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Archive for June, 2010

PROTECTING INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 30, 2010

The protection of intellectual property should be a significant concern to all Information Technology organizations. Without protection, commercial hardware/software vendors would quickly evaporate as others would inevitably steal their designs and programs. Corporate developers would also suffer if their ideas, inventions, and programs were misappropriated thereby causing them to lose their competitive advantage. In fact, our corporate landscape and standard of living would be radically different if we had no such protection. Fortunately, the framers of the U.S. Constitution were wise enough to implement legislation safeguarding the authorship and ownership of literature, art, and inventions, thus causing the United States to flourish in the arts and sciences. But the advent of the computer caused us to reconsider how we safeguard such property. For example, the concept of a computer program has been a bit nebulous to some people; should the source code be protected by copyright? What about the object code (executable)? Attorneys have been debating this subject over the last thirty years and there is still general confusion in the field.

In 1974, MBA embarked on our own lawsuit to protect the “PRIDE” methodology. This was a lengthy legal battle which took the courts into unchartered waters. At the time, “PRIDE” was nothing more than a methodology implemented with printed manuals and forms (no software support at the time). To safeguard our product, our lawyers drafted a standard nondisclosure agreement which all prospective buyers would sign prior to our sales presentation. Further, our contracts included similar verbiage instructing the customer to safeguard the physical embodiment of the product and not to divulge it to unauthorized third parties.

We were contacted by Arthur Young & Company in 1974 to conduct a “PRIDE” sales presentation for one of their consulting clients in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; the Harley Davidson Motorcycle Company (then a division of AMF). The attendees signed the nondisclosure agreement and the presentation was conducted as usual. Following the presentation, MBA was informed that Harley wouldn’t be purchasing our product, and that Arthur Young would be developing a similar methodology for Harley instead. This made MBA suspicious, particularly since one of Young’s consultants was a former “PRIDE” user. Consequently, MBA initiated a lawsuit over misappropriation of trade secrets.

This turned into a long and ugly legal battle which lasted eight years. Basically, the lawyers for the opposition contended that since the “PRIDE” materials had copyright notation printed on them, they were in the public domain. In contrast, it was our contention that “PRIDE” was a trade secret. In the end, we won the lawsuit and “PRIDE” was proven to be a trade secret in a court of law. This litigation established many precedents and is often referenced in similar cases; for additional information, see:

Chicago-Kent College of Law
Library Law

Many years have gone by since the verdict was passed. In 1989, Arthur Young & Company merged with Ernst and Ernst (now called Ernst & Young), the principals of the case have moved on and we no longer bear any ill-will towards the company. Further, “PRIDE” was placed on the Internet in 2004 (with copyright notation).

As a result of the lawsuit, MBA learned a lot about the protection of intellectual property. I may not be an attorney, but you may look upon this as a convenient primer to protect yourself.

COPYRIGHTS

Copyrights are primarily concerned with the authorized reproduction of such things as text, graphics, music, and audio/video recordings. As such, it protects publishers, authors, artists, and designers from unauthorized republication or redistribution of their work. Not too long ago, in order for a copyright to be enforceable, it had to be registered with the copyright office. However, the laws were somewhat loosened in 1976 whereby copyright protection is now effective from the moment the work is first created in fixed form. Although the use of copyright notation is no longer mandatory, it is highly beneficial to include it whenever possible to indicate your work is protected by copyright. Notation typically appears as:

“Copyright © 2007 ABC Company”

Since computer program source code is written as text, it is a wise idea to add such notation in the source code. But understand this, copyright only protects the work from unauthorized reproduction, it does not protect the author’s ideas (which is how the lawyers of Arthur Young argued against us). Although the exact source code cannot be reused, it does not protect the logic of the program. To illustrate, suppose a new employee brings with him some source code from his last place of employment. Copyright protection would prohibit him from reusing the source code, but it wouldn’t stop him from using the ideas contained in the program. Unfortunately, most programmers do not like to reinvent the wheel and, as such, frequently reuse source code over and over again. From this perspective, probably every company with an I.T. department is guilty of some form of copyright infringement.

TRADE SECRETS

A trade secret is much different than a copyright. Basically, it represents some unique formula, design or idea. Perhaps the best known example of a trade secret is the Coca-Cola syrup formula which is strictly protected in a vault. There are essentially two elements for establishing a trade secret; first, that it is a “unique” idea or formula, that it has distinguishable characteristics or properties to differentiate it from others, and; second, that you can demonstrate you are taking effective safeguards to protect it from unauthorized use (hence, making it a “secret”). In the lawsuit over “PRIDE”, we were able to successfully demonstrate that “PRIDE” was unique and that we had taken adequate steps to safeguard unauthorized use (our nondisclosure agreement).

