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Turnaround, Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games by Mitt Romney

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Why I Read This Book

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney is running for president of the United States. I wanted to learn more about him. I remember his father George W. Romney, former Governor of Michigan. Romney Sr. sabotaged his own campaign for the presidency with the unfortunate but true remark that U.S. military and diplomatic officials in Vietnam had brainwashed him on the war. He was a different kind of candidate for office, and I wanted to know what kind of candidate is Mitt.

The organizers of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics thrust the roles of president and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC)  as Mitt Romney tells the story. Financial scandal inside of SLOC required the organizers to replace its leaders with an independent leader free from the appearance of corruption. Mitt was their choice.

Leadership

Mitt Romney has an elegantly simple formula for leadership that consists of vision, values, and motivation. The leader defines the vision and the group values, while motivating the group to execute the mission consistent with the vision and values. A leader derives 20% of his authority from his or her title and 80% from the decisive action he or she takes.

These are inspiring thoughts and shows that Mitt has empathy for the member of his team. This quote from his book reminds me of his father’s unfortunate brainwashing comment:

One of my early decisions would have a big impact on how the organization viewed my leadership. … Think about it: when you take a job to perform a service, not to earn a paycheck or win a jackpot, you don’t really care a lot about how people think of you. You have the absolute luxury to do exactly what you think is right. p. 56

The more fortunate wording about caring about people and doing what is right would have been,

a service job requires you to focus on people, because they are your #1 concern. Your task is to persuade people  your vision is right.

If Mitt refers to not caring about the negative comments by outsiders and soon to be outsiders, he’s still off base. I believe a core skill for leader is to stop those people from becoming active enemies by listening to their concerns and showing your decision incorporates those concerns even if you reject their advice. Better a pacified critic, than an active enemy.

Another core skill for a leader is to recognize that the people you lead know their interests and needs better than you. A leader is not elected to do exactly what he thinks is right. He’s elected to serve the people’s values, interests and needs while moving them to towards his/her vision. Abraham Lincoln envisioned a union without slavery and Barack Obama believes gays have the same civil rights as heterosexuals. But, leaders persuade people that doing right will best serves their values, interests, and needs. People don’t want leaders to tell them what is right.

Family

Mitt grew up in a Mormon family dedicated to service to his family, church, and community. Mitt’s father, mother, and grandparents practiced service and staked their reputations on service. Yet, in the end, Mitt writes a capstone to his philosophy on service in the paragraph quoted above about not caring a lot about how people think of you. George Romney would have written that differently.

Mitt writes a lot about his family’s history.  He is a dedicated family man, and wants to be respected for those qualities.

I read his book to learn about his leadership examples, ideas, and style gained in business.

Business

Bain Capital

His recollections on becoming a successful business person take second place to those about his family, though his boss at Bain Capital, Bill Bain, influenced Mitt enough to be quoted throughout the book:

  • Trust your gut, because there’s a scientific basis for it.
  • Show you care about money, and your team will also.
  • Round team members’ flat spots (counter a member’s weakness with another’s strengths) and round flat sides (get someone else to do what you don’t do well, attributed to Tom Stemberg of Staples). Curiously, Mitt approves the advice, then writes he didn’t have time to follow it with SLOC.
  • Most things can be fixed, but smart or dumb is forever. A curious sentiment for a leader to harbor.

Mitt Romeny shares the formula that he used at Bain Capital to turnaround the companies in financial distress, writing that he used that same formula to save the 2002 Winter Olympic:

Perform a strategic audit – a complete review of every aspect of the business that can take months.

Build your team – select the right people, build unity, and motivate them.

Focus, focus, focus – don’t try to do too many things; do what’s important and do that well.

Guiding Principles at SLOC

Mitt published in the book the excellent guiding principles of SLOC that were place on every SLOC desk.

Teamwork

  • Involve all appropriate stakeholders in each project/issue.
  • Think horizontally, not vertically, within SLOC’s structure.
  • Consider other viewpoints and find win-win solutions.
  • Emphasize and recognize team success.
  • Be helpful to others.

Pride and Passion

  • Seek Gold Medal performance in your own job.
  • Love what you do.
  • Relish each small victory and achievement.
  • Realize you impact on history while at SLOC.

Communication

  • Be honest, direct and respectful in all your communication.
  • Accept feedback, avoid defensiveness.
  • Seek prompt resolution to issues with others in a personal and professional manner.
  • Listen more, talk a little less.

Integrity

  • Be loyal to those not present.
  • Do what you say you will do.
  • Don’t have hidden agendas.
  • Respect and value diversity in others.

Fun and Celebration

  • Take your work seriously, not yourself.
  • Encourage laughter at all meetings.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Look for opportunities to include others.
  • Celebrate those who demonstrate SLOC’s Guiding Principles.

Conclusions

I learned that Mitt Romney is a person driven by details and a sense of entitlement. He is an expert at identifying and categorizing details and then prioritizing those categorized details to achieve the goal. He is a terrific networker. He knows how to round the skills and experience of experts in business, government, social welfare, and people management to achieve goals.

One example of his family’s reputation for categorizing and prioritizing is his paraphrasing from his great-grandfather Miles P. Romney’s biography:

Loyalty to country and to his church was a cardinal virtue…. His was the assumption that men should be students of both state and church government in order that they might intelligently carry on in harmony with the fundamental law and discipline of each and not be like “dumb driven cattle,” exercising no mind of their own. p. 9

A Romney presidency would a presidency driven by his personality to categorize details and to select the right people to achieve goals. The question is can a turnaround formula successfully used at Bain Capital and SLOC work govern the American people?

The Peasant Prince: Thaddeus Kosciuszko and the Age of Revolution by Alex Storozynski

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Polish Generals in America?

Thaddeus Kosciuszko

I grew up in Maryland and a memory I carry with me is riding in a car down the Pulaski Highway dedicated to Casimir Pulaski. He was a Polish general in the revolutionary Continental Army. My teachers didn’t spend classroom time on the European Poles that fought for American independence, focusing instead on what American patriots thought about American patriots. Learning how foreigners saw and reacted to the American revolution helps to understand the choices faced and made by America’s founders.

Thaddeus Kosciuszko

Alex Storozynski introduced me to Thaddeus Kosciuszko, another European Pole that decided America’s fight was his fight and why.

Joining the Continental Army

Thaddeus Kosciuszko, schooled in the arts and sciences of European warfare offered his services to Benjamin Franklin. Kosciuszko requested that Franklin give him the examination to join the Continental Army as qualified military engineer and officer. Franklin told him no such examination existed, and sent Kosciuszko on to meet others to test his knowledge.

Fortifications and Logistics

Kosciuszko’s specialties were fortifications – both how to build them and how to defeat them – and military logistics. He proved both were critical to engaging and defeating the better armed and supplied British armies in the battles of Fort Ticonderoga, Saratoga, and West Point. Kosciuszko understood the well-supplied army that took advantage of the lay of the land won battles, while rash American generals put their faith in a man with a musket.

Kosciuszko studied the river ways and lake systems of New York,  known as the Empire State for its navigable waterways, and created plans for a system of fortifications and redoubts to defeat the British armies. Generals and staff in the Continental Army didn’t appreciate this thinking officer that believed planning can win a battle. They ignored parts of his plans and turned other parts around to the advantage of the British. When the generals listened to him at the Battles of Saratoga and West Point, the Continental Army won. When they didn’t at Siege of Fort Ticonderoga, the army lost.

Polish War for Independence

Kosciuszko practiced his military and leadership skills during the American Revolution, and then used those skills in the Polish wars for independence. George Washington wanted Kosciuszko to remain in America. He praised Kosciuszko as a great American general and offered him land and work in America after the war. Kosciuszko chose instead to return to Europe to lead Polish armies against the Russian and Prussian armies.

Kosciuszko helped craft the Polish Constitution of 1791, a document more liberal than its American counterpart. George Washington departed from his foreign policy of non-involvement to support Kosciuszko and his Polish cause for independence. While president, Washington praised both Kosciuszko and the new Polish Constitution. Washington’s praise is remarkable, because he knew that his support for the Polish cause would turn the governments of Russia and  Prussia against the United States and incur trouble with the reactionaries in France and England.

Storozynski and Kosciuszko taught me that:

  • European money from France and Spain purchased the armaments and supplies the Continental Army needed to fight the British army.
  • The Continental Army depended on the technical knowledge of European trained advisers like Kosciuszko to stand against the large British army.
  • Kosciuszko intervened time and again to have Washington and the Continental Congress treat its soldiers better.
  • Kosciuszko’s planning turned the battles of Saratoga and West Point into victories.

Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country

Koala Orphan

I love travel writing. Another of my favorite travel writers introduce me to Bill Bryson, singling out In a Sunburned Country as one of his best.

I also love facts and here are some that Bryson shares with his readers:

  • Australia is the largest island, the only island that is a continent, and the only continent that is also a country.
  • Its land surface is among the oldest in the world.
  • 80% of what lives in Australia (by type) lives nowhere else in the world.
  • Australia is the driest, flattest, hottest, most desiccated of all the inhabited continents.
  • Australia is the home of the oldest living thing on Earth, the Great Barrier Reef, and the largest monolith, Uluru (Ayers Rock).
  • Australia has more kinds of animals that will kill you than anywhere else, including 10 poisonous snakes and five other creatures that are the most lethal in their class: funnel-web spider, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis tick, and stonefish.
  • Australian wildlife is known for kangaroos that bounce instead of run, fish that climb trees, foxes that fly, and crustaceans large enough to engulf a person.
  • Australia is the only modern nation founded by convicts.
  • Australia is a very interesting place populated by very friendly people.

But, no worries, mate. The beer’s cold and the barbie’s hot. Read In a Sunburned Country and enjoy a great read.

Popcorn on the Ginza by Lucy Herndon Crockett

Lumpen on the Street in Post-War Japan

The Allied Powers’s post-war occupation of Japan draws my attention, so I was thrilled to discover Popcorn on the Ginza by Lucy Herndon Crockett. She served as a Red Cross worker in the Pacific during World War II and in Japan in the first years of its Allied Occupation. She authored nine books, including the 1954 book The Magnificent Bastards, which became the 1956 motion picture The Proud and Profane.

Crockett traveled in many areas of Japan and recounts in the book her stories of meeting Allied Forces personnel and native Japanese of all classes. She was a prolific socializer.

1946 – 1947 was an extraordinary time when MacArthur’s Military Command limited travel for reasons of security and military good order. Travelers’ accommodations were scarce because of the devastation from the American bombing of Japan. Crockett keeps her focus on the people she meets rather than the discomforts she must have experienced.

Our perspective is based on the times we live in, and Crockett is no exception. She writes that her  story is that of the conqueror observing the conquered. Her self-described goals are to explain the Japanese people and the Occupation to an American public that wants to know why pay for food and security for a former despised enemy? Her perspective contracts with that of Peter Hessler in his Oracle Bones.

Hessler like Crockett was a volunteer in service to a former adversary. He served as an English teacher working for the Peace Corps in China before becoming a freelance journalist for the Wall Street Journal and other Western publications.

But Hessler is as much a student of China as he is a teacher, while Crockett describes the ways that the Japanese venerated the changes forced on them, ranging from the principles of women’s rights to American canned foods. Crockett narrates her travels through Japanese cities destroyed by American B-29s, while Hessler investigates neglected buildings and neighborhoods to find China’s past.  Crockett’s story moves with the rhythms of the Occupation Army, while Hessler’s curiosity finds him alternatively avoiding and bumping into the PRC’s security forces.

Crockett uses disparaging phases and words to describe the Japanese that are not used today and which I will not reprint here. Though her written purpose is to explode those prejudices, we know from experience that repeating ignorance tends to reinforce the ignorant. She structures her book around stating the prejudiced idea and then exposing it to the realities of what she observed.

Hessler uses an observer point to view telling a series of interweaving extended stories to allow the reader to decide what is true and what is fabrication.  Hessler admits even his objective writing style makes him a censor, because as he writes what is not written about is as important as what is.

Two chapters in Crockett’s book are moving: “The Morning After” and “You Can’t Help Liking Them.” Post-war Japan was not a pleasant place for the Japanese. The lumpen (hopeless ones) were so common to be so labeled, over 2,000 each night taking shelter in Ueno Station in Tokyo. Orphan children crowded into Japan’s cities. These children lost parents in American bombing raids, were turned out by their destitute parents, and were nonpersons repatriated from China and Manchuria with the expulsion of the Japanese Army. Child crime and loitering became so pervasive that the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Forces created a Youth Crime Section. Children were shuttled to new locations, because conditions on the street were better than those in the Japanese prisons. Japan lost its pre-war food imports from the countries her military had occupied, including the rice bowl provided by Vietnam.

The Japanese suffered during the Occupation for reasons of their creation and the Occupation Forces’s. Crockett’s book was my introduction to that whispered story avoided by the Americans and the Japanese.

Consequences of Ecological Instability

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Change happens all around us, and the pace of change is accelerating. Studying and adapting to change can make you happier and ready to use the unfolding opportunities.

Rick Potts in his “Humanity’s Descent: Consequences of Ecological Instability” begins with the obvious: people all over globe are clustering in communities, the world’s population has doubled since 1950, and the urban areas will double again in 22 years while the cities will double in 15 years.

The growth industries will be those that support the surge in Earth’s human population: energy, metals, minerals, and food. Industries that mitigate or reverse the resulting waste and pollution will grow in parallel. Mining and smelting will pollute the world’s aquifers, rivers, and land, requiring new technologies and industries to remediate the damage done.

Although our lifetimes are the smallest fraction of the time in continental formation, our impact on the environment is accelerating continental parallelism – common histories of continental evolutions. Global deterioration is increasing warmth and moisture. Forests are transitioning into grasslands, which in turn are transitioning into deserts. Natural arable land is diminishing.

Planetary variations of Earth’s orbit, tilt, rotation affect the environment on a scale beyond a lifetime. Every 100,000 years the Earth has an orbital ellipse variation; every 41,000 years Earth experiences a tilt cycle and every 23,000 years a precession cycle (distance to Sun during a season, presently closest during Northern winter).

Potts describes an interesting fact about Earth’s environment and our nose. As the Earth became drier, our ancestors needed a humidifier for our bodies to function in drier climates. The human nose moisturizes incoming air and captures the precious moisture on our exhale.

Potts describes changes we will experience in our lifetime and changes that will happen to our distant posterity. Knowing how to adapt to changes is our challenge.

Peter Hessler, Oracle Bones

Peter Hessler

I very much enjoyed and learned from Peter Hessler’s Oracle Bones. Here are excerpts from his book with my comments. I recommend reading the book.

You Can’t Control My Life

Peter Hessler profiles a modern Chinese writer filled with contradictions. Miao Yong believes that blood type determines character, money is the medium of exchange for all personal matters, and Chinese collectivism is of the past because today’s youth decide what kind of person they want to be. How can the latter be true if blood type determines character and access to money determines all personal matters? Miao Yong makes sense to her modern Chinese readers.

Americans & Chinese Narratives Smooth Over Irregularities

Hessler writes:

Later that same month, the American deputy secretary of state, Richard L. Armitage would visit Beijing and announce that the United States had named the Uighur group known as ETIM as an enemy in the war on terror. Many analysts would criticize the decision, believing that it gave the Chinese more license to oppress native groups in Xinjiang. But the United States needed to prepare for the debate on Iraq in the United Nations, where China held a permanent seat on the Security Council.

….

A common United States tactic had been to encourage ethnic or religious groups that resisted bigger powers like the Russians and Chinese. Once the geopolitics shifted, the supported ended. And the resistance groups were forgotten.

The American government portrays itself as operating to a high standard of respect for independence and human rights, but its actions pursue a policy of security first.

Fox News – Fair and Balanced to the Government in Power

On September 11, 2001, Rupert Murdock owned 40% of Phoenix, a TV news network in China. Phoenix TV broadcast days of reports on 9/11 using American Fox footage. The Phoenix broadcasts portrayed America as deserving what happened and showed that America was a bully deserving this punishment. As Hessler observes, Phoenix network was more patriotic than the Chinese State TV stations.

Writing Style

Hessler’s advice on writing: Write about interesting people, ideas, and places. Recognized the writer is a censor, writing about what will remain in our awareness after the event is gone. Good writing is done with authenticity and directness.

A Prolific Character in Modern China

[Pull down, dismantle]

Shang Dynasty’s Oracle Bones

Hessler concludes Oracle Bones observing that the Shang Dynasty’s oracle bones provides the notes to study their civilization, but we must provide the music. This theme completes his narrative. He provides us with notes about modern China, but we must provide the music to understand what China is bringing into our world. Hessler warns us the writer is a censor. By paying attention to the people, ideas, and events clipped and organized from current events, we can see the notes we need to understand what is happening in China.

Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life

Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were both born on February 12, 1809. They changed our world, and the world changed since their passing.

Adam Gopnik in his book Angels And Ages: Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life writes about some of those changes.

Observations from the Book

Darwin’s Elizabethan England was a theatrical society with a shared vision of the world as a stage.  Lincoln’s frontier society was a rhetorical society in which public speaking was central to ambition. We are today a society of images: viral YouTube video, advertising image. Anyone who can’t play the image game has a hard time playing any public game.

What Lincoln learned was not a faith in a constant search for justice, but the habit of empathetic detachment. The “grease” is what the lawyers of his time called all the lubricants of the law – conciliation, backroom deals, plea-bargaining – that allowed conflict to be minimized and trials to be avoided. When we look closely even at the height of the Civil War, Brian Dirck says, “we can see Lincoln the President trying hard to apply a lawyer’s grease to the shrill machinery of war.

Favorite Quotation

I am in favor of a short statute of limitations in politics.” John Hay quoting Lincoln.