June 12, 2007

Why I Blog

I will comment on the subjects I identified in my biography, as well as others. But I need to give you a little more of a sense of who I am:

I am a registered Independent, and have never registered to be in one or the other of the two major political parties. Why? I managed to live in places dominated by each of the two parties, Monroe County, New York by the Republicans, and Boston, Chicago, and New York by the Democrats. There is a depressing similarity between the two parties when they have had absolute power for a long time. Organizations with monopoly power become lazy, unresponsive, unwilling to innovate, and arrogant.

In terms of taking the road less traveled, I like causes that are far more important than they are visible. The mailing industry is a good example. If you asked 100 well-educated Americans about mail, most would say it is dead or dying, not a growing $900 billion industry. The economic impact of the mailing industry dwarfs the economic impact of the industry around Internet marketing. Alzheimer’s Disease affects far more people, but gets far less publicity, than HIV/AIDS. Politicians spend far more effort on the less important issue of health care access than on the more important issue of whether citizens are getting healthier in proportion to access and affordability. That’s why I focus on Alzheimer’s and prevention and less on the access and affordability issues, although we have improved access and affordability at Pitney Bowes.

I would be characterized as someone who, in the words of the tag line of The Sporting News, would “see a different game.” I look at situations differently from most other people around me. That’s partly why I made counterintuitive career decisions like going to a corporate legal department, taking on the HR job, or, more fundamentally, joining a company that seemed to be dependent on a dying communication medium. But, beyond that, I am often out-of-synch with conventional wisdom.

The road less traveled and “seeing a different game” applies to my day-to-day habits, as well as my longer-term career choices. I like to sleep, but I care more about going to shops and stores when they are the least crowded, so I am at the local doughnut shop at 6:00 on most mornings. When I visit customers or prospects in competitive situations, I like to go to the least glamorous locations at the least glamorous times. I can recall visiting major prospects in Minnesota in December and February. I visited a customer in Houston in July. I went to Arizona in August a couple years ago to secure a competitive bid. I also visited our employees in less glamorous locations, while others chose to visit offices in San Francisco or resort communities. When digital music media supplanted analog media, I collected vinyl record albums and 45’s from a specialty store in New York called Downstairs Records.

Consistent with taking the less traveled road and “seeing a different game,” I try to accomplish what I do as much as possible under the radar screen. I try not to be on covers of magazines or get front-page newspaper stories on issues because I believe the most successful change management requires a blend of highly-public activity and behind-the-scenes facilitation. Open meetings, “sunshine” laws, Freedom of Information Act requests, televised governmental proceedings, and beefed-up financial disclosures about elected and appointed officials all have their place in a free society. However, I think we need to figure out how to get more candor and less posturing into public debates on issues.

Also consistent with my personality, I have been a “stealth” change agent at every organization or function I have led. The only time visible change activity works is when an organization is in dire straits and everyone knows that radical change is required. When an organization appears to be successful, visible and radical change is resisted. At Pitney Bowes, I always told people we want to maintain the roof so it never leaks, rather than being heroes in repairing it as it is about to leak.

Time is an exceptionally precious asset for me, and always has been. I hate waiting in lines (or on lines). When I am waiting, I try to find a way to think about how the process could have been better, and how to avoid putting myself into a time-wasting situation in the future. I also believe in using small bits of time as effectively as I can. I am very likely to take a book with me when I am running errands or going out for a meal alone, because I know there will be a few minutes of dead time that I can fill with some reading.

I have a passion for intellectual honesty, and like to frame issues so that people have a better ability to solve them. For example, I am angry that, here in the U.S., governments at all levels are hiding the fact that they have given away billions of dollars in unfunded pension and retirement benefits to small numbers of public employees. Although the Government Accounting Standards Board has required disclosure of these obligations, governments at all levels are doing everything possible to hide what they have done. Let’s be honest, and acknowledge that public employees have bargained successfully for rich pay and benefit packages which we must honor, and let’s get on with the task of managing how we fund them, and meet the many other obligations people want governments to undertake.

In spite of my obvious passion for the mailstream and the industry I have been a part of, I will comment on a broad range of subjects, including some of those I have called out in my biography.