PATENTS

A patent is similar to a trade secret in that the inventor has a unique idea or device he wishes to prevent others from producing. To implement a patent, the idea or device must be registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. A registration process is required which includes a fee. For an invention to be patented, it must be proven to be unique, useful, and not of an obvious nature. If a patent is granted, the inventor is protected from others producing a similar invention for a limited period of time (20 years). The patent is renewable at the end of this period.

The computer field makes active use of patents to establish unique inventions and protect them from others For example, IBM typically registers the most patents each year, both hardware and software.

TRADE MARKS/SERVICE MARKS

A trademark is an arbitrary word, name, symbol, or device used to distinguish a particular product. A service mark is similar except it is used to distinguish a particular service. For example, “PRIDE” is the registered trademark of M&JB Investment Company.

Like a patent, the trade/service mark has to be registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. And, Yes, a registration fee is required. Notation normally accompanies the trademark to indicate it is registered ®. Use of such notation should be encouraged so that others know your product or service is a trademark.

A trade/service mark means no other company can use it to offer a competing product or service unless authorized by the company holding its title. As such, it is closely related to the integrity of the title company. If a competitor uses it, the public will assume they are somehow aligned with your business and, as customers of your competitor, are entitled to the same level of service or quality your business offers. If the competitor fails in this regards, it is a reflection of both your product/service and your company which could damage your business.

CONCLUSION

When MBA was founded, we were very lucky to get good, sound legal advice for protecting our intellectual property. Because of this, I encourage anyone concerned in this regard to seek such advice from a qualified attorney.

Another way to assist in the protection of your intellectual property is to enact some form of employee agreement, whereby the employee agrees not to misappropriate your products (such as designs and software), or use other intellectual property without expressed authorization. This puts your employees on notice.

Devices such as copyrights, trade secrets, patents, trade/service marks are very helpful for preventing the unauthorized use or distribution of your products. However, if someone really wants to pirate your products, they will. When you catch someone in the act though, try to give them a way out. I always recommend that you try to avoid litigation whenever possible. I find such lawsuits primarily benefit the attorneys and nobody else. But if your livelihood is genuinely threatened, as ours was, then you have no alternative but to use the full force of the law.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

COMING IN JULY: “Tin Heads” – where transportation merges with communications. What is Bryce up to now?

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MARRIAGE: IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 28, 2010

After seeing so many marriages end in divorce, you cannot help but wonder why couples get married in the first place. Maybe they see it as some kind of legal permission slip to do nothing more than to have sex. If so, that seems to be rather shallow thinking to me. I tend to believe most people get married to quell the biological clock in their heads to reproduce. Under this scenario, husband and wife are doomed to failure after their mission has been fulfilled. There are probably dozens of reasons for getting divorced, but regardless, I think most people go into marriage with impractical expectations and hidden incompatibilities that are slow to surface.

Perhaps the biggest misconception about marriage is that it is easy; that by simply getting married all of your difficulties you experienced as a single person will somehow disappear. Hardly. If anything, your problems are only beginning as you have to learn to live with a new person unfamiliar with your customs, mannerisms, and lifestyle. I have yet to meet the couple who was perfectly compatible at the time of taking their marriage vows. Regardless of how long you may have lived with someone prior to marriage, you really don’t know the person until it becomes “legal.”

A lot of people seem to fail to grasp that marriage is a partnership. This disturbs me greatly. It involves forming a team which means working together towards common goals and objectives. True, each person has their own unique duties and responsibilities, but to make such a partnership work, it is necessary for both give and take, for compromise, which some people have the ability to accept and adapt to, while others cannot. This means you cannot always do the things you did unilaterally when you were single. Now you must consider and consult your partner. Like any business venture, you must do what is best for both parties, not just one. This is the part of marriage most people seem to have trouble with. Any time one party ignores or excludes consideration for the other, the marriage is doomed.

If you have any doubt whatsoever about getting married, don’t do it. You must go into it with both eyes wide open and possess a genuine willingness to try to work together. Anything less will inevitably result in either an unhappy marriage or a nasty divorce.

Just remember, it takes two to tango.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

COMING IN JULY: “Tin Heads” – where transportation merges with communications. What is Bryce up to now?

Posted in Marriage | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

THE WORLD’S BEST

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 25, 2010

I find it rather amusing when people start touting their products as the “world’s best” or “world’s finest.” Such boasts are usually self-proclaimed and are not based on some independent person or group to impartially judge the products. In fact, such superficial claims detract from the company’s credibility as opposed to adding to it. For example, try an Internet search on “World’s Best (whatever)” and you’ll undoubtedly run into more opinions than facts.

I’ve been a baseball fan for a number of years, but even I snicker when I hear Americans brag about their “World Series” as the world championship. We’ve got some great talent in this country and in all likelihood we may very well win such a championship, but I think there are a lot of countries who would love to participate in such a series. Actually, calling it the “World Series” without such participation smacks of arrogance.

For years there has been a long ongoing argument amongst rock and roll aficionados as to which was the “World’s Best” band; with the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Led Zepplin often mentioned. As much as I liked all three groups, I would have to say most adamantly, “Who cares!?” Isn’t it enough they each sold millions of records, made a lot of fans, and tons of money? Why can’t we just enjoy them for who they are?

There is something twisted in the American character requiring us to formulate a pecking order for everything thereby establishing bragging rights. I guess it is due to the competitive nature of this country. Somehow I don’t understand the logic when people say they have the “world’s best” philly cheese steak, chicken wings, chili, or whatever. Isn’t it sufficient to simply say something is either good or bad?

This obsession with “world’s best” has become so obnoxious, I openly laugh whenever I see it, which in Manhattan seems to be everywhere. Next time you see “world’s best” written down, ask the proprietor to show you the certificate awarded to them and the statistics used by the judges in the competition. Better yet, ask them if they would be willing to participate in an independent contest whereby you’ll act as the “world’s greatest” judge. Don’t be surprised if they balk at the offer.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

COMING IN JULY: “Tin Heads” – where transportation merges with communications. What is Bryce up to now?

Posted in Life, Social Issues | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

IMPLEMENTING BUSINESS ETHICS

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 23, 2010

We hear a lot these days about the deterioration of ethics in business, e.g., graft, corruption, cheating, favoritism, skimming money, etc. This has resulted in a public relations nightmare for business. If consumers do not trust a company, its a matter of time before it goes out of business. This is supported by recent studies that give evidence there is a correlation between business performance and ethical practices (see the Institute of Business Ethics).Basically, the Institute’s study suggests there are long-term benefits associated with enacting an ethics programs. Such studies and recent corporate snafus (e.g., Enron) are impetus for companies coming to grips with ethics in the workplace.

There are essentially two considerations for devising an ethics program in business; first, knowing what your ethics are, and, second; implementing them in a consistent manner.

INTERPRETING ETHICS

There is little point in my telling you what is ethically right or wrong. You already have an interpretation of this. But let us understand what influences our interpretation of ethics; our interpersonal relations with others, such as our family, friends, neighbors, fellow workers, as well as the media. Ethics is learned more than it is taught. It is based on observations of the conduct of others, people we like and respect as opposed to those we do not. It is then up to each of us to interpret these perceptions from which we will base our conduct and behavior. The point is, we act on our perceptions, however accurate or inaccurate they may be. Another influential factor are our own human frailties of competitiveness, love, greed and ambition. But then again, this goes back to interpersonal relations.

Let us recognize that ethical behavior is interpreted differently from person to person. What one person may consider right or wrong may be different for the next person. The objective in business is to implement a uniform form of behavior thereby instilling consumer confidence in a company overall.

IMPLEMENTATION

Writing a corporate code of conduct is in vogue today as a means of articulating the ethics of a business. Such codes are proudly displayed on web sites and in corporate brochures more for public relations than anything else. True, they are useful for disciplining an employee for an infraction of the rules, but I do not see them as an effective way of implementing an ethics program. Understand this, regardless of what the code of conduct states, the ethics of a business are whatever the top-dog says they are. Too often I have seen companies say one thing, then act another, e.g., Enron.

Printed codes of conduct are nice, but we have to recognize that it is one thing to enact legislation, quite another to enforce it. As stated earlier, ethical behavior is based on observations. Regardless of what a code of conduct says in print, ethical behavior is based on the relationship of superior and subordinate worker relationships. If a subordinate observes an indiscretion by his superior, in all likelihood it will be emulated by the subordinate. This phenomenon occurs top-down in the whole corporate chain of command. If it breaks down anywhere in the corporate hierarchy, it will become visible to the subordinate layers and potentially create a “trickle-down” effect. This means the boss has to be a role model for ethical behavior; they must “walk-the-walk” as well as “talk-the-talk.” If they do not, it will not go unobserved by their subordinates. Managers, therefore, should avoid the “do as I say, not do as I do” phenomenon. They must lead by example. Anything less is sheer hypocrisy and will inevitably lead to changes in behavior.

It is simply not sufficient to issue platitudes as to what is and what isn’t ethical behavior. The manager must follow-up and assure ethical behavior is implemented accordingly. In other words, we shouldn’t just “desire” truth and honesty, we must “demand” it. If one person gets away with an indiscretion, others will surely follow. As such, when writing out a code of conduct, be sure to stipulate the penalties for its violation.

The success of a business ethics program is ultimately measured by how well it becomes ingrained in the corporate culture. As we have discussed in the past, corporate culture pertains to the identity and personality of the enterprise. All companies have a culture; a way they behave and operate. They may be organized and disciplined or chaotic and unstructured. Either way, this is the culture which the enterprise has elected to adopt. What is important is that in order for an employee to function and succeed, they must be able to recognize, accept and adapt to the culture. If they do not, they will be rejected (people will not work with them).

