As a consultant and advisor, I’ve helped over 50 entrepreneurs improve their businesses. 

Currently working in AustraliaThailand, and Albania. About to publish my first book about the five keys to an incredible career.

“Where does the buck stop?” A divorce of (mis)management has found a lover in (non)management

This is a bit of a wandering passage. A thought I am working on. If published, it isn’t complete, or at least I’m not perfectly happy with it.

The problem that has been on my mind is not one of over correction (i.e. we “solved” mismanagement issues by creating a new mismanagement issue), but rather of capitulation.

When considering leadership, management, competence, and responsibility, there appears to be a culture-led disarmament. My source for this is years of reading article after article shared on LinkedIn by sources like Forbes, HBR, BI, etc.

Leaders are servants. They are characterized by empathy, listening, inclusion, and warmth, often at the exclusion of all else.

Managers, facing a rapidly evolving and increasingly complex jobs-to-be-done landscape, are coordinators. Semi-elected representatives of agile teams. They are careful to avoid the condemnation of micro-managing by avoiding managing altogether.

Competence is increasingly outsourced. We (America) no longer manage work, but capital and knowledge. Yet work must be done, somewhere. And the principles of management apply universally, the fundamentals of which are learned in work, not in capital or knowledge. We are becoming like a tree with burgeoning fruit and a thin, hollowed-out trunk.

This leads to a deficit in responsibility. A good analogy is health insurance – premiums are rising here, and not enough people are paying into the system.

If leaders are servants, managers are coordinators, and competence is outsourced – who is responsible for things going well?

The popular answer is “everyone.”

If everyone is listening, showing empathy, and making everyone feel included – who is effectively holding standards, maintaining accountability, and efficiently cultivating virtue in individuals, companies, and systems?

How the good is made is a more adequate problem to solve. Who is making it, in what way, for what reasons, with what long term plan, and with what range of skills.

We cannot live by bread alone; neither can we live on empathy.

The following is a sketch on some reasons as to how we got here, some compelling history to begin to re-fortify a foundation, and more analysis of the management-culture problem.

Uncomfortable symmetries

Virtue and vice are not twins, neither are they strangers.

To borrow from Shakespeare’s Marc Antony, the good is oft interred in our bones. Which is to say, development ossifies.

Libraries are filled with reasons why. Libraries (warehouses of knowledge) also ossify.

So, good management practices ossify and thus become bad management practices. What we are left with is a choice, revive the good and patch in some innovations, or replace it with some alternative. My reasons for being an incrementalist and not a revolutionary are grounded in the relative wealth we are drowning in, produced by capitalism (and good management practices), that have seen more people rise out of poverty in the past few decades than all of human history.

I’m reminded of an idea from the historian Will Durant, which went something like a generation, looking upon its forebearers achievements and unable to improve upon them, often decides to turn back, and undo their achievements.

The novel is sexy. So we swarmball around it.

Additional reasons could be jealously, boredom, or Dostoyevsky’s recognition that any human, if put in a perfect environment, would break something just to see something new and interesting… We are far from a perfect environment, if we could even conceptualize what that is and come to an agreement on it democratically, but the data (ala Pinker) is so phenomenally on the side of exuberant wealth and prosperity, globally, that undoing the system that created it is a curious proposition.

What I see is article after article about management as a problem. Ways to do it differently; corrections from the past. These concepts are agreeable, and in many cases praised (how dare one speak against them or inject nuance), but are written as if they are the unpopular opinion. If being unpopular means being shared on every major platform and inscribed in every university program I am aware of, then I would love to be counted among the unpopular.

Because of this, the very idea of management in any of its traditional senses (the fundamentals), has been neglected.

Shall we be laissez faire with our economies, or our academic discipline?

We all bemoan the micromanager, we are coming to understand that inclusion is both valuable and not a given, and therefore must be cultivated (just like competence), as workplaces have come to dominate more and more of the life of a human, empathy and emotional/environmental considerations matter more and more, and as corporations have come to dominate more and more of our political and moral life, the moral scope of the corporation is necessarily adapting based upon this relationship with its stakeholders.

