Chile water crisis should serve as a warning

In an article called “‘Consequences will be dire’: Chile’s water crisis is reaching breaking point” by John Bartlett as reported in The Guardian, a long-lasting drought and water misuse have led to an alarming problem. The sad truth is the water crisis in Chile is not an isolated event. The following select paragraphs tell an important story. The full article can be linked to below.

Unprecedented drought makes water a national security issue as more than half of Chile’s 19 million population lived in area with ‘severe water scarcity’ by end of 2021.

From the Atacama Desert to Patagonia, a 13-year megadrought is straining Chile’s freshwater resources to breaking point.

By the end of 2021, the fourth driest year on record, more than half of Chile’s 19 million population lived in an area suffering from ‘severe water scarcity’, and in April an unprecedented water rationing plan was announced for the capital, Santiago.

In hundreds of rural communities in the centre and north of the country, Chileans are forced to rely on emergency tankers to deliver drinking water.

Ecuadorian natives clash with the police 30km from Quito in 2010 in protest of a proposed water privatisation measure.

‘Water has become a national security issue – it’s that serious,’ said Pablo García-Chevesich, a Chilean hydrologist working at the University of Arizona. ‘It’s the biggest problem facing the country economically, socially and environmentally. If we don’t solve this, then water will be the cause of the next uprising.’……

‘I used to supply all of the markets and communities in the area,’ said Alfonso Ortíz, 73, a farmer who once employed several workers to grow watermelons, pumpkins, corn and oranges using water from the lagoon.

‘Agriculture here is dead. There’s nothing left,’ he said.

Chile’s economy, South America’s largest by per-capita GDP, is built on water-intensive, extractivist industries principally mining, forestry and agriculture.

But its growth has come at a price.

Supported by the private rights system, about 59% of the country’s water resources are dedicated to forestry, despite it making up just 3% of Chile’s GDP.

Another 37% is destined for the agricultural sector, meaning only 2% of Chile’s water is set aside for human consumption.”

Re-read that last sentence. “2% of Chile’s water is set for human consumption.” While this is an extreme example it is not isolated. Going on for several years now, the number one long term crisis facing us as surveyed by the World Economic Forum is the global water crisis. Climate change impact was second as it actually makes the first problem worse.

For those that think it cannot happen here, farmers in the plains of the US are worried about water. There is a great book called “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn that shares these concerns. There is one town in Texas that is now dry because of fracking and drought. Other water supplies are getting more dear and fights over river and reservoir access have been going on. The Biscayne aquifer that provides water to Miami is being encroached on by rising sea levels coming through the porous limestone. And, that is before the issue of lead pipes comes into the equation.

What troubles me greatly is the lack of public debate over this concern. Cape Town, South Africa was so bad off it had a countdown to no water. It survived, but just barely. Yet, not a peep was discussed here. We are to busy talking about contrived and exaggerated issues to deal with real crises. One would think not having water to drink or irrigate crops would be a concern. One would think that climate change causing water reservoirs to dry up faster and cause longer droughts and forest fires would be a concern.

Let me leave you with this thought. I heard a spokesperson from one of the largest US utilities speak on climate change impact. This utility had a long-range report that said two very disturbing things. First, they have increased their model for expected evaporation of reservoir water due to climate change by 11%. If the water level is too low, it cannot be converted into steam to turn the turbines to create power. So, they cut the water flow to people to make up for it, as they manage the river.

Second, these long-range projections noted the river will not be able to support the water needs of the metropolitan population in about fifty years unless something is done. This troubling projection has gotten very little coverage in our newspapers or TV news. This is more concerning to me than BS like critical race theory or replacement theory which are the contrived and exaggerated issues of the day.

Steven Solomon, author of “Water” created a term that has been used by at least one utility executive. “Water is the new oil.” If that does not scare you, note oil rich Saudi Arabia said it was OK to pray with sand rather than water. Why? They said Allah gave them a lot of oil, but little water.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jun/01/chiles-water-crisis-megadrought-reaching-breaking-point

The real replacement practices

This concept of replacement theory where white workers are subject to a planned replacement by black and brown workers has been around for decades. In fact, the fascists in England were using this replacement theory in the early 1960s, of course, blaming Jews for its orchestration. In essence, the theory says white workers’ jobs are being systematically replaced by immigrants and those other people who don’t belong here. Sound familiar? Yet, this replacement theory well preceded the 1960s.