The intuitive manager understands the corporate culture and how to manipulate it. Changing the Corporate Culture involves influencing the three elements of the culture: its Customs, Philosophy and Society. This is not a simple task. It must be remembered that culture is learned. As such, it can be taught and enforced. For example, a code of conduct is useful for teaching, as is a system of rewards and penalties. Designating people to act as watchdogs of the culture can also be useful, but be careful not to create a climate of paranoia. Ultimately, as a manager, you want to create a culture that promotes the ethical behavior you desire.

CONCLUSION

We now live in strange socioeconomic times. 40-50 years ago we normally had one parent staying home to raise the kids. Now it is commonplace to find families where both the husband and wife are working and paying less attention to their children, thereby relegating their parenting duties to teachers and coaches. In other words, the family unit, which is the basic building block for learning ethical behavior, is becoming severely hampered.

In business today we have a “fast-track” competitive mentality which does not encourage a spirit of teamwork but, rather, more rugged individualism. Nor does it promote employee loyalty. Further, we now live in a society that encourages people to go into debt, thereby causing financial tensions.

Bottom-line, ethics is about people and trust. Consequently, we should be sharpening our people skills as opposed to avoiding it. We don’t need more maxims of how we should conduct our lives; we need to lead by example. As such, we need more role-models and heroes than we do paperwork.

Let me close with one last thought on how ethics impacts business; there is probably nothing worse in business than being caught in a lie, particularly by a customer. Any trust that there may have been before disintegrates immediately and business is lost. In this day and age, there is something refreshingly honorable about a person where their word is their bond. Ethics just makes good business sense.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

COMING IN JULY: “Tin Heads” – where transportation merges with communications. What is Bryce up to now?

Posted in Business, Management | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

EXCESSIVE USE OF PROFANITY

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 21, 2010

I’ve noticed profanity has become a natural part of the teenager vernacular lately, perhaps excessively so. I know teachers and parents who are very much concerned with this and are at a loss as to how to handle it. In my school days, we were all well aware of the words but knew better to use them in the presence of adults as schools still practiced corporal punishment back then. If you got out of line, you weren’t just sent to detention, you were swatted with a paddle.

A lot has changed since then. Today, only 20 states in the country allow corporal punishment in schools (not including here in Florida). As many as 25 countries have outlawed it altogether. I guess this is another area where lawyers have gotten involved and threatened lawsuits on behalf of irate parents who refuse to discipline their own children and subject the rest of us to these clods.

In studying this issue, I noticed all 50 states in the country allow corporal punishment on the part of parents. Yet, I wonder how many parents actually exercise such action. Again, back when I was a kid, if you got out of line, the old man would take a belt to your hide or your mother would wash your mouth out with soap if you spoke foul language (as happened to Ralphie in the movie, “A Christmas Story”). My great grandmother would use a switch or fly swatter if necessary. Such corporal punishment was not unique to my family as just about every kid on the block was keenly aware of the penalties for stepping out of line. It’s called, “cause and effect”; if you screwed-up, you had to suffer the consequences. Believe me, we would have much preferred to have been “grounded” than face the wrath of a displeased parent. Being “grounded” just didn’t exist back then.

I’m not sure why teens use profanity excessively; perhaps it is to appear “cool” or something they learned through the media, but it sure seems they drop the “F-bomb” as if it is a common everyday word. I’m no saint myself when it comes to swearing, but as an adult you realize there is a time and place for everything and you tend to use it more judiciously than our youth. Excessive use of profanity does two things; first, it waters down the effect of the word. Whereas profanity is normally used to stir emotions, inordinate use negates its effect. Second, excessive profanity is a significant indicator of someone’s intellect. Rudimentary language reflects a rudimentary intellect. I am reminded of the old maxim whereby, “Profanity is the attempt of a lazy and feeble mind to express itself forcefully.”

When youth uses profanity in the presence of adults, it does not threaten or embarrass adults as much as it causes the youth in question to lose all credibility in the adult’s eyes. It is just not smart to do. I find it rather amusing when youth resorts to primitive profanity as opposed to articulating their position. It most definitely does not make them look more mature.

As for me personally, I tend to think of profanity along the same lines as Mark Twain who said, “In certain trying circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity furnishes a relief denied even to prayer.” Amen!

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

COMING IN JULY: “Tin Heads” – where transportation merges with communications. What is Bryce up to now?

Posted in Life, Social Issues, Society | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

THE MISSOURI COMPROMISE PARALLEL

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 17, 2010

A few months ago, I happened to make a comparison between the period leading up to the American Civil War (1820-1860) and the discourse of today. I wish to take this a bit further so people can better understand the parallel.

Back in the early 1800’s, the country was still divided over the question of slavery, primarily along sectional lines, north versus south. As the young country began to expand in a westerly direction, both sides grew concerned over losing power in Congress through the annexation of new states on either side of the slavery issue. If one side gained more votes than the other, it was conceivable they could implement policies and laws detrimental to the other side. Although there was initially balance between the states, a flash point erupted when the citizens of Missouri applied for statehood as a slave state. This led to an impasse in both houses of Congress as the discourse heated up. The debates were so passionate they began to draw large audiences in the galleries. Both sides were adamant in their position and settlement of the issue seemed impossible.

After several attempts, the Missouri Compromise was finally drafted whereby Missouri would be allowed to join the country as a slave state, and Maine, which had been a part of northeastern Massachusetts, was admitted as a free state, thereby maintaining parity over Congress. Further, an amendment was added whereby slavery would be excluded in all territories and future states north of the parallel 36°30′ north (the southern boundary of Missouri).

The compromise was a clumsy document and only delayed the inevitable dispute over slavery. Former President Thomas Jefferson believed it would eventually lead to the destruction of the Union. He summed up the sentiments of the day in a letter to his friend, John Holmes on April 22, 1820; Jefferson wrote:

“…But this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence, a geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.”

For the next thirty years, both sides carefully watched the balance of power. In 1836 when Michigan was admitted as a free state, Arkansas was admitted as a slave state. The Compromise of 1850 dealt with the admittance of Texas and consideration for states in the southwest, including California.

It wasn’t until the passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854, drafted by Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, that the Missouri Compromise was finally made obsolete. Under the Act, the voters of each state would determine the issue of slavery internally, not by the Congress, thereby negating the intent of the Missouri Compromise. Although the Act was intended to appease both sides, it was ultimately perceived as supporting the slave powers of the South.

The debate over the Act went on for four months and featured the political luminaries of the day, including Douglas, Salmon P. Chase (OH), William Seward (NY), and Charles Sumner (MA). The New York Tribune wrote on March 2nd that, “The unanimous sentiment of the North is indignant resistance,” which sounds remarkably like Republicans in Congress today.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act eventually passed but set the country on a course towards Civil War. In the process, it caused chaos among the political parties which were split up and redefined. For example, it gave rise to the Republican Party in 1856 which primarily consisted of northerners who were antislavery.

PARALLEL

Both disputes, then and now, are cultural in nature. Whereas slavery was the issue driving the disagreements of the early 1800’s, today it is socioeconomics. Both issues were extremely divisive and incongruous to the point of being irreconcilable. Today’s discourse is every bit as bitter and reminiscent of the period preceding the Civil War, and the void between the two sides is just as large and insurmountable. Again, it is all about control over the Congress and which side will force their way of life on the other.

If the Missouri Compromise and Civil War has taught us anything, the only way such sharp disputes can be resolved is through armed conflict. This is not only a scary proposition for the country internally, but it would have far reaching effects on the world at large, as it would finally present the opportunities our enemies have been waiting for in order to dismantle the free world.

I sincerely hope nobody truly wants armed conflict as we should have learned this lesson through our first Civil War, but the divisiveness of the country makes you wonder how we can possibly avoid it. Let us not forget, the period leading up to the Civil War spawned zealots like abolitionist John Brown who advocated and practiced armed insurrection. You have to wonder who will be the zealot of our time.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

COMING IN JULY: “Tin Heads” – where transportation merges with communications. What is Bryce up to now?

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

THE NEED FOR CRITICAL THINKING

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 16, 2010

A few years ago I was managing a “crunch time” project involving a staff of eight programmers. The system design was well documented and very thorough (of course, we used “PRIDE”). Nonetheless, I found it important to start the day with a brief meeting where each person reviewed their progress and what kind of technical problems and interferences they were facing. From this, I developed a punchlist of action items to be resolved, and took the necessary steps to solve them. The meetings started at 8:00am and took no more than 30 minutes. It was brief, to the point and a good way to wake the staff up and put them to work for the day. It also allowed the staff to speak their minds, brainstorm, and share ideas. From this, they developed an esprit de corps and conquered a mammoth project on time. As the manager, I also saw it as a convenient vehicle to release stress and put the programmers in the proper frame of mind.

This story runs contrary to today’s Theory X world of management where the opinions and ideas of subordinates are considered inconsequential. As for me, I saw it as a vital means to get everyone on the same wave length and solicit their support. What I learned from this experience was that if you are going to empower people, you must let them speak.

As an aside, even though this was a “state of the art” project involving new technology, we found there was no technical problem we could not overcome simply by putting the problem on the table and discussing it in a rational manner. Please keep in mind that I hardly consider myself a technical guru and, instead, allowed the staff to think aloud and explore alternatives. But such openness in today’s corporate world is the exception as opposed to the rule. Many managers feel threatened by allowing their subordinates to think and, as such, suppress such discourse. Inevitably, this results in considerable frustration by employees who feel restrained by management.

