Don’t Let a Good Crisis Go To Waste

This is truly a watershed moment in our history.

Things suck (technical term meaning that things suck).

(Totally unrelated: it’s May 9, 2020.  I am in beautiful Cape May, NJ.  It is windy as hell and cold.  Took a drive this morning.  A sunny day with some clouds. I marveled at some of the walkers wearing winter coats.  Then I turned on my favorite Christmas music, sat by my fake fireplace, and am about to grab an Irish Coffee. Later today I plan to listen to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida while painting. Helps with the sanity thing.)

I am looking forward to the countless books, articles, white papers, etc. that are/will be written about this pandemic.  Sociology, psychology, law, in particular constitutional law, science, medicine, politics and government, philosophy, religion, business, insurance (insurtech is fascinating), management and leadership principles, economics…what an opportunity to learn and grow.

Saw an article on LinkedIn about micromanagement and trust. It has always been a problem; now it’s front and center in terms of remote working.

I heard yesterday that some businesses in Florida filed suit against the SBA and how it is implementing the CARES Act.  I’m not a lawyer but I think this falls under the umbrella of the administrative state and the powers it has to implement laws enacted by Congress and signed by the President.  Setting procedures to implement a law and facilitate the intent of Congress and, ultimately, we the people is one thing.  At what point, however, does the administrative state cross that line where substