The following post was written five years ago, but still is relevant. Since that time, the city of Cape Town, South Africa came perilously close to running out of water, being saved by severe rationing. And, climate change continues to make the water crisis is even worse.*
The water issues that have been plaguing Flint, Michigan residents are not new. Our planet has had water (and sewage) issues dating back to when people gathered together in villages. In Steven Solomon’s book called “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization” he describes how the mastery over water resources kept leaders of civilizations in power. The needed mastery revolved around water to drink and bathe in, water to carry sewage away, water for transportation and trade and water for naval control.
Here are a few examples to illustrate this point.
Every major city has had water/ sewage issues. In London in the 1850s, a major problem came to a head which was called the Big Stink. The planners had sewage lines dropping waste into the Thames. When cholera and dysentery epidemics broke out, initially, the planners thought these were air borne diseases. But, when they realized a brewery, where employees drank free beer, had only minimal breakout, they realized the diseases were water borne. It turned out the sewage line was perilously close to the line that pulled water from the Thames to drink. Once that was remedied, the breakouts subsided.
In Edinburgh, the Scots had an unusual way have handling sewage. It turns out, the city dwellers would throw sewage out of their homes around 10 pm, which is the reason people smoked after meals to mitigate the smell. This made foot traffic very perilous and less than sanitary.
In Chicago, when the city got so crowded and filthy, city leaders realized they needed to carry sewage away, but they could not figure out how to do it. An engineer had an idea that they should lift the buildings using railroad car heavy duty jacks and build the sewage and water lines beneath the buildings.This actually worked too well, as Lake Michigan began to get filthy and fish would be coming up through the water lines into bath tubs. So, they had to remedy where the sewage was dumped.
It is thought that the greatest Chinese achievement is the Great Wall. Yet, a more monumental achievement per Solomon was to build a canal between the two major rivers in the country – the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. This was a massive undertaking, but led to transportation and trade across the country.
Solomon also advocates the two greatest achievements in US History that made us a world power is the building of the Erie and Panama Canals. The former linked the east coast with trade of goods with the Midwest, making Chicago a very important port. The latter gave us access to two oceans and helped with global trade and naval might. He also credits the two Roosevelts as our greatest water presidents, with Teddy building the Panama Canal and buying watershed rights in the west. FDR built many dams to create hydro-power.
I mention this now, as Solomon has been a staunch advocate for addressing our water problems before it is too late. Flint-like problems exist in several cities right now. Yet, this goes beyond Flint, as our planet is drying up our water resources and it is noticeable by satellite pictures. It is also being made worse by climate change, which the Department of Defense says is one of the greatest threats to our planet. And, The World Economic Forum echoes these concerns with the global water crisis being the number one risk in their 2015 Global Risks report followed by climate change inaction. Solomon is adamantly against fracking as the amount of water wasted is huge per frack. He also notes that not only climate change will make the water crisis worse, but so will over-population.
Finally, the man who predicted the housing crisis two years before it happened, who is featured in the movie “The Big Short,” has only one investment right now. He is buying up water rights.Yet, outside of the Flint issue which is being spoken to by Clinton and Sanders, no candidate is addressing our water concerns and only one Republican candidate admits that climate change is a problem, John Kasich, with both Democrats being vocal about it. These might be questions we want to ask our candidates about, especially with Department of Defense and World Economic Forum noting their concerns.
*In Duke Energy’s own reports, it noted that climate change would worsen expected levels of water evaporation from their reservoirs by 11%. One of the drawbacks of less water not often thought of is the power companies need adequate water to convert into steam to turn turbines to power the generators for electricity. It mattes not whether the steam is being heated by nuclear, coal, or natural gas, the process needs water.
The following piece was posted about eight years ago, but it remains relevant in today’s world. With the Taliban re-seizing control, it shows how any forward progress for women and girls can be jeopardized with more autocratic rule.We must also guard against the ice-picking away of women’s rights even here in the US.
One of my favorite columnists, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, was on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” last night. Kristof has co-authored a book with Sheryl WuDunn, which I have yet to read, but will put it on list to do so. The book’s title is indicated above – “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” In short, when women are oppressed, it is like trying to survive with half the sky. I have written about this in earlier posts, but merely from an economic growth standpoint, if a country or region oppresses women, they are competing with the rest of the world with only 1/2 of their intellectual capital. But, it obviously goes far deeper and broader than that.
A society that treats women as lesser citizens will not flourish long term. If you oppress women, you are relegating them to a subservient role, and through your teachings, make more women less inclined to “lean in” as Sheryl Sandberg is suggesting. Last night Kristof observed that the better educated a group of people are, both men and women tolerate far less the abuse and oppression of women. Just as bigotry has to be carefully taught per the song from “South Pacific,” the maltreatment of women must be taught as well.
Kristof noted that it is not just the gang rapes in India that are now getting more attention and must stop, it is the maltreatment by male family members of girls that needs to cease as well. To this point, I have seen data which suggests that when boys and girls witness or are victimized by domestic violence, they show a greater propensity as adults than others to either conduct such violence (if male) or associate with someone who is more controlling and could be violent toward them (if female). In other words, the boys are taught by example that it is OK to do this and women are taught they must allow it.
But, this extends beyond the borders of India into many places, especially in several African nations where rivals will rape, maim and abuse women and children. It extends to nations where certain religions make women subservient, where the rape of a wife by a husband is not a crime, e.g. It extends to nations where these same religions do not want to educate young girls as they may get ideas they can better themselves. This denial of education as a means to oppress a group of people is as old as any sin that exists today.
Kristof is optimistic about change. There is a movement that has education, games, film and advocates galore. Please check it out at www.halftheskymovement.org . I made the comment this week, that one of the best things that Hillary Clinton did as Secretary of State, was be a very visible and loud voice for women around the world. I posted last summer that one of the best ambassadors for the US were its female naval officers of very big ships. When Iraqi soldiers wanted to speak with the person in charge saying this directly to a woman officer, she would respond, “I am in charge” and it made a huge impression.
This week a significant leader died – Margaret Thatcher. If you have not seen “Iron Lady” you must. Whether you agreed with all of her politics or not, she made a huge step forward for women and is to be commended. The fact people can openly disagree with her is evidence that she made a difference in moving the ball forward. And, like Jackie Robinson, she had to be tough as nails and not show weakness. The same is true for other great leaders such as Clinton, Golda Meir, Aung San Suu Kyi, Angela Merkel, Christine LaGarde, Nancy Pelosi, Condaleeza Rice and Madeleine Albright to name only a few. In the future, we need to have much longer lists to choose from.
Let me close with a different thought. We need to treat women fairly, just as we would anyone else. I often paraphrase the Golden Rule as they are words to live by – “treat others like you want to be treated.” There are no caveats to this rule. There are no race, sexual preference, ethinicity and especially gender caveats. If we do this simple task that Jesus implored us to do, we will pay it forward. If we teach our kids to do this, they will pay it forward. Just as bigotry has to be carefully taught, so should the Golden Rule. If we do, our world will be different. And, in many more places, the other half of the sky will be engaged, educated and valued trying to make it so.
Note: Since I wrote this I have read “Half the Sky.” It is an excellent book, but one of the toughest books I have ever read. It will frustrate you as it delves into girls being sold to adult men for marriage at very early ages such as twelve or thirteen. It speaks to such girls having babies long before their bodies are ready, so vaginal tearing occurs and can lead to an infection known as fistula, where bowel movements leak into such wounds. It speaks of genital mutilation which occurs in some religions which is forced upon teens without their consent.
Two old shows that my wife and I enjoy are focused on the past, especially when it rears its ugly head. An American produced show is called “Cold Case” where a team based in Philadelphia work unsolved cases that resurface. The other is “Unforgotten” which is a British produced show that works previously unknown crimes.
“Cold Case” has a unique style where they reveal the initial set-up of the crime, but not who did it. They go back and forth with the younger version of the character for a few seconds, so you know which older person that is. “Unforgotten” is told over a series of six or so shows, one crime per season. A body is discovered and the team has to begin to find out who, what, when, where and how. Both teams are led by imperfect leaders with their own set of problems.
The two shows tell us the past is never fully behind us. I know I would not want my past mistakes being brought up today, although I can confess I never murdered anyone. But, we should learn lessons from our past mistakes. Our friend Amanda revealed a quote on her blog the other day about focusing on the lesson and not the pain of the mistake (see link below)..That is easier said than done, but is a better goal than saying “woe is me.”
When people, businesses, organizations and governments do not heed the mistakes of the past, they are truly destined to repeat them. The US did not learn the lessons of Vietnam and invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq. A senator named Jim Webb who served in the military said if we invade Iraq, be prepared to stay for thirty years. That was eighteen years ago.
In the book “Built to Last,” the authors’ data revealed the most admired and successful companies tended to promote from within to the CEO position. They knew what worked and did not and who to listen to and who not to. I have seen many a new CEO come in and make changes that repeated past mistakes. Even if they came from within, I have seen CEOs repeat an earlier mistake due to arrogance. I am thinking of one large bank that no longer exists who made two of the worst acquisitions that should have been avoided for the same reason – both hurt the bank’s reputation. And, that should not have been news.
People are prone to do this in their personal lives. They believe their new partner will change for the better. They ignore signals that they have seen in previous partners. The most basic of signals is this one – if a partner treats you poorly when he or she is courting you, what do you think he or she will do once you became married or more serious?
The author Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent book “Blink” speaks of ignoring our subconscious signals when we make poor decisions. Our gut instinct is our collective history of experiences that tell us things before our conscious recognizes it, if it ever does. The examples of the book are many. A firefighter who tells his crew to back out of building as it is burning in an unusual manner. The art expert that knew immediately a painting was a forgery, but could not articulate why. The counselor who could tell with about ten seconds if a couple she was counseling was going to survive.
These people were not guided by whims. Their gut instinct told them something was amiss before they could articulate why. In the firefighter’s case, the fire was burning in the floor below, so his crew would have crashed through the floor, e.g. Their past experiences told them how to act. In organizations, the experience is collective, so sometimes a few people might know an action is poor (like Senator Webb did), but they do not have the power to influence leaders. Or the leaders were to blinded by their own arrogance to take advice.
The past tells us many things. While we should not be slaves to the past, as times do change, we need to understand what happened and why, so as not to avoid the same mistakes.
The following post was written a few years ago. My wife and I re-watched another great film from Australia yesterday called “The Man for Snowy River.” It reminded me of this movie, which remains a favorite of mine.
When I am asked to list my favorite movies, I will usually include a film made in 1980 in Australia called “Breaker Morant.” The movie did not get enough airplay here in the US, so if you missed seeing it, that would not have been a difficult task. The movie was directed by Bruce Beresford, but starred several terrific actors who would go on to fame – Edward Woodward (an English actor), Bryan Brown and Jack Thompson. A key role was also played by a younger actor, Lewis Fitz-Gerald. Woodward would play in the US television series called “The Equalizer” while Brown would appear in a number of films like “Fx”and “Australia.” Thompson would also appear in “The Man from Snowy River,”another favorite of mine from Australia, as well as “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
The movie is about three men who were convicted as scapegoats for committing war crimes they had been authorized to perform during the Boer Wars in South Africa. The men were part of a guerilla team called the Bushveldt Carbineers, who had to resort to unusual tactics to remain safe and be effective. It is based on a true story from the novel “Scapegoats of the Empire”by George Witton. Lt. Harry Morant, played by Woodward was a former horse-breaker on which the title is based. He is a former Englishman of society who is forelorned over a lost love, so he has devoted his career to helping the military fight in faraway places. He is also an acclaimed poet, which is part of his fabric and the movie.
Brown plays Lt. Peter Hancock, who is Morant’s trusted friend, but a man with faults and desires which make him less than perfect like everyone else. Fitz-Gerald plays a more naïve young soldier who gets caught up with the others just doing as he is told. Thompson plays the second lead character as Major J.F, Thomas, an unprepared, but eventually very capable and practical attorney who defends the three in a court-martial trial. He was picked because the leaders wanted someone not to defend them well, but the opposite occurred.
The three are on trial as the British leadership wanted to distance themselves from the Bushveldt Carbineers’ tactics, which were successful. They also were on trial for killing a priest who was a Boer spy before he could get back to share his reconnaissance. The tactics included placing the captured military leaders in the front of returning horse soldiers from battle, as it dissuaded the Boers from attacking them. This was a guerilla type war, where new practices were being done and confirmed at the higher ranks.
Yet, as the war was winding down, the British leadership needed to provide a peace-offering, so the three were put on trial as scapegoats. I will hold off on the conclusion, although some of it is obvious from the title of the book. If you do watch it, know that the movie shows the horror of war, the lack of humanity that can be all-encompassing and how soldiers just doing their job often pay for the sins of their leaders. I also like the fact that they do not promote the three on trial as better men than they are, especially Hancock and Morant. These are cynical and worldly men who realize what they are up against.
If you have seen it or take the chance to do so, I would love to hear your feedback and thoughts.
In an article by Ken Riley of Mediaite called “Carl Bernstein Absolutely Levels GOP for Ignoring Threat Posed By ‘Crazy, Delusional, Authoritarian, Dangerous, Criminal’ Trump,” Riley reports on comments made by Bernstein in an interview on New Day. Excerpts from the article follow, but the entire article can be linked to below.
“Bernstein joined New Day on Thursday to discuss ‘I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year,’ the incoming new book about General Mike Milley from the Washington Post‘s Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. He was specifically asked for his thoughts about how Milley not only compared Trump to Adolf Hitler, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also began to formulate a backup plan in case Trump tried to launch a coup.
Bernstein began by commenting that the report, while ‘extraordinary,’ merely confirmed, ‘what we already knew, that we had a crazy, delusional, authoritarian, dangerous, criminal president of the United States.‘
His character, his authoritarianism, his recklessness, his homicidal negligence through the pandemic. All of this was known to our leaders, and the party of Trump and the party of McConnell and what we saw in the insurrection. These are all things that were embraced up until the last minute by McConnell and Republican leadership. And they continue to be embraced: Trumpism, in all its derangement, terror and horror.
As the conversation continued to address the full connotations of Milley’s remarks, Bernstein offered his disgust over the likelihood that they will be ‘dismissed immediately’ by the Trump movement. As he mused on Milley directly tying neofascism to Trumpism, Bernstein asked ‘how did we get to a place where the leader of the American military compared the president of the United States to Hitlerian fascism?’”
I truly am tired of writing about the most deceitful and corrupt acting president in my lifetime, which now must include the word seditious to describe his actions. His actions and statements are overt and it puzzles me how so many critics can be so easily dismissed. His followers have shown a desire to stick with a person who is well-documented by numerous resources and people as untruthful.
It may go down in history as one of the biggest con jobs. But, don’t take my word for it, just read some of what the former president’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. Or, if you don’t like his comments, the former president’s Secretary of Defense James Mattis said “Donald Trump does not even try to unite us.” Yet, the most all encompassing comment comes from Michael Cohen, the former president’s attorney and fixer (why one needs a fixer is in and of itself a concern), when he said under oath to Congress “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con-artist and he is a cheat.”
The overarching theme of the book “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn is to accomplish lasting, impactful solutions (in this case with climate change and environmental concerns) we need to work with folks in the middle. In essence, the folks in the extremes are too strident and reluctant to compromise.
A good example comes from the Montana rancher as he combats climate change and environmental degradation caused by fracking for natural gas. He works with folks who will address the environmental issues, but permit him and his family to make a living ranching. He notes the fracking companies paint a picture that is far rosier than it is, while some extreme environmentalists want everything to stop and do nothing with the land. At personal risk, he built a coalition of ranchers, environmentalists and government officials who were willing to follow his lead to preserve the environment while permitting the ranchers to do their thing.
The Kansas farmer speaks to working in concert with the land and learning and sharing best practices with other area farmers and the agro-economics people at nearby Kansas State University. Farmers want to maximize a sustainable yield on their crops, but climate change and water concerns increase the challenges to do so. He emphasizes growing what grows naturally in the area. There is a reason wheat and alfalfa are cash crops in Kansas. He notes the farm to table concept is not necessarily ideal – it would be a waste of water and land to try to grow everything everywhere. As for climate change, they work with legislators to protect the water resources, but have to stop short of using that term with their representatives. They gain collaboration by speaking to what is happening, not identifying its lead cause.
The book focuses on five professions in total, although only three are listed in the title. The other two are Shrimper and River Captain. Skipping over the fisherman and shrimper, who are each impacted by the environmental waste and degradation worsened by climate change, let me finish up with the River Captain.
The Louisiana based river man moves frieight up and down the Mississippi River. He understands the importance of experienced teams who know the river going both ways, with high, low or medium water levels. He has seen the significant dissipation of the wetlands in the Bayou which are causing huge problems to many, Engineers tried to outsmart the river and failed. In fairly dramatic fashion, the Gulf of Mexico is absorbing land due to rising sea levels and fewer buffers, So, they are working with scientists, businesses, and even the petroleum industry to slowly rebuild the Bayou.
Note, there are pros and cons to each set of solutions, so getting to the best answer requires honest input on the costs and risks to people, environment and livelihoods. And, some of the answers are counterintuitive. For example, not sending barges down the Mississippi means more truck traffic which pollutes the environment, degrades the roads and heightens risk for other drivers. With more electric trucks, this would lessen the risk, so that is a factor in risk/ benefit trade-offs. The farmer’s comment about farm to table also deserves scrutiny as farm to table also helps to lessen these trucking risks and costs. Yet, on a large scale, the point about growing stuff that is more natural to an area is profound and will lessen the impact on water resources which are dear.
It should be noted working in collaboration is how business and government work best. Yet, collaboration is hard work. For those who block the consideration of solutions, they need to be sidelined. In our toxic tribal political environment, we must remember each side does not own all the good ideas and both sides own some bad ones. Let’s follow the lead of these folks who get their hands dirty, understand what is happening and work together.
“Just a song before I go To whom it may concern Traveling twice the speed of sound It’s easy to get burned”
Simon and Grafunkel added:
“Slow down, you move too fast You got to make the morning last Just kicking down the cobble stones Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy”
In our 24 x 7 world of social media and pseudo and real news sources that tell us what to think, everything seems like a problem of urgency. Isn’t this horrible and we must act? Part of this is very real, as in this big world, something bad is happening somewhere. Since “if it bleeds, it leads” or is there is conflict between sparring legislators, it makes the news.
Good news stories do get reported, but in inverse proportion to their occurrence. The good news stories are far more common and everyday, but are not deemed newsworthy. I recall a silly example on a music show called “Where are they now?” which usually highlights a band that had success, then fell apart. They filmed one on the group Kansas, but it never aired. Why? The band members were all living normal lives, so it was not titillating.
Yet, the other part of these pervasive bad news stories, which can be tragic and dispiriting, is the news that needs to be talked about, but does not get much coverage. Here are a few.
We have a global fresh water problem that is only being made worse by climate change.
That climate change problem is no longer a future event – it is brandishing its fangs now with more wildfires, droughts and stalled weather patterns, along with more intense hurricanes and tornados.
On the good news side, renewable energy is growing at a rapid rate now that cost of production is economical and fossil fuel companies are being held more to account by shareholders and judges..
There is a poverty and hunger problem in the US and abroad. Too many Americans go to bed hungry. Too many Americans live beneath or at paycheck to paycheck.
The US has a huge debt and deficit burden that was already bad before the pandemic relief and tax cuts – now it is far worse, with interest cost becoming an increasing part of the budget.
These issues don’t get talked about enough. Even on the better news stations, the focus is way too much on which political party benefits from an issue. The issue itself gets less reporting than who benefits. In fact, wedge issues are seized to beat the other party over the head with, even if the problem has been around for years. I have long grown weary of problems not being addressed, because of optics. Do something.
But, back to CS&N and Simon and Garfunkel, let’s also balance all of this with the good stuff that is going on every day. I recognize there are too many folks that are wound way too tight. They seem looking for a fight if some thing or some person makes them do something. Get over it. The world does not revolve around you. If you have to wear a mask to get in some place, then you know what you need to do.
Yet, we should endeavor to leave all of our encounters on a better footing. Somewhere in some book I read, some guy called this rule golden. Something like treat others like you want to be treated. Now, that is something to evangelize.
Whether you are familiar with Jon Meacham, you may be familiar with his work. The Pulitzer Prize winner is one of America’s “explainers” of our history offering a needed context given what was going on at the time. He has written several biographies of presidents, including his most recent one on George H.W. Bush, as well as ones on Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and the relationship between FDR and Winston Churchill. He even spoke at Bush’s funeral at the behest of his wife, Barbara Bush. If I had to sum up who Meacham is – he is an astute student of history. And, he has many admirers including noted historians Walter Isaacson and Michael Beschloss.
I recently read his excellent book called “The Soul of America,” where he is his usual informative self. The subtitle is “The Battle for our Better Angels.” He notes we have had battles of trying to do the right thing throughout our history, yet sometimes it has been hard to work our way there. Here are a few examples:
During the 1920 and early 1930s, over 25% of the US Senate and over 100 members of Congress had an affinity for the KKK. This stunned me, as looking back we would hope that leaders would have seen the KKK for what it was. Yet, even today, we are seeing a rise of White supremacy with some comments being parroted by a couple of elected Congressional representatives. And, after the popularity of “Birth of a Nation,” a very racist movie, and the example of the Tulsa massacre and many lynching’s in the south, it should be less surprising. In fact, it took a couple of KKK leaders openly espousing violence toward Jews, that caused an upset stomach for some of the sympathetic legislators, and they started to distance themselves from the KKK.
He also noted that President Dwight Eisenhower was not too keen on Senator Joe McCarthy of communist witch hunt fame during the early 1950s. But, the president recognized that McCarthy had too big a following to be ignored. So, he tolerated McCarthy without actively supporting him. What was surprising to me is attorney Roy Cohn, who advised McCarthy, knew his boss tended to make things up and was reckless not doing much homework, which would eventually become a problem. By the time Joseph Welch, the US Army’s Chief Counsel famously asked McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” McCarthy was already beginning to fade. In fact, an earlier quote of Welch’s was also condemning of McCarthy’s clumsy efforts. “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.”*
Let me close with a quote from Eisenhower on leadership that is telling. Apparently, one too many folks was offering the WWII European Allied Commander advice. “Now, look, I happen to know a little about leadership. I’ve had to work with a lot of nations, for that matter, at odds with each other. And, I tell you this…you do not lead people by hitting them over the head. Any damn fool can do that, but it is usually called ‘assault’ – not ‘leadership.’ I’ll tell you what leadership is. It’s persuasion – and conciliation – and education – and patience. It’s long, slow tough work. That is the only kind of leadership I know – or believe in – or will practice.”