These adaptations/innovations in corporate culture and management in general are, in my view, a good thing. I would at least say that corporations have listened and listened pretty well, and have responded to the needs of their employees and the ethical demands of consumers. Certainly more effectively and quickly than other systems. And indisputably more effectively and quickly than historic comparison.

The issue is not with the expansion of good that corporations can provide. It is with a narrative – and research funding complex – that ignores the fundamentals, not aware that they need development as well, in each generation.

If this is our only message, we will have capitulated the need to develop the fundamental capabilities of managers and business leaders.

A lot has been written about good vs bad management. Management as a formal field of study has only existed since about the early 1900s.


A big 3,000 year preamble

Hammurabi created the first substantive business regulation, which included things like minimum (and maximum) wage, accounting standards, and quality controls. Nebuchadnezzar created the first legislative incentive program, paying weavers with food according to their production. From the Sung to the Han, the Chinese developed managers and leaders on the basis of merit, and oscillated between legalist (structural) and Confucian (virtuous) theories of development. The debate on what makes people good (is it the creation of structures that compel human behavior, or the cultivation of virtue that guides human behavior) continues to this day along these faultlines in Chinese history. The rule of 10 (you can only really keep an eye of 10 people) shows up in Egypt in the management of pyramid construction, in the tribes of Abraham in the management of their judicial system, in Rome in the management of their cohorts and the Mongol Empire in the management of their cavalry. Trade and craft guilds, existing in many civilizations for the past 3,000 years, are an early version of unions.

I could continue for a while. The point is, management is part of our history. Notably, we know about these innovations in management practice and business theory because they were effective. Historically effective.

How you feel about this likely has a lot to do with your disposition. Many regard history as oppression. That the past should be buried by it.

For my part, I revere history, and enjoy the company of the ideas and actions that gradually moved the needle of civilization and human potential from the swamp to the stars. It is a privilege to stand on the shoulders of giants.

But another part of this history was the status of the business owner, trader, craftsman, or merchant. Business people were the dregs of society, in the eyes of society. This was so much so that a business person coming to lead a city (the Medici’s, of Florence) earned the scorn of the Pope, and didn’t occur until relatively recently.

The ablest manager or business mind should not lead a nation, or so was the thinking. It was a violation of a long list of traditions. The mentality here hasn’t really changed (and this is probably a good thing, or at least I generally agree with it, because power is a corrupting influence, and the more capable the person, or family, with power, the more effective they will be with their corruption).

What has changed is the status of businesspeople in society. Seemingly, with the birth of Henry Ford, being a business person was something society could respect you for. Then, the manager, the industrialist, became a type of hero as they were caught on the opposite side of Communist ideology.

In a few decades, the parts of the world that held up the free market and built structures (Bretton Woods) and virtues (good management principles) for businesses saw the largest and fastest rise in human material wellbeing that has ever occurred. The parts of the world ideologically opposed to free market principles created more casualties – mainly through starvation – than all wars of the 20th century combined.

Three reasons why there is a problem in management

First, management is difficult. It is academically a new discipline and one that has undergone serious changes in the past two decades (rise of knowledge-sector economies, agile, servant-managers, big data), and in the two decades preceding (rise of digital technology manufacturing and significant global trade, lean, six sigma, continuous improvement, TPS methodology). Few fields have experienced this much dynamism, ever. Let us not be too hasty to redefine it or negatively judge it. Of course we haven’t figured it out, what sufficiently complex domain has been? We are only afforded one genius, maybe two, per generation. That one or two is not me; they may not even be known yet.

Second, businesses (and governments at all levels) have increasingly outsourced production and other business functions. This includes management, perhaps even the notion of responsibility. Outsourcing, in general, has become a norm. The more we outsource – or siphon off capabilities – the more we lose of competence, both in practice and in knowledge. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that the popular management concepts today, while indicative of the changing scope of economies (production to knowledge), are also indicative of a deficit in fundamental management experiences and capabilities.

And third, our culture has shifted towards a more servant-leader style. This is both due to research (data, agile, etc), economic reality (specialists know technical and knowledge jobs better than managers), and culture writ-large (anything resembling a traditional hierarchy is increasingly unpopular with a growing segment of the population). There are, of course, benefits and reasons for this. There are also drawbacks. “The buck stops here” was a sacred cow of the leader. Now, I’m not so sure.

Because of these aspects, the practice of management is less prevalent and effective.

This is my hypothesis based upon these observations and assumptions.

“The Fit Entrepreneur,” or how to create and maintain a phenomenal fitness program for a working professional

On the basis of many of my colleagues (frequently) asking me about this, I’ve decided to write it down.

A fitness framework needs to exist for working professionals.

Because so much of the guidance out there doesn’t end up working for someone with a busy and demanding life. Any entrepreneur or executive is pretty logical, so when the fitness program just doesn’t work, or ends up taking away from their business, they stop doing it – for logical reasons.

The rest of this article is about what I believe and what I do.

In short, I’ve maintained a fitness program since 2017 that I follow almost everyday (meaning, I do this everyday, and once in a while, I take a day off). I do it from home. It costs $0 in equipment or magic power shakes.

The two main reasons why the dominant fitness programs are ultimately abandoned

  1. All the “really good programs” are designed for people competing or actively pursuing a strength goal.
    • I don’t get paid to run faster or lift more. The more “scientifically proven to be optimal” your fitness program the more time and resources you have to devote to it. Therefore, you will abandon this program, because it will harm your professional work.
  2. So many workout fads (the things that get millions of advertising dollars) require you to spend money on something, and will usually have some form of extreme performance (like cross-fit, where people throw up or can’t walk the next day), or will merely simulate the feeling of being fit (something you see in an infomercial).
    • I have more important things to spend money on, and I work for a living, so I can’t be dead after a workout. The reason why I note all this is because these fads (advertising dollars) are thrown in our face constantly, trying to convince us that we are wrong. You are either compelled to convert to an extreme religion (Zumba) or provide your credit card details, or both. It’s an effective business model, but not an effective model for your health and wellbeing. Therefore, you will abandon these fads, because they won’t actually give you a fitness result and will only rob you of your hard-earned money.

Here is the framework to my fitness Constitution

The right workout for the working professional who is trying to achieve general fitness but very good appearance needs to be something that:

  1. Costs $0 (if it costs money, you will eventually find a reason to not do it, because you’d rather spend your money elsewhere…)
  2. Works with your schedule
  3. Can be done in a way where you can simultaneously do another thing as well (like listen to something important, or watch TV; because if it MUST take all your attention you will eventually find a reason to not do it, because you’re busy).
    • I emphasize this point heavily. I entire put on a lecture or audiobook, or take this time for entertainment.
  4. Should be about 20-30 mins. Not too short, not too long.
  5. Can be done at home / should be done at home.
    • Gyms cost money, add time, require you to invest in specific clothing and gadgets. This violates the principles of six sigma. If you think you need to invest in all this equipment at the gym, you’re buying the idea of being fit, only the idea. Moreover, you will begin to think that the gym is fitness, when it is just your mind and discipline that is or is not fit.
  6. Is simple.
  7. Is full body. “Leg day” and then “shoulder day” is a myth invented by people selling workout programs.
  8. And… almost never changes, and when it does, changes only in the smallest degree. 1 routine, stick to it, don’t fundamentally change it. Or rather, your workout should change in a way that corresponds to President Jefferson’s views on the Constitution changing (this quote is shown on the Southeast Portico on the Jefferson Memorial).

What’s the goal then?

Here is my objective:

Science and the golden ratio have something to say about ideal male body measurements. Essentially, this is the statue of David.

This standard is more challenging for women. “Ideal female body measurements” is a more difficult idea to search for. The Google results suggest the concept is discriminatory. I find this disappointing. For men looking to achieve a form of idealism in their physique, information is readily available. For women, the world seems more interested in clarifying that there are no ideal women, only “real” women, apparently.

Regardless, executives set high goals in general. This should be no different. Set some objective body measurements for yourself, a target that is worthy of working towards for years, and work towards them.

The key element here is measurement. You don’t need to lift 300 lbs. But you do want a certain type of physical look. That’s all in body measurement (if you’re working out everyday your muscle tone will be there, don’t worry).

The other good thing about measurement – “what gets measured gets done” is the operations management principle de jure.

How often should you measure? I do it quarterly. In sync with my finances.

This is the workout I’ve done (almost) every day for over 3 years

I saw almost because I occasionally take a day off. Meaning, this is my routine 7 days a week, but sometimes it’s 6 days a week. I’m adding this clarification to say, no, I don’t say every day and really mean 3 days a week. If you’re working out 3 days a week and not seeing results you’re proud of, it isn’t a mystery why. Try doing your job as a business owner 3 days a week and see what happens.

  • Pushups
  • Squats
  • Planks
  • Bent over Rows (with a kettlebell, but this started out with a big jug of water. Principle here, find the cheapest thing you can grab on to that is “heavy for you.”)
  • V-ups / Flutter kicks
  • Squats
  • Pushups
  • Repeat 3 – 4 times

My rep count has slightly changed overtime. When I started, it was very low… But after a few weeks it got to this level and has essentially never changed:

  • Pushups x35
  • Squats x25
  • Planks x90 seconds
  • Bent over Rows x10
  • V-ups / Flutter kicks x50
  • Squats x25
  • Pushups x35

I modify reps or slightly alter one workout from time to time. This is all based on measurement, of course. If I see one area moving towards the ideal standard at a good rate and another moving too slow, I increase reps or make slight modifications in the slow area. This is the same thing you would do in your business while conducting operations, financial, and performance analysis.

I do this from home.

I’ve never spent money on this.

I only need a space the size of my height and arm span.

I don’t spend money on workout clothes because I don’t need them.

When I travel and don’t have a kettlebell for my rows, I use a jug of water, or a chair, or my suitcase, or I just skip it because a 90% workout is better than a 0% workout.

The majority of my MBA program lectures were viewed while working out.

I’ve finished hundreds of YouTube lectures, ebooks, book summaries, Coursera lessons, and so on, while doing this. Maybe even a few conference calls.

Some wandering thoughts regarding “skin in the game,” our addiction to risk avoidance, “The Big Short,” and corporate social responsibility initiatives

“The moment I make a statement about reality, contradiction is present, for what I say is ideality.”

Soren Kierkegaard. De Omnibus Dubitandum Est. 1843

Or rather, we don’t know everything, and even if we did, no language or model exists to express such complete knowledge. The known implies the unknown; the predictable implies the unpredictable.

The modern global economy and political system has labored to reduce to obscurity the unpredictable, or the risk, through the binding and bundling of everything, like Zebras.

This makes sense in the same way that we are more stable with crutches, taller with stilts, and can avoid illness if we incase ourselves in a bubble. You will have tremendous difficultly in knocking me over if I have crutches, but if I continue this strategy I soon will lose the ability to walk on my own. We all choose to risk falling down more often in the name of walking and standing independently.

Like zebras, we are stronger together, mathematically – thus spake David Ricardo – and of course international trade and cooperation is fantastic. It’s how I make my living and how you likely do and how we all get virtually anything in two days from Amazon.

The weakness in our system is the fragility that we create through constant optimization strategies. In predictive modeling, it’s always mathematically better to avoid risk, specialize, and maximize – assuming you exclude future generations from your modeling, which most of us do.

This could be called a modern religion – the worship of the known.

It’s crazy to worship an unknown, metaphysical Deity or Deities. Only that which is provable is that which is actionable. Alas, it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so that tends to have a disproportionate and negative impact.

We built a philosophy of ontological materialism that shorts risk through bundling, and minimizes contradiction through binding compacts of shared responsibility.

This works well when the Jenga tower only goes a few rungs high. This is why localism has adopted shared responsibility strategies for millennia and gladly accepted the risks of the whole. This helps when the whole is visible, local, and small. 

Go to an army platoon and see for yourself. “Mass punishment” for the mistakes of one is very acceptable, however frustrating it is… The unit accepts this, and continually refreshes this policy within its ranks, because each individual in the unit quite literally is putting their life in the hands of another. Equal responsibility, equal risk.

We have applied this to the global economy like a garment, wearing it as a fashion without understanding its underlying principles. Moreover, globalization a local strategy presents a problem of scale, and creates tremendous variance between responsibility and risk.

We all hold the same theory of risk (our garment) but the facts tell a different tale (the variance). See Nassim Taleb on “skin in the game” here. Some of us are exposed to risk (i.e. have skin in the game), and some of us don’t. If you want to know who is who, the coronavirus is an easy case study. Jobs are lost while markets go up. The people filing for unemployment have skin in the game.

A more general result in this de-risking system is that nobody effectively is held to account (on the grounds that if everyone is responsible, no one is responsible).

Or rather, those without risk hold no structural incentive towards being responsible. As the number holding no risk increases, the number of people dropping the burden of responsibility increases. The responsibility line is exponential, because as society witnesses more and more people adopting no responsibility, more and more “check out” in the name of “why should I take care of a system that nobody else is taking care of?”

It’s a logical argument. Watch it applied to liter. If 1 person liters, we pick it up. If 100 do it, 1,000 will tomorrow.

Our “Robust” response to the fragile system we built

Our knee jerk reaction to a volatile event is one of over reaction and scapegoating. This, paradoxically, reinforces the broken record, by convincing ourselves that music with skips and crackles is actually better.

Notably, our over reactions by intention have more to do with advertising than anything (volatile events are a growth industry for the media, INfluencers, and politicians); while our over reactions by un-intention concern 2nd and 3rd order effects, like forcing the world to spend tens of trillions of dollars on redesigning international travel security post 9/11.

As for our scapegoats – like one banker, one political party, one ethnic or religious group; the logic in all is the same. Ask not what you can do for your country, or even yourself, ask only what you are entitled to, and what the collective is responsible for, then select which part of this sum is to be blamed for the prevailing failure.

Thus, when everyone holds the risk, when responsibility is ubiquitous, and when we all have rights to an ever-expanding everything, and when this system of risk, responsibility, and rights are bundled together like a Gordian knot, all we have is a complexity that can’t be unraveled or managed because it’s a bloated, unaccountable, slow, black box.

There is a famous story about a Gordian knot. A bunch of Greek philosophers and politicians talked about it. Alexander cut it.

“We assume no risk”

“We assume no risk…” To quote the CDO manager in the film The Big Short.

When everything is bundled, nobody assumes risk, or rather, the risk becomes so spread out that, effectively, nobody has to concern themselves with the risk.

No risk? Great! And they lived happily ever after. But you haven’t read a story like this. There isn’t one.

Yet, this is the global economic and political environment.

It is also the function of many CSR initiatives – we can divert the business and reputational risks of negative business activities by paying a tithe to the moral consensus. Or, in the case of more severe negatives, as was the case in the housing market and financial collapse, find a scapegoat. But punishments and fines don’t reveal responsibility, nor do they upend poor behavior – they simply add a potential cost into bad behavior.

A lot of research is pretty clear about this – fines don’t change behavior, they just add a price to rambunctiousness, which we are willing to pay from time to time.

This means that bad behavior is a matter of calculation. A calculation that becomes easier the larger the system of rights, responsibilities, and collective risk grows – we can hide in a pack. Nobody needs to check under the hood because there are so many people. Surely someone has checked, right?

This is a description of history. The older generation becomes willfully blind, greedy, and corrupt.

When this happens in corporations, we turn to something approximating CSR.

A handful of CEOs get fired, corporations issue dissertations of mea culpas via Twitter, and an announcement is made that directs a portion of some fund (created by this very system) to some popular charitable cause. A decade ago this was the troops, then earthquake victims in Nepal, and now it will certainly be for coronavirus relief, testing, safety, etc.

What this all avoids is perfectly captured in a scene that never happened in The Big Short – how did this all start to begin with? Why could we all allow such reckless and unethical behavior in the housing market?

Prior to the invention of the financial vehicles that allowed the eventual housing collapse, we, the people, got a new right – everyone deserves a house. It’s a right, a human right, for all of us. A home is dignity, and nobody could deny someone dignity. It’s an unassailable argument, and I believe that unassailable arguments are fragile.

It’s the popular story of corrupt bankers that accepted all loan applications and disregarded all financial standards. We like having someone to blame, and this story is truth enough because it is true. It’s just part 1 of the story. We were comfortable stopping there.

What’s left is everyone talking about everything but the real consequence of the alternative. Could bankers deny loan applications? Denying people the right to a home due to their economic status, job status, and credit history is discrimination. Even more, it’s against the American economy and the mythos of the land of opportunity. With how liberally the word has been thrown around over the past few years, that kind of banking scruple could be called treason.

By 2015 we could safely, and popularly call this fraternity of bankers corrupt and criminal. And of course, many found that this system was perfectly hospitable to corruption and criminality – in large part thanks to an addiction to de-risking everything and providing government-backed from A to Z. But we ignore that this system of subprime mortgages began with the same fanfare with which the same institutions praise corporate charity and CSR initiatives – they are moral, just don’t look behind the curtain.

What do we do with 7 fat cows?

I like Joseph’s interpretation of the Pharaoh’s dreams from Genesis 41.

The seven fat cows indicated times of abundance, and the seven thin cows that followed indicated times of scarcity. The Pharaoh was admonished to save during high times, in order to maintain during the low times. Because the Pharaoh followed this advice, via dream interpretation, Egypt did not suffer during their seven years of drought. This is a central principle of Keynes. Modernity has only taken his views on the positive role of the visible government hand in economic affairs, not his strategy to prevent the levees from breaking. The full picture is pretty lindy. Maybe we should read the entire text, and not just the portions that agree with our initial presuppositions.

But let’s go back to Egypt. The result of Pharaoh’s strategic planning for the future famine is not just a robust strategy, but something that can be quite anti-fragile. Seven years where a society focuses on food production and storage then turns into seven years where it can shift focus, say on world wonder construction.

I know using the Bible as a tool for insight is frowned upon. But first rate your company or country in how well they prepared for our current situation. Perhaps Genesis 41 has some merits.

The second element, given my recurring theme, concerns risk. I draw a similar conclusion as Nassim Taleb regarding the significance of Hammurabi’s Code. The Code is effectively line after line repeating different variations of if the thing you administer directly results in a damage to the person or entity you administered it for, you shall suffer equivalent damage. In specific terms, if you built a roof and it collapses and kills the owner, you shall suffer equivalent damage. This applies to the owner’s son, and your son; to the owner’s grandchildren, and yours. This is shared risk.

What is the consequence of this? The business owner has to take extreme responsibility, because, quite literally, everything they do is as if it is for themselves.

We have removed this principle.

The consequence of removing this principle is equally clear – we ask car companies to fund homeless shelters to be good moral agents, but if they produce a car and identify a defect that will kill a percentage of drivers, what do they do? They certainly aren’t on the line for this – or rather, not on the line like the drivers of their cars are. They instead measure the cost of the legal fees versus the cost of the car recall. 

Hammurabi isn’t the ideal model for today. It would conflict with our sensibilities. But somewhere between risk adoptance (Hammurabi) and risk avoidance (today), would be a more useful CNN townhall debate.

The 2018 hurricanes in the US are a good example of this.

Historically, major environmental events result in significant death. Natural disasters have been an unsung but consistent cause of the greatest tragedies and spell an empire’s demise. That is, until the combustion engine and oil.

Our recent disasters, which are simultaneously both random events, and are occurring with greater frequency and severity due to global warming, of which modern industrial practices share a portion of responsibility, resulted in historically insignificant damage and almost no loss of life. Thousands of trucks of food and water, powered by engines and oil, saved hundreds of thousands of lives. 

If I even have a way to wrap this up

“How could anything originate out of its opposite? For example, truth out of error? Or the Will to Truth out of the will to deception? Or the generous deed out of selfishness?”

Friedrich Nietzsche. Beyond Good and Evil. 1886

Order grows from disorder. If more disorder is coming from your disorder, then the structures in your system are fragile.