It is all subterfuge to create fear and blame others for your problems. Fear has been used to sell ideas and manipulate people for a long time. Overstating an inflammable cause is one way to do that. The fear of the other overlooks the deeper problems for loss of jobs and disenfranchisement. The key reasons for disenfranchisement are the actual replacement practices that we need to address. These are not some theory, but deployed routinely and recurringly in practice.

There are two key reasons, which impact all workers of all colors:

– technology improvements which reduce the number of workers needed, and

– CEOs chasing cheaper labor to lower the cost of production

The latter cause manifests itself in offshoring, outsourcing, or migration of factories. For example, the textile industry has left a trail of closed plants as the industry moved from England to the United States first in New England and then to southern states. Then in the 1980s, the heavy migration occurred to China and Mexico and eventually to Vietnam and Bangladesh searching for cheaper labor. One company that comes to mind went from 86,000 US employees in 1980 to about 4,000 today, with the rest abroad. That is not an isolated example and it is not just manufacturing work. It is call center, IT, analysis, etc. The US based insurance industry has been shipping claim forms for review to Ireland as the Irish were, on average, more literate than Americans, even before technology made it easier to get the Irish to review them.

The former cause has been occurring routinely as well, but has accelerated once again with the advancement in Artificial Intelligence (AI). Yet, a robot need not look like a humanoid to be effective. Computer driven machines and robotic appendages have evolved over time. I watched a “60 Minutes” episode about ten years ago, which demonstrated a programmable robotic machine that went for the price of a car to be used by small businesses. The tasks need not be complex to improve efficiency, so these cheaper machines could replace a half-dozen workers.

So, when you hear immigration is a problem, that does not address the main issues. Of course, the immigration system could be improved and opportunities to do so were not voted on after some agreement even by some of the most vocal critics. But, there are some industries and municipalities that need more workers. Those workers need to be trained or trainable, so some may come from abroad and some from here.

Where we need to focus our attention is working with new and old industries in transition and community colleges to train new workers. The coal industry has been on the demise for a dozen years, but some politicians have been clinging on to its protection. I have said several times, whether or not you like Senator Bernie Sanders, he was the only presidential candidate in 2016 to stand up in front of coal miners and tell them the truth – your jobs are going away, but here is what I plan to do about it.

In this vein, some towns are dilapidated by closed factories that moved. The forward thinking towns invested in bringing new workers from whereever they could. They developed initiatives to reinvest in the area using the brainpower of the new and old blood mixed together. They developed incentives to draw younger adults to their towns. And, it worked.

The issue of workers needing more opportunity and investment is where we need to focus our attention. This is a good example of a group of PR people coming up with an issue, blowing it way out of proportion as the problem, and putting it on a bumper sticker. “Build a wall” some might say as the panacea. Ironically, when the major proponent of that comment accepted a deal to get $25 billion for this wall in exchange for making DACA law, he was talked out of it. This was his number one issue, but he said no after saying yes. Why? He knew it would not solve the problems and his bluff had been called.

Our problems are complex and have multiple factors. One of the tenets of the book “Built to Last” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum is most of America’s major problems over time were solved in concert between some combination of government (federal, state and/ or local), venture capital, and private industry or philanthropy investment. We won’t solve our problems unless we identify them and their many causes. We won’t solve them by listening to opinion hosts and candidates who are trying to scare, who really don’t want to solve anything other than getting someone elected.

We will solve them by looking at the facts, coming up with a plan, getting buy-in and funding and making it happen. That is hard to put on a bumper sticker or define in a two-minute sound byte by an opinion host.

The limits of sequential thinking – a reprise

The following post was written a few years ago, but I stumbled upon it today. It stands the test of time regardless of how one tracks progress.

What does sequential thinking mean, you might be asking? Many of us think in a sequential order. Basically, it means I cannot think about a certain thing, because it comes after what I need to do next. Sequential thinking is at odds with a working or living environment that demands a multi-tasking mindset.

When I say multi-tasking, I am not referring to doing more than one thing at one time, although that is its most common description. What I mean is having a list of multiple things to do and balancing the priority and times of when you plan to do them. It is akin to walking while juggling balls in the air. The key is to not drop any balls while you keep walking.

Let me use a few examples to emphasize my point. I may have a list of ten or twenty things to do. I receive information to do one of the items, but that item is not needed for a week. Sequential thinking would push doing that project until later in the week. But, what if you have a hard deadline and the information provided might be incomplete?

The military doctors and nurses coined an apt term called “triage.” So, a multi-tasking way to think of this would be to triage the information for the later project as an earlier step. Then, if it is incomplete, you could ask the sender to clarify or send additional input. Then, you can move onto other things while you wait.

Another example is moving forward with pieces of a project before having all the needed steps complete. One of the best project managers I have ever worked with would apportion a large report out in pieces for earlier completion. She would have folks working on producing the Appendix, Sections 5, 8, 11 and 14, e.g., while the analysis was being done to complete the key findings and recommendations. So, the supporting sections could be completed, so as to reduce the time crunch at the end once the analysis was done.

Although the last paragraph makes so much sense, it is not as widely practiced as you would think. Neither is the triaging concept, except in medical emergency settings. The other thing these two approaches avoid is the bottle-neck created by other projects and demands. And, in so doing, it enables deadlines to be better fulfilled.

As I write this, I recall a very demanding client. She could be a hard-ass on staff, but at the heart of her criticisms often was a legitimate one. If you told her a deadline, she expected you to meet it. The key was to give her a deadline that could be met, not in a vacuum, but in recognition that you had other things to do.

People like to please and hate telling people no. But, having been a consultant and client manager for ages, I would rather someone tell me they were too busy to help, forcing me to find another source, or avoid giving me too aggressive a deadline. This may not surprise people, but many deadlines that are not met are set by the person doing the work, not the client. Managing expectations is vital.

A favorite author, Malcolm Gladwell, confessed in an interview that he writes in an unusual way that works for him. He said he does not do all his research up front, so he outlines the idea, does some research, writes some, does more research, writes some more and so on. Why? Two reasons – he said he would get bored doing all the research, then writing. Plus, the research is fresher in his mind when he writes soon thereafter. He portions out the work in smaller more manageable segments.

Sequential thinking can get in the way of moving forward. I am not suggesting everyone will think like Gladwell or the best project manager I mention above, but think in terms of smaller, earlier steps to move things along.

Friday follies and foibles

While I am sick and tired of being sick and tired with tribal politics and traitorous actions, let me offer a veritable potpourri of follies and foibles this Friday. In no particular order:

The Ukraine forces sank a big Russian ship or at least it is submerged. Russians say everything is OK and it is being towed back. I am reminded of the knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” who said after losing yet one more appendage, “It is a flesh wound.”

Republican appointed US District Judge Reggie Walton on Thursday called Donald Trump a threat to democracy, accusing the former president of instigating a mob of “weak-minded” followers to attack the US Capitol on January 6, Politico reported. While Trump did not offer a rebuttal, it is expected that he will call the judge a loser, Trump-hater and/or witch-hunter. It is also expected Trump will make no mention that Walton was appointed by a Republican.

Intel is proceeding with a new computer chip factory in Lorain County Ohio. Yes, that is in the United States, so you read that right. What I also find interesting is the community college started teaching microelectronics about nine years ago creating a workforce that could be drawn upon. Call me crazy, but that sounds like some excellent forward thinking and evidence when politicians stop bitching and moaning and start listening to people, good things can happen.

The Intel example offers a truism. Much change of significance occurs because of people and organizations getting together toward a common cause or idea. So-called leaders are usually followers, not unlike the buck leading herd of deer. People think the buck leads the herd to where they go, but observations reveal the herd will react to threat or noises and move with its leader following.

This is a key reason at the 2016 GOP convention, when the presidential candidate said “I, alone, can solve our problems,” that was just total BS. A good leader knows the best ideas come from those closest to the action, be it the customer or a process. In other words, the buck better listen to the herd or he and others might get eaten by the wolves.

We need to make our concerns and ideas heard by those we elected. And, we need to make sure they hear us. We also need them to tell us the truth and stop the tribal BS. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.

A Proven Three for One Return – an example of reducing poverty, abortions and unwanted pregnancies (a reprise from an earlier post)

The following post was written about seven years ago. Given my past volunteer work for working homeless families, this Colorado study was compelling.

If there was a proven solution that would accomplish three major goals and save money, it would be worth considering, right? If data revealed that a state could save $80 million and dramatically reduce abortions, unwanted pregnancies and help people in poverty, it would be as close to a no-brainer as we could get. Then, why is Colorado’s legislature unwinding funding to an effort to provide birth control and family planning to people in need?

Worldwide and in the US, there is a high correlation between larger family size and poverty. Further, a Harvard study from 1982 – 2011 indicates that one of five reasons for poor socio-economic mobility is fewer traditional families (some Conservatives like to say this is the only reason, but that oversimplifies).

Yet, the use of an obvious toolset with a proven track record does not stand up to the scrutiny of this legislature. Of course, the reason is the fervent belief against birth control even though the significant majority of women ignore their religion on this subject. About 90% of American Catholic women use or have used birth control.

In my work with homeless families, one of the reasons for some young women who find themselves homeless is having children before they are ready or out of wedlock. Also about 30% of our clients are victims of domestic violence. Lacking the additional income of a second parent, not to mention the support of a good one, puts a family in a hole which is hard to climb out of.

Here is where religion is less inclined toward the practical and can be harmful. We need to have holistic open discussions about this topic with teens. It is more than OK to preach abstinence, but these teens are tempted far more than we were at that age, and we were tempted. So, we need to teach a girl’s self-esteem is not tied into relenting to sex, nor is a boy’s for that matter. We need to teach boys that no means no. But, we need to also teach family planning and provide tools of birth control.

We have columnists who tout fatherless families as the reason for poverty in the Black community, which it is one of several. It is a reason no matter the race or ethnic group. Yet they stop short of defining one of the cures, which is noted above and proven to be successful. It should be noted in the states with the lowest abortion rate, they each have more robust family planning effort than states with higher rates.

Let’s be smart and practical about these issues. The data is pretty clear. And, it should be noted using a condom actually reduces STDs and HIV transmission which would be fourth benefit.

Rural Health Care is suffering (and COVID-19 has made it worse)

In an article called “The South’s health care system is crumbling under Covid-19. Enter Tennessee” by Daniel Payne of Politico, the demise of heath care in more rural areas has been exacerbated by COVID-19.

A key reason is the closing of rural and small town hospitals that has severely impacted immediate health care. A key paragraph from this article is telling:

“Of the 50 counties with the highest Covid deaths per capita, 24 are within 40 miles of a hospital that has closed, according to a POLITICO analysis in late January. Nearly all 50 counties were in rural areas. Rural hospital closures have been accelerating, with 181 since 2005 — and over half of those happening since 2015, according to data from the University of North Carolina. But that may be just the beginning. Over 450 rural hospitals are at risk of closure, according to an analysis by the Chartis Group, one of the nation’s largest independent health care advisory firms.”

These hospital closings are not new nor did they just happen. The financial difficulties predate the passage of the Affordable Care Act. In essence, a significant portion of the cost of running these hospitals went toward indigent care, meaning people without insurance. In some cases, it was over 50% and even as high as two-thirds of the hospital budget. This meant some of the revenue may be reimbursed by the local county, but if the county was in financial trouble or this was a private hospital, the hospital was out of luck.

The ACA brought with it the expansion of Medicaid, should a state opt in to cover people. The federal government would reimburse the state those costs for three years and then drop to 90% thereafter. All but fourteen states have so expanded. Per the non-partisan Commonweath Fund, Medicaid expansion helps the state economy, rural health care and the people in those locations. Former Republican presidential candidate John Kasich called Medicaid expansion a “no brainer” when he was governor of Ohio.

And, these hospitals are usually a major employer in these towns. So, when one closes, a lot of revenue leaves the town budget and economy. Belhaven, NC Mayor Adam O’Neil, a Republican, pleaded with the state leaders to expand Medicaid, but to no avail. So, he walked to Washington, DC to plead his case there. It should be noted that North Carolina remains as one of the fourteen states who have not expanded Medicaid.

As a retired benefits consultant, manager and actuary, I know the ACA is not perfect and could use some shoring up. But, a key reason for the ACA is patients need access to care and hospitals need to get paid for services rendered. If a patient has health care insurance, he or she will seek more preventative measures to stave off problems. Plus, he or she will seek care if needed, rather than avoiding it.

All of the above greased the skids for a problematic response to COVID-19. Without hospitals close by, people would forego care until it was too late. Plus, coordination of care with doctors to do triage and offer vaccines is hindered.

The ACA is not perfect, but it has improved access care for many people. I have written before about some suggestions to improve it. Yet, in fourteen states, the ACA still has not been fully implemented and in many of those states, they lag other states on health care results per the Commonwealth Fund. Expansion of Medicaid could be a major step.

https://news.yahoo.com/public-health-disaster-shuttered-hospitals-110000044.html

The Premonition: a Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis is a must read

“You cannot wait for the smoke to clear: once you can see things clearly it is already too late. You can’t outrun an epidemic: by the time you start to run it is already upon you. Identify what is important and drop everything that is not. Figure out the equivalent of an escape fire.” 

“James,” she asked, “who exactly is in charge of this pandemic?” “Nobody,” he replied. “But, if you want to know who is sort of in charge, it’s sort of us.” from a conversation between two members of an informal cadre of doctors trying to get to the bottom of things that had no orders to do so from their bosses.

These quotes are from Michael Lewis excellent book on the COVID-19 pandemic called “The Premonition: a Pandemic Story.” Lewis has written another well-researched book breaking down complex topics into a story the reader can understand. He has written about the housing financial crisis in “The Big Short,” baseball’s embracing of data to change the paradigm in “Moneyball,’ how we make decisions in “The Undoing Project,” and how unprepared we were during the Trump presidency in “The Fifth Risk,” among others.

From the inside flap to the book, “For those who could read between the lines, the censored news out of China was terrifying. But, the president insisted there was nothing to worry about. Fortunately, we are still a nation of skeptics. Fortunately, there are those among us who study pandemics and are willing to look unflinchingly at worst case scenarios. Michael Lewis’ taut and brilliant nonfiction thriller pits a band of medical visionaries against the wall of ignorance that was the official response of the Trump administration to the outbreak of COVID-19.”

The book highlights an informal cadre of doctors, data scientists, and epidemiologists who dig deeper into news and data to realize we have an exponentially growing pandemic which is akin to a wildfire. If you do not act early and with strong interventions, it is hard to contain. These folks are acting without permission from their various jobs in governmental health care positions, but share communications regularly even when those communications could get them fired for going against stated public stances.

Several in the group came together at the behest of President George W. Bush after he read a book about the risks of a pandemic to a country like the United States. He formed a pandemic planning team that pulled together resources who had a reputation for solving problems in health care, breaking down preconceived notions. And, they wrote a pandemic response plan after doing much research about the failures and successes in fighting the Spanish Flu outbreak. They actually used data to turn that story on its ear.

While a few stayed around in the administration during the Obama years and were of benefit during other pandemics, they were long gone during the Trump administration who felt the greater risk was from a military or terrorist action. So, they went back to their health care related jobs. That was until they started to see reports out of China and dug deeper.

They saw global exposure and used previous exponential pandemic growth to ascertain that we could be looking at 350,000 US deaths. The key is they made this observation in mid-January, 2020. What they learned later is the exponential growth factor from COVID-19 was higher than that of other diseases. Carter Mecher, the informal head of this group who called themselves “The Wolverines” after a Patrick Swayze movie called “Red Dawn,” noted by the time the president closed incoming travel from China, it was too late as the pandemic had already reached our shores. By the time the US had its first reported death on February 26, it was masking the fact 200 others were already dying.

Acting quickly without all of the data is key as per the quote above. A key data driven lesson from the Spanish Flu response is social distancing, especially with children, is essential. The first thing they would have done is shut the schools down. Why? Kids average a distance apart of only three feet, while adults have wider distance. Kids will transmit any disease faster than adults. This practice was done in some cities during the Spanish Flu outbreak and the data showed it worked, whereas other cities who did not act like this, had worse pandemic responses.

This cadre started getting attention of others beneath the president and in governor’s offices, including Dr. Tony Fauci. So, their informal calls and email chains kept growing. They were the only folks who seemed to know what they were talking about. We also learned the CDC is not the best agency to manage a pandemic, as it is more of a research and report writing entity, not a nimble management group. One of the members of the informal team worked for the CDC and her bosses did not know she did, e.g. Yet, the CDC and White House administration staff would not go against the public positions of the president. Perception mattered more than fixing the problem, so needed change and actions could not get done. In fact, some of these officials encouraged them to keep going, even though they knew the president was not the kind of person who they could contradict without repercussions.

So, at a time when we needed to move quickly, people in positions of authority stood in the way of those who were begging with them to act quickly. A good example is in a public health official named Charity Dean in California, who was used to acting quickly when she saw potential outbreaks, often risking her job in so doing. Her boss came from the CDC and was towing that party line, yet Dean had been drafted into this informal group “The Wolverines.” While her boss disinvited her from internal pandemic meetings, she kept learning and sharing information with the group. Eventually, her boss could not make a press conference with Governor Newsom, and Dean spoke for 45 minutes of her concerns answering many questions. The press said this is the first time they have heard this. The governor acted quickly.

The book is a must read, in my view. It shows how important leadership is in welcoming information from reliable sources to make their decisions. It also shows how important courage is to tell leaders what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. As I read this book, I kept thinking how the former president craves being seen as a good leader, but at the time when we needed him to be one, he whiffed at the ball on the tee. A key to pandemic responses is to tell people the truth – only then will they act. When the so-called leader is telling them it will all go away soon on the same day the first US death is reported or that this is a Democrat hoax, then people hear that and act accordingly. The problem is those statements were far from the truth.

Hard Truths

Since our pseudo news outlets and social media pot-stirrers capture the imagination with stories that are largely untrue or focus on the wrong things, we seem to be ignoring hard truths. This concerns me as dialogue over factual information is greatly needed. Otherwise, we address the wrong problems.

America no longer is a country of upward mobility. We have fallen in the ranks of people climbing the socio-economic ladder and to whom and where you were born matters more than merit.

America ranked in the twenties in terms of science and math in world educational ranking the last time I checked. It may be worse now. That is not American Exceptionalism.

America has the most expensive health care system in the world but ranks around thirty-eight in quality outcomes. We have one of the hjghest maternal mortality rates in first world countries.

America was put on watch list for democracies around the world. That sentence speaks volumes. When people believe a former president who is known for being untruthful when he says the election was stolen, that gives me concern. The fact he cannot prove any of his wild contentions should be informational. He has won only one out of 65+ court cases and no recounts or audits. It is hard for him to lose any more than this, but he was still at it earlier this week.

That climate change thing is real and it is here. Storms are more severe and impactful. Drought areas are dryer. Wild fires are more intense. And, coastal areas are seeing more sunny day flooding. What is less discussed is the warmer weather pushes further north wreaking havoc on flora and fauna. The Maine lobsters are migrating north and we are seeing more tropical disease carrying insects up this way.

And, there are many other things we are not discussing.

Built to Last – a revisit to a still relevant book

This is a repeat post from about nine years ago. It is longer than my current posts, but I did pare down a few dated anecdotes.

As a retired business person, my favorite business book is “Built to Last – Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” written in 1994 by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. “Built to Last” is a data driven book that looks at the habits of 18 highly successful companies and contrasts their results to the second-best competitor in their industries. While the data supports their arguments, it is an easy read and not an arcane business book. To me, its lessons can be translated to any organization or governmental entity, be it national, state, provincial or local. If you would like to explore it more, check out the WikiLeaks summary of the book which is quite good.

While I read this book several years ago, today’s business, political and governmental climate of more short-term thinking troubles me. As our country does not have the patience to see if an idea works, we are destined to try small band-aid solutions that will never get at the underlying problems. I would say, though, band-aids can help if they move things incrementally forward, but many of our problems will take longer term planning and execution that will go beyond the terms of office of those making the decisions. This occurs in business as well as governments. The businesses who are publicly traded must meet analysts expectations on a quarterly basis. Think of how many times you have seen a business do better, but miss expectations and are crucified. So, it is not uncommon for businesses to forego longer term solutions that are not “accretive” or additive to short-term earnings.

Clearly, the same holds true in governments whether they are in the US or abroad. In these partisan days, we have too many people kicking the can down the road. They won’t take necessary action during times of prosperity and have predictable problems grow and must be resolved during times of economic strife. They did not learn their bible lessons from Joseph who had a dream that his Egyptian captors should save grain from the seven years of fortune, as seven years of famine would follow.

In “Built to Last,” the 18 companies studied dwarfed the performance over time of that of their best competitors.  They did not just dwarf the industry average performance; they significantly outperformed some very good companies. There were several lessons learned from these companies that formed the “successful habits” presented in the book. A brief review of these habits and some analogies follow:

Build a clock, don’t just tell time

These organizations were built from the outset to do more than just one thing. In fact, some of the companies failed at their first idea. Yet, they built a framework to develop new ideas and concepts. This is needed in government as well as business and non-profit organizations. What is the framework to plan and execute our strategies? In the US, this framework for future strategy has to be done in a thoughtful, non-partisan manner. Otherwise, we all will fail.

Be more than profits

These companies are all good community citizens. They recognize that for their business to flourish, their communities must be vibrant and take care of those less fortunate. This helps their customers and employees. It shows this is a great place to work. It also helps their shareholders, as the performance numbers are powerful. In the book it highlights how Dow Chemical survived one the worst chemical spill disasters in India, in part because they were a good community citizen. People knew the company was mortified by this tragedy and worked with them to rebound. Contrast this to the company whose coal-miners were killed in West Virginia two years ago. This company had a long history of trying to usurp the law and had a trail of audit issues for safety violations.

While we do need to reward and promote success, we have to be more than profits. Paraphrasing Gandhi, a community’s greatness is measured in how it takes care of its less fortunate. We have to help those in need climb the ladder. Otherwise, we will end up with the haves and have-nots. Having seen the “Hunger Games” last night, it is not unlike some dictatorial cultures where those that have do well and those that do not live in poverty. We have places like that on Earth today and our economic disparity in our own country is rather disgraceful for a free country.

Preserve the core but stimulate progress

These companies had enviable track records of success and had a core set of businesses. Yet, they all looked to grow. They realized to survive they had to progress, to make things more efficiently, more effectively and seek new avenues for growth. Our country has an enviable construct of government. It bothers me greatly when people want to mess with that construct. That is our core. Yet, we do need to work to define what is truly needed and develop a longer term plan for progress. We have added tools (laws, regulations, bureaucracies) over time to help us progress, so we need to review these and make sure they are still effective. Where our tools are outdated, redundant or less effective, we should refine them to promote progress. But, we need to preserve the core.

Set Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGS)

Many people have heard or used this term, but don’t know where it came from. These companies have been successful because they set bold goals or BHAGs. One of the boldest goals noted in the book is that of John F. Kennedy when he declared at his inauguration that America would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.  At the time, America had seen several launch failures, not unlike the recent North Korean missile failure. So, it was indeed a BHAG. And, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in July, 1969. We need more of this in business and government. While the President has declared and set mpg standards for cars, something like we will make America’s energy production entirely green by 2050 would be a BHAG I think we should strive for. To do this would require a lot of planning, industry support and buy-in and execution.

Cult-like Cultures

One of the more interesting habits was this one on cult-like cultures. They cited the customer service focus of Nordstrom and how the customer came before the shareholder. Their mantra is if we take care of the customer, the shareholders will make more money. They actually inverted the pyramid structure, putting the customer at the top.  New employees would need to adopt this or leave. Other companies had similar culture issues. Equating this to our country, Americans believe fervently in freedoms. They also believe in fairness. So, when things begin to look unfair, Americans will act. That is our cult-like culture. Yet, we need our community conscious leaders to let us know when things are becoming unfair.

Try a lot of stuff and keep what works

The successful companies are constantly trying new ideas. Sometimes they fail. It notes the example of Texas Instruments who used to be a darling of Wall Street. Back in the 1970’s, they had a leadership group that would actually publicly humiliate you for perceived dumb ideas. Guess what happened? Idea creation went to zero and TI fell by the wayside. In an another example, I read where a CEO made a $10 million mistake on a new venture. The Chairman of the Board called him in and instead of telling him he was fired, congratulated him on trying something new. That is why he had hired him. This is an interesting converse to the TI story.

In today’s world, I hate to see when people are unfairly punished for failures, real or perceived. We are human and we mess up. We make decisions based on the best information available.  I would want to understand why things failed.

