Quick Economic Recovery Optimism Wanes

Anyone else caught up in an amazing whirl-wind of seemingly endless new piles of idunnowhat since Jan 4?   Hard to believe a month of 2010 has seemed to just jam on by.

Whether you had the last 2 weeks of ’09 off or tried to polish as much as possible before year end, almost everyone I’ve talked to has seen an onslaught of renewed vengeance into business activity that seemed to be paced with undeniable optimism.  The pains of ’09 are behind us, right?  Er, at least that’s what we thought.   We were all immensely excited to move beyond the last year of the decade.   The holiday season seemed to be filled with hope that at long last the recession was ending.   And, 2010 will be filled with glorious growth and the taste of prosperity.

Brace yourself for more ’09
When Jan 2010 started, it appeared that everyone had quickly forgotten about ’09.   And, for good reason.   Last year was challenging in many, many ways.   A new year brings renewed budgets, a chance to re-start, a chance to reach back to those contacts that said “yea, let’s touch base in January”.   What’s transpired so far appears to be an over-flowing bucket of messages, requests, schedules, deadlines, budgets, and most important — defining and delivering on our target goals.  This is testing everyone’s ability to get organized, to be organized, and the realization that not much has changed.   I am also reminded that at the end of the day our schedules are really dictated by our networks of contacts, family, and business events and rarely by ourselves.  It’s really hard to control.   What ever happened to those days when I had time to blissfully fall asleep on the couch in front of the basketball game?  Those seem like decades ago.  Oh…it was.

Look at what we’ve seen in 2010 already:

  • Federal budget deficit will be worse in 2010.  Now estimated $1.6Trillion.  Up from $1.4 Trillion in ’09.  Disgusting.
  • Transit agencies fighting to close budget shortfalls.   In the San Francisco Bay Area, we’ve already heard woes from BART, Muni, and Caltrain.  I’m sure there’s many more metros and cities in the same boat.
  • Layoffs and restructuring.  Chevron, Verizon, Walmart, and Johnson & Johnson have all announced layoff plans in Jan. 2010.
  • Current unemployment rate is 9.7 (December ’09).  There were increases in all 50 states in the last month of the year.
  • Live events canceled, postponed.  2010 will be filled with inconsistencies.  some events that will trigger renewed hope;  Other events  you’ll be caught asking yourself  “how did I ever get involved in this?”
  • The Dow closed the year (Dec. 31) at10,428.05 and NASDAQ was 2,269.15.   By January 31, it’s 10,067.33 for the Dow, and 2,147.35 for NASDAQ.  Investors are not exactly oozing with consistent confidence.
  • There’s still a war in Afghanistan, Mr. President.

OK, enough of the doom and gloom
Yea, I had to dig deep here, but let’s look at some areas that are looking good in 2010.

  • Apple.  Stock (AAPL) at all-time highs.  Cool consumer electronics are continuing to be the rage.  And, for a few hundred dollars, people are willing to try almost anything Apple.
  • Venture capital improving and business results stabilizing.  Upstream has received $75Million in venture capital.   Ford reports strong January sales (could be due to Toyota’s accelerating disaster).   UPS beat expectations, which shows packages are on the move and internet sales are continuing to grow.   Expect more turn-around news in the areas of home purchasing and financing.
  • Businesses are adopting social marketing into their operations and not just using the free stuff.  Real $ being spent, department resources being re-shaped.  This isn’t an after-thought anymore of some rogue employees.  It’s mainstream and if you ain’t doing it or not supporting the efforts, you’re losing out to your competitors.  Big time.
  • Many green businesses are thriving.  Great source of jobs, economic growth, and investment into the future.
  • Microsoft Office 2010 is in Beta – that should solve a few issues, right?   Oh, possibly negated by introducing a million new Windows bugs and 100 security patches.

Personal brain hygiene perhaps
Do you really feel you can accomplish everything on your plate by just coming in and grinding it out like you’ve done for the last 30 days?  I want to suggest a few ideas that might get you back on track.   Sure, it can’t change the deficit or solve the war.   It can’t balance an ill-allocated municipal budget.   But, it will make you feel better and more productive.

5 things you need to do.