The book is a good read. I only mention these three examples, as I don’t want to give too much away. America’s history, with all of its warts must be understood. If we do not learn lessons from our history, we are destined to repeat our failures. Already, we are seeing a rise in White supremacy along with the untruthfulness of a demagogue who rose to the presidency before he was not reelected. Trying to convince people he was reelected is akin to the recklessness that is used to define Senator McCarthy. We must guard against such untruthfulness as people get hurt when they believe such.
*Note: Trusted newscaster Edward R. Murrow would prove to be McCarthy’s most ardent critic. One of his many quotes is “We must remember always that accusation is not proof and conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.”
We are creatures of habit. A book I often cite is called “The Power of Habit – Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg. My niece thought I might like this and she was correct. I would encourage you to read it as well, as it articulates how much of what we do each day is based more on habit that is ingrained in each of us or in our organizations.
A friend who taught philosophy at University shared with me that Aristotle felt habits reigned supreme. In his “Nicomachean Ethics,” as referenced in Duhigg’s book, Aristotle said:
“…just as a piece of land has to be prepared beforehand to nourish the seed, so the mind of the pupil has to be prepared in its habits if it is to enjoy and dislike the right things.”
A few examples from “The Power of Habit” might help reveal further Aristotle’s belief. Paul O’Neill is a great example. In short, he came in and transformed Alcoa as its CEO in a very unheard of way. It unnerved so many financial experts, they told people to sell the stock once they heard O’Neill’s first speech. One analyst later said “it was the worst piece of advice I have ever given,” as under O’Neill, Alcoa’s earnings and stock price soared for many years. What did he do that was so unusual and successful? His first focus was to make Alcoa the safest company it could be, as its safety record was atrocious. In other words, he wanted to change Alcoa’s bad safety habits.
He consciously picked this as he explained later, as it was the one thing we could get management and labor to agree on – a safer workplace. So, what happened? Communication between the line workers and management improved as accidents and how to prevent them had to be reported within 24 hours. He showed by example, after a tragic death, that this mattered to him and was not window-dressing. He changed the habits of executives, managers and line workers by insisting that we cannot condone safety problems and must avoid them at all costs. Through the improved communication, other benefits occurred – processes had to be improved to make them safer, the workers were empowered to share ideas on how to improve processes, and management’s goals could be communicated more readily. By emphasizing the importance of safety habits, the company got better. And, so did results.
Another good example about habits is regarding Starbucks. There is a moving story about how a young man had fallen into bad and even criminal habits. His drug problem caused him to lose everything time and time again. Then, someone suggested he try to get a job at Starbucks. Someone gave him a chance and mentored him. But, it was really the Starbucks training that transformed him. The training told him how to serve customers well. It told him how to address situations with an irate customer. It taught him the need to be organized, as if you were not, the customer would be ill-served. This consistent training replaced his bad habits with new habits. He built on his success by first building his self-esteem through better habit. And, it spilled over into his personal life. Now, he is managing a Starbucks and improving his education.
There are numerous examples in the book, but one my niece and I both found interesting is about the fabric freshening product called Febreze. Now, you may not know that Febreze was almost pulled from the market as its sales were almost non-existent. It was a flop. Febreze’s inventor had found a way to chemically remove bad odors from fabrics. When it was first marketed, the elimination of bad odors was the pitch. Yet, that pitch only sold to people whose houses were a total wreck and reeked. The average homeowner did not buy it, at least buy enough of it. Before Proctor and Gamble (P&G) pulled it, they did more research of their target buyers.
Through this research, they discovered a habit in housewives (please forgive the gender reference), who after they made their beds with new linens, they purposefully inhaled the crisp, clean laundered smell. In fact, after they did any cleaning, the desire for a clean-smelling house was habitual. P&G realized people did not crave scentlessness, instead they crave a nice clean smell after they’ve spent 30 minutes cleaning. With this focus, a new marketing effort was launched and within two months sales doubled and then took off, spawning dozens of spin-off products. P&G’s Febreze provided the reward of a clean-smelling house to someone who cleaned it, which was the cue for the reward.
I use cue and reward, as these are two of the tenets of understanding and changing habits, whether they be smoking, nail-biting, eating bad snacks, drinking, etc. In short, Duhigg articulates:
1) Identify the routine (what leads to the habit and why, when and how does it occur?)
2) Experiment with rewards (to change a habit, a new reward has to be substituted, but it has to be fulfilling, so experimentation is needed)
3) Isolate the cue (what is truly the cue; what more than any other thing is causing the habit?)
4) Have a plan (this is what am I going to do about it, this is in my control to change and if I write down my plan, I will have a better chance of success).
One example was an office worker and his craving for a mid-afternoon donut, muffin or unhealthy snack. The routine was the person would leave his desk from boredom, being tired, just to get up, etc. and would go to the vending machine for a snack. The reward was the snack. The cue was harder to find, as various paths led to the reward. It turned out the cue was the time. Invariably, between 3 and 3:30 pm, the person would get the unhealthy snack. So, he noted this in a plan to do something differently. He experimented and felt if he purposefully socialized with others for ten minutes instead of getting a snack, the new reward would satisfy him. So, he planned and executed the plan by getting away from his desk at the same tim each day, forming a new habit. Instead of eating, he would talk with colleagues.
There are other habits noted that have been replaced by new rewards. The key is to find a new reward. If you drink, substituting something that takes the place of the drink will make it a new habit. It could be drinking fruit juices, hot tea, coffee, etc. or it could be taking a walk after dinner, when your old habit of drinking most occurred. The same would hold true with smoking. You have to find a new reward to replace the smoking reward. Otherwise, the old habit will have a better chance of returning.
Let me close how Duhigg did referencing a passage from William James’ book “The Principle of Psychology.” Note William’s brother Henry is an author of some renown.
“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits – practical, emotional, and intellectual – systematically organized for our weal or woe, and is bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”
Habits can be good or bad. If they are the latter and you want to change, the above steps are worth considering. The book is a good read, with many understandable examples. I highly recommend it. Let me know what you think.
The following is an excerpt from an article called “Trump’s Big Lie Devoured the G.O.P. and Now Eyes Our Democracy” by one of my favorite authors and columnists, Pulitzer Prize winner, Thomas Friedman. Friedman wrote “The World is Flat” and “That Used to be Us: How America fell behind in the world it created and how it can come back.” A link to the article in Jill’s post “We are not okay” can be found below.
” Here is what Representative Anthony Gonzalez, one of the few Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, told The Hill about the campaign within the party to oust Representative Liz Cheney from her House G.O.P. leadership position, because of her refusal to go along with the Big Lie:
“’f a prerequisite for leading our conference is continuing to lie to our voters, then Liz is not the best fit. Liz isn’t going to lie to people. … She’s going to stand on principle.‘
Think about that for a second. To be a leader in today’s G.O.P. you either have to play dumb or be dumb on the central issue facing our Republic: the integrity of our election. You have to accept everything that Trump has said about the election — without a shred of evidence — and ignore everything his own attorney general, F.B.I. director and election security director said — based on the evidence — that there was no substantive fraud.
What kind of deformed party will such a dynamic produce? A party so willing to be marinated in such a baldfaced lie will lie about anything, including who wins the next election and every one after that.“
Another favorite conservative pundit Michael Gerson said it more bluntly about the Republican leaders who support this path forward. He said you either have to be a “sucker or a liar” to be a leader in the new GOP. The Democrats are not perfect and, while I agree on many of their policies, not all curry my support. Yet, the Democrats are at least discussing issues while the GOP is just adrift supporting the most deceitful, corrupt and seditious president in my lifetime, including Richard Nixon.
Republicans are being lied to by its so-called leadership. The sad fact is the leaders know they are lying and simply are looking to get away with it. Do Democrats lie? Yes, but the party currency is not deceit which apparently is what matters to the GOP more than anything. We need a viable GOP, but this one is headed down a dark alley.