Desire

The subtle strumming of violins

pierces the ears lovers when your name is hummed.

Early flowers feel the sentimental pull of passion,

as you wander blithely through fields of cherry plum

 

Torture us with your errant smile,

prick our eyes with piercing beauty.

Beguile the hollow hearts

for the petty price of love’s cruelty

 

Hold fast the fools quest

to cage the winsome soul;

it is we who are ensnared

in the cloistered crypt of love’s cajole

 

~ Richard

9 Things That Will Make 2014 So Much Fun

Happy New YearWith no disrespect to Nostradamus, or anyone else who claims to be able to predict the future, I simply don’t believe anyone can know for sure what will happen until it does. There are some things however, which are already in the works and if they happen as planned, they will make 2014 one of the more interesting years in a while and mark a turning point in our history to come.

1. Love me some me

With Facebook no longer being the place for the cool kids to hang out, there is plenty of room for Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ Snapchat and others to grow. Facebook still dominates the market, but now that our parents and grandparents are playing too, some of the naughty pleasure has left. Thanks to the self-indulgent selfie and the number of mobile devices that exceed the total population, there will be more opportunities to share just how in love we are with our lives. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people who post “the best meal I’ve had….ever!” and complains no one has anything of substance to offer. I say, post it all and then post some more – I love it!

 2. DIY small business

Despite the politically motivated forecasts of gloom and doom for small businesses, Americans are ever entrepreneurial spirits. Those who have been dissolutioned by how expendable they were in the corporate world and finding fewer and fewer options for comparable incomes, are learning how to market themselves and deciding to place their eggs in their own baskets. Finding and using the same tools and strategies the big boys use is becoming easier and cheaper. With 70% of the American workforce disengaged from their workplace, companies are finding it difficult to create the flexible and creative work environments that the millennial workforce will demand. Creativity and independence of thought are on the way back.

3. 60 is the new 30

According to researchers at Harvard University, people are living healthier, not just longer. Thanks to medical advancements, people are adding more quality years to their lives. What are they doing with their added years? They are traveling, finding new adventures, finding new careers or starting new business. They are also finding new relationships; there are at least a dozen dating sites aimed specifically at the senior market. It’s not unusual to see several sexagenarians working alongside millennials in a host of fields. Workers in their sixties bring an abundance of valuable work and life experiences into the workplace and no longer are they the doddering, forgetful codgers they have been portrayed as over the past fifty years. Some companies are embracing this renewed and loyal resource and their companies are benefitting.

 4. New minimums

Come January 1, 13 states will raise the minimum wage above the federal standard within their own borders. While Congress aborted its duty and reneged on its promise to constituents, at least some states recognize the need for workers’ pay to keep pace with the rising cost of…well…everything. For those retail and fast-food workers who went on strike this past year, it seems as if someone was paying attention. There is still hope that Congress will be pushed into raising the federal minimum wage by Democrats looking to find votes during the mid-term elections.

 5. Obama-care’s real test

Forget how it was rolled out, don’t fret over the problems with the website and the prediction of Armageddon, the fact is, people are enrolling – and at a faster rate than initially reported.  The real test will be when people begin finding out if they got what they thought they got. The most potential for harm will come in the form of the “Employer mandate” where companies who have 50 or more employees will have to pay $2,000 per employer in fines if they do not provide health-care coverage. This has always been a tough sell to small businesses, so much so that enforcing the rule was delayed until 2015. The question of whether it would be cheaper to pay the fine is simple, but finding the right answer is as complex as each company’s bottom line. Aside from the actual dollar costs, one would also have to factor in the loss of human talent if a company decides not to offer health-care when their competition does. The other big test will rest on the backs of those families that live in states when their governors and lawmakers decided to forego billions of dollars and declined to expand Medicare, thus leaving millions of poor Americans uninsured. Most people who have never had insurance, or have been relatively healthy may not have had experienced being denied treatment due to a preexisting condition. They may not know what it is to go into crushing debt when a child gets sick or hurt and they no longer were qualified to be on their parents’ insurance. When my sister was diagnosed with cancer, she became virtually uninsurable outside of what an employer would offer. Even with that, the medical costs swallowed everything she worked her entire life earning. When the AIDs became an epidemic it was because nearly everyone knew someone who was affected by the disease. I’m willing to bet that there are even more people who know someone who has been affected by a lack of or less than adequate health insurance.

 6. Finger pointing

Aaahhh, the mid-term elections, though not as exciting as when there’s a Presidential seat up for grabs, but expect this to be year to have more fireworks than normal. The Congress is coming off its worst year ever and its behavior only fueled the mistrust and cynicism of its constituency. The members did nothing to overcome a crippled and sluggish economy; did nothing to reign in the abuses of over-reaching national security agencies; did nothing to balance the shrinking status of the middle class against the backdrop of obscene corporate profits; did nothing to strengthen the safety of our food and water; did nothing to reduce the U.S. energy dependence on foreign sources, and did absolutely nothing to justify their $174,000 average annuals salaries. But still it should be fun to watch the blame game in full effect; I imagine it will be something like Jake Blues explaining why he never showed up at the altar.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TuLBa-rgBk

 7. There’s what in that salad?

Its one thing to find out that the McRib is made out of something other than ribs, but knowing that foods that we thought were safe and healthy, like corn, tomatoes and lettuce is being routinely genetically altered is frightening. Especially considering that more than 60 countries (the U.S. not among them) have significantly restricted or outright banned the imports; couple that with fact that several of the nation’s top food manufacturers, drug companies, and chemicals manufacturers spent $22 million in Washington State in order to avoid labeling foods which contained GMOs (genetically modified organisms) makes me uncomfortable about what they’re hiding. No one can say for sure what the long term effects GMOs will have, but it should be noted that the leading producer of GMO seeds is Monsanto, the company which makes the weed-killer Roundup possible, the company which brought us Agent Orange, PCBs and DDT, yes, that Monsanto. If you are unfamiliar with GMOs, these three links should help explain:

http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/

 http://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/all-you-need-to-know-about-gmos-and-march-against-monsanto/   

http://biotech.about.com/od/faq/f/GMOs.htm

There are other companies however, and their plan is to spend money to lobby politicians into keeping bills – which you will likely never hear of – from becoming law. The good news is that 2014 shapes up to be the year that more information and awareness about GMOs comes to light and the real debate can begin.

 8. TV and movies

Just to show that I don’t spend all my time on serious subjects I thought I’d share my anticipations for the upcoming year in TV binging. I still haven’t seen the last season of Breaking Bad; I’m waiting until I can watch the entire thing nonstop. By then I can get started with new series featuring Saul Goodman, the adorably felonious lawyer from the BB show. Netflix gave us two outstanding original series, House of Cards and the surprisingly addictive Orange is the new Black; love me some Jenji Kohan, I’m looking forward to gobbling on both. My guy friends tell me I should be all about the Game of Thrones, but I haven’t gotten there yet, not that I don’t think it’s a good show, it’s just that the mostly that they try to sell me on the medieval humping….not that there’s anything wrong with that; maybe this year will be the year. I can binge on moves as well, but that’s harder to do in theaters these days. I am looking forward to the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending, because there’s yet to be a film, which has had the same feel and promise of The Matrix, even its sequels….maybe this will be the one.

9. High times

I wonder if residents and legislators in Washington state and Colorado knew they were about to become the test laboratories for America’s experiment with legalized recreational marijuana. After decades of dwelling within the social subculture, there can finally be some practical conversations about the potential benefits and risks of smoking pot. As a child of the seventies, I could right these moves off, as “the man” finally getting around to taxing something they can’t stop and that some people will continue to do simply because it makes them feel good. For those who are against drug use of any kind, you needn’t worry, we are a long way from legalized marijuana sweeping the nation, but we will be closer in 2014 than we are now and just as some people suspect about health-care, once the genie is out of the bottle….there’s no going back.

 

~ Richard

 

Crimson Forest, Poland

Crimson Forest, Poland

 

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=435887413204109&set=a.295970083862510.69177.295969823862536&type=1&theater

Overcoming the “Holiday Brain” at Work

Holiday shoppingSometime during the height of the fall season, my mind becomes less focused on the routine tasks that accompany my job and increasingly wanders toward the holiday season. I thought I was the only one who experienced this phenomenon until my co-workers began excusing their lack of concentration as a symptom of “Holiday Brain Syndrome.” The mass revelation seemed to break down a silent wall we had all been hiding behind and allowed us to find mutual solace in the esoteric explanation of our temporary lack of productivity. With that, the doors of distraction flung open even wider; internet shopping excursions and the constant chatter of holiday plans abounded throughout offices. The nonstop reminders of holidays from Halloween to New Years Day did not help and the many mini celebrations at work only reinforced the feeling that anything but work is in vogue. For organizational leaders, finding the right tone in addressing the distractions of the holiday season and keeping employees productive while avoiding resentment and dissention among them is a challenging balance. What are some ways you can keep your employees performing at a high level without sacrificing their humanity?

 

For a small number of companies, a drop in productivity during the holiday season is not only acceptable but a welcome relief from the ordinary hustle and bustle of corporate life. For most however, increased productivity and effort is critical to remaining competitive. It is the time when companies have their last and best hope for having a profitable year. It is during this time of year, in such a supercharged environment when the work – life balance can become skewed and the lack of either can lead to additional emotional stressors. There are some underlying factors to consider when assessing your corporate policy regarding the holiday season. In 2010 Mercer, the global HR consulting firm, ranked 39 industrialized countries ahead of the U.S. in terms of how much vacation time is allotted. As a country, the United States does not mandate time off for workers, even for national holidays, so it is up to each organization to provide “time off” for employees. It is quite possible that employees who feel they are not allotted enough vacation time become less shy about stealing away chunks of time at the office in order to find the balance in their lives they require to feel whole. Also of note, according to online job search company Indeed, online job searches increase significantly between November and January.

 

The holiday season is more than a time to celebrate; it is also a time when people reflect; that reflection often leads to people considering how fulfilled and satisfied they are at work. Here are some practical ways to keep your employees working at peak efficiency during the holiday season and stick around for the next year:

  •  Embrace the reality of the season

There are gifts to buy, people to spend time with and meals to be prepared and eaten. Each of these activities require time that goes beyond the moment itself and if your employees cannot get time off for them, they will bleed them into their business hours. Try offering your employees small periods of time and resources to plan the time they will have off. This will leave them with fewer distractions when engaged with company business.

  • Offer more time off during less hectic seasons

Your employees are every bit as practical and realistic as you are, so if you provide them with a clear understanding of how why business succeed and how they are an integral part of that success, they will be more inclined measure their time off demands in line with business needs.

 

  • Give meaning to what they do

For people to feel fulfilled in today’s environment, their jobs have to mean more than the product or service provided, but rather the difference they make in the lives of those who seek out those products and services. Take the opportunity, now more than ever, to remind employees of the differences they make. Feel free to use real world examples and testimonials.

  • Consider hiring temporary workers

Well-trained, well-placed temps can provide more opportunities for your permanent workers to be with their families. In addition, it can be an opportunity for your business operations to be seen through fresh, undiluted eyes. This can be a valuable tool when recruiting due to growth or attrition and a great laboratory for testing the validity of your corporate culture.

  • Doing more in less time

Try ampping up the incentives for teams or workers who can come up with time saving ideas that do not sacrifice quality or productivity. The goal should be to provide more time off for more people. Be careful though limiting the scope to a small number of individuals will only create jealousy and resentment. So if this cannot be accomplished on a large enough scale, find incentives that are more practical.

  • Manage the managers

According to a 2007 Florida State University study, 40% of employees feel that they work for “bad bosses” not bad companies. Mid-level managers and supervisions are caught in between meeting executive demands and maintaining motivation for workers. Provide your managers with the tools, training and incentives that will build trust among employees and growth in the bottom line. Take some of the pressure off your managers by acknowledging, accepting and broadcasting your responsibility for the difficult compromises that have to be made.

  • Create a fun environment

Along with the other items that have been mentioned, the holidays are also an opportunity to show thankfulness, kindness and generosity. Full-time employees spend more than a third of their lives at work or commuting to and from, so why not have a work environment where people actually enjoy being a part.

Productivity does not have to drop during the holidays in fact, you can use this time as your organization’s Super Bowl. Your company gears up all year for this busy time so embrace the holidays and keep your employees brain in the game.

 

~ Richard

Duct Tape Management

Toban Black - Flickr Photostream

Toban Black – Flickr Photostream

Since its original use during World War II to protect ammunition cases, duct tape has become a common stable in nearly every home or garage around the world. People love things that have a variety of uses. Duct tape is primarily used as an emergency repair tool, but you can find a variety of Web sites, which tout its decorative and craft-making abilities as well. I love using duct tape and my home is never without at least one roll; I know however, that whatever I use duct tape on will eventually need to be replaced. Using duct tape to seal a leaky hose or hem your pants gives you a temporary feeling of accomplishment and allows you to go forward for a while, but it does nothing to correct the underlying problem. The good feeling you have is temporary at best. 

When it comes to managing people, the same is true; temporary fixes are just that, temporary. The problem some organizations run up against is the need to keep moving in a fast-paced, competitive environment. It is so much easier to apply a quick fix, which looks good esthetically and buys everyone a little time. Everyone moves on and the issue is masked over until the next application of adhesive fabric needs to be lain.

The Root of the Problem

Getting to the root cause of an issue is the most difficult, yet important step an organization can take if it truly desires a fix. It involves:

  • Asking tough questions – What is happening? When is it happening? Why is it happening? Who is affected?
  • Being open to criticism – No one likes to be wrong and we like it even less when we are told we are, but sometimes the problems within an organization begin with you or other leaders within your organization. Either way, by acknowledging responsibility, the organization can move away from blame placement and on to finding solutions.
  • Be understanding of the limitations of others – This perhaps something you don’t hear very much in a business context, but the point here is that we are talking about repairing human interactions and relationships, not leaky hoses. Again, focus on assigning solutions, not blame.

The  goal is to identify the size, scope and severity of the problem and hopefully, you have already created the kind of workplace communication environment in which employees feel comfortable bringing issues up to the attention of management; if not, now is an excellent opportunity to get that going. You will also want to know what steps have been taken in the past and what impact they have had. This will save time by not repeating failed steps and narrow the focus on finding solutions.

Finding Solutions that Last

Once you have done the necessary analysis of the problem, don’t settle for short-term, shortsighted fixes. It may seem that this approach will take much too long, but consider how much time and revenue has been spent on revisiting or ignoring reoccurring problems. Get as many of those affect by the problem involved in the solution process. This will keep everyone engaged and give them each a stake in a positive outcome. Whatever solutions are offered should be able to pass the following criteria:

  • Is it flexible? – Whether or not you agree that corporations are to be treated like people in the eyes of the law, in truth, corporations must be changeable and have a “persona” in which the public identifies. Therefore, your solution(s) must be able to grow with your business and be true to your company’s image.
  • Is it fair? – Fairness may not be the appropriate word, but sometimes solutions do more harm than good; striving to do more good than harm should be the goal.
  • Is it sustainable – Use the duct tape analogy; if your solution can hold up to the stresses and demands of time then it is certainly worth exploring.

Finding long-term solutions to problems is well worth the effort in time because the outcomes will allow your organization to move on to bigger and profitable projects. In addition, the communications and problem-solving skills that will be honed will help sustain your business for years to come.

Celebrate Successes

The opportunities to create “good feelings” with employees and customers by resolving nagging problems are endless. One should never miss the chance to say, “We did this together!” As you may have heard repeatedly, effective communication is not static and in everyone’s busy life, it is all too easy to overlook or forget the little successes we have each day. If your organization has worked through a serious issue to come up with a solution that meets the basic criteria described above, then sincere congratulations and occasional reminders are the foundations of generating enthusiasm for meeting future challenges.

~ Richard

Valley of the Ten Peaks, Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada

1452281_423529451106572_1261413063_n[1]

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=423529451106572&set=a.295970083862510.69177.295969823862536&type=1&theater

Black, Black Friday

FridayI must say that I have never understood the excitement over the prospect of being elbowed or trampled by hundreds of unruly, cranky and sometimes violent people just to save money on something that in my life, I would most likely be better off without. No, seriously, I just don’t get the whole Black Friday thing. No really! I will admit that saving money on just about anything, useful or not, is almost irresistible, but I know myself well enough that somewhere between the fifth and tenth time I get shoved on the way to my savings, my sense of humanity would go right out of my overloaded cart.

The term Black Friday is most widely credited with having originated out of the city of brotherly chaos, Philadelphia, when in the beginning of the nineteen-sixties, police department officials began using the term to refer to the day after Thanksgiving, the day when the holiday shopping season officially begins. This was also when daylong snarls of traffic, over-bloated shops and teeming sidewalks in downtown Philly sent police into a tizzy. This day would eventually become the day when retailers could get their revenue “in the black.” For those of you who are not into ancient history, you might be more familiar with the current connotation of Black Friday, which is marked by pushing shoving, snatching, trampling, cursing, mace(ing) fighting, shooting and stabbing crowds of bargain hunters, although what’s being hunted is debatable. Aside from the usual pushing and shoving, across the country, the day is littered with acts of violence that range from assaulting police officers to a stabbing so vicious the slice reached the victim’s bone, it was over a parking space.

After a police officer in Rialto, California suffered a broken wrist attempting to break up a fight between shoppers at a local Wal-Mart, a Wal-Mart spokesperson referred to the fracas as “an unfortunate and isolated incident.” Unfortunate it certainly is, but the sad truth is that such events have become anything but isolated. Wal-Mart is perhaps the mega-store most often identified as the location of most of these acts of stupidity, but Best-Buy, Kohl’s and Toys-R-Us has also been the places of record for violent acts during Black Friday. What has become equally disturbing is that the lunacy has begun to spread to Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, further threatening to erode one of the last few days where it’s okay for families to spend time together.

The violence is not the lone province of the shopper; companies who force their employees to give up their holiday against their will are acting equally criminal. Although their crimes will never land them on a police blotter, the immorality of their greed will have a far more damaging impact on society. th[10]Going back to 2006, seven deaths and ninety injuries related to Black Friday shopping has been recorded on a Web site called blackfridaydeathcount.com so it’s comforting to hear Wal-Mart CEO Bill Simon say that the company is simple responding to what the customer wants and that Black Friday shopping is becoming just another family value. Please, somebody bludgeon me with half-priced TV. I guess that explains the thousands of people signing petitions and protesting at Wal-ly’s Worlds across the country.

When Serge Vorobyov threw 1,000 one-dollar bills into a crowd of shoppers at an Apple Valley, Minnesota shopping mall, he created quite a stir and brought attention to his effort to get his ex-wife to return his cat. It was also the kindest act anyone has been arrested for on Black Friday.

 

~ Richard

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