PURPOSE

Aside from a means to release pressure, open critical thinking in the workplace provides several benefits:

1. Fertility of Mind – Due to the repetition of the workplace, workers often fall victim to complacency. By forcing them to perform mental gymnastics, they must stay sharp and on top of their game. Open discourse actually becomes challenging and results in friendly competitive debate.

2. Commitment – By creating a think tank environment, the employee realizes their voice is heard by management and, consequently, enhances their commitment to the company and the project. It also helps to thwart apathy and promotes participation. As an employee is allowed to speak more, they develop a sense of ownership of a project and a greater pride in workmanship. As such, it has a positive effect on staff morale.

3. Teamwork – Open communications promotes teamwork by forcing people to realize they are working towards common goals and raises awareness of their dependencies on each other.

4. Problem Identification – In terms of problems, nobody likes surprises. The sooner a problem can be identified, the sooner it can be addressed and solved. Establishing a punchlist of problems allows a manager to preemptively strike a problem before it festers and worsens. Get the problems on the table as soon as possible and chart a course of action to solve them.

5. Communications – An open dialog provides a manager with the means to dispel rumors and misconceptions and keep the staff on track. Open discourse also allows the manager to easily spot a disgruntled employee.

Permitting critical thinking in the work place is a wise investment in your staff and provides for their continuing education. However, if you do not care what they think, you won’t be permitting such debate. But then again, the staff will be talking regardless if you grant them permission or not. Then why not channel this discourse and turn something negative into something positive?

IMPLEMENTATION

Establishing the proper forum for the exchange of ideas is important. Although there is a tendency today to implement such a forum through Internet Discussion Groups and Blogs, there is nothing better than face-to-face discussions. And because of the varied egos, interests, knowledge and levels of experience involved, it is necessary to establish certain operating rules regardless of the selected venue. Here are some suggestions:

* Keep the discussions positive and constructive. As Winston Churchill said, “Any idiot can see what’s wrong with something, but can you see what’s right?” Do not open Pandora’s Box by allowing this to turn into a general bitch session. Further, a professional decorum should be observed. Do not allow personalities and politics to creep into the discussion. Members should respect all opinions, regardless who gives them. Because of this…

* The discussion must be moderated by someone who will fairly and honestly control the discourse. The one thing you want to avoid here though is full censorship which tends to alienate people. Be forceful in respecting the rules of discussion, but do not censor a person simply because you do not agree with him.

* Welcome all ideas, regardless if they are unorthodox or a bit avant-garde. Further, all ideas should be permitted without fear of ridicule or retribution. In other words, you do not want to inhibit participation. Even if someone is in the minority, allow them to take an opposing position but insist they adequately defend it (this inevitably results in some of the most stimulating debate of all).

* All persons must be identified, no anonymous feedback (this is particularly needed for blogs and discussion groups). You are looking for the participants to take a responsible role in the discussions.

* What is said here, stays here. This is a think tank for your group only. Their comments may be misunderstood by others. As such, privacy is critical.

Finally, if problems are identified and not addressed with no apparent reason, problems will inevitably ensue. If no action is taken based on the their input, the staff will quickly realize that this is nothing more than a colossal waste of time.

CONCLUSION

I learned early in my business career that you get things done through people; that a single person cannot do everything. As such, it is necessary to respect the human spirit and allow it to flourish. I also learned that we enjoy life through the help and society of others. I have not yet met that person on this earth who knows everything and, as such, it is vital to exchange ideas, form consensus opinion, and evolve. By allowing employees to discuss pertinent issues, we promote communications and teamwork, establish trust, and conquer the pressing problems of the day. But to make this all happen, critical thinking must be channeled in a structured and positive way.

“I have never encountered a technical problem that couldn’t be conquered with a little imagination, some concentrated effort, and a lot of good old-fashioned management.”
– Bryce’s Law

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

COMING IN JULY: “Tin Heads” – where transportation merges with communications. What is Bryce up to now?

Posted in Business, Management | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

HOW EASY IS IT TO BUILD A WEB PAGE?

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 14, 2010

I’m often asked this question by friends and business acquaintances as they know I have been in the systems business for a number of years. My pat answer to them is simply, “It depends.” Some people think their “whiz-kid” son or daughter can bang something out rather quickly, and maybe they can, but will it really do the job for them?

I say, “It depends,” because it is ultimately up to the type of business or organization you have and what you want to communicate. I categorize web pages into two types: Static and Dynamic. Static means it is a simple page where people can look up basic information for reference purposes. Dynamic refers to a web page which provides for more user interaction, such as to pose questions, place orders, participate in surveys, etc.