Good enough never is

I switched the order of the chapters as I see a lot in this chapter with the above.  These companies never rested on their laurels. They always said this is good, but we could be or do it better. They never are satisfied with good enough. They strived to be more. This is one of the geniuses of Steve Jobs. He never was satisfied with good enough. He was quite adamant and even an asshole about it. Yet, those who worked with him saw his vision come true time and time again. There were many times when he could have let an inferior effort get to the market place, but he was enamored with the art and elegance of the product. He wanted the Mac to look good on the inside as well as the outside. He wanted the walls of the factory to be painted white as it shows the dirt and had to be cleaned more. He wanted the impression that if we care so much about cleanliness, we really care about our products.

Home grown management

This habit was equally amazing to read about. I will cite these numbers incorrectly, but out of the 500 or so leaders these 18 companies had over time, 495 of them came from within. Meaning these companies promoted recognizable leaders from their own ranks. This went against a preconceived notion. In actuality, promoted leaders were recognized for their success as natural transitions, their promotion opened other promotions which led to better career-pathing and the companies benefited from the intrinsic knowledge of how to get things done in the company, whose counsel to seek out and whose to avoid.

My old company made the mistake of hiring outside leadership several times in the last eight years. Each time, the leaders were eventually fired. It became a revolving door. Each time the leaders would try ideas that had been tried before and failed in this company. Several times decisions were made and announced and the employees knew the day of the announcement that the decision was poor. They would inevitably not know who to trust, so they would bring in new leaders from outside. As these folks were not known commodities, the mistakes would be magnified. And, the good internal candidates would leave creating a greater void.

New blood is good when effectively used. A company needs new ideas. Yet, it cannot throw out what makes them successful with the bath water. Our country needs leaders of all types. We cannot have only new leaders who have never governed before. And, we cannot just rely on leaders who have only governed.  We need people who know how to get things done who know others in other areas of government. Yet, we do need new ideas as well.

If you have not read this book, I would encourage you to do so. There are good lessons for many types of governance. The businesses and governments who think long term and embrace these successful habits will flourish. And, so will we as citizens, customers, shareholders and employees.

Interesting news item on lead pipe and paint removal

In the midst of all the falderol about the former president’s last Chief of Staff, something good is happening. Part of the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure bill will help with lead pipe and paint removal. This has been a festering problem and not just for the folks in Flint, Michigan.

In an article called “Harris announces Biden administration’s new lead pipe and paint removal effort,” by Kevin Liptak and Kate Sullivan of CNN, it speaks to why this is a concern and what is going to happen.

“Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday announced a new administration push to eliminate lead from water pipes and homes in the next decade using billions in new funding allocated through the new bipartisan infrastructure law.

‘Here’s the truth, and it’s a hard truth: Millions of people in our country, many of them children, are still exposed to lead every day,’ Harris said at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations in Washington.

The vice president said many parents across the country have told her they were worried ‘that every time they turned on the faucet to give their child a glass of water that they may be filling that glass with poison.’

‘The science is clear about what drinking water from a lead pipe can do to the human body,’ Harris said. ‘For adults, it can cause an increase in blood pressure and decreased kidney function. In children, it can severely harm mental and physical development. It can stunt growth, slow down learning and cause irreparable damage to the brain.’

Through the administration’s new Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan, agencies will take a number of steps meant to remove the toxic metal from places where people live, work or go to school. Harris said the push would focus on communities that have “historically been left out or left behind.”

The Environmental Protection Agency will begin the process of writing new regulations that would protect communities from lead in drinking water; the Department of Labor will form technical assistance hubs to fast-track removal projects with union workers; agencies will commit to removing lead service lines and paint in federally assisted housing; and a new Cabinet group will focus on lead removal in schools and child care facilities.”

The Infrastructure Bill is about ten years over due in my mind. It has long been supported by the US Chamber of Commerce and the labor unions, as it helps invest in America and creates jobs. And, it has always received bipartisan support. Ironically, the last former president spoke of improving infrastructure during his 2016 campaign, but missed a chance to address it during his term.

This aspect of the bill is vital as it is addressing something that is harming our children. And, that is certainly a very good thing.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/white-house-to-announce-new-lead-pipe-and-paint-removal-effort/ar-AARSxCE?ocid=msedgntp