  1. Clean up. Take a look at the papers and magazines on your desk.   Shuffle them into 1 neat pile and set it in the corner.   Check back in a week.  If you haven’t touched the pile, recycle it.  You’ll probably never have time to read them this year.
  2. Organize your inbox.  Find a 3 hour window on your calendar next week.   Block it off.   And book yourself a conference room regardless if you live in a cube or an office.  No one bothers you in a conference room — they think you’re in a meeting.  While you’re at it, turn off your mobile phone, and log out of social networks — particularly Facebook and Twitter.  You’ll survive.  At the end of your 3 hour one on one meeting, write down the 10 most important items you’ll work on next.
  3. Plan a vacation with family or friends.   Even if only for 1 nite.  Perhaps you went away at end of December and came back to work and it’s been go-go-go.   You need something to look forward to.
  4. Stay focused on value-add vendors.   This is a two-fold suggestion.  It means #1 – shortlist your vendors that are viable and let the rest go, and #2 – make a decision, sign agreements, generate POs, build a plan, and start executing.   Everyday you postpone is 1 more day you don’t have a solution and won’t be addressing your MBOs.
  5. Attend a seminar outside of your business domain.  Perhaps you have a hobby or new interest.  Find a local event or seminar and make plans to go.  Meet some new people and get your mind on something fresh.

Worth considering?   Any other ideas that are personally helping you?   Or, do you believe 2010 will be way easier than ’09?

I have no doubts we will exit 2010 in a far more prosperous situation than ’09 and way beyond ’08.   Until then, address your own productivity now…it’s only going to get harder.


Feeling a Little Loma

Reading all those comments about CalTrans on sfgate.com.   People definitely feel strongly about that Bridge and CalTrans.  When things go right, everyone applauds CalTrans…and, at the slightest of slip-ups, they’re called out as “bums”.   The 70-year-old bridge was in severe need of repair, yet one that I seem to rarely think about being unsafe.  Now, we’re all set with the new detour to begin the retrofit of the new East side section to this iconic and important artery in the Bay Area.

The Bridge had a planned closure this weekend, and by all accounts, CalTrans and the CC Myers’ crew were ready to address a near engineering marvel to move out and replace 300 feet of road way, 200 feet high off the water.   That part went fine.  What we weren’t ready for was an extended closure due to an issue found during the new road work.   It was the bridge inspection that led to the extended, and now, unexpected, unscheduled closure.

An upper strut of the Bridge cracked and they needed 1 more day to fix.  With the Tuesday commute pending, we all went scrambling, but when the rubber met the road, literally, CalTrans ended up completing the repairs early Tuesday morning, which led to a 2 hour delay and avoided a whole extra (24 hour) delay.   Quite stunning change of course in last 24 hours.

It’s always a little strange when the Bay Bridge closes.  It happened 2 years ago to fix the West side of the bridge, and ended up opening up about 12 hours ahead of schedule.   But, what really occupies me is what happened 20 years ago.

Loma Prieta.   It’s one of the few times when I remember to a tee what happened after the quake hit and the

number of people who shared in the experience within a short period.

I had just arrived home from my afternoon history class at UC Davis.  I only had 2 quarters left at school.  I walked into my apartment on F Street, put my books down, and felt a strong, rolling wave.  Perhaps just a little

lp - bay bridge_09

woozy after a long day at school.  No, it felt like an earthquake.   I turned on the radio and I ran to my study room.  Sure enough, a hanging plant was swaying to and fro.  From the radio “a large earthquake has hit the bay area, and centered in Palo Alto”, a 100 miles away.  My parents lived in Palo Alto.  I immediately called home.  I reached my mother instantly.  She said that everything is fine.  Her clock radio fell off a shelf, but the power was still on.  I learned later that the earthquake was actually centered in Hollister, but regardless, it was a miracle that I actually got thru that instant as almost every phone line got tied up as the Bay Area was reeling in damage.

I bolted out of my apartment on my bike to head up the street to my buddies house to watch the World Series.  It wasn’t just *any* World Series…it was the “Bay Bridge Series” between the Oakland A’s and the SF Giants.   I opened the door swiftly, “did anyone feel the earthquake?’

“Sure did,” everyone responded.   “And, no baseball today”.


earthquake22No way.  Candlestick had cracked in the upper section.   The upper deck of the bay bridge went thru the lower deck.   The Marina district was engulfed in flames and crushed homes, and the Cypress Structure in Oakland completely collapsed.

I stared at the TV.  Looking at the Bay Area and roads I had travelled uncountable times.   Stunned.   Helpless.   The Bay Area would never be the same again.

About 2 weeks later, I had tickets to the Rolling Stones concert in Oakland, which would have been fine to get to, but we also decided to spend the day before in the city.  It must have taken 2.5 hours to get from Richmond to SF…complete crawl over the Richmond-San Rafael and Golden Gate Bridges.

Alas, the Bay bridge would be fixed within a few weeks in 1989.  A new section would be dropped in.  The Cypress Structure was removed, the Embarcadero high-rise was removed.   Many blocks of the Marina were re-built.

Now on Tues, Sept. 8 2009, the bridge has re-opened as the earthquake-proofing from 20 years ago continues, which I guess is certainly far better than unscheduled closures.  Albeit a pain, we seem to adapt and move on.  And, being prepared for at least 1 or 2 more closures to re-attach the new section.  Until next Labor Day…

The Bridge is cracked and they need 1 more day, meaning we’re now scrambling to address a commute no one planned for.   So, no we’re in lp - bay bridge_09unscheduled territory and I can only stop and reflect on what happened 20 years ago.

When Sarah Can’t Say Thank You Enough

She’s so well-known now, I don’t even need to use her last name and you know who I’m talking about.  Sarah Palin owes a lifetime of gratitude to John McCain.  If you search “Sarah Palin” on Google, you get over 55 Million results.  To put that in perspective, “Hilary Clinton” comes back with 26 Million results (less than 1/2 of Sarah).  But, consider that Sarah’s only been in public eye for 2 months as opposed to years of documentation of Hilary.  It’s really astonishing.sarah-palin

Did you know Sarah before she was added to the Republican ticket?  Be honest.  Oh, you may have known or heard about the fact that Alaska had a female governor, but I doubt you spent more than 5 second giving a hoot, unless of course, you lived in Alaska or ran for Wasilla city council.

Now look at her.  Sarah was the only person in this election who would “win” regardless of who actually won.  Doors are not just open for her, they’ve been blown off the hinges.  Despite all the potential negative associations with being a Republican — I mean being associated with anything associated to George Bush — she’s labeled a “reformer” and hence she can play across any party line.  But, her popularity extends far beyond politics.  There’s something eerily intriguing about her.  A naivety of bravado.

For sure, she’s made a couple blunders – the now infamous Curic interview, self-proclaimed redneck hockey mom, but that’s severely out-weighed by the fact that she made the right choice to become McCain’s running mate.

And, now there’s infinite options in front of her:

  • Spokesperson for Lenscrafters
  • Drive for first woman President in 2012 (losing to re-election of Obama)
  • Drive for first woman President in 2016 (beating out Hilary) – hah!
  • Levis’ jean model
  • Playboy centerfold — I guarantee Hugh Heffner has contacted Sarah.  Could you imaging the ruckus at the mansion.
  • 24hr Fitness
  • The Sarah Palin Show
  • Guest appearances on pretty much any talk show for next 20 years
  • Co-star on the John Colbert Show
  • Inspirational speaker at corporate conferences
  • Any fundraiser
  • Sarah and Todd’s Excellent Adventure (Alaskan adventure tours)
  • <insert your idea here>

The ideas are endless.  What’s really amazing is that you could pick anything and it will work.   How many people can do that?

Yes, Sarah could spend everyday thanking McCain, and it still won’t make up for what he’s done.  She’ll just have to thank him and set it aside and focus on the future.  How fun will that be once everything settles down.  If things ever settle down.  The world is her oyster.  Oysters filled with pearls.  Heck, filled with diamonds now.

Why Obama Didn’t Pick Hilary as Running Mate

I remember distinctly mentioning to my dear wife about 13 weeks ago.  It was one of those conversations with my spouse I actually admit to remembering.  It was June 7, 2008.  Hilary finally conceded the Democratic nomination to Obama.  And, as I watched the tube, I blurted, “If Obama picks Hilary as VP, he’ll win in a landslide.  It wouldn’t matter what the Republicans do from here”. 

But someone, something got into Barack’s head, and he chose Biden.  And for a full-week (the week of 4-day long Democratic National Convention not to be confused with the DNC – see earlier post), Biden seemed like a good choice.  A good choice until Sarah was introduced.

Now, I’m not one to speculate.  I only like to make decisions based on facts.  On metrics.  Justifiable Ones.  But I just cannot get over what to think if Obama had picked Hilary.  So, I present to you…

Top 10 Reasons Why Obama Didn’t Pick Clinton as Demo Running Mate:

10.    Would you want to go on the road for 60 days with Hilary?
9.      Would you want to go on the road for 60 days with Hilary AND Bill?
8.      Barack asked her to swap out for another color pant suit (i.e. other than light blue) for casual Friday and Hilary gave him the silent treatment.
7.      Something about Chelsea refusing to sit next to Barack on the bus.
6.      Would you want to spend 60 days on the road with Joe Biden?  Oops, wrong blog post.
5.      Demo party leaders convinced that conservative McCain would never choose an unknown woman for an executive position and disrupt everything.  Not in a million years.
4.      Hilary reminds us too much of Carly Fiorina, a republican (Carly’s pic at right).
3.      Hilary didn’t actually seek the VP role.  Yea right.
2.      Barack was worried that Hilary would drive his campaign into deep debt like hers.

And, the #1 reason why Obama didn’t pick Hilary as his running mate:
1.      Ran out of lipstick.

It’s a major “what-if” to think that if Barack did this.  The campaign talk right now would be completely different.   The talk would be Clinton vs. Palin and Obama vs. McCain.  With about 53 days to go, current victors are the Republicans by causing a major disruption to almost every strategy and tactic (strategery, thank you Mr. Bush) that the Obama campaign spent months putting together.

The Obama/Clinton tickets would be less of a war of words and more a war of experience.  But, that ain’t the case, and for now, Obamaites need to go back to the drawing board.  Digging up dirt and slinging it at Palin seems to be the only tactic right now, and seems ineffective at changing the interests of voters.  Unfortunately, people like Palin, and like her more than they like McCain.  Hilary is on the sidelines, waiting desperately for her cabinet position.  And, Obama can’t reverse his decision, and likely his VP choice won’t affect the eventual decision in favor of Obama.

Where is Joe Biden anyway?  Has anyone heard from him?   I heard he plans to be “Casper the Friendly Ghost” for Halloween.

Oh the McPain

No, I didn’t just eat McDonalds. I watched the final speech of the Republican National Convention though and I’m feeling it. The McPain! (= McCain + Palin)
Just 2 months away from trying to keep the Obama clan for running the board in November, McCain seems to have a unique, weary humbleness that doesn’t seem to add up to “leader”, but here the Republicans are…rallying with their party pick. A 72 year-old man who can’t seem to raise his arms up above his head. A man who could be victorious and wouldn’t even be able to show a V – the touchdown signal. A man who seems to have the strangest of scowling smiles. See pic – Go ahead and practice it at home.

One of the greatest, mercurial triumphs for the Republicans this week must be that the race for the office seems like a squirly competition between Obama & Palin. Yes, a Presidential candidate vs. the other party’s VP candidate. That just seems the strangest of twists after the delayed start, the overwhelming ridicule of the VP choice with a swoosh opaqueness of desparation by the McCain team to go after conservative American voters.  The amazingly poor choice of credentials by Cindy McCain to say “of course Governor Palin knows about foreign policy…look how close Alaska is to Russia”.  Say what?

And, it’s not like their wasn’t weeks of drama building up to these national conventions.  Jabs at eachothers’ preparations.  The media swarms & interviews in Denver & St. Paul.  There was a massive build up.  But, nothing could have predicted this midwestern tropical storm just within the last week.

5 days ago, Democrats and Republicans, in fact in almost every part of the world, people were snickering at McCain’s VP candidate choice. Today, democrats will shy away from any slash at Sarah Palin or anyone in her family. Not just cause it’s a poor competitive tactic, but no one appears to be interested in taking Sarah on in a war of words.

5 days ago, we were comparing the Sarah Palin pick to Dan Quayle pick. Dan Quayle, the one we thought would keep Bush 1 out of the White House. Today, I find it difficult to put those 2 names in the same sentence.

5 days ago, Hurricane Gustav was bearing down on the Gulf, and about to permanently disrupt the Republican National Convention. (With prayers to the residents of that region). Today, it’s hard to decipher any disruption in St. Paul.

5 days ago, President Bush was backing out of the convention (like you really want Bush in your camp given his approval ratings). Governor Schwarzenegger was backing out of the convention due to “budget mess in Sacto” (you want Arny in your camp).  Today, it doesn’t really matter who else did or didn’t speak at the RNC.  There’s only 2 speeches anyone will ever talk about.

Some final takeaways:
(1) The McPains have made Americans take a stand, a position. Not to say that Obama didn’t, but it was just too undetermined a week ago as the RNC had yet to take center stage.
(2) As eluded to during Palin’s speech, the overdone stage and outdoor stadium thing does show a bit of one-up manship at any cost and could be a pre-cursor to the over-spending Republicans fear.
(3) Sign me up anytime for Alaskan adventure with Todd Palin (Sarah’s husband).  I’m positive he can provide the goods for a memorable trip.
And, (4) It should be 1 heck of a debate between Biden (the quickly forgotten Democratic VP candidate, but a fierce competitor and smooth talker) and Palin.

If someone was really smart, make the VP candidate’s debate a Pay-Per-View event with no flipping commericals and donate all the profits to environmental non-profit organizations.  $9.95/2hr event.  
ABC, NBC, CBS – get your heads together.  Do-it-now!

Only 4 Days? Let’s Make It 5!

You couldn’t have missed knowing that the Democratic National Convention, also known as the DNC, has started.  And, just who came up with this abbreviation – DNC?  If you want to know what I’m referring to, search google for “DNC OBGYN” and look at the first set of results.  I’m sure it wasn’t Michelle Obama.  The one lady we may all like to know a bit more about as she has a chance to take the coveted “first lady” position. 

And, this is the platform to “get to know her”?  Not even.  Ms. Obama’s performance tonite was nothing but a highly anticipated, well-orchestrated, professionally rehearsed, canned recital that I’m sure she had no part of writing or editing.  A perfect composition of apparel, haircuts, and lapel pins.  Do people actually believe such presentations are real?  That her personality somehow magically arose from the harmony?  At a minimum, I’d feel more comfortable knowing her if I was reading a candid rendition of her Facebook profile, if I had access to it that is.

…Back to the convention.  Wow.  4 days of content.  That’s just unreal.  Beating out the Super Bowl by a full touchdown in terms of pre-game follies.  We’ve been talking about the National Convention (I just can’t use that DNC terminology any longer) for what seems like a year.  Oh yea, it has been a year.  Actually longer than a year.  And, for what, to do a spin around the audience of state delegates who declare that they give their perverbial nomination to Obama or Clinton or Edwards (god help us), when everyone in the entire world already knows that Obama wins.  This seems like the sickest of exaggerated rituals.

Yes, sick.  How much energy, time is wasted on this?  It hurts my head to calculate the environmental impact of utilizing 100 different hotels, airline flights to CO from all over the country.  The piles of bottled water?  I am aware that Convention organizers have gone miles beyond any previous event in terms of “greening”, but does it really require live delegates — how do you think they got there?   If environmental impact is an issue, what about using a Virtual (online) Trade Show platform?  Wouldn’t that be novel.

And, why not make it a Pay-per-View event, to those who want it.  Somewhere Vince McMahon must be having a beer and thinking, “hmmm, it’s so well acted, just like my WWF was.  I wonder if I could buy it”.  Yes, maybe the SuperBowl should be a Pay-per-View event as well.  Then, you’d really know who cares.

I’m not underestimating the impact to the US and world economic, social, and political landscape affects of a new President.  None the least.   That’s huge and we all care.  But, frankly, that tally doesn’t get counted until November.  And, until then, this seems like an awfully long event, syphoning funds and energy that could be used in far better ways.   Thursday is Mr. Obama’s time in the sun, well, evening, in an outdoor stadium of 70,000+, which should be a horrid reminder of how far we’ve come, or perhaps, missed the mark.