Friday, September 30, 2011

More Cover Art Conundrums

I've begged for help before on this subject, and have already been rescued on the cover of DELIVERABLES by Tod Foley (see the new cover for that novel near the bottom of this post).

A twitter acquaintance responded with two proposals for the INCENTIVIZE cover. They are shown here:

Just as a reminder, the working cover prior to these was, as the twitter marketing guy said, "more like a report cover than the front of a thriller". It it is shown here:

So which what is the best choice? Please help me decide...

As a reminder, INCENTIVIZE is the story of a young woman who is abducted in a harsh desert area of East Africa and ends up in the hands of mercenaries, and then later, a warlord in Mogadishu, Somalia. I think both new concepts correctly capture this idea -- there are armed men, desert, camels, harsh sunlight, and even a volcanically active area like Yellowstone. My cover only captured the "Yellowstone-esque" concept, but if you just like mine better, feel free to vote for it!

And the new cover for DELIVERABLES is below:
My thanks Tod, this is much better than I what I had before!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Examine the Whole Picture when Job Hopping

This lesson is one I personally learned, rather than something pointed out to me by another or discovered from watching someone else's implosion. Here is the basic concept...

When you change jobs, don't focus exclusively on those items which seemed to be "missing" from your last position. If you do that, you will most likely trade one set of unfavorable characteristics for another.

One of the jobs I worked during my career was with a company which had a very aggressive management style -- one which I grew to despise. The style included screaming and yelling during most meetings with senior management, which didn't fit with my personal beliefs of how to treat or motivate others at all. And as a pretty non-confrontational person, it really stressed me out. Unfortunately, there was no exemption for good performance, just a slight reduction in decibel levels.

So what I inevitably did when moving to my next position was to look for the absence of that aggressiveness. I wanted a place where there was little to no shouting, or any other overt confrontation. And after a little looking around, I found it.

All sounds peachy, right? It didn't turn out that way.

Okay, here is what I missed. One of the things I really appreciated about my old employer (which I didn't fully recognize until I was ensconced in my new position) was the clarity of goals and the analytical approach to setting them and measuring performance. You always knew where you stood.

The new employer had very unclear goals and targets, which seemed to present a constantly moving target. There were many unclear, unspoken criteria for judgment -- known in sarcastically as "management by hinting-around" -- which tended to polarize the staff and make the company exceptionally political for an organization of its size.

Had I been a bit more complete in my strategy, I would have been willing to accept a more aggressive employer in exchange for a less political and more straightforward criteria for judging success and failure.

Admittedly this is an example of hindsight being twenty-twenty. It is definitely difficult to do on two fronts -- first, it is a lot easier to recognize what you don't like than what you do like; and second, understanding likes and dislikes requires a fairly thorough knowledge of self. For me, that understanding didn't come until mid-life, after banging my head against the proverbial wall repeatedly.

I'm sure there are better learners out there than I was, but it seems to me most of the people I meet on the management ladder are much more focused on trying to hammer themselves into the round hole (no matter how many sharp corners they have) than in really finding work and an employer that fit with who they are.

The main protagonist in my novel, LEVERAGE ( goes through this same learning process while in the midst of solving a murder. Ultimately, he discovers that corporate life isn't really for him, a realization many people make late in their careers.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Guest Post - East Africa Famine

Today I have a guest post from a friend of a friend, who is delivering a call to action on the food crisis in East Africa. Please read and lend you support.


Guest Blogger: Sarah Lenssen from #Ask5for5

Family photos by Mike Fiechtner Photography

Thank you Tom and nearly 150 other bloggers from around the world for allowing me to share a story with you today, during Social Media Week.

A hungry child in East Africa can't wait. Her hunger consumes her while we decide if we'll respond and save her life. In Somalia, children are stumbling along for days, even weeks, on dangerous roads and with empty stomachs in search of food and water. Their crops failed for the third year in a row. All their animals died. They lost everything. Thousands are dying along the road before they find help in refugee camps.

At my house, when my three children are hungry, they wait minutes for food, maybe an hour if dinner is approaching. Children affected by the food crisis in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia aren't so lucky. Did you know that the worst drought in 60 years is ravaging whole countries right now, as you read this? Famine, a term not used lightly, has been declared in Somalia. This is the world's first famine in 20 years.12.4 million people are in need of emergency assistance and over 29,000 children have died in the last three months alone. A child is dying every 5 minutes. It it estimated that 750,000 people could die before this famine is over. Take a moment and let that settle in.

The media plays a major role in disasters. They have the power to draw the attention of society to respond--or not. Unfortunately, this horrific disaster has become merely a footnote in most national media outlets. News of the U.S. national debt squabble and the latest celebrity's baby bump dominate headlines. That is why I am thrilled that nearly 150 bloggers from all over the world are joining together today to use the power of social media to make their own headlines; to share the urgent need of the almost forgotten with their blog readers. Humans have the capacity to care deeply for those who are suffering, but in a situation like this when the numbers are too huge to grasp and the people so far away, we often feel like the little we can do will be a drop in the ocean, and don't do anything at all.

When news of the famine first hit the news in late July, I selfishly avoided it. I didn't want to read about it or hear about it because I knew I would feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable. I wanted to protect myself. I knew I would need to do something if I knew what was really happening. You see, this food crisis is personal. I have a 4-year-old son and a 1 yr-old daughter who were adopted from Ethiopia and born in regions now affected by the drought. If my children still lived in their home villages, they would be two of the 12.4 million. My children: extremely hungry and malnourished? Gulp. I think any one of us would do anything we could for our hungry child. But would you do something for another mother's hungry child?

My friend and World Vision staffer, Jon Warren, was recently in Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya--the largest refugee camp in the world with over 400,000 people. He told me the story of Isnino Siyat, 22, a mother who walked for 10 days and nights with her husband, 1 yr-old-baby, Suleiman, and 4 yr.-old son Adan Hussein, fleeing the drought in Somalia. When she arrived at Dadaab, she built the family a shelter with borrowed materials while carrying her baby on her back. Even her dress is borrowed. As she sat in the shelter on her second night in camp she told Jon, "I left because of hunger. It is a very horrible drought which finished both our livestock and our farm." The family lost their 5 cows and 10 goats one by one over 3 months, as grazing lands dried up. "We don't have enough food now...our food is finished. I am really worried about the future of my children and myself if the situation continues."

Will you help a child like Baby Suleiman? Ask5for5 is a dream built upon the belief that you will.

That something I knew I would need to do became a campaign called #Ask5for5 to raise awareness and funds for famine and drought victims. The concept is simple, give $5 and ask five of your friends to give $5, and then they each ask five of their friends to give $5 and so on--in nine generations of 5x5x5...we could raise $2.4 Million! In one month, over 750 people have donated over $25,000! I set up a fundraiser at See Your Impact and 100% of the funds will go to World Vision, an organization that has been fighting hunger in the Horn of Africa for decades and will continue long after this famine has ended. Donations can multiply up to 5 times in impact by government grants to
help provide emergency food, clean water, agricultural support,
healthcare, and other vital assistance to children and families suffering in the Horn.

I need you to help me save lives. It's so so simple; here's what you need to do:

  1. Donate $5 or more on this page (

  2. Send an email to your friends and ask them to join us.

  3. Share #Ask5for5 on Facebook and Twitter!

I'm looking for another 100 bloggers to share this post on their blogs throughout Social Media Week. Email me at if you're interested in participating this week.

A hungry child doesn't wait. She doesn't wait for us to finish the other things on our to-do list, or get to it next month when we might have a little more money to give. She doesn't wait for us to decide if she's important enough to deserve a response. She will only wait as long as her weakened little body will hold on...please respond now and help save her life. Ask 5 for 5.

Thank you on behalf of all of those who will be helped--you are saving lives and changing history.

p.s. Please don't move on to the next website before you donate and email your friends right now. It only takes 5 minutes and just $5, and if you're life is busy like mine, you probably won't get back to it later. Let's not be a generation that ignores hundreds of thousands of starving people, instead let's leave a legacy of compassion. You have the opportunity to save a life today!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sometimes in business, you have to eat your own children

This piece of advice was offered to me by one of my many bosses. And while the notion "eating our own children" sounds bizarre, or perhaps even a little comical (and knowing this boss, it was meant to be comical), there is wisdom in the underlying message.

The point of this lesson is: We become overly attached to our own ideas, and we have to be willing to let them go, or even be proactive in destroying them in favor of the next great thing.

I remember a book I read a few years ago (years after I learned this lesson) which nicely illustrated an aspect of this idea. The book was Clayton Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma". In it, Christensen gave us example after example of companies that became highly attached to specific products, technologies, market channels, and ways of doing things. Those products, technologies, market channels and ways of doing things served the companies well -- sometimes for generations. In a sense, they became the sacred bedrock on which the companies operated. Or, you could think of them as the company's "children".

In more of a micro-cosmic way, the same thing happens with each of us. We become attached to those behaviors which seem to work, and avoid those which don't, getting stuck in our own ruts. Those beliefs become like "children" to us -- magical formulas for success. But like the larger corporation, we often cling to those magic formulas long after they cease to work.

So why "eat your children"? As my former boss used to say -- it is better to eat them yourself, than have them eaten by others.

Discarding old ideas and embracing what is new and innovative launches us into a process of renewal and re-invigoration. If we are on the lookout for the pitfall of becoming comfortable with, or even loving our "children", we can avoid the painful disasters that comes from clinging to outdated ideas, products, technologies or channels.

To find my novels, follow the link below:

To read my blog on Corporate politics, follow the link below:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What were you doing 9/11/01?

I'm sure everyone remembers what they were doing on that fateful day -- just like my parent's generation all remembered what was happening in their lives when they learned of Kennedy's assassination. My story has a surreal element to it, and I thought I would share it after ten years of silence.

I arrived at my office around seven that morning. The day was going to be full -- I had a negotiation scheduled with a board member of our Saudi Arabian Licensee that day, and I expected it to take all morning. John was his name -- an American from Memphis, who was a trusted adviser to the family owning the company we'd partnered with in the Kingdom nearly two decades before.

I was hurrying that morning, trying to take care of apile of issues and items sitting on my desk, before driving over to corporate headquarters and the meeting. But I was running late -- I rushed to get out the door for a twenty-five minute drive, but only had fifteen minutes to get there.

Just before I left my phone rang. I answered, and heard the manager of our IT group, Mike, on the line.

"A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center," he said.
"What?" I asked, not comprehending.

I couldn't quite grasp the situation. For some reason I assumed it was a small private aircraft, which had somehow flown too close to the massive WTC towers. I thanked Mike, hung up the phone, and ran for the door. Driving to corporate headquarters, I didn't give the incident another thought.

When I arrived, however, I found John and several of our company's senior managers sitting in the operations center, watching CNN on the large screen TV as the tragic events of the day unfolded. I saw the second plane smashed into the south tower, saw the aftermath of the crash at the pentagon, and saw -- with horror -- both the twin towers fall.

The news already had information about the suspected terrorists, and even if the finger hadn't already been pointed at Saudi citizens, it would have been impossible for us to conduct the negotiations. We sat glued to the television coverage, our business dealings seeming so small compared to the disaster in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington DC.

Later that afternoon, I arranged for a car to drive John part way back to Memphis. I stayed at Corporate Headquarters, continuing to watch news coverage, and caught sight of Air Force One as it approached Offutt Air Force base in Nebraska, bringing the president to Strategic Air Command headquarters. It seemed as if the world I had known all my life had suddenly ceased to exist -- or, perhaps, everything up to now had been just an illusion, stripped away in the moments of those horrifying disasters.

A few months later, I traveled to Germany and met with the Saudi partners to try to finish our license renegotiation. I was shocked to hear the elder Saudi brother explain to me how the disaster in New York was nothing but an elaborate Israeli plot to frame-up the Arab world. He stated he had it on good authority that Jewish employees working at the twin towers had all received phone calls that morning, telling them not to go to work. He explained how the media in the west was acting as a servant to Israeli interests and suppressing the truth.

I sat in shock and disbelief. The story was so preposterous -- that thousands of people would successfully conspire to keep something like he described a secret -- it was beyond crazy. The man was a very successful business person -- educated in London -- and well traveled. Yet, I could tell he believed everything he said from the depths of his soul. That was the first time I recognized just how vast the cultural gulf really was.

In the end, we decided to go our separate ways from our licensee, which brought us into conflict even more as they stole our technology and proceeded to compete against us in the marketplace -- but that's a different story.

So, that's my tale of where I was on 9/11. Where were you?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cover Art -- Part 2

I received some good input on my last request, and have narrowed my choices on the INCENTIVIZE Cover to two (neither of the other designs received a single vote!). However, a friend provided an alternative cover design for DELIVERABLES! So now I have two versions of it as well.

Oh, what to do? Again, all opinions welcome.

These are the cover alternatives for INCENTIVIZE:

And now here are the two alternatives for DELIVERABLES:

Details on the subject matter of each novel can be found a couple of posts down, should you wish to consult it.

So which ones? I am completely unsure about which way to go.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Stop Coddling the Super Rich

A couple of weeks ago, Warren Buffett offered up a NY Times Op-ed piece on the tax system titled "Stop Coddling the Super-Rich". If you haven't read it, you can find it here.

Since it's appearance, I've read a lot of harsh comments in the newspapers and online. Class warfare kind of stuff.

As a former corporate employee, a current business owner, and a once middle-class taxpayer who now meets the president's definition of "rich", I feel as qualified as anyone to comment.

First some good points about Buffett's article:
  • We do have a budget problem that is likely to be solved only by a combination of significant spending cuts and increased revenue over a long period of time. The cuts will have to come from entitlements (social security, medicare, medicaid) and military spending -- that where the big dollars are. The revenue has to come primarily from the people with the money -- you can't get blood from a stone.
  • Since billionaires make most of their income from investments -- much of which, when sold, will get long term capital gains treatment -- they do enjoy a very low effective income tax rate. That's the reason Buffett's rate is only a little above 15%. Yes, there are some "loopholes" taken advantage of by people (carried interest, long term treatment for what are really short term gains). These exceptions could be easily eliminated, and probably should.
  • I also agree with Buffett that a higher capital gains rate won't prevent billionaires from investing. It probably adds a little inertia -- if only because they will be a little more likely to defer selling investments to move capital to even better opportunities because there is an immediate tax consequence. But I think that's about all it would do.
  • I'm not against his proposal to raise taxes on those with an annual taxable income above $10M. I think it makes sense to increase rates even on those with a $1M annual taxable income -- as long as the increase is reasonable.
Some negative thoughts:
  • Buffett spins the statistics, just like everybody else does. He focuses on the 400 richest people in the U.S., but then extends his argument to 237,000 who had taxable income of more than $1M. Circumstances are quite different between number 400 and number 237,000.
  • It would be easy to read the article and think an across the board tax increase on capital gains would do the trick. That would be very difficult on those people who retired with a modest nest egg, and need to make that money last the rest of their lives. Erosion due to inflation and an extra 10+% off the gains in taxes might mean the difference between staying retired, and getting another job in their golden years.
  • I don't think Buffett's proposal is enough to dig us out of our debt hole -- just increasing taxes on 0.3% of the taxpayers isn't going to raise enough revenue.
  • Buffett is talking about those making $1M per year and up. President Obama has talked about taxing those making $250K per year and up. Again, there is a big difference between someone making $250K per year and a million. While this group will need to see an increase in taxes too, it shouldn't be the same as what the higher income brackets face.
  • Shouldn't everyone pay some income taxes? Or at least most everyone? It is shocking that nearly half of the population pays no income taxes, and some in that group actually receive a net credit.
Final thought --

Would increasing taxes kill jobs? I doubt it would have a huge impact. Buffett tosses some statistics around in his article about periods of high job loss during low tax eras, and high job creation during high tax eras. The lesson from this -- I think -- is the tax rate impacts job creation/destruction but only weakly. It is easily overwhelmed by other things happening in the economy -- like credit availability (or lack thereof), or wars. But it does feel like we are teetering on the razor's edge of another recessionary dip, so I suppose caution is in order....