If you have a simple business organization and all you want to do is list your company’s name and address, then I would say, Yes, little Joey can probably whip something together for you. Static web pages are great for basic information, but because they are not updated too often, they do not encourage return visitors. However, this may not be important if all you are trying to do is take a “Yellow Pages” approach to listing your business. If you need something a little more sophisticated though, No, little Joey probably won’t be able to handle it and you will waste a lot of money getting to where you want to go.

Static web pages can be easily produced using common Word Processing utilities, desktop publishing tools, or manually using some simple HTML tags (Hyper Text Markup Language). Dynamic pages require a little more oomph though, requiring special design tools and programming talent; e.g., Java, JavaScript, PHP, XML, ColdFusion, etc. All of this obviously costs more than what you’re paying little Joey.

I find most companies go into a web design project rather naively. Frankly, I think you should go into it with a more structured approach, such as requirements definition (including a Table of Contents), prototype graphical appearance and navigation, and complete the assignment accordingly. Further, I tell people to think “virtually,” whereas they may have historically felt constrained in publishing sales literature, a web page has no practical limitations. However, I caution them to avoid the “War and Peace” phenomenon which tends to alienate users who, in most situations, want to quickly lookup answers to their questions.

Because of the spin from I.T. vendors, there is also a general perception that web page design is easy. Consequently, companies become impatient for results. Actually, web page design is no different than the design of anything; the greater the complexity, the longer it is going to take, which is why it is not a bad idea to use Project Managers on major web design projects.

So, how easy is it to build a web page? Actually, it is rather simple, but the real question should be, “How easy is it to build an EFFECTIVE web page?” Just about anyone familiar with a computer can produce a web page, but building something that truly works for you requires more skill. True, there are some slick design tools out there, but there is no substitute for experience and polished skills, not to mention some design standards as well.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

COMING IN JULY: “Tin Heads” – where transportation merges with communications. What is Bryce up to now?

Posted in Internet, Web | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

ETHNIC JOKES

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 11, 2010

The American sense of humor has changed radically over the years. We don’t tell many jokes anymore in social or business settings. Instead, jokes have been replaced by Internet videos and cartoons, and somehow I miss the art of storytelling. Once while waiting to change planes at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, I happened to stop for a drink at a small bar near my gate. Standing at the bar was comedian Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester from the old Addams Family TV show) who was also in transit and stopped for a drink. He started telling jokes and in no time at all had everyone in gales of laughter as he told one ribald joke after another.

Over the years, I think I’ve heard just about everything. So much so, when a person tries to tell a joke, I can more often than not guess the punch line. I have heard jokes about sex, politicians, the military, traveling salesmen, prisons, hair lips, animals, blondes, midgets, gays, religion, but the most prevalent jokes have been ethnic in nature.

As I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve noticed everyone has an ethnic group they like to pick on, for example: the Brazilians tell Portuguese jokes (as do the Spanish), the Japanese tell Korean jokes, the Greeks tell Albanian jokes, Canadians tell “Newfie” jokes (people from Newfoundland), South Africans tell “Von der Merven” jokes (Dutch related), Texans tell “Aggie” jokes (Texas A&M University), and it seems Irish and French jokes are universal. When I lived in Chicago, I heard the best “Pollock” jokes, mostly from the Polish themselves. Come to think of it, most of the ethnic groups I’ve met love to tell jokes about their own kind which seems a bit odd.

You don’t hear too many ethnic jokes anymore, probably because it is not considered politically correct. This is sad, as I think we have lost our sense of humor and take ourselves much too seriously. In reality, such jokes haven’t disappeared entirely, they’ve just gone underground and are only told privately to highly select friends and acquaintances.

Ethnic jokes tend to frighten people as they think it represents an unfair stereotype. Maybe, but I can’t remember anyone ever taking an ethnic joke to heart and allowing it to distort their perception of people. It was just situation comedy used for a good laugh. Something we need more of these days.

Now, before you start sending me e-mails saying that I have taken leave of my senses as ethnic jokes are defamatory swipes at people, all I’ve got to say is, “Loosen Up.”

Now that I think about it, I don’t think I have ever heard a Swiss joke. Maybe it’s because the country is neutral, or maybe they are just not funny.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

COMING IN JULY: “Tin Heads” – where transportation merges with communications. What is Bryce up to now?

Posted in humor, Social Issues | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

INDIVIDUALISM VS. TEAMWORK

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 9, 2010

As you travel around corporate America these days, you hear a lot about “teams”; that groups, departments or whole divisions are trying to behave more as a team as opposed to a group of individuals. Its the latest catch phrase du jour. I guess someone finally figured out the power of teamwork. But just how much of this represents sincere efforts? My corporate contacts tell me its mostly facade. They contend they get some nifty new corporate shirts and some great pep talks, but aside from this, little else. As much as corporations tout the need for teamwork, most still encourage rugged individualism.

