Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I do not have "no comment"

I don't leave a lot of comments on other blogs, mostly due to time, and in no small part because I like to save my wit and insight for posts on this blog. Occasionally, though, I find myself doing so and, because I know my ardent fans don't want to miss a thing I'm thinking, I will create a post out of my own comments. A bit cheap, perhaps, but, if this blog is to be a record of my thinking, it seems valid. And today seemed like a big comment day.

Greg Glockner at Dwaffler/Decidedly has been writing a series of interesting posts about the worst business decisions ever. Actually, most of his posts have something to do with that topic, but these four (from 12/1, 12/3, 12/5, and 12/8) are related and worth reading.

I don't often comment on Greg's posts because I usually have little to add - he's quite concise and self-contained - but the most recent, which argued that the auto makers have not made anything that would qualify as the "worst business decision ever," said this:
I'm unable to identify a single decision that led to the crisis at the American automobile manufacturers.
I think this is spot on, but I had a little more to contribute:
Neither am I qualified to talk in detail about the woes of our automakers, but I do have one more mistake to throw into the hopper.

I came out of business school in the early '80s, and the focus then was on the financing business. The car companies weren't looking for innovation in manufacturing. They preferred innovation in high-margin, low-involvement car loan products. It was during this period that the foreign companies, focused on making good cars at lower prices, began to build their share. The problem, of course, was that the Big 3 (and little 1, AMC was still around) got away from their core business, that of building cars.

To me, the other things you mentioned followed that decision (with the exception of labor strife; that's been around forever, but was controllable until management took its eye off the ball). And it's not just that they were focused on the wrong part of the business, but they also skewed the talent away from car people. That continues today - do we really think Nardelli has the deep knowledge of the industry that Chrysler needs now?

Kevin Drum has been writing about the Illinois governor arrest today, here and a follow-up. He provides some good links, good so that I don't have to spend the time digging them out, but Kevin's real question is, "Is Blagojevich...the world's biggest moron?"

My answer is, almost certainly yes:

For those of us who live in Illinois, the answer is pretty much yes, he is the world's biggest moron. This is a guy who shamelessly uses the press to float his populist, but unaffordable, programs, but refuses to take a question. He has a Bush-like disregard for his approval rating, seemingly thinking that he has no problem if the people who elected him think he's not doing the job.

He won a second term (which is embarrassing to many of us) because the Republicans put up an old-time pol who was as do-nothing in her previous posts as Blagojevich is in his. He has promoted the interests of his wife above those of the electorate all the time he's been in office. The only surprise is that it's taken this long to hang some evidence on him.

He hasn't said it in a while, but I'm guessing he still has designs on national office, despite a lack of any real accomplishments.

By the way, I wrote that before the follow-up. It turns out that Kevin has a link that indicates that Blagojevich thought of appointing himself to the Senate to set up a presidential bid in 2016. I'm not sure "moron" even begins to cover it.

Kevin went on to post about how, just maybe, our kids aren't doing as poorly in math and science as we seemingly want to believe. My point was that, whatever competence they have, they have little incentive to drive toward careers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields:

This shows yet again, that the hue and cry about the dire situation in our schools is far overblown. If we are falling behind the rest of the world in technology, it's not a supply-side problem, that is, it's not that we have students too dumb to embrace STEM subjects. It's that we are offering no hope on the demand side.

When the head of a company like Cisco goes on a talk show and bemoans the lack of qualified graduates, note that he never commits to hiring any of those graduates. We're losing the competition on price, not quality, and it is misleading to suggest otherwise.

I live in a town that was built on technical companies, companies that are now greatly reduced or gone altogether. I would bet that there isn't a student who doesn't have a parent of a friend or a friend of a parent who was affected by the convulsions in the tech industry. So why would that student, no matter how well they do on a test, go into one of those fields?

Businessmen like the idea of making the talent pool bigger - it gives them more leverage - and politicians like supporting expensive educational programs with a lot of computers and lab equipment - you can never go wrong supporting the kids - but no one as yet has demonstrated a magic implication that more graduates mean more jobs; cause and effect are exactly backwards there.

The interesting Cognition and Language Lab blog, which discusses human reasoning, had a post about grammar and made this observation:
It has been remarked by more than one Southerner that Yankees think they are dumb just because of their accent. If you've never done this, then I ask you, have you really never assumed someone with a West Virginian accent was dumb?
While I think there is a degree of truth to the observation of that prejudice, there's at least one area in which it seems to be quite the opposite:
Only peripherally on topic, but isn't it odd that, in the world of football, the Southern accent signifier is exactly the opposite? That is, a Southern accent is actually the one with prestige, especially when we are treated to the expertise of a retired coach. Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer might be regarded negatively, but their accents actually seem to give them cred.
Heck, even Terry Bradshaw is seen as an expert.

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