Monthly Archive for January, 2009

The great expectations of the presidency of Barack Obama

There is much excitement about Barack Obama becoming the 44th President of the United States. It’s a remarkable moment in American history on many levels.

• In America, we select the future leadership of our government with plenty of healthy political passion and debate, but without physical conflict. It’s not unique in the world, but the United States is the world’s template for this kind of transition.

• Barack Obama is the first black American to be elected to the presidency. Enough said.

• Who can remember when any presidency – even John Kennedy’s – began with as much anticipation and hope?

• Who can remember when any presidency began with such great expectations?

It’s that last point that I think is really the most remarkable. As Americans, we have to guard against placing so much expectation on the performance of one person. Clearly there are certain things we expect our President to do, not the least of which is to take the steps to protect us from being attacked by our enemies. And we want our President to lead with a positive and patriotic attitude that sets the tone for the nation.

But as we anticipate the promise of Barack Obama’s tenure as President, Americans should take stock of our own responsibility as participants and producers of our society and marketplace, and as beneficiaries of the bounty of our great land and republic. Let’s spend more time looking inward at our own roles in our future success.

At the core of our national values is the belief in and desire for self-determination. But the wages of self-determination is self-responsibility. Our success as individuals and that of our nation depends more on each of us individually and collectively as a society than on any president. I think Barack Obama knows this. I pray that this will be his requirement of us as he governs.

Tim Berry, President of Palo Alto Software ( long-time Brain Trust member, and I took a few minutes to talk about this on my small business radio program. Listen to our comments and let us know what you think. This one is only about 6 minutes.

The 2009 Small Business survival attitude

We’re currently in a very challenging economic period. I use the word “challenging” rather than the technical term, “recession,” because the impact of our economic condition is different for each business. Some are really hurting, while some are doing okay. But every small business owner is justified in being concerned about the next 12 months.

As we anticipate the next “shoe” to drop – like one or two of the Big 3 auto makers going bankrupt – businesses and consumers are girding their loins in anticipation of a tough year. And that kind of fear is what causes a recession to last longer than it should.

A small business owner’s entrepreneurial traits – pathological optimism, Pollyanna playing the “glad game,” glass half-full, etc. – are especially challenged right now. Indeed, it’s in our DNA to claim Admiral Farragut’s battle cry, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” And we get frustrated when something like a recession gets in our way because entrepreneurs have the “take no prisoners” attitude.

But there is another attitude that we acquire as we make entries into our small business captain’s logbook: Discretion is the better part of valor. Right now, and for the rest of 2009, discretion is definitely the high-percentage play.

Surveying the economic landscape in front of us and trying to imagine what the near-term future will hold, hard work and stick-to-it-iveness will be as critical to small business survival this year as in any other. But we should also find a survival attitude we can default to, especially in the most difficult hours.

The unit of hours is used here because, while large business CEOs may wonder if they will survive the year, small business owners often wonder if they will survive to the next hour.

So, to help you through those hours – which this small business owner has known well – consider my 2009 Small Business Survival Attitude, “This year, I’m going to win by surviving.”

You get to define success for your organization. But there is no shame for any small business to consider 2009 a good year if it is open for business on January 1, 2010. If you do better than that, well done.

If you feel you must take a big risk in 2009, apply the carpenter’s rule of cutting: Measure twice, cut once. Make sure your capital picture can support a mistake and/or surprise. Remember that there is a very fine line separating opportunity at the leading edge and the cash-eating effects of the bleeding edge.

Frankly, when we look back on 2009, it’s likely we’ll determine that it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. But no small business will fail this year by applying discretion as the better part of valor.

In 2009, there is no shame in winning by surviving.

Recently, I talked about this on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, if you would like to listen to my thoughts on this topic. And of course, be sure to leave a comment.

Small business survival through low-tech customer communication

Over a quarter of a century ago, John Naisbitt prophesied in his landmark book, Megatrends, that “The more high tech we have, the more high-touch we will want.”

About the same time, in Blue Highways, William “Least Heat Moon” Trogdon revealed this Osage Indian wisdom, “Some things don’t have to be remembered; they remember themselves.”

After all these years, and even now as I seek 21st century answers, Naisbitt’s “high tech/high touch” dynamic continues to remember itself. In fact, hardly a week goes by without my invoking Naisbitt’s wisdom on my weekday small business radio program.

For some months now, in my writing and on the show, I’ve been encouraging small business owners to forgo the technology, such as emails and, if humanly possible, take the steps to get face-to-face with customers. Even if a salesperson is regularly calling on them, owners should be making their own contact. Ask what you can do to help and then, if at all possible, do it. This is not a sales call. It’s a relationship call upon which the survival of your business in 2009 may depend.

Recently, Ruth Sherman, author of Get Them to See it Your Way, Right Away, and one of my Brain Trust members, joined me again on my show to talk about how to communicate to customers and prospects during a challenging economy. Ruth is a communications expert, and this is my seventh recession to serve customers in (since 1969). So if you want your company to “remember itself” with customers, I think you’ll benefit from the thoughts of a couple of marketplace veterans. And be sure to leave your own thoughts.

Is China a duck or a gorilla, and should Small Business USA care?

The cartoon character Baby Huey is a duck whose gigantic size is so out of proportion to other ducks that, combined with his clumsiness, he often creates chaos wherever he goes. He’s a lovable creature but also, sometimes a problem.

Here in the real world, planet Earth has a kind of Baby Huey – China. Like the duck, in most ways, China is out of proportion to its peers. For example, one out of every five Earthlings is Chinese. Its middle class is the size of the entire U.S. population. China has more gifted students than the U.S. has students and more Internet users than the U.S. has people. And while China’s GDP is about 20% of the U.S. economy, it produces carbon emissions comparable to the U.S. carbon footprint.

With its economy growing at an astounding rate of 9% to 10% annually for some time, much of the chaos China created can be attributed to growing pains. Externally, some of that pain has been visited on China’s global marketplace competitors. But one man’s chaos is another man’s candy: To global consumers, China is more lovable because the low cost, high quality products it typically delivers has increased their standard of living.

The China expert in my Brain Trust is Ted Fishman, author of China, Inc. Based on what Ted has told us in previous visits, this Baby Huey is likely to transform into another kind of animated character, the proverbial 800 pound gorilla (my metaphors, not his). And as the duck morphs into the ape, Ted predicts the day will come when China will not just influence global trade, it will establish the rules.

Recently, Ted joined me again on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, to talk about how China is doing in the global recession. One of the things he reported was that, as a result of the economic slowdown, “tens of thousands of Chinese manufacturing plants have closed and millions of workers have been laid off.”

We may soon find out whether China is an infantile, overweight duck whimpering with a stomachache, or a gorilla with a dangerous condition that puts itself and others in peril. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear this China expert share his thoughts on this important issue. And, as always, be sure to leave a comment.

Once and future presidents in Small Business U.S.A.

We’re experiencing so many unprecedented things these days. Never mind the economic challenges and capitalism paradigm shifts, America is about to inaugurate its first black president. But the anticipation of this presidency is as remarkable as this historic electoral breakthrough.

Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, Charles Krauthammer recently observed that, unprecedented in history, we seem to have two presidential scenarios going on today. President Bush is the leader of our foreign policy, but is seemingly irrelevant on domestic matters. President-elect Obama appropriately has nothing to say about affairs abroad; but plans for his first four years in office, especially with regard to dealing with our troubled economy, have become the domestic coin of the realm.

So, what will be the legacy of George W. Bush? And what is the promise of Barack Obama? The answer is the same for both: Time will tell.

History will take a more comprehensive view of Mr. Bush’s tenure in the White House and will find more balance in his legacy than current evidence would suggest. It has become an acceptable sport to deride George Bush, but those who won’t wait for the mill of time to produce a purer grind should temper their judgment with the fact that there is no more difficult job than being the leader of the free world. Indeed, the day will come soon enough when Mr. Obama will pray for this kind of understanding from his critics.

No living person can know the measure of this rude truth more than members of the tiny club the President-elect is about to join; but already he’s being compared to Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy without having spent a day behind the desk in the Oval Office. One commentator recently observed that Obama’s reality will be hard-pressed to measure up to the hope so many have placed in him. Truly, he will need all of our prayers, support whenever possible and critiques when it contributes to the debate.

Recently on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I discussed our once and future presidents with Republican strategist, Rich Galen, publisher of the cyber-column, and Brain Trust member. Rich’s decades of experience in national politics give him perspectives you don’t want to miss. Take a few minutes to listen to this interview. And be sure to leave a comment.

Small business and the impact of Moore’s Law

In 1965, Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, made a prediction which states that the number of transistors on a chip will double approximately every two years. Forty-four years later, this prediction has pretty much come to pass and, indeed, is now known as Moore’s Law.

As someone who remembers the wonders that were the first pocket transistor radios and hand-held calculators, I’ve been a witness to every one of the doubling stages of Moore’s Law. But in case you don’t remember when cell phones were bolted to the floor of cars, allow me to demonstrate by using the compounding effects of Moore’s Law on $1.00.

In 1965, if you put a single dollar bill in a magic box where the contents would double every two years, when you opened the box in 2009 you would find $2,079,158. When asked what he thought was the most powerful force in the universe, Albert Einstein is purported to have answered, “compound interest.” If Einstein were alive today, surely his answer would now be, “Moore’s Law.”

One of the things not stated, but implicit in Moore’s Law is that with technology, unlike the dollar in the box, the compounding has resulted in humanity being given innumerable technological magic boxes and applications that have changed the world in ways not imagined in 1965. Truly, it’s an exciting time to be alive, and as we contemplate our $2 mill in the magic box becoming $4 mill two years from now, imagine the promise of the technology you currently own doubling in power and capability by 2011.

Happily, we don’t have to wonder about this too much; there are people who project such things. William Halal, author of “Technology’s Promise”, is one of these smart guys and also a member of my Brain Trust. Bill joined me recently on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show and reported on some of the magic box technology we can look forward to in the very near term. Take a few minutes to listen to this interview, and be sure to leave a comment.

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