There is more to creating a team than simply saying you are one. New shirts and axioms are nice, but in order for this to work, people have to think and act as a team. In other words, success hinges on it becoming a natural part of the corporate culture.

CORPORATE CULTURE

Teachers, coaches, and drill instructors have long understood the value of teamwork. The intent is to turn a heterogeneous working environment into a homogeneous environment whereby everyone is working in a concerted effort towards common goals. But do corporate managers truly understand teamwork? Not necessarily. Many still create competitive environments in the hope that the strongest will rise to the surface. Teamwork is more about cooperation than it is about competition.

This brings up an important point: Teamwork is taught. It means developing a disciplined work environment where the participants must conform to a specific set of rules. Inevitably, it means breaking some work habits and creating new ones. This can be painful, yet necessary if you want to achieve the desired results. Basically, you are teaching people how to live and work together as opposed to apart.

In the United States there is more of a natural inclination to teach individualism as opposed to teamwork; perhaps this is because we are a nation based on freedoms. For example, our public school systems have minimal dress and hair codes; each student is allowed to look and dress as they personally see fit, many with some very questionable taste. This is permitted as it is believed the individual must be allowed to freely express him/herself. This may be fine, but it certainly does not promote a spirit of teamwork. Compare it to other countries, such as Japan, where students are required to wear school uniforms and are given group assignments, such as the preparation and cleanup of their daily lunch. In Japan, students are taught the value of cooperation at an early age which has the added benefit of improving their socialization skills.

As mentioned, teamwork requires the establishment of a working environment conducive to teamwork. It doesn’t happen simply by making some platitudinous statements. A manager must do more, much more; some suggestions:

1. First and foremost: Lead. All teams need a leader who can articulate goals and give direction. The team must trust and believe in its leader. Without such confidence, the team will not likely follow the leader, particularly in times of difficulty. The leader should also be wary of leading by democratic rule. Soliciting input is one thing, as is having assistants, but there can only be one ultimate leader to guide the team.

2. Institute uniform operating practices that everyone will be expected to conform to, such as operating hours of work, dress code, office appearance, speech and conduct, etc. Such uniformity stresses the equality of the workers. As another suggestion, downplay job titles and put more emphasis on work assignments instead. Job titles tend to emphasize a person’s stature in a company and can be disruptive in terms of equality.

3. Establish standard practices for executing work assignments, thereby everyone is following the same methods, and using the same tools and techniques in their work effort. This improves communications, provides for the interchangeability of workers, and promotes the development of quality work products.

4. Make sure everyone knows their responsibilities and assignments and understands their importance. Nobody wants to be regarded as the weakest link and, as such, the manager must be able to communicate their importance and carefully balance the workload. Yes, there will be those workers who will undoubtedly excel over others, but teamwork is a group effort. If a weaker worker needs additional training, either give it to him or replace him.

5. Routinely check progress. Whenever applicable, keep statistics on both team and individual performance. However, it is not important to publish such stats. It is important for the leader to know the team’s strengths and weaknesses, but it is nobody else’s business.

6. Be on the lookout for conflicts in working relationships. Some people will simply not get along and it is up to the manager to referee such conflicts. Either have the people work out their differences, keep them apart, or rid yourself of them. You want harmony, not contention, on your team.

7. Allow time for the team to meet and discuss issues as a group. This keeps everyone in tune with common goals, problems, and the team’s general progress. It also allows the team to socialize and form a camaraderie (a bonding of unity).

8. Recognize individual achievement but reward on a team basis as opposed to an individual basis.

CONCLUSION

Are we really trying to promote teamwork or is this nothing more than the latest corporate fad that is being implemented more for public relations than anything else? Let’s hope for the former and not the latter. Teamwork is a powerful concept, particularly when there is anything of substance to be done.

Shrewd managers intuitively understand the need for teamwork. Let me give you an example from the world of entertainment. Jack Benny, the famous comedian of yesteryear had a great appreciation for teamwork. His radio and television shows were consistently at the top of the rating charts for a number of years. When asked what his secret to success was, Benny simply said teamwork. To Jack, it wasn’t important that he personally got the best lines and laughs week after week. In fact, he was often the butt of many of the jokes. Instead, he made sure his cast, guests, and writers all received the accolades they deserved. It was more important to Benny that people said they had tuned into “The Show” as opposed to tuning in to see “Jack Benny.” He was right.

I realize there are instances in business when it becomes necessary to exercise individualism, but these are becoming a rarity. Instead companies can find greater glory as a team as opposed to a group of individuals.

Let me leave you with this quote from……………

“Individual glory is insignificant when compared to achieving victory as a team.”
– Dot Richardson, M.D.
U.S. Olympic Softball Team
Two time Gold Medal Champions

“There is more to building a team than buying new uniforms.”
– Bryce’s Laws

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

COMING IN JULY: “Tin Heads” – What is Bryce up to this time?

Posted in Business, Management | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »