Friday, December 08, 2006

Everything Watched

Everything Watched Improves

By John Taylor; 2006 December 08

“The evil do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely.” (Prov 28:5, NRSV)

Every once in a while I take a stab at setting up a website and internet address where these Badi' essays could have a permanent home. But I get distracted. I go at it great guns for a while and then something always happens and I lose interest. Finally, I end up going back to doing things the way I have always done them in the past. Last week I was investigating getting a website and domain name at the biggest American internet provider, Go Daddy Dot Com, but that site had a link to the blog of the company's founder, one Bob Parsons. I hit his blog hotspot and right away found an essay that he proudly declared is the most popular entry that had had ever written for his blog, called, "Everything that is watched improves." I include the full text at the end of this mailout.

Clearly, this Parsons fellow has one up on me. I have absolutely no idea which is my most or least popular essay. No doubt that is because I do not obsessively measure everything the way he does. Maybe if I did, I would be as successful as he is, or even as his hero JD Rockefeller was. Or at least, that is what capitalist ideology would have me hope for, however vain such dreams of wealth may be. But most to the point, maybe if I did take a tape measure to what is most important my ideas would be better formed and ready to implement. What Parsons is doing as the CEO of a large corporation is the very thing that every Baha'i is supposed to do morn and eve, take himself or herself into account. And it is what Socrates advocated and every philosopher should do, that is, live an examined life.

An appreciation of the centrality of vision is at the heart of both science and philosophy. It has been such from the very beginning. Bacon wrote in his Novum Organum,

"Man, who is the servant and interpreter of nature, can act and understand no further than he has observed, either in operation or in contemplation, of the method and order of nature."

This was taken up by John Lock in his "Essay Concerning Human Understanding," with his theory that the mind starts off as a Tabula Rasa. This theory is confirmed by the latest sleep research which is finding that the reason we all have to sleep in order to live is so that the brain can forget. Our mind has to reboot when we sleep in order to wipe its blackboard clean and start out with new visions, new impressions the next day.

Consider the definition of justice. Plato pictured it as the sort of meter of all virtues that measures our overall contribution to the world. Justice is the dashboard of the soul. Baha'u'llah defines justice very similarly; the "essence" of all He has revealed for us, He states, is the ability to "discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye. (Tablets, 157) It is a dynamic display that may be invisible to our outer eyes but is clear to the soul, however much we may wish we ignore it; to turn away and not consult it regularly is to let our happiness drift into parlous, rock-strewn waters.

Or consider another powerful statement of Baha'u'llah in the first Taraz. He says that He hopes that the "power of perception" will be enhanced in order that most people will find the purpose for which they were created. He goes on to say that,

"In this Day whatsoever serveth to reduce blindness and to increase vision is worthy of consideration. This vision acteth as the agent and guide for true knowledge. Indeed in the estimation of men of wisdom keenness of understanding is due to keenness of vision." (Tablets, 35)

I have been unable to get away from this theme since I first came across Parson's essay. Philosophically, what he does in leading businesses is so essential to everything!

It may be more difficult to put a tape measure to what Baha'is and philosophers are trying to improve than it is for a business leader, but try we must. There is no reason that we cannot measure virtues in the same manner that a company measures productivity, goodwill or depreciation. I studied business in High School and I remember puzzling over abstract concepts like that. Give me metaphysics or epistemology any day! To me accounting factors like goodwill and depreciation are strange, incomprehensible abstractions, yet they are routinely measured and factored into hard-nosed accountants' spreadsheets. They affect the bottom line just as much as concrete, measurable factors like wages and profits do. If that is so, why cannot we make up charts and displays to measure and illustrate loving-kindness, or humility, or any other divine perfection? This is why I repeat so often that the Einstein of the 21st Century will not be a physicist, he will be an accountant.

Or maybe an illustrator. That is the ticket. A cartographer is the genius we need, the inventor who comes up with a three-dimensional dashboard output display of every measurable factor in our lives and correlates them visually with whatever divine virtues we have set as our goal. Such a dashboard, connected dynamically to the net, would be able to illustrate measures that would be inconceivable without it. For example, one internet consulting company makes a living by going out and canvassing people to find out their real, candid and anonymous opinions about the impressions a client is making on those around him. This allows an executive to really "see himself as others see him." Imagine if we all had such an automated dial like that on our desktops and dashboards! If my virtue for the day was abstinence, for example, the peer feedback meter might glow red, contradicting my subjective opinion that a jelly donut with every meal falls within the bounds of a spare diet.

It is funny how true it is, and tragic too, that everything depends on our vision, on what we pay attention to and the clarity and purity of the background into which it is placed. Everything, including our collective survival. Look at Al Gore's career, trying to get his fellow senators to see the increasing signs that the planet is being choked to death, then when his bid for president fails going around giving a slideshow, persistently trying to give a vision of where nature is going to the entire world. I was so enthusiastic about the film, An Inconvenient Truth, and showed it so often, that it seems that my seven-year-old son Thomas got the wrong idea about global warming. He thought it might never snow again. When the snow fell a few days ago and actually stayed on the ground, he rushed out of bed first thing and made a snowman. He was almost more ecstatic about the arrival of snow than the coming of Santa. I was very puzzled about why there was all this enthusiasm. He is seven years old, this is not the first time he has seen snow. Then, yesterday Marie explained to someone else his unstated fear that it might never snow again. Blame it on me, and the vision of Al Gore.

Everything that is watched improves.
by Bob Parsons
reposted Monday, November 13, 2006

The secret John D. Rockefeller used to build Standard Oil. Its simple. Putting it to work in your business. Here is one of the most popular articles that has ever appeared on this blog. Given the timeless value of Mr. Rockefeller’s secret and the number of businesses I encounter that could benefit from putting it to work, I thought it might be worthwhile to re-publish it again.

Everything that is watched improves.

One thing I learned early in my business career is that anything of significance that is measured and watched, improves.

John D. Rockefeller knew the importance of business intelligence.

Back before I started Parsons Technology I became impressed with something I read about John D. Rockefeller. In fact, I still think about it and use it to this very day. I learned that Mr. Rockefeller was one of the few people in his industry (perhaps the only one) who knew exactly how much it cost to extract, refine and deliver a barrel of oil. In fact, he was entirely aware of all his costs. Knowing this information (and acting on it) gave him a huge competitive advantage. He knew how much he could price a barrel of oil for and still turn a profit. He was always keenly aware of each area of revenue, cost and market share, and he worked on improving in every area. As a result, he did cost saving things like manufacture his own oil barrels, have his own cartage company, and on and on.

He eventually managed his way to where he could sell a barrel of oil, with impeccable customer service, and turn a profit at a price less than what it cost his competitors to deliver the very same product. By paying close attention to the things that mattered, Mr. Rockefeller made his Standard Oil Company so successful that he became the wealthiest man in the world!

I measured everything significant at Parsons Technology.

So when I started Parsons Technology, I began the habit of measuring everything that I felt was significant on a daily basis. I did this with unit sales cross referenced by the print advertising I purchased and direct mailings that I did throughout the month.

I worked to sharpen profits every day.

When I sold Parsons Technology, the company was snail mailing anywhere from 6 to 8 million offers each and every month. Because our monthly investment in printing, postage, and fulfillment systems was huge, it became imperative that we knew where we stood at all times. We developed a system that allowed us to project the success (or failure) with reasonable certainty of any mailing, after receiving just a few days of results. If the mailings appeared to be successful we planned more of them, and if the opposite was the case, we immediately cancelled anything similar we had in the works. This allowed us to sharpen our profitability each and every day. Also because we watched and constantly worked on improving each aspect of the cost of doing direct mail, our costs were just a fraction (often less than 50%) of what it costs our competitors to do the very same thing.

While our direct mail and advertising tracking systems at Parsons Technology became very sophisticated, they were very similar to the systems I developed and used much earlier when it was just my then wife and I trying to make the company succeed.

My staff and I try to watch everything important at Go Daddy.

I use the measure and watch everything of significance rule at The Go Daddy Group. We prepare a detailed daily profit and loss snapshot, of the prior day's business, for each of our operating companies and for each of our significant products. We make major business decisions daily and do so as soon as the information appears (which may be only a few hours old) to warrant key decisions. To quote an overused cliche, We are able to turn on a dime.

Real-time information about your business is critical.

Real-time information that actually gets used is particularly helpful when launching a new product. Its extremely handy for finding the right advertising and positioning that maximizes any new products sales. But the benefits do not stop there. Current information can also provide an incredibly effective early warning system that lets you know if there is a problem that needs immediate attention.

Traditional financial reporting does not cut it.

Traditional financial reporting is done monthly. In many businesses that is when you will see the only financial statements showing how the company performed. Often these monthly financials are produced by the accounting department sometimes a few days after the end of the month, and oftentimes much, much later. By the time the people in charge get their hands on this information and are able to digest it, small problems have become large problems, and many an opportunity is long gone.

You need to know how you are doing on a daily basis.

I think business, particularly in today's age of the internet, needs to be managed on a daily basis. On an overall basis, knowing how each key part of my business did the prior day tells me where I should focus my time. I also use other statistics which I get real-time to pinpoint opportunities and problems.

Old news has little value.

As you might already guess, one of the big points I am trying to make here is that for business information to have any real value, it has to be current, and ideally real-time. Beyond that, someone needs to be paying attention to it, thinking about it, and making an effort to improve upon it.

You can start building your business intelligence systems in small steps.

There used to be a time, before the computers and the problem solving software we use (like spreadsheets, databases, etc.) today, when knowing how your business stood on a daily basis was quite a challenge (of course that did not get in the way of John D. Rockefeller). With the tools we have today, there is no reason why every company (should) not have this type of information. If you do not have daily performance information at your company, you cannot make it appear all at once. What you can do is to implement your information systems in small steps and improve them daily. Start with the stuff that really counts, and then as the ideas flow (and flow they will) build upon your systems. Before you know it, you will be in control like never before and you will marvel at your systems. The point is to get started. That is how its always worked for me.

My rule even helps me stay in shape.

Measuring everything does not just help with business systems. I also use this rule to help keep me in reasonable shape. I do not track much but I track enough to keep me working out and building physical strength. Every time I work out, I keep track of the day, how many minutes of cardio exercise I have done and how many calories I think I have burned. I also track how many push-ups I do. Just seeing this information (I keep it on a spreadsheet on my laptop) lets me know if I have been lagging, and when I notice that I have been falling behind, I do something about it. This simple little system works well for me. In fact, I can tell you how often I have worked out every week for the past three years.

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