Free at last

On Tuesday, I will be 95-98% immune to Corona.

However, were I a better listener, I would not believe this to be the case. My friends have warned me not to take down my guard “because we can never be sure if  this vaccine works.” And it does not matter if I am watching France 24, BBC, Israel TV 11 or Germany’s English language broadcasts, there is always someone warning me that the new mutations may slip by the new vaccine. 

If you ask me, there is a reason for concern, but not about corona. The concern is about the lingering fear that still hangs over our heads albeit the reason for this fear is soon to be gone. The thing we need to fear most is fear itself, and the whole system that has been built up to feed our fear, enhance it and at times cripple our judgement.

Eisenhower was the first to warn us of the military/industrial complex, whose overlapping interests are continuing the conflicts needed to ensure power and profitability.

Once enough people get the vaccine which will probably happen by the summer, the plague will be over.  However, there are interest groups that will try to convince us that “extreme vigilance should last for another few years” or that the “English or Brazilian or South African mutation” will penetrate the layer of protection provided by the vaccine.

This is not to say that we may be unlucky. At age 55, I had flown to Asia, Australia and the US 40 times in one year and  I caught a  very bad case of  pneumonia. I recovered, got a pneumonia shot, yet once again caught pneumonia. The doctor said, “Shevat, it happens. Rare but it happens. Get on with life”.

I have recently read about how 1945 was such a wretched year.  Rebuilding was far more daunting than war. The war was over, the maimed returned home, no one had a pot to piss in, there were no jobs and the hype was gone.

The real issue on the table now is picking up the pieces, making sense of what has happened, and mitigating the fear that has taken over our decimated lives.

Here is how I am going to start. On Tuesday, I am going to hug my daughter and grandchildren for the first time in 10 months.  And plan a few trips to Vienna, Florence, Jordan and the UAR. That’s just the beginning.

Free at last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why are Israelis so willing to vaccinate-a glimpse into Israeli culture

More than two million Israelis have been vaccinated; by March the economy will fully reopen, with nearly universal vaccination for populations-in-danger, and anyone else who wants to put an end to the hellish existence of the past year.

In this post,  I will underline the cultural underpinnings which explain the willingness of our population to roll up their sleeve and take the jab. True, the government, personal connections, our superb public health system did procure and do provide logistic support for this endeavour, but that alone does not explain the willingness of the population to get jabbed. I trust that this short post add another layer of explanation

  1. Israelis are risk tolerant.  It starts with our history. The ingathering of the exiles from the Diaspora into Turkish and then British-mandated Palestine, into what is now the State of Israel, was always a high risk endeavour (which most Jews opposed until the Holocaust).  Against all odds, from the late 1800s until today, almost every single achievement has been achieved by risk taking. Many risks paid off; many others fail. But bottom line, we owe our existence to our risk tolerance.
  2. Israelis have a proclivity for action. Israel was a pioneer society, with something of a wild mid-west mentality. There still remains  an anti-intellectual streak which values doing over thinking. In Chinese, there is an expression “should I push at the door or should I knock at the door?”, which is used to describe dithering and dawdling. We do not have that in our culture-we do. Often with poor results, but usually with huge success.
  3. Fast and dirty. We bypass process, then mop up. Process takes the back seat to speed. Speed is strategy. Software is released quickly, then we clean up, We build apartments, then roads. We take the vaccine, and mitigate the fear of side-effects.
  4. Life is hard, and then you die, so cheer up. Life here means inevitable hardship-wars, terrorist attacks, threats, endless security checks when we travel, high taxes, shitty government and a religious minority trying to shove religious observance  up our asses. So cheer up and enjoy life while you can. Israel is a place with lots of fun and action. We do anything we can do to enjoy life. Drink, party, liberal sexual mores, great comedy, lively bohemian scene, great food, music and innovation. Get vaccinated, then be merry… until shit hits the fan, which it inevitably will.

Hope that sheds light on what’s happening. And on Jan 19th, I get the second vaccine.

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Letter from Tel Aviv-Saturday Morning Rantings during 3rd Shutdown

On January 19th, I get my second Corona vaccine; two weeks later I am out of the woods. The phenomenal success of mass vaccination has made me proud again of how some things are done in this country.

I add to this list the Mossad, the high-tech sector, the resilience of the people to maintain a good life under impossible conditions, and that pretty much exhausts my patriotism.

The country is now in its third lockdown, and enforcement is feeble, and that is an understatement. On my daily 9 km walk, I tell the first 20 or so people to put on their mask, and then desist because at 71, I realize I will not change the circumstances surrounding me. Which is the very same reason that in our upcoming election, I do not plan to vote either.

Am I withdrawing from society? Hardly-I just cannot find anyone who represents my views: hawkish on defense, social justice, anti-settlement expansion, anti annexation, anti Palestinian state at this point in  time, and totally secular. Each and every party in some way deviates from what I believe it, generally by caving into the religious rhetoric, kissing some senile rabbi’s ass (ring to be exact), or too much flag waving.

Zionism, which simply means support the existence  of a  nation state for the Jews , was basically a rejection of the Jewish way of life in exile by negating the predominance of faith as a core pillar of Jewish existence. The present political landscape in Israel is anti-Zionist because it force feeds faith and tradition into what was a rebellious, revolutionary movement. That is the only reason I will abstain- and no other. And I do hope that my family members who have lived in Palestine since Turkish rule from 1917 and are buried a few kilometers from my home, would support me. I know they would.

Trump has been banished by Twitter. Good news. There are polluted rivers that need to be cleaned, polluted air that needs to be treated and polluted ways of communication that transmit poison which need to be policed. What about freedom of speech? There is a time and a place for everything. A time to free up and a time to repress. And yes, Marcuse had and has an effect on me.

Those who follow my blogs know that I am a history buff. So I was thinking about how Trump will be remembered. My guess is that his foreign policy achievements will get him high marks a hundred or so years from now, and everything else will severely “drag down” his average making him a less than average but certainly not the worst US president. He will join Kennedy, Truman, Nixon and Bush (dad)  as presidents whose ratings change drastically as decades go by. Kennedy’s do-nothing for civil rights; Truman’s decisiveness in Berlin and Korea; Nixon’s China policy and Papa Bush’s sanity and pragmatism have all become more salient as years go by.

To wrap up my ranting, I think that I have been lucky enough to witness several earth shattering events in my lifetime: the polio vaccine, the Cuban missile crisis where we learned to dive under our desks,  the six-day war, 9/11; the fall of the USSR, the assassination of Kennedy and Rabin, the irrelevance of truth and factuality ,  and now, the beginning of the end of the corona virus by dint of scientific excellence.

These are the best of times, and the worst of times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A letter from Tel Aviv-the end of the plague is in site

Shutdown number three starts on Sunday. Luckily nothing in Israel is as it seems, so little enforcement is expected. The 1000 meter parameter in which one is allowed to wander is not enforced; the police  blockades leave one lane open yet the cops are busy texting in their patrol cars.

Stores are closed, except those that are open. True, it is hard to procure service of any kind, but that has always been the case. Just last week, a technician showed up two weeks after I bought a new washing machine to install it, since I cannot even unscrew a light bulb.

On December 29th, I will get my first corona shot at the Shuali Infirmary, which is situated on land which used to belong to my family, procured from the Turks in early 1917. Right near that clinic, there is a street named after our family. Uncle Jack (my grandfather’s brother) and Auntie Ida (my grandfather’s sister) are heroes of mine. Uncle Jack once went to the province of Syria to buy tobacco seeds in the 1920’s. Auntie Ida spent a lot of time caring for Jewish and Arab orphans in Jerusalem before she married and became a farmer’s wife and mother. Oh yes, and she wrote for the Palestine Post.

Rarely have I been as excited as I am to get vaccinated. All my life, but especially since my wife died, I have suffered from hypochondria, so I always take all my shots right on day one. Nevertheless, it is with great trepidation that I roll up my sleeve and I  always look away. This time, I plan to look at the needle to watch the process, and perhaps yell out, hallelujah bother.

Three weeks after my first vaccination comes the second, and then I am out of the woods. But I’m not going back to the status quo ante. For one, I have stopped watching the news. I stopped cold turkey one month ago; I had no withdrawal symptoms, just relief. I stopped not because of the news, but because of the quality of journalism. I have also decided not to vote again in any election and since I have never voted for a candidate who has been it elected, it’ll be no big loss.

Have I  retired from life and am I slip-sliding away? Hardly. I have a very active professional practice, my two blogs have huge readership, I read all the time, and I hereby declare that I addicted to several Netflix series, including Better Call Saul, Casa de Papel and historical documentaries.

The various shut downs have taught me to enjoy “emptiness” and quiet, to revel in doing nothing from time to time, to rejoice at the lack of pressure in my life, and to cultivate friendships with people all over the world based on preference and not necessarily  geographical propinquity. This is a huge gift.

I miss my grandchildren something awful, but soon this longing  will be over;  when I get my 2nd shot and restrictions are eased , I will wing it to Palo Alto as well as drive over to my daughter (who lives close by)  to sit in her living room, not on the porch as if in in a leper colony.

For me, this plague has brought pain and perspective, in equal measure. The end is near.

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After an acquisition, the organization caste system changes

An acquisition is not a tea party, especially if you happen to be on the acquired side. Beside the very few people who get a hefty payment for selling off the firm, the acquired team’s patricians  are often stripped of their status formally and informally, visibly and invisibly, physically and emotionally.

Patricians  of the acquired team have new masters, and these masters are not just the people in parallel positions of the dominant  company.

An acquired CFO (who is probably demoted to Business Unit Financial Officer)  does not only have to deal with his new boss, but also with the mindset of every finance employee who claims that “we bought you”, so do it our way. 

An acquired HR manager will see access to key figures blocked off; programs from the old company will be labelled legacy, and then killed off. The verbiage and lingo, titles and perk-management will be realigned with the ways of the new ruling caste.

Engineering management will force-feed new procedures and tools, hindering and crippling development efforts of the acquired company, even if the acquired company was purchased for its innovation.

Changes in the IT system will make life a nightmare for the acquired company, making it very hard to do the simplest things for months after months. 

In short the dominant caste of the acquired company is decimated, although there may be an OD violinist  playing a song in the background about “Merging Two Cultures into One”.

However, it does happen that people in the acquired company get enhanced status, far more than they had in the legacy company. For example-

If the acquiring company is Chinese or Israeli, Mandarin or Hebrew speakers in the legacy company will have more importance than it in the past.

If someone was extra cooperative in the due diligence process and spilled the beans about the weaknesses of the acquired company, these “turncoats”, so to speak, may be compensated with enhanced status.

And of course, key account managers of the acquired company get a “pass” into the new ruling class by dint of the relationships that they hold with legacy clients.

At the society level, caste dies very hard, if at all, in processes that last centuries. In organizations, death by caste reassignment happens quickly and thus, allows us to observe changes in the caste system at a galloping pace. Is all the above inevitable? I would say that the process is Darwinian, and the human effort can mitigate the pain by proper risk mitigation planning during the post merger integration phase, which takes up to six years.

 

 

 

 

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Working from home will end with the corona vaccine

Once the corona virus is eradicated, which will happen within less than a year from now,  people will return to work at their offices, perhaps working from home one day a week at the most.

Working from home allows less control of management over employees, or perhaps less perception of control. The need of  management to perceive  that they are in control will be a major factors in driving people back to work.

Creative and informal dialogue cannot thrive when people are working from home. With the informal chit chat and face to face interaction, innovation is starved of its oxygen and withers. That too will drive people back to work from the office.

Interpersonal interaction within homes has taken a huge blow as people under the same roof are under each other’s’ skin, inflicting huge emotional damage on the quality of life.  Friendships, marriages, parents, whatever: the pressure cooker in which we have all been boiling during 2020 will burst open at the first opportunity as humanity seeks to flee from the cage we all have been sharing.

The market place invests huge bucks which will get us back at work-with ads for cars and the need to dress fashionably being the major factors which will pry people out of their home.

Levi Eshkol, one of Israel’s wiser prime ministers, warned of making a tragedy into an ideology. Working from home is ok from time to time. But it is an emotional tragedy. And on the very day when our arms are aching from the corona vaccine, we’ll all be scurrying back at work.

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Ten Very Hard Questions and Suggested Answers: Guideline for an OD Consultant at Initial Stages of Contracting

There are no “pat” answers to hard questions that OD consultants are asked, especially at the initial stages of contact with a client. But I have tried to share the generic answers I have used over the years.

1 Client: Do you work for a success fee?

Consultant: If you promise to fully implement all suggestions and recommendations that I make, then yes.

 

2 Client: Why is your hourly fee so high?

Consultant: Because when you hire a highly skilled consultant, you will need to pay for far fewer hours.

 

3 Client: How can success be measured?

Answer: It cannot. If after a few months, you feel that change is starting to happen, it’s going well. If not, fire me. Btw, initially things may get worse; that’s a good sign.

 

4 Client: Can you kindly send me a proposal with the goals of the process, definition of the stages, and expected take-aways.

Answer: Not really. It’s guess work. I can write something for you, but it’s just a stab in the dark. The goals could remain constant, but on the other hand, they could be in a constant state of flux.

 

5 Client: Why is your report so short?

Answer: Because I invested a lot time in writing it.

 

6 Client: What is your personal experience in writing software/civil engineering/machining/refinery/fast food?

Answer: I have spent my whole professional career learning.

 

7 Client: Have you ever failed in a project?

Answer: Of course I have. More than once. And whoever you hire, I suggest that you be very wary of someone who has never failed.

 

8 Client: Can we get a reduced rate on volume?

Answer: The more I work for you, the more dependent I become on one source of revenue. I am not interested in having my revenue  stream depend on one major client, and you certainly do not want a consultant who is dependent on you. 

 

9 Client: Can you start your work with middle management?

Answer: Absolutely not. There are problems which manifest themselves at middle management but these problems are very often if not always symptoms of deeper problems.

 

10 Client: What is your approach to unions?

Answer: I respect unions; they take care of employees just like management takes care of themselves and stakeholders. They mistrust OD consultants and this is natural, because often the type of dialogue OD promotes is counter to their interests. However, I always tell union guys that I will never ever step into their sphere-and I keep my word.

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Phantom and referred pain in organizations

Until this very day, with over 45 years of experience, whenever I have even a challenging meeting with a client, I get strange pains in body. My eyelids twitch, my breathing becomes shallow, my digestion backfires or my clothes feel tight. In the past, I had baffled many doctors with these pains. Once, a week before a meeting in LA between 3 companies that were merging into one, I was sure that my eyesight was declining in one eye. And my shoulder ached something awful. After the meeting (which was difficult but successful), I was fine again.

The aches, pains and weird symptoms, that is the transfer of mental and emotional stress to other symptoms are called referred pains. The “something that hurts, is something else”.

I am never ever stressed about the upcoming events themselves; no CEO is too challenging for me. I can facilitate the most difficult of problems with ease. I simply get aches and pains that vanish after the event.

The “transfer of symptoms” from actual source of pain itself to somewhere else occurs in organizations as well as people.

Here are a few examples.

1-People do not speak up in meetings about certain slips in schedule. Progress reports step-side quality issues. Risks are played down. The not-at-all obvious reason? A client has been sold a very poor product that will not work as promised when delivered. However, some of the features of the dysfunctional product will provide just enough value to provide the client with a strategic advantage over its competitor. That is the skeleton in the closet. The CEO’s of the seller and the buyer know that explicitly-no one else does, except for everyone.

2-Jimmy is a horrendous CEO. His technical skills are outdated; his relationships with investors are tense and his staff hates him. He has been managing the company for 5 years. The hidden reason: the 5 investors each think that they can run the company better than the others. Jimmy allows them to continue to fight, and not resolve their differences; this status quo preserves another company of theirs which is doing very well and funding all their escapades.

3-JIT has 14 outlets in 3 districts. All outlets are doing well, except for one outlet in each district. Every attempt to get these three failing district outlets to change course fails. What’s the skeleton in the closet? Management needs a failed outlet in each district to write off expenses in order to pay less tax.

4-Beware if asked to “strengthen middle management”; that issue is almost always a phantom pain, the root cause of which is a double message from senior management, contradicting priorities, poor teamwork at the top, or overzealous HR manager, who wants to control something but is not strong enough to be relevant.

So how do we get our hand around issues which surface like phantom or referred pains?  Here are a few guidelines:

  • The obvious may not be so obviously obvious.
  • What is not said is part of the diagnosis. There are problems no one talks about.
  • An impacted tooth may not hurt.
  • Look for hidden agendas even when things make sense, and always when they don’t.

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OD during Covid : Bailing out the ship

To my absolute surprise, my workload has increased ever since it became clear that this virus is not going away; not only are  the lemons not about to become lemonade, but  the plague is  worse than expected . As the poet Ogden Nash wrote in Seaside Serenade

It begins when you smell a funny smell,
And it isn’t vanilla or caramel,
And it isn’t forget-me-not or lilies,
Or new-mown hay, or daffy-down-dillies,
And it’s not what the barber rubs on Father,
And it’s awful, and yet you like it rather.
No, it’s not what the barber rubs on Daddy,
It’s more like an elderly finnan haddie,
Or, shall we say, an electric fan
Blowing over a sardine can.

Yet it is a time for good OD practitioners to find work, much to my surprise. I want to share some of the characteristics of work that has come my way as well as some reasons why I think this is happening.

Life with covid is not going away. And the reality of the world is now nasty and brutish. I am not an optimist  nor am I known as an optimist. Quite the opposite,I am a pessimist with a good sense of humour as well as a love of the absurd, which makes it easy to deal with what I say because of how I say it.  Furthermore, once people realized that  ‘back to normal” is messianic nonsense, my pessimistic nature has become more appealing.

During my entire career, I have held two principles as my compass: say things simply and be practical. So, my message has been -“we are up shit’s creek and no one knows anything; let’s take this hour by hour and yes, give me a can and I’ll help you bail out the boat”.

Difficult problems have become almost impossible during covid. Things move much slower; decisions take longer to make; everyone looks bad; stakeholders are worried; managers are worried; staff are worried. Ok, what’s new? If you believed that things were much better, then this new reality is all but unbearable. Yet I have believed for the longest time that stakeholders worry only about themselves, long term commitment between management and staff is feigned propaganda-so for me, the present situation is just a bit worse than it used to be, It is not paradise lost. I have confidence and I am neither appalled or frightened of being seen as incompetent. OD is not perfect. It has huge value,but it ain’t rocket science.

(This reminds me of people who claim that America is more divided than ever. America has almost always been divided for heaven sakes.Trump is the most racist president ever? No more than Carter was (his days as Supervisor of Education were horrendously racist)  and certainly less than Kennedy acted as he dragged his feet on civil rights.)

The problems that my new clients have asked me to lend a helping hand to alleviate are difficult, multi dimensional and stubborn. I am not sure exactly or what approach to take, and I have no tricks up my sleeve. My new clients respect my lack of conviction about how to proceed.They feel safe that I am thinking as well as acting with caution seasoned with pragmatism, not peddling some elixir like cod liver oil or employee engagement or “we are all in this together”.

Probably my present value proposition to my clients is my sense of humour, my ability to learn,and my lack of ready made solutions.

In memory of Alex Kornhauser-brilliant, fair, exact, humane and humble. A great leader, a fine man; sadly missed.

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Is it wise to send Dr Freida to Japan? Depends who you ask.

Dr Freida is a senior technology superstar who often claims that “clients need to better informed about their needs than they actually are”.  Her contact with customers is matter of fact and brilliant yet Dr Freida shies from social niceties.

CEO Bob proposed sending Dr Freida to Japan to deal with severe customer issues for a year. Bob called Sato and made the  proposal.

Sato (Japan area president) told CEO Bob that sending Freida to Japan for a year may be a good idea. Frieda may have a chance to learn about Japan and then, she can perhaps understand the importance of the customer. Till now, Dr Frieda is  focused on technology and not satisfying customer needs. Having a very  senior lady in our office is in line with what is happening in some industries.”

Bob said he was happy that Sato agreed to the proposed relocation of Frieda.

Allon (a consultant) told CEO Bob, “Hey wait a second Bob; this matter does not sound “kosher”; then Allon called Sato as per Bob’s request.

“Sato-san, am I wrong that perhaps it is best to wait a while before Frieda comes to Japan because we need to discuss it more?” Sato said: “Allon san, you very well may be right”.

After my call to Bob updating him , Bob, never a man to avoid cussing,  said, “What the fuck is this about? Allon explained that “Sato don’t want no Frieda. Use of the term may does not indicate agreement, especially since  you presented this as an almost-made decision in a hasty call. Sato also explained to you all the reasons why NOT to send her. Bob, you’ve got to start listening to what is not said”.

 

 

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