Precarious Turns

It was starting to get dark.  Phantom shapes suddenly materialized ahead of me as the headlights of our van reflected off the road signs.  Warning!  Steep grades and winding road signs started to appear.  We were making our way through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  Large pines lined the horizon with steep cliffs jutting up to my left.  I looked to my right and saw the shoulder of the roadway that had been carved into the side of the mountain plunge into the darkness for what seemed to be thousands of feet.  Brake lights came one.  Fellow travelers, like me were all gripping their steering wheel with the force of ten thousand angels.  I tried to exhale as I cranked the van around the precarious turn.

Behind me I could hear the faint breathing of my girls fast asleep in their seats, little aware of the incredible tension happening in the driver’s seat.  Around this corner, up the mountain, around that bend, down this curve, my eyes were fixed on the dizzying drama playing out before me.  I kept hoping to hear the GPS announce our turnoff that would lead to our rest for the night.  Instead, it just taunted me with “continue on” updates.  But at long last, the glorious words, “exit here” and “you have arrived” gave me relief.  Every muscle in my body was aching.  I knew I was tense, but I had no idea how bad it was until I tried to step out of the van.  I almost collapsed as my back reminded me that I was decades north of my youthful vigor.  But thankfully, with some careful plodding, I made it to my long-awaited rest.

Have you ever experienced anything like that?  In those moments the task at hand is so critical that you become physically tense, focused and locked.  Every muscle in your body seems to want to help, but of course, it only leaves you sore and fatigued.  The pandemic has been a long and winding road.  About the time we hit a clearing, a major event occurs, a new strain, a setback or new mandates.  Then we hit steep grades, big changes in our companies, inconceivable actions in our governments, and even chilling specters of global war.  Are you tense yet?  I know I am.  For the past several weeks I have noticed the physical exhaustion and sore muscles that would usually only accompany a hair-raising journey across the Rockies, but this time it is from the front row driver seat of my office.  I’m not alone.  I have heard from others of you that are experiencing the same thing. 

These are difficult times to navigate.  Can I suggest a few things?  The road is treacherous and winding right now.  As you turn through those corners, make sure you keep your lights on.  Hang on to your faith, your principles, your hope, your integrity and your character.  Those radiate out from you and illuminate the dark path ahead.   They also encourage those who are going along with you on this journey.   Speaking of which, you are not alone.  We are all going with you through this challenging patch together.  Hit the brakes.  Breathe.  The signs along the road say, “slow down”.  Give yourself time to process and recover from the last bend. 

Yes, there will be more highway to travel before our exit, but we can do this.  Relax.  Take another breath, roll down the window and let the anxiety float away.  Take one mile at a time.  Enjoy the scenery.  Appreciate those precious breaths behind you and enjoy the now.  Our destination is just ahead and is full of hope and possibility… and with any luck, a good bed. 

The Power of Relational Leadership

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill

Commonwealth Dignitaries were in the room from all over the world. Guests from the Royal Family, members of visiting delegations, politicians and notable figures from across the globe had arrived to the extravagant dinner. It was set in the usual state dinner ceremony with lavish place settings and silver dishes and cutlery.  The evening was winding down.  Winston Churchill spotted a distinguish guest across the room stealthily stealing a silver salt shaker from the table.  He had slipped it into his pocket.  Winston promptly took the matching pepper shaker and slipped it into his own pocket.  He approached the gentleman and pulled out the pepper shaker and put it on the table.  In a sheepish way he whispered to the guest, “I think they’ve seen us. Perhaps we had better put them back.”  The dignitary flashed an embarrassed smile and did the same.

What could have escalated into an international incident was gracefully handled by the extraordinary statesman.  Winston knew that leadership wasn’t just about giving orders and enforcing rules.  True leadership demands connection and shared experiences.  He knew the best way to teach and persuade was from the shared trench, not the ivory tower.  In our increasingly polarized world, it is easy to sit at our place settings, casting judgements and issuing decrees.  You may be right, but how will it land?  Humans have difficulty hearing even good moral principles and science when they can’t relate to the messenger.  There is an old adage, “speak the truth in love.”  We fail to listen to each other because we fail to love each other.  Winston’s act of love had a cascading effect.  It reversed a crime, provided a dignified recovery for the guest and taught us all an important lesson in leadership.

I don’t know about you, but some people frustrate me.  It seems I try my best to convince them but they don’t seem to listen.  How can they ignore the facts?  Data doesn’t seem to matter to them.  They don’t respond.  I have come to realize that my impatience and unloving approach is not productive or effective.  I need to change.

As Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  Are you trying to persuade or convince someone?  Have you cast aside friends, family or co-workers because they seem unreasonable or unreachable?  As humans, we tend to dismiss anything that doesn’t come from our tribe.  That further polarizes all of us, our mental models and the ability to relate and work with each other. How do we overcome that?  Like Winston’s example, we have to go to where the others are, listen to them, learn from them and relate to them. 

This week, think about the opportunities you have to make an impact on others.  In what ways can you better connect with others, learning from them and teaching?  We are better together than apart.  Let’s do what we can to speak truth in love.  Strive to know other viewpoints, seek to understand and grow together in a positive way.

Channel of Peace

“Make me a channel of your peace… Where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness joy.” – St. Francis of Assisi 

“Your screen time was up 39% last week.” Just 39%?  What a week!  The events in the United States made me feel overwhelmed and numb. Like many of you, I became fixated on the news.  How will we survive and overcome this?  I remember feeling the same way after 9/11, but for different reasons.  The external threat has become internal. The insurrection is testing our core, our democracy and our ability to peaceably pursue happiness together.  The backdrop of all of that is the devastating impact of the pandemic, now claiming more lives per day than all of the souls lost on 9/11.  I need a hug, how about you?

I recognize that many of you, like me, are impacted by the events over the past week and will most likely continue into the weeks to come.  Make sure you are taking care of yourself, your loved ones and each other.  I need to constantly remind myself of that.  We are all being affected by this new stress and grief.  It can have a negative impact on how we think, work and relate to others.  We need to give ourselves time to decompress and heal.  “Breathe.”  Soak in the positive goodness as well as the negative news.

In the darkest hour, light becomes the brightest.  Ask yourself what you can do today to sow some light.  Embrace extra consideration, empathy, truth and kindness.  And that for yourself and for others.  We will get through this.  

Our work matters.  YOUR work matters.  Let’s do our best to keep bringing unity, peace and happiness to our human family that so desperately needs it.  

To everything there is a season…


“To everything there is a season…  a time to plant and a time to reap… a time to weep and a time to laugh… a time to mourn and a time to dance.” – Ecclesiastes 3

A time to reap…

“It’s cold outside!” I received that text at 4am this morning when one of my IoT devices detected temperatures in our backyard dropping into the frost zone.  It seemed like a great idea when I built the device, but at 4am, it wasn’t so hilarious.  We did manage to harvest the last tomatoes and peppers from our garden before the cold hit.  Despite the cold, we did enjoy the weather here in Santa Clarita this weekend.  Sunny rain showers with gusty winds visited our neighborhood. The fires are out and the air is clear. We even had a few doses of hail cover our yard like a sparkling winter wonderland.  And just like that, the leaves on the trees in our neighborhood began to change.

A time to laugh…

I know it is only November, but with the nice weather and all that is going on, Saturday felt like Christmas.  I hung the lights and lit a fire in the fireplace.  There was even a rainbow or two that streaked across the sky as if to welcome the new season and bid farewell to a long and emotionally draining week.  Regardless of where you are along the US political spectrum, there was news made and records broken.  Related to that, I fully appreciate the emotion, the exhilaration and the disappointment that some may be feeling right now.  We should recognize that and be kind to one another.

A time to dance…

In other news, Pfizer and Biotech are reporting positive results from their COVID-19 vaccine trials.  That’s encouraging news!  Most of us have family or friends personally impacted by the virus.  We still have a long road back to pre-pandemic “normal” but any progress is cause for celebration.  Speaking of celebrating, I often talk about the need to recognize our accomplishments and wins as a team.  I love seeing the updates and one-off notes that my team sends me so I can celebrate with them.  If you are not doing that, you should!  Reflecting back on this year, it is amazing to see how much we have accomplished despite the challenges the pandemic threw our way.  I am incredibly grateful for my team and the hard work we continue to do to help each other and our company weather this difficult time.

A time to heal…

Even with the good news, we are still facing challenging times.  This is a good time to remember to breathe (and not just because your Apple Watch tells you to).  Take a moment today and let your mind and body heal.  Let go of the tensions that the pandemic, remote work and life pressures bring your way.  Breathe.  Rest.  Renew.  A new season is here… drink it all in and enjoy!

China, Inc.

With more than a hundred cities with over a million people (compared to 9 in America), China’s potent workforce is poised to send shock waves of change throughout the global economy.  In his book, China, Inc.: How the Rise of the Next Superpower Affects America and the World, Ted C. Fishman provides details about this growing superpower and the historical narrative that has launched China into the forefront as a global economic powerhouse. 

The people of China are strong, highly motivated and extremely agile.  This work ethic coupled with an entrepreneurial rise is creating an emerging market of consumers as well as producers.  If the seeds of liberty, determinism and success continue to grow, China could easily become the largest economic superpower on the planet.  While this economic capitalism seems to run against the rules of communism, the Chinese have adopted a brand of socialism that, in their own words, contains “Chinese characteristics.”  This phrase has become the permissive clause within the Chinese government and the society in general.

As Ted Fishman points out in this book, China is acquiring the most advanced technologies on the planet.  These gains are not coming by way of vast research and development budgets, innovative scientist or even the brute force of hard work.  No, these advances are being imported as companies all over the world are relocating their manufacturing floors to China soil.  By doing so, these companies are able to reduce their production expenses and pass this on to the consumer at a lower cost, often called “The China Price”.  However, as these firms make agreements with local private or state run industries, the technology involved in the product, the manufacturing, or the quality processes are being distributed and copied by other Chinese companies.  Naturally, these companies have lower overhead than their foreign benefactor and are therefore able to produce the same product and quality at an even greater reduced price.  Companies like General Motors or Boeing will find their latest model on China’s roads or airways at a lower cost and with a different brand name.

The concept of intellectual property has driven the success of western capitalism and produced innovative phenomenon and economic success.  While not completely ignored by the Chinese government, it is clear that there is very little interest or ability to police such rights within China.  As an example, Microsoft has found that in China, 9 out of 10 copies of their software products are installed illegally.  Pirated software, music and movies are available often within hours of being released.  While the government does make some attempts at controlling this underground industry, the truth is that the Chinese have very little moral or ethical motivation to maintain boundaries to protect copyrights, patents or other intellectual property rights.  This seems to be a product of the environment and historical mindset devoid of familiar western political and Judeo-Christian values.  Unfortunately, this manifests itself in the form of innovative and creative anemia.  Students, scientist or even entrepreneurs are not compelled to invent new products, concepts or procedures since whatever they create would be copied and produced without providing them any credit or profit.  If there is no benefit in expending mental or physical energies, why do it?  I believe that unless this changes, this will eventually be a glass ceiling for the Chinese economy.

Can we have open trade with China and therefore increase our global competitive advantage?   If the playing field was level, I believe that the world would benefit by open trade with all countries.  However, the field is not level.  The workforce in China is willing to work in conditions that are centuries old, dangerous, and unhealthy.  Their factories are not subject to regulation that helps protect the customer, employee or environment. It is clear that these operations cannot continue and will in fact be required to address conditions and behavior that destroys people and the planet, similar to what occurred during the American industrial revolution.  Unfortunately, until this occurs, industrialized countries that have already addressed this stewardship will find competition with China to be an extreme challenge.

China would not continue to grow at its amazing rate without foreign appetite for its exports, especially American consumers.  To help with this, the Chinese government keeps its currency, the Yuan, pegged to the US dollar so that it continues to be at a lower price.  This means that Chinese consumers are dealt a currency that could otherwise buy more for them in the global market.  Fishman says, “…the people of China, who earn on average just one-fortieth what Americans do, are indirectly subsidizing the insatiable shopping of Americans, who acquire ever more goods at the same time that Chinese consumers are hampered from buying goods from abroad. / The obverse of this peculiar relationship is that China lends America all the money it needs to spend itself silly.” (p 264)

According to Fishman, China owned a $480 billion stake in the U.S. securities market in 2004 (of the $2.2 trillion owed to foreigners).  This was at a time when the American government’s debt was growing at a rate of $1.7 billion a day (reaching a total of $7.5 trillion).  American have used the record low interest rates to spend more rather than refinance and reduce debt burdens.  The US government was doing the same.  Fishman says,

Rather than use the period of low interest rates to pay off national debt and keep annual budgets in balance, as the Clinton administration did, the Bush administration set record budgets, slashed taxes, and ran up record budget deficits so big that paying off the national debt may never be possible.  The people of China are financing that profligacy. (p 265)

China has definitely entered the world stage as a economic powerhouse and will continue to be a major player in the global dynamics that politicians, businesses and workers will continue to face.

Google Preview of China, Inc.:,M1

NPR Interview with Ted Fishman: