01 June 2024

See You in September

"The summer night is like a perfection of thought."

--Wallace Stevens

Vicksburgmi.org

01 May 2024

There's No Such Thing as a Cheap Piano

"Buying cheap to save money is like stopping the clock to save time. Neither works."

--Napoleon Hill

(C) Cable-Nelson

Sometime in the late 1950s, my Mother purchased a Cable-Nelson spinet piano and enrolled me at the Edward Cullinan Studios in Benton Harbor, Michigan. 

While less well-known than Yamaha, Bösendorfer, and Steinway & Sons, Cable-Nelson was a successful manufacturer who built well-made instruments. They survived the Great Depression and manufactured various brand names until the 1980s.  

Although I was unaware then, Lydia Bredholt, a pianist, taught me the importance of quality products (Cable-Nelson) and people (Edward Cullinan). Over time, I also learned that high values and culture are obtainable, no matter one's status in life. 

In 2004, that same Cable-Nelson piano was loaded on a rented trailer in Florida and carried away to our daughter Jordan's home in Virginia. Later, our grandchildren will play, too--nearly 60 years after its original purchase.    

More than weekly piano lessons and practicing (who likes to practice?), our Mother knew that attempting to play Swans on the Lake or The Man in the Moon from John Thompson's Modern Course for the Piano (First Grade) opened the door to a world of creative expression that would provide a lifetime of enjoyment. 

That includes composing and orchestrating songs for our grandsons and granddaughters with the help of arranger Jerry Nelson.

"Without music, life would be a mistake," said Friedrich Nietzsche.

Cheap can be expensive

Recently, it was decided to replace the Cable-Nelson piano. A decade-old digital baby grand was found online, and it happened to be owned by someone nearby. Looking for a good buy, the price was agreed upon, and the piano was delivered to our home. 

However, it only took a short time for a $400 instrument to become an $800 transaction. The keyboard needed work, and the electronics were updated. The piano's computer system will require additional upgrades, the cost of which remains to be determined. 

Nevertheless, our 10-year-old grandson, Andrew, visited and admirably performed the theme from Star Wars. Additionally, the ebony piano is an attractive piece of furniture in our living room. 

So all is not lost. 

Piano lessons

Buying a piano is like buying a used car--it's a challenge for anyone.

LivingPiano.com says, "You can buy a piano cheap or get one free, but the amount of work you have to put in them varies greatly."

"Choosing the cheapest option may mean sacrificing quality, which can lead to additional costs in the long run," writes Matt Heller, who advises on these purchases.

The conclusion is that we will pay now or later (as I am doing), but we will pay.

Everyone likes a bargain--especially the well-to-do. But sometimes, within reason, paying the price to get what we want is necessary. Buying fewer but nicer things makes that possible.

May is a month of commencement and a time to reflect on the generosity of those who cared for us most. While they pass, their legacy lives.

As the Swedish group ABBA sang, "I say thank you for the music, for giving it to me."


Strategist.com

©  Bredholt & Co.







01 April 2024

The Rule of Holes

"Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone fails at something."

--David Gemmell

(C) Deposit Photos

The "Law of Holes" adage first appeared in the Washington Post in 1911. 

The first rule's original iteration--"Nor would a wise man, seeing that he was in a hole, go to work and blindly dig it deeper ..."

The contemporary version reads like this: When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

It's a philosophy of learning to let go. 

Here are seven more rules to keep in mind:

2. Holes happen. They can appear out of nowhere, full-blown. One minute, they're not there; the next thing you know, you're in one. A wise person always carries a ladder.

3. Climb out of the hole as soon as possible. 

4. After you have climbed out of the hole, don't fall back in or dig yourself a new hole.

5. Holes come in a wide variety of types and sizes, all of which have the potential to cause you trouble. Sinkholes, the Black Hole of Calcutta, and the hole in the ozone come to mind. A hole in the water into which you pour money is called a boat. There can be holes in your story, your pocket, your glass, your résumé, your memory, your shoes, and your soul. 

6. Sometimes, holes can be your friend, for instance, in a storm. But it's important to know what kind of storm is coming. Holes are suitable in a tornado; they are not so good in a flood.

7. Bottomless holes are called pits, as in throwing good money into one. But "bottomless-ness" is a physical impossibility. The money just takes longer to get there before it finally disappears.

8. Regardless of all the Horatio Alger motivation, no matter how hard you try, you can never build a hole starting at the bottom and working up.


Source: H. Martin Moore, Jordan Rothstein, and the Internet. 

Strategist.com

© Bredholt & Co.


01 March 2024

The Hacking of Organizational Systems

"There are only two types of organizations. Those that have been hacked and those that don't know it yet."

--John Chambers

(C) Contract Works

Comcast said nearly 36 million U.S. Xfinity accounts were compromised after hackers accessed its systems through a vulnerability in third-party cloud-computing software. The breach occurred between October 16 and October 19, 2023.

On Sunday, February 18, 2024, at the Munich Security Conference, FBI Director Christopher Wray said China's cyberattacks on U.S. infrastructure are "unprecedented." 

AT&T announced that the cause of its 12-hour nationwide outage on February 22, 2024, was the "execution of an incorrect process," not a cyberattack. In simpler terms, the company admitted to human error.

What's the difference between cyberattacks and hacking?

Cybercriminals hack and infiltrate computer systems with malicious intent, while hackers supposedly seek new and innovative ways to use a system, good or bad. (Micro Trend)

According to Security Magazine, there are over 2,200 attacks daily, which breaks down to nearly 1 cyberattack every 39 seconds.

On average, 1.4 billion social media accounts are hacked every month.

All systems are vulnerable

In A Hacker's Mind--How the Powerful Bend Society's Rules, and How to Bend Them Back (Norton), a book worth your time, Bruce Schneier defines hacking as "an activity allowed by the system that subverts the goal or interest of the system." 

Anything from medical records to the U.S. tax code can be hacked.

"Hacking is how the rich and powerful subvert the rules to increase their wealth and power. It's not that the wealthy and powerful are better at their hacks; they're less likely to be punished for doing so," adds Schneier, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. 

As F. Scott Fitzgerald observed, "The rich are different from you and me." 

Schneier says that hacking is not the same as cheating. "Hacking targets a system and turns it against itself without breaking it. It's gaming the system and occupies a middle ground between cheating and innovation. A hack follows the letter of the system's rules but violates their spirit and intent," he concludes.

Systems evolve through hacking, especially when less critical and on a smaller scale. They might actually benefit from hacking as a way to improve their functionality and security. A breach shows where to patch, as it's impossible to think of every susceptibility when designing a system. 

Here are three stories illustrating different types of hacking--

-Johann Tetzel, a 16th-century Dominican friar, hacked the Catholic system of indulgences, intended to promote charitable giving by offering sinners the chance to buy forgiveness from the church. 

-In 1729, Voltaire got together with close friends to hack a French lottery. Since the payout exceeded the value of all the available tickets, he and his cohorts bought up the whole supply.

-A decade ago, Goldman Sachs was accused of manipulating the price of aluminum, calculated in part by its availability. The firm shifted its aluminum supply to different warehouses, trucking it around to other locations every day for years. Because it was moving, it was harder to get--a ruse that cost consumers an estimated $5 billion. After years of legal battles and appeals, the case against Goldman--and J.P. Morgan Chase--was settled in 2022. 

Who has access?

The focus in A Hacker's Mind moves from IT to organizational systems. For hacking to occur, a system of rules, such as corporate policies, must be hacked. And policies are plentiful.

The author explains that it's "one short step from hacking computers to hacking economics, politics, and social systems," as they are just as vulnerable to hacking as technology. 

Protecting the integrity of any system is rooted in the character and values of those in charge. Hiring decisions, which are extremely important but imperfect, are often a door ajar. To quote one observer, "People are honest most of the time but become dishonest in some situations when they perceive there is an advantage to be gained from it."

The book's critical point is that not all systems are equally hackable. Complex systems with many rules are the most vulnerable because there are more possibilities for unanticipated and unintended consequences.

Schneier makes clear: "Complexity is the worst enemy of security."

Questions to ask--
  • What are the non-technological vulnerabilities in your system? 
  • Who has access to the system? 
  • What is at risk if the system is hacked? 
  • How to patch a system?
If you are responsible for an enterprise, know it can and will be hacked (rules bent or ignored, boundaries stretched, goals subverted). Therefore, keep policies and procedures simple to reduce security risks. 

Cognitive hacking is powerful

Schneier wants everyone to know that any time something can alter information, choice, and agency, it represents a danger to the human mind.

"If you can hack a mind, you can hack any system governed by human action," he writes.

Can AI machines think?

AI, or artificial intelligence, is defined in A Hacker's Mind as (a) computers that can generally sense, think, or act and (b) as an umbrella term encompassing a broad array of decision-making technologies that stimulate human thinking.

An example of that last point is how specialized AI is designed for a specific task, like controlling a self-driving car. 

Tech writer Andy Kessler says, "Computers win in realms with defined rules, but humans have free will and make choices."

The AI insight:
  • Data goes in one end, and an answer comes out the other. It is challenging to understand how the system reached its conclusion. 
  • Human decisions could be more explainable. While offered, they're more after-the-fact justifications than actual explanations. 
  • AIs don't solve problems like humans do. Their limitations are different than ours. They'll consider more possible solutions than we might.
  • Remember that humans control AIs. All AI systems are designed and bankrolled by humans who want to manipulate other humans in a particular way for a specific purpose.

A corporate plan 

Steve Durbin, Chief Executive of the Information Security Forum, recommends that AI be viewed from the lens of corporate strategy and risk. 

"Before you can chart an AI strategy, develop a thorough understanding of its potential, its current usage across the organization, and the security challenges and threats that lie ahead," he emphasizes. 

At the corporate level, there is a need to integrate ethical considerations into policy and procedures. "Fairness, transparency, accountability, and privacy are the most ethical considerations surrounding AI," Durbin concludes. 

In the AI gold rush (Nvidia and OpenAI), programming and security are the next frontiers. Bringing untold financial gain, higher-than-average risk, and opportunities for hacking systems previously unconceived.  


Strategist.com

(C) Bredholt & Co.



 















 

01 February 2024

Africa's Aspiring Future

"The eye never forgets what the heart has seen."

--African Proverb

(C) The Engineer

In 2050, one-quarter of all people will be in Africa--a sprawling continent larger than China, Europe, India, and the U.S. combined. Its fifty-four countries will have the youngest, fastest-growing population on Earth. (N.Y. Times) 

The continent's population is currently 1.4 billion and is estimated to be 2.5 billion in 2050.

Africa had 8% of the world's population in 1950. It will account for one-fourth of humanity a century later, with at least one-third of all young people aged 15-24. By 2040, it will have one in every five children living on Earth. (United Nations)

The median age of Continental Africa is nineteen; India is twenty-eight; and China and the U.S. are thirty-eight. 

What else lies beneath "the boundless African sky?"

Africa's landscapes are as breathtaking as its statistics. Yet, with all the beauty and mystery, what makes the "Cradle of Mankind" special is its warm and friendly people. 

The disparities

Our first trip to the continent was in 1987 to the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, West Africa. Sometimes known as Ivory Coast, the country identifies two capitals: Yamoussoukro (political) and Abidjan (economic). Despite a history of political instability, the economy is stable and growing; the thirty million population enjoys a relatively high-income level compared to other countries in the region. (World Bank)

If you like chocolate, it's worth knowing that Côte d'Ivoire's economic strength derives from being the world's leading exporter of cocoa beans. 

Travels in subsequent years to the Republic of South Africa and the Republic of Kenya in East Africa made diverse people, economies, governments, and material resources visible. The continent's burgeoning cities (eleven with more than five million in population), filled with traffic jams, are never far from poverty. 

For example, with a birthrate of five million people yearly, Nigeria, a country slightly bigger than Texas, is expected to double in size in the next 26 years, overtaking the U.S. as the third most populous country. (Business Insider)

Nigeria boasts the largest economy in Africa. Yet two-thirds of its people live on less than $2 a day. Life expectancy is fifty-three, nine years below African averages. 

An income threshold of $2.15 per day for low-income economies means an estimated 460 million sub-Saharan Africans are living in extreme poverty. Limited access to food, famines, the COVID-19 pandemic, and war contribute to those staggering numbers. (World Bank, Outreach International, World Food Programme)  

"Some 34 million Africans are migrants, and the majority are workers crossing borders to search for decent work--jobs that pay a living wage, offer safe working conditions and fair treatment," says a report from the Solidarity Center for Labor Migration. "Many workers find employers seeking to exploit them--refusing to pay wages and forcing them to work long hours for little or no pay," the Center adds.

Vast resources

Africa is home to 30% of the world's mineral reserves. It has the largest cobalt reserves, diamonds, platinum, and uranium. It's also a major source of gold, generating a quarter of the world's output, 870 metric tons in 2021. 

Almost 8% of the world's natural gas and 12% of oil reserves are on the continent. Add 65% of the total arable land and 10% of the planet's internal renewable freshwater source. 

Minerals for EV batteries, such as cobalt, lithium, manganese, nickel, and graphite, are available in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, South Africa, Madagascar, and Mozambique. (Africa Development Bank) 

The world's automakers, wanting non-Chinese sources in their supply chains, are attracted to South Africa as the second-largest refiner of manganese.

Natural resources' financial and social benefits have only sometimes reached the people who work to extract them and the villages where they live. Will the push for green energy materials be different?  

Political influence

The magnitude of Africa's populace and resources draws attention from world powers. Even as the continent's countries strengthen ties, China, Russia, Turkey, and the Gulf Petroleum States have a presence there. India intends to become Africa's most significant trade and investment partner. (Brookings.edu)

With funding through the Belt and Infrastructure Campaign, China is deepening African relationships through industrialization and modernization of industry.

Meanwhile, U.S. involvement is growing on the continent with significant food and health investments, two-way trade deals, digital projects, and infrastructure upgrades like the recent rail freight services in Angola. The federal government in Washington, DC, is promising more support. 

Enterprising spirit

With a need to improve skills and digital tools for private industry and government, education is assuming greater importance in Africa. Studies show that 44% graduated from high school in 2020, up 27% since 2000. And 570 million people use the Internet. 

The struggle is finding good jobs. Thousands of doctors, nurses, and skilled migrants continue to flee the continent. 

Learning, reducing out-of-school children, and youth with apprentice skills are priorities for all countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Business schools are behind much of the change and transformation. A new generation of entrepreneurs is providing hope for economic solutions. With a ratio of four young people for every position available, starting businesses and creating jobs is critical. More outside help is needed to ensure those newly minted enterprises know what it takes to survive and thrive. (The Engineer)

Africa's heart

There are an estimated 660 million Christians on the African landmass, more than on any other continent. (Center for the Study of Global Christianity) The frequency of worship attendance and prayer among the world's Christians is highest in sub-Saharan Africa and lowest in Western Europe. (Pew Research Center)  

Africa's 240 million Catholics comprise 19% of the global Catholic population. (PillarCatholic.com

Christianity is the major religion in numerous African countries. The top five with 90% or more Christian population are São Tomé and Príncipe, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Rwanda, and Seychelles. (World Atlas)

A BBC documentary describes Christianity in Africa as an "agent of change." It destabilized the status quo, bringing new opportunities to some and undermining the power of others. With Christian missions came education, literacy, and hope for the disadvantaged. 

The World Religion Database reports that sub-Saharan Africa was home to 230 million Pentecostals and charismatics, or 35.6% of the global total in 2020. Those numbers are expected to reach 450 million and 43.6% in 2050.

Unlike the Western world, religious competition is transforming Africa, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal published in June 2023. Now 42% Muslim, sub-Sarahan Africa is expected by 2037 to have more Muslims than Islam's historical heartland of the Middle East and North Africa. (Pew Research Center)

Based on the Journal story, Christianity and Islam are the most practiced religions in Africa. 

Unlocked future

What needs to happen for Africa to realize an aspiring future? Research points to the following:

  • Make additional investments in human capital to improve health and reduce poverty.
  • Include young people in decision-making and give them appropriate education, work, and innovation opportunities.
  • Hold leadership accountable in all sectors--business, government, and nonprofits.
  • Keep growing intra-country trade and diversification of exports that meet current demands.
  • Continued religious freedom.

Overheard 

"What advice do you have on where to explore," asked the traveler.

"If you only visit two continents in your lifetime, visit Africa--twice," was the reply. (R. Elliott)  



Strategist.com

© Bredholt & Co

















01 January 2024

Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce


(C) Simply HR Inc.

"Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it and wiser than the one that comes after it."

--George Orwell

What if the global pandemic's disruptive force is causing 2030 to arrive earlier than scheduled? Pairing that possible contraction with cultural, technical, and economic change moving faster helps explain why organizational life is so challenging. Too much too soon is another way to describe this moment. That's especially true when recruiting, developing, and retaining employees.

Recasting the workforce

A consequential labor trend worth attention is the decentralized workplace. Does this type of structure positively or negatively influence productivity, promotions, and corporate culture? Who occupies that space? And most importantly, what do different age groups think and value? 

"Millennials, a diverse and educated group born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 28 to 43 in 2024), are quickly becoming the most present population in the workforce and leadership roles," reports Inc. Magazine. "By 2030, all members of the baby boom generation, the only cohort officially recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau, will have reached the retirement age of 65, with an average of 10,000 baby boomers reaching retirement age every day between now and then," Inc. adds.

At the end of this decade, though, there will again be a multi-generational workforce similar to the one we have now (Silent Generation, baby boomers, Generation X, millennials, Generation Z). The silent cohort will nearly disappear, but the labor participation rate of the boomers, who are 75 and older, is projected to reach 11.7% in 2030. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

And as one observer noted, "The marketplace changes in tandem with employment trends."

A reason for optimism

How do we get to a 2030 workplace? 

To quote Socrates, "The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." 

Thinking ahead is a function of leadership. Which means setting aside time to consider a desirable outcome in hiring. Determining what's involved in attracting candidates to your business or nonprofit. Identifying what needs to be done, by whom, and when to get the right people in place. Be at the front instead of the back of the talent line.

Change requires stability. For that reason, Gen X (65.2 million) could provide ballast between the baby boomers (71.6 million), millennials (72.1 million), and Gen Z (69.5 million) (U.S. Census Bureau population estimates) 1

Gen X, 33% of the current U.S. workforce, born between 1965 and 1976 (ages 44 to 59 in 2024), is indispensable to a workplace transformation. Research among Gen Xers shows a strong work ethic, communication skills, and problem-solving ability. More than baby boomers, they will hand over executive and senior management responsibilities to millennials and Gen Z as 2030 approaches. 

Passing the torch

As 70% of leadership development is getting the right experience, Gen X leaders are the ones to prioritize millennial and Gen Z opportunities, enabling them to learn and grow, often from their mistakes and the mistakes of others. Hardships build character.

Since the Scottish-American engineer Daniel McCallum created the first organizational chart in 1854, the failure of management to set clear expectations around performance has kept productivity unnecessarily low and employees from being fully accountable for how work gets done. 

Great supervisors make a difference in the unfolding of one's career. That job is vital in communicating expectations and giving everyone real-time feedback, especially tech-literate millennials and Gen Z, who are racially and ethnically diverse and the most highly educated generation.  

More than a third of U.S. companies have abandoned traditional annual performance appraisals and replaced them with an increase in frequent conversations between managers and employees. (Harvard Business Review)

Demographics--a cautionary tale

Michael Dimock, president of the Pew Research Center, believes we should be careful about reading too much into generational headlines:

1. Generational categories are not scientifically defined. The boundaries that place one person in Gen Z and another in the millennial generation are not precise or universally agreed upon.

2. These generational labels can lead to stereotypes and oversimplification. All millennials and baby boomers are not the same, just as all Southerners, all Catholics, or all Black Americans are not the same. Shared experiences and identities should be recognized but not at the expense of individuality.

3. Discussions about generations often focus on differences instead of similarities. Conflict gets more attention than consensus, with media overstating the divide between younger and older generations. Think about your family relationships. We're more alike than not.

4. Conventional views of generations can carry an upper-class bias. Popular history recalls that Baby Boomers in the 1960s and '70s were deeply opposed to the Vietnam War. However, many high-quality surveys at the time showed that younger Americans – most of whom were not attending college – were more supportive of the war than older generations who had lived through previous conflicts.

5. People change over time. Don't assume that what you see today, you'll see tomorrow. People change as they grow older, pursue careers, and form families. Generational signals can sometimes be long-lasting, but youth itself is not permanent. 

Under the corporate arc 

With innovation and technology always in play (AI going mainstream) and demographic transitions in progress, what's a reasonable way for leaders to think about 2030?

A study by McKinsey & Company, Organizing for the Future, provides direction. The published findings suggest clarifying corporate principles to achieve the desired end. 

Where to focus?

Who we are: Strengthen identity, setting purpose in motion. Use culture to differentiate in recruiting, positioning, and execution of strategy.

How we operate: Flatten structure and speed up decision-making. Many decisions require less than half the steps executives imagine necessary. Treat talent as scarcer than capital.

How we grow: Cooperate internally and collaborate externally. Future-ready organizations see partners as extensions of themselves. A substantial amount of value in organizations is linked to as few as 25 to 50 roles. That's enough to accelerate learning and spread authority and responsibility across a larger platform.

Add to the McKinsey list--

Who will work, and how: A projected employment of 165 million awaits. More women than men; shorter work weeks--same pay; hybrid locations for the office class, with holographic meetings the next new thing. Even with more AI-driven automation, humans will likely be the principal source of ideas and inspiration. 

Finding common ground

By 2030, a rebalanced multi-generational workforce will be in place, with each individual having the potential to make a unique contribution to group purpose.

A reasonable course for Gen X is facilitating a promising outcome through organizational renewal, clarifying corporate character, and tapping baby boomers' experience before they walk out the door. Engage in this process, knowing millennials, Gen Z, and others will decide what they want to do and who they want to be.

The previous thirty-six months revealed that many enterprises are designed for a world "passing from sight." In that sense, the contagion carried with it a warning for some and possibilities for others--as different and better ends await those who prepare now for a future that's near.


1 "Generations" defined by Pew Research Center: Generation Z, Born after 1996**; Millennial, born 1981 to 1996, age in 2024: 28 to 43;; Generation X, born: 1965 to 1980, age in 2024: 44 to 59; Baby Boomer, born 1946 to 1964, age in 2024: 60 to 78; Silent Generation, born: 1928 to 1945, age in 2024: 79 to 96  **No chronological endpoint has been set for this group.

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© Bredholt & Co.