessening to a time of secular celebration and indulgence.
And finally, in America, a land where on the 25th day of December, 1775, Daniel O'Shay and his family were almost lynched and fled their home in Boston, Massachusetts, because as a Catholic dared to celebrate Christmas. A land where immigrants made ornaments from apples and squash, used candles made from lard and what native materials were available to celebrate Christmas in the new world - from native game to homemade and home crafted gifts to home brewed drinks. The Christmas traditions from the european immigrants did not change much in scope until after the Second World War, when perhaps more emphasis was placed on material bounties rather than on spiritual offerings thanks modern production, the end to large scale ware and readily made goods & wares now easily affordable.
I began to muse that in America, the giving gifts and indulging of holiday themed cuisine and beverage has been taken to a whole new level of indugence. Even with the best of intentions of sharing from the bounty of Americans whom can afford, we as a nation have, once again, altered the precepts and concepts of Christmas. More commercial entities have made great strides in producing and promoting wares and good and services for Christmas in America both domestically and, ironically, from Europe. Danish Gulg or German Yule log or English crackers are as common as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer dolls made in China. Some of my fellow Countrymen would argue that as Americans, we have strayed away from the meaning and intent behind Christmas. Some might even argue that the commercialism has finally taken over as was warned back in the 1950's and 1960's, and impoverishing Americans with needless debt and needless duties to give. And some, myself included, have embraced these indulgent behaviors and have engraved them into memory of wonder and cherished thoughts, justifying the mass indulging.
In the end, the best argument for spiritualists can offer is symbology; marketers and manufacturers can, at best, offer dreams of peace and plenty to sate the secularists.
It would seem therefore, the only reasonable argument which can be offered is that as Christmas has changed throughout the centuries, blending and reforming precepts, perhaps in each individual's mind, Christmas can be formed into an image that blends those elements which bring spiritual comfort and secular pleasure in equal portions and in equal measure. And with that final musing on a very rainy and icy night, I concluded reason and my journal home.
1= Francis of Assisi.
2= Dr. Marin Luther.
3= Krampusnacht was a pre-Christian German holiday in where demons roamed the countryside looking for naughty and wicked; this was transformed into "Black Peter" accompany St. Nicholas and, briefly, Santa Claus, looking for naughty children. The practises of Krampusnacht are still celebrated by "kidnaping" young woman and their families offering drink and food as "ransom" to return their women.
3a= The Christkindlmarkt of Germany sold foods, decorations and gifts in each town for weeks preceding upto Christmas. The first wide scale commercial efforts for secular celebrations.
4= Queen Victoria.
You may find the tone a bit harsh, at the time I was dealing daily with Business Students and Business people, which tended to lack a certain amount of grace and civility. However, I am unapologetic and unrepentant about the message conveyed.
Lastly, I do not endorse or subscribe to any candidate or party affiliation, I see all candidates and parties equally, to be avoided and to deduce their end game as quickly as possible.
Take a char my dears, and let me tell you tel a story about how my theoretical and less than practical class work related to the Presidential Election Cycle and was actually good for something. I never would have thought my classes on business strategy would related to...well...the elections, but it really does! How? Here's how!
Last night, Westpig and I were on the Highway heading home. I was grousing and fuming about an article my classmates posted about a Wall Street Journal article in which, simply stating, that if you, an MBA candidate, are not graduating an Ivy League School (Wharton, Harvard, Tufts, Stanford, McGill or London School of Economics), and, if you did not study 70 hours to prep for an interview with Bain Capital or Boston Financial Services, don't bother even graduating.
Perhaps my Midwesterner sensibilities were rising to the fore-front (or as we Irish like to say, Getting my Dander Up and Spoiling for a Donnybrook); but to me, the whole East Coast / Ivy League hubris smacks of whinny-spoiled kids whose only attribute is daddy's money to network, or kissing up to someone who leveraging daddy's money - THAT'S it!
Then I added to our conversation, with a touch of Irony, "And as for Bain, how did that paper empire they wanted to build worked for them? Oh Yes, that's right, THEY BANKRUPTED 7 COMPANIES and displaced hundreds of workers in the process because they only looked at the numbers and not the process of how the companies would fit together as a whole!" This is a fatal mistake, not looking at structure, culture or supply chain can destroy a company - something now the Wharton, Harvard, Tufts, Stanford, McGill and London School of Economic are proclaiming as new and radical. A little late, I think; but I digress.
At which point Westpig turns to me and asked, perhaps to change the subject or appease the angry, honking, goose, "What's Bain Capital?"
I told her, "as I understand it, Bain Capital is a private equity firm which finds under-producing or troubled companies, leverages them, and turns them around at a profit."
Westpig shrewdly replies, "You mean like Romney's doing?"
Stop the Bus, Driver! The Harvard-Soviet intellectuals and Ivy-League dilettantes did not make the seminal grasp as quick as did the Piggy in 10 seconds as to Mitt Romey's end game. Another reason to be leary of Ivy-Leaguers and Harvard-Soviet intellectuals.
Ladies and Gentlemen, carefully think about this for a moment.
You have an under-producing entity, which in this case is a country which is suffering financially, and in a tender position for "leveraged" buyout.
What does any business consultant from Bain or Boston Financial do? Simple! Run the numbers, pitch to the company capital for change, then petition the stakeholders, file proxy statements, vote out the old managers and board of directors, and take over the business.
Run the numbers yourself, you will come up with the same conclusion.
If you can read a balance sheet, you can read the BLS statements, same skills apply.
And from there, the classic business consultant strategy takes form; just walk through the following steps with me:
* Step one: Mitt Romney ran the numbers; in this case, interest rates v debt v trade out v trade in v revenues. Troubled but can flip for a maximum profit.
* Step two: The United States of America is a perfect takeover target; weak management and under performing. Begin formulating takeover strategy.
*Step three: pitched to the company stakeholders, that is the Republican Committee first, that he can provide better management than the current directors and better returns. Next, formulate to the shareholders.
*Step four: You seen campaign ads? Guess what? You were petitioned to cast your vote in the company by proxy, as a stakeholder in the country, to change leadership and replace the current CEO and board of directors. Plan for wooing the shareholders and vote proxy to remove managers
* Step five: Did you vote today? Did you look at the ballot? I did, under each candidate's name were a list of delegates that person wins who cast their ballots at the Electoral College. This is a proxy statement for you to leverage your share to Romney's pick for the Board of Directors to change leadership which you filed duly and lawfully.
And behold, step six, you have a new CEO, Board of Directors and company managers.
Case study closed.
And who says a business education is not practical?
Working in Law Firms and Corporate Law cubicles for 15 years, you get second sense of what that Firm’s culture within 10 minute of walking in the front door; that is you’ll know if this is a firm you wish to reach out to or run like hell. This goes beyond “going with your gut”, this is fine observation and candid examination. Failing to make these observations will side-track you or restart at the bottom. I have distilled this second sense into six basic items I look for when determining a good firm. Take note of them.
1. Does the staff look jittery or shell shocked?
Everyone has an off day or bad moment, we can’t always be on our A Game every waking moment. But use your senses and take a close look at all of the staff: From the clerks and receptionist to the Paralegals and Secretaries. Are they ALL walking on egg shells or look like Zombies? If they all are acting the same way, do you want to join the undead? No amount of money can re-animate your professional career.
2. If someone tells you this is the greatest job or place to work, it’s not.
This is not about the person passionate about their career or product. Because if they are candid and self-improving, they will find areas of improvement about their Firms or Products and share them with you so you may make your own determination. However if someone tells you unequivocally and repeatedly that you are in the greatest job you can ever hope for or the greatest Firm ever and you should feel exactly the same way, watch out, they have drank the Kool-aid and you are next in-line – and your career just became DOA.
3. When your boss / mentors tell you to avoid people or be careful around, you just got knifed.
Now I am not saying you should ignore your boss / mentors when they suggest not interfacing with Senior Management and you walk in and jump on the General Counsel’s sofa. But when they tell you to avoid, or only associate with, certain peers or Partners, or suggest for a specific Partner you should drop everything for and do or they will end your career, my only recommendation is unless you trained in Byzantine Court protocols or memorized Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, avoid that Firm entirely. Because the same ones who give you the warning with all sincerity, will likely stab you in the back and end your career just as it starts.
4. Whose pulling your bosses’ strings?
It's rare if your boss or Attorney does not report to someone else or follow a directive. The real question becomes how much authority does your direct report really have and who has the real authority. In my career I had two bosses who had really no authority, it was derived solely from their direct report. However, there was a big difference: One which worked very closely with his direct report and pushed back when needed, which gave a balanced approach to managing the daily operations. That gave his subordinates a sense of trust and not being thrown under the bus. The other was, no kidding, a puppet; only to carry out the orders of all her superiors no matter how convoluted or confusing which, as you guessed, gave ZERO trust. I had to buy a bus schedule just to keep track of which bus I was going to be thrown under.
The best way to determine if you have a puppet is to have a candid discussion with your peers about how much authority your direct report has and who is calling the shots by the end of first week. If your peers are candid, will tell whether or not you have puppet. If you have a puppet, cut the strings Pinocchio and run.
5. Did everyone get the same message?
Sometimes you work for two diametrically different Attorneys with conflicting requests. Granted, every practice has variations even within the same firm; that comes with the territory. I’m not talking about the minutia of day-to-day stuff, I’m talking about if the shareholders are working in concert to make a firm profitable by agreeing to a joint principal or making their own empire and be damned the rest.
You cannot read a business blog or HBR article without the pendant pontificating of "Mission" and enterprise wide understanding the mission. Got it. However, since Law Firms do not read either, the question of "Mission" is more convoluted. Is what you are being told about procedure or form style or deliverables the same from the Associate, the Partner, the Managing Partner, and the Governing Partners? Do you find the rules apply to all the staff, Associates, and Junior Partners, but NOT the Senior Partners? If the message is completely different between in either stage, you got trouble. If you find several carve outs of principals and protocols for certain Partners, you will are in real trouble? Ultimately, no matter how good the money is, you will never find a comfort zone and ultimately you may not have a firm.
6. Did your Attorney get a good night’s sleep or have recurring health issues? It’s Dollar_somatic!
This part is the most important, and most subjective, because it is a matter of individual tolerance and how much you can withstand. This requires a real sense of self-evaluation.
I have not met an Attorney who occasionally does not get a good nights’ sleep from years of trying to make 2000 billable hours per year. That’s not what I am talking about.
What I am talking about is when a crazed, hard core biathlon Trial Attorney starts losing sleep or developing ulcers about the Jury Trial which he believes should be settled but the Client, who is paying on time and top dollar, refuses to settle. Or the M&A Firm which suspects their client is not acting in good faith when irregularities appear in the Financials, but does not challenge the client because the Managing Partners insist the revenue from that client takes precedence. Then you have what I call Dollar_somatic. That is, revenue pressure from Managing Partners becomes the over-riding factor in Professional responsibility. This is becoming more common in mid-size to AMLAW Firms in the face of unprecedented challenges and financial pressures.
Eventually, this will trickle down on you and everyone has a different response to and tolerance of financial pressure. You may not have skin in the game over the outcome, but you may developed a greater detachment from clients –suckers to be milked– and suddenly you are in Golden Handcuff’s; you can’t leave because of seniority and money but cannot stand the work and guess what, your blood pressure is elevated. Or you try to turn off your ethics and push through the work, and guess what, you got an ulcer! Look carefully at this, self-evaluate and not just push this aside, or at your own peril ignore for this will hamper your career.
It's origin is a Christian Holiday, which became a Catholic Holiday and reprieve Lenten obligations1, which has translated into a Secular
I believe the following sums up the sentiment.
St. Patrick's Day in Dallas: a holiday for homesick Irish Catholics used as an excuse for local Protestants to projectile vomit everywhere.— Texas Triffid Ranch (@txtriffidranch) March 17, 2015
Perhaps it was the same when Christians began seeing Rabbits and Eggs supplant the Cross and the purple muslin; or when the Founders of America began to note the celebration of the 4th of July more about celebrating than remember about freedom.
With a little discomfort and a little longing for how it was.
1= It was with certain interest that both Pope John Paul II and the Archbishop of Canterbury both gave specific permission for the Irish of Tulsa to break Lenten obligations for 17 March which have not been rescinded.
This may sound like another opening line from a bad novel, such as "it was a dark and stormy night...", but sometimes the most meaningful conversations can happen quickly and deeply without much planning, media, and political agenda. That is the way it should be.
You see, I had meant to shine my shoes for a week; and given I had an important meeting that afternoon, I did not have the chance to shine them the night before. So I decided on a lark to go to a shoe shiner to have them professionally conditioned and polished. I was lucky I was the last customer before his break and he graciously accepted.
I sat in the chair, handed me the paper, and began to quickly clean and condition before dressing the heals, toes and applying a good polish. It was in the moment he asked a curious question:
"What do you think about the goings on in Ferguson?"
By this he meant, in 2014, the shooting of suspect African-American Micheal Brown by a Police Officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the ensuing riots, and response by Federal and State officials. I liked this to the conversation twenty years ago, "So, what do you think of all the Troubles (in Norther Ireland)?" which should be avoided. However, I could not avoid.
I looked him in the eye, and told him: "My hope is the Court considers the matter carefully so that Justice my truly happen. Then peace may occur." Consider this. In a Just Society, we have the rule of Law, we replace violence and discord with an agreed harmony. I have always held this to be true. It must be, lest we descend into might equals right. Even in the face of perceived in equality, even if the government steps in to assist, the Rule of Law and the Courts MUST be the arbiter of Justice in a equatable and peaceful society and not the government or the mob.
The shoe shiner touched on a simple concept, fairness or equality in the Law.
A fair concept, to be sure. But I remembered a quote attributed to the Roman Philosopher and Businessman, Seneca, which said, "What is Just is not always fair, and what is fair, is never Just!". I believe this soundly. If I were to be just fairly, I would never obtain justice. I would be most likely condemned, or as I told the Shoe Shiner, "need to pack my asbestos underwear".
It was the most agreeable discussion for me, and a very good shoe shine.
For many of our European cousins, it meant parades for the civilians and speeches for politicians, and for the few remaining men & women who served their countries, don their metals and awards to be remembered as heroes once again. It is a time of great remembrance, from the British Channel Islands to Moscow, people remember the bravery in horrific times and honor their dead.
Yet we in the United States have taken little notice of the Victory celebrations; our Grandparents and Great-Grandparents who fought the Nazi’s, came home, forgot and moved on with our lives, save only the hidden remnants of a nation waging war – like the box of mementos my Grandparents kept from the War: “A” car fuel discs, clothing coupons, milk and butter coupons. Only paper. Perhaps it is in the American psyche that we always look toward the future and never dwell on the past, just like the mementos to have their place in history. Fotten in the Attic until some event compels us to remember. This seems to be a recurrence of history that we forget until we are compelled to remember.
Sir Winston Churchill once said, "Those who fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it!" From our historical learning, we have not had this lesson. The last time a foreign army, which was the British Army and Royal Marines, march on American soil was in 1812; the last great carnage on our homeland was during the American Civil War (or the War between States) which ended over 147 years. The men and women who secured the blessings of freedom for Europe on “VE-DAY”, or "C День победы" to my Russian friends, was a result of our nation waging war – we were not a nation under occupation!
We did not see the Luftwaffe bomb New York or Los Angeles, nor SS Waffen Panzers roll across the tall grass prairie of Oklahoma or Wheat fields of Kansas; which I am thankful to a merciful God not having a family history of seeing this.
But we were the exception.
In learning about the culture of Russia, and a little from the Soviet Union era, from friends I have through LJ, I have come to appreciate something rather startling and frightening to me about what my friends call “Вели́кая Оте́чественная война́” (BOB), or The Great Patriotic War , was not just to stop Hitler’s mad-men from invasion, but it was a fight for survival!
I have not encountered a Russian or Ukrainian for whom BOB, spared any family members – Uncles & Aunts, Grandfathers and Grandmothers, or older Siblings maternal and paternal.
Some reporting several family members’ dead whom were not in uniform – but civilians for whom Hitler's’ “kick in the door, and the whole rotten structure will fall” strategy meant killing them too.
Just how many?
The total number of dead during BOB in former Soviet Union (That is Russia AND the Ukraine) is about 27 Million. To put this into perspective, that is every man, woman, and child living today in the State of Texas dead .
This alone, is cause for my American friends to give pause – and remember those who fought, and those whom perished.
In all the rhetoric about Justice, I wondered if anyone, Citizen, Subject, or State, understands what the word Justice really means? And if you really knew the meaning, would you honestly want to seek Justice on another?
The concept for Justice comes from Roman Law or Jus, meaning to have, "Power, Privilege, or Capacity (of control) over another Person…."
Think about this for a moment, the Power over another person’s life; their person, property, or family. How would you exercise such power?
Would you conjure Jus abutendi or the right to exercise power in any manner you see fit? Having your way through unrestricted and limitless force. Even with the noblest of intentions, could you wield such power and not declare jus dicere - "I AM the hand of God!" - That you are correct to exact power and dominion over those whom you declare beyond the pale. Isn't that called Retribution?
Or would you strive for Jus naturale, or to exercise power in positive governess in A communi observantia non est recendendum from the common rules for all, there shall be no departure.
Not seeking your way only, but acting for all to benefit. Striving for others to follow Jus ex injuria non oritur, if they seek to change an ill or want in unity; for good cannot rise out of doing harm . And, unselfishly, allowing for the possibility of losing today even with the noblest of intentions, so that all will gain tomorrow. So that you, in the end, become self-enlightened.
Which do you choose?
Case in point:
McDonald's Closes Its Doors in Crimea
The Moscow Times - Apr. 04 2014 12:56 Last edited 12:56
Stringer / Reuters
McDonald's has suspended operations at its three restaurants in Crimea indefinitely "due to manufacturing reasons independent of McDonald's," the Ukrainian branch of the U.S. fast-food giant said.
Restaurants in the cities of Sevastopol, Simferopol and Yalta have been closed but employees will be allowed to take up their old positions at other branches in Ukraine, McDonald's said Thursday in an online statement, without elaborating on the reasons for the closure.
The statement also said the company had offered to cover relocation costs for workers and their families, as well as housing for three months following the transfer.
Severance pay would be available for those employees who declined to leave, the company said, adding that it hoped to reopen its restaurants in Crimea "when such an opportunity" arises. The offer of a relocation package for workers suggests that the company does not expect to do so any time soon, however.
About 500 people have been laid off as a result of the closures, most of whom intend to look for new jobs in Crimea, Itar-Tass reported, citing out-of-work employees.
"We got advance notices, but we couldn't believe it until the last moment, we love our jobs and it was a big shock to us," one former employee said.
News of McDonald's leaving Crimea was mostly received well by Russian Internet users, with several commentators on the Ekho Moskvy website saying that Crimeans will now get healthier, while some remarked that Russia's fast-food restaurants did not have much to offer in terms of healthy food either.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the outspoken leader of the Liberal Democrat party, or LDPR, also welcomed Friday's news, telling reporters he would do all he could to bring about the closure of McDonald's restaurants in Russia, Interfax reported.
"I call upon local LDPR organizations to arrange pickets outside every McDonalds branch," Zhirinovsky said, adding that once the "soul" of the fast-food chain had been destroyed, he would seek the removal of Pepsi Cola from Russia as well.
It's the last paragraph that is most chilling. Directly targeting Multi-national companies corporately based in the USA. LDPR is very right of the United Russia party and alliance with V.V. Putin. This may lead to other indirect, far right, actions.
This at a time when American business interests should be stronger with Russia not weaker; which as a curious note, shortly before the Crimea issue, our Ambassador resigned his position.
I do not see this ending well.
I’ve wondered – with these kinds of messages over the last 150 years, why is the world not a stronger, better, utopia place to live?
Because the message and the challenges do not match everyone to everything to anything. It soothes but does not relieve the pain. It distracts from the overwhelmed facts.
Maybe we as a planet need a different message –
try, fail, try, succeed, do - fail or succeed.
May put a few motivational speakers out of work, but may achieve a utopia.
For the moment, I would like to offer a ‘side-bar’ to my f-list for clarification and enrichment.
For my friends outside of the US, this might appear both bizarre and confusing. And, you would be correct. But to put this into perspective, may I offer a little background on the reasons behind this furor. That reasoning lies within our Constitution. The Constitution of the United States of America is one of the most unique documents in all the world. Produced under extraordinary circumstances by very well reasoned men, the US Constitution remains the pre-emanate body of law Governess since 1787. Holding particular distinction as the world’s first written Constitution. This body of work sets forth the entire laws and framework for exactly how the US Legislative bodies, President & Vice-President, and Court system must operate; such as election requirements, mechanisms for removal from office, and most importantly - requirements for holding office. Specifically, under Article 2, Section 1, Clause #5, which enumerates that those aspiring to be the President must be a “naturally born” citizen (that is born within the boundaries of America and not immigrated to the USA) and over the age of 35 if they wish to hold office. Now that you have that background, the whole point of the ‘side-bar’, I would like to turn from the concrete to the abstract – from the politics of many to the introspection of the one.
By now you may have guessed that this NOT political observation, since I’ve stated this twice in the last two paragraphs and hopefully hammered this point home. No, this is an observation on the most sensitive and important subject of human existence: Our past and how we cope and/or resolve our past.
We have all had that single defining moment in our lives: The moment we decide to embark on a different path in life in order to obtain our goals and our fortunes, and turn away from our old lives. Such as the day at University we choose our major and passion in life which differs from our family business. The day we find we’d much rather be performing on stage than working in an office unlike our fathers and mothers. The day we choose our own life style and over that of our parents.
It defines us. It reshapes us. It remakes us. We are no longer the child we once were, we are the adult we have become.
Curious thing though, it does not eliminate our past.
As much as the successful city Lawyer practices her urbane lifestyle, you still hear occasional slips in the vowels which betrays her humble farmer’s rearing. Or the boy from the city whose parents scripted and saved to send him to good schools and university, though try as he may to hide his hard edge among the easy-going farmers of his new community, it slips between the façade of his new image.
And when our past comes to light in the present, as it does to us all, we are faced with three options: Disguise or dismiss our past, highlight certain parts of our past for the benefit of those around us, or come to terms with our past and acknowledge them, in whole and un-edited, to the world – for better or worse and receive the sanctions from your admission.
I have found the first two options do not work very well. To disguise your past, even for the most noblest of reasons can be viewed by your friends as dishonesty whom are left sense of betrayal or question your integrity. At worst, a weapon welded by your advisories to bludgeon you for being a poseur. And to simply dismiss the question of your past life may lead to more aggressive questions of character, which leaves you in an uncomfortable position.
Likewise, highlighting parts of your past can leave people with a specific one-dimensional impression, and when that impression is challenged and found in error or that you are, like the rest of humanity, a multi-dimensional person; which castigates to the world that are not the same person you make yourself out to be. Again, leaving a sense of betrayal or question your integrity.
The final option requires the person both forgiving of themselves and willing to accept the sanctions (which is both reward and punishments) for embracing their past and candidly – unvarnished- telling of their past.
I suspect, not as a political commentary but as to empathic response, that Mr. Obama has experienced sanctions from all three choices. From Barry Obama, the well traveled and bright Boy who suddenly finding himself in humble, single family, circumstances; to Barak H. Obama, Esquire - The Urbane Lawyer and Politician, rising to acceptance into University and Law School into prominence.
The only factor which differs from you and I is the fact Mr. Obama cannot simply use the cloak of anonymity and become just another face in the crowd. No, his decisions yielded quite public responses: Sometimes dismissive or careful to disclose his past; sometimes presenting only a portion of his past to show relativity to an audience; to ultimately disclosing his Certificate of Live Birth to the press to justify his past and lawful authority.
All three choices were played out for the world to see and to render judgment - leaving his allies bewildered and his advisories well tooled. Not a warning to follow suite, but a lesson to be divined by using Mr. Obama’s favorite axiom, “A Teachable Moment”. I hope it was a lessoned learned.
In the end could we say as humans, we followed the same choices and rendered the same decision? And herein is the question: How do you choose to disclose your past?
my career. This is not a bad thing, as you gain usable information to incorporate into your strategy.
The problem is, many people swear by one expert or another and demand you follow exactly in their steps and adopt their strategy exactly without variation.
For example, my mentor is a devotee of Jon Acuff. Jon is a big believer of rising early to create strategy and encourages his followers to do the same. As as result, my mentor rises at 4am to meet with other Acuff followers to reflect candidly on their dreams. She is insisting I do the same; the exact same thing in not so subtle a fashion.
This is what happens to me if I try this...
(if the image does not appear, click to open in a separate tab)
I cannot work like that. My burst of creativity and reflection is at 11:00am. That's when I feel the most productive and the most reflective. I can adjust, plan, and strategize (yes, there is no such word in the dictionary, but it works for me!)
If I rise at 4am, I'm more than likely going to watch videos of Wild life fighting, mating, or eating. Yes, business can seem like all three at once, but it does not fit the task at hand.
I cannot seem to make my mentor understand I am not built for mornings, but mid-morning coffee / brunch I can find new ideas and inspiration; while the 4am_ers are crashing.
The one thing I learned in Grad School is that you cannot - ever - take a theory or product that is tailored for one enterprise and whole writ incorporated into another. You have to formulate and mold into an organization.
Perhaps it's time to find a new mentor.
Which can be like a coin toss for information:
One the one sides....
I have enjoyed meeting a host of professionals whom I have had great discussions (or called, politely, fools). And have found interesting leads on new opportunities - which is really great.
On the flip side of this coin....
I am overwhelmed by every pundit propounding pundit-ity prolifically - that is more
To the point your neurons feel like screaming "overload, overload, please log off your brain!"
What seems to be missing between the deal-making and the message pundit-ity is reflection.
Has someone really fact-checked the info the Consultant is pitching?
Is that information really useful?
Or, before you speak, have you really though about the ramifications of your message?
Perhaps this is the meaning of media, to cause you to think - then react.