Monthly Archive for June, 2013

Video-Don’€™t just manage change - lead it!

In this week’s video I list four things to create a culture compatible with change inside your small business.

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The national prime question of our time

America is having a great debate with itself at this moment about what I call the prime question of our time: “Which is more precious - liberty or security?” Founder Benjamin Franklin warned that trading liberty for safety is likely to get you neither.

We addressed this debate in two recent polls of our online audience with these two questions taken a week apart: “What do you think about the federal government accessing the cell phone records of over 100 million Americans?” and, “How do you feel about companies like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Verizon and others giving the government access to their servers and your private digital information?”

Nine out of ten and eight of ten of our respondents, respectively, said essentially that they are unwilling to make the trade Franklin warned us about. Our audience seemed to be less polarized than the political class and talking heads.

It’s one thing to be inconvenienced in an airport in the name of security, which experience is measured in a matter of minutes. But it’s something else when the government says it wants to have the unfettered ability to get all up in our business 24/7.

It seems to me that the issue for most Americans is not so much whether the government can make good use of this information for national security purposes - most of us wouldn’t argue about how handy such a database could be. But government isn’t an abstract idea in this case - it’s real people with names we know. And when it’s revealed that those same people, or at least people under their influence, have behaved in a political way with one aspect of our personal lives and information, and then ask to be given more access in the name of national security, well that’s starting to move the needle on our creepy dial.

To me, this issue is akin to the torture debate. The official policy of the U.S. government is that we don’t torture people to get information. We’ve even gone so far now to say we won’t torture a subject even if we know he has information that could prevent an imminent threat to our country. By making that decision we’re essentially saying that we will just have to work harder and smarter in other ways that conform more closely with our values.

So, if the government finds itself needing information that may be bound up in our collective private information, let’s apply the torture standard. Indiscriminate mass data collection of the private information of citizens by the government does not conform to the values that we hold dear and that are given to us as rights by the 4th amendment of our Constitution. Consequently, Mr. President (Bush, Obama, or whomever), you’re just going to have to work harder and smarter to keep us safe. Because that’s your job and no one ever said it was going to be easy.


Click the link below to listen to my latest segment from The Small Business Advocate Show® about this issue. Benjamin Franklin warned that trading liberty for security will get you neither.

Liberty or security: The national debate question of our lifetime

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Will we have a lost decade on Main Street?

The classic reason a stock price rises is the positive performance of the issuing company, especially profitability growth. To look at the record levels of stock indexes you’d think the profitability of companies traded on Wall Street was also setting records. It isn’t.

Here’s an alternative reason stock prices are up: The Fed’s accommodative policies have made equities more attractive than other types of investments. You don’t have to be Warren Buffet to see that trillions of dollars of Fed quantitative easing, most recently at $87 billion a month, is making the stock performance of many companies look better than their CEOs deserve.

Recently there have been reports of rising profits among America’s small businesses. We wanted to know if our audience would support that news, so in our online poll we asked: “Some surveys indicate that small business profits are up. What is your experience?” Here’s what we learned:

Less than one-third of our respondents said they see an improved profit trend. The rest, 69%, allowed that they are not seeing a trend toward profitability. It’s likely that any spike in small business profits is more a product of operating efficiencies rather than growth. This profitability scenario from the sector that creates half of U.S. GDP, signs the front of over half of all pay checks, and creates the lion’s share of new jobs, does not favor economic expansion.

Here are the issues that are waking small business owners up at 3am: Annual GDP growth of 2% is not exactly ringing the cash registers; millions of unemployed Americans do not make very good customers; large companies are hoarding cash or buying back their stock instead of investing in growth; regulations have increased by 60% since 2005 (NFIB); looming Obamacare compliance costs will be unprecedented since 1913, when the 16th amendment created the income tax and gave the IRS something to do; and financial regs designed to rein in “Too Big To Fail” banks have made collateral damage of community banks and their ability to serve small businesses. Plus, all of that new Fed money is not making it out to the economy’s last mile. Whew!

Here’s the research I value: According to Bill Dunkelberg’s NFIB Index of Small Business Optimism, the gold standard for 40 years, small business sentiment has been at recession levels since November 2006. So while Wall Street parties, Main Street is in danger of having a Japan-like lost decade.

What’s wrong with this picture?

America needs businesses to increase profits from growth, not just efficiencies. Are you listening Washington?


Click below to listen to my 3 latest interviews with Bill Dunkelberg. We discuss the NFIB Index of Small Business Optimism report which is also linked below.

NFIB Report: What about chronic unemployment?

NFIB Report: On hiring, sales and profits, nothing exciting

NFIB Report: The Main Street economy still languishing

Small Business Economic Trends Report - June 2013

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SBA Poll: Government Snooping

The Question:
What do you think about recent news that the federal government is accessing the communication records of over 100 million Americans?

10% - It’s necessary to protect us from terrorism

24% - The federal government is starting to encroach too much in our lives

27% - Even if for our protection, I don’t trust the Obama administration with my info

39% - The federal government is now officially out of control

My Comments:
The debate over the government snooping on its citizens has created more strange bedfellows than any other issue in my memory. As you can see, our audience seems to be less polarized than the political class and talking heads, with fully nine out of ten of our respondents saying they’re uncomfortable with this kind of a government encroachment.

It seems to me that the issue for most of us is not so much whether the government can make good use of this information for national security purposes, but that government isn’t an abstract idea in this case - it’s real people with names we know. I’m going to have more to say about this in next week’s edition. Stay tuned.


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Remembering Dad

If you’ll indulge me for a few minutes, I would like to tell you about my Dad, and how he influenced my life.

My first memory of my Dad was when he took me to a baby sitter on his way to work. I must have been less than four, but I remember crying as I ran after his car, screaming, “Daddy, don’t leave me.”

My Dad never went to college, but he was one of the smartest men I knew. He wasn’t a philosopher, but much of what I’ve learned about life, especially about what’s important in life, I learned from him.

Dad grew up in rural America during the Great Depression as, and this is his word, a “sharecropper.” Things were pretty tough for his family, as it was for most families during that time.

It’s been said that we’re either a product of our raising or a reaction to our raising. My Dad chose to be a product of his raising, which made him the person who was loved by so many.

Dad never thought of himself as brave, but when the world needed him during World War II, he answered that call, as millions of his generation did. Serving in both the European and Pacific theaters, once going three years without a furlough, along with all the others of his generation, my Dad helped save the world.

Dad worked hard all his life. I watched him work in a steel mill and on the railroad. I saw him work nights at a gas station, pumping gas to make ends meet, after he got off work at the steel mill. I’m not sure he actually knew how important it was for me to see him do those things.

For many years I worked with my Dad on our farm. Me working on that farm was his idea, but it was good for me.

Dad made sure we got the best medical treatment money could buy, even when he didn’t know where the money would come from.

Dad took me to church. He taught me that there were going to be all kinds of people in heaven, not just our kind, and he let me make my own decision about my personal faith.

Dad showed me that Moms & Dads could fight and get mad at each other, but that the family is more important than whatever the argument was about.

There were times when my Dad said, “We can’t afford it.” It must have hurt to say those words, but they were important words for me to hear. I was never cold or hungry or deprived. I may have thought I was, but I never was.

Without actually saying it, Dad taught me that if you can’t be happy without money and stuff, you won’t be happy with money and stuff. Love for family and friends, respect for others and self-respect cost nothing, but they are more enduring than all the material things in the world. I learned that from my Dad.

Dad let me see him make mistakes. Everyone makes them, but he shared his mistakes with me so I would make my own mistakes, not his. It took a lot of love and wisdom to do that.

My Dad let me know, sometimes without saying it, that he loved me enough to protect me with his life. I’m grateful that in the last year of his life, Dad and I said, “I love you” to each other, every day.

If someone asked me to describe my Dad in one short sentence, I would say, “My Dad was a good human being.”

In the last year of his life I learned just how strong my Dad’s spirit was and just what a good human being he was. Even when he was often in great pain, and with all the indignity that comes with living in a nursing home, my Dad never lost his sense of humor, his famous wit, or his respect and love for others, right up to his last moment of life.

If class is grace under pressure, my Dad set a new standard for class. And that’s a bar I fear I will never reach.

Happy Father’s Day, dads. More than you may know, you make a difference.

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A father’s tough love is the harder job

As the father of an adult daughter and son, plus the grandfather of four knucklehead boys, I’ve learned some things about love.

All the hours logged as Dad and Poppy have often caused me to contemplate how different are the roles of mother and father, especially in the overt demonstration of parental love. It’s fascinating how the manifestation of this love differs between mother and father – biologically, emotionally and experientially.

A mother’s love, at once sweet and fierce, is observed in almost all animals, not just humans. No doubt you’ve heard this metaphor: “… as sweet as a mother’s love,” and this warning: “Don’t get between a momma bear and her cub.” I have been the recipient of this kind of love and have witnessed it, and there truly is no other force in nature like it.

But it troubles me that there are no corresponding sweet references to a father’s love. In fact, a human father’s love is more often associated with unfortunate references such as, “tough” and “discipline.” And here’s a warning no one has ever heard: “Just wait ‘till your mother gets home!”

Could this be why Father’s Day is not quite as big a deal as Mother’s Day? I’m just saying …

Mothers occupy the pinnacle of parental love – with justification. And not to take anything away from them, but let’s be honest: since a mother’s sweet love is as primal as the miracle of birth, they don’t have to work too hard to deliver it. But there is a uniqueness about a father’s love that deserves a better rap. Here why:

  • Unlike a mother’s sweet love, a father’s tough love does not exist outside of homo sapiens.
  • When a father’s parental toughness is required, especially when applied to an indignant recipient (read: teenager), it requires a love that has found the courage to endure a negative response and a willingness to defer gratification – sometimes for years.

No one is more keenly aware of the distinction between the application of these two demonstrations of love than a single parent (especially a single mom), where both kinds are required of the same person, perhaps within minutes.

Mothers, please forgive any paternal bias you may detect, but here is my conclusion about parental love: The only force in the universe that comes close to a mother’s sweet love is a father’s tough love. But the latter is the harder job, and the return on investment almost always takes longer.

Happy Father’s Day, Dads. You’ve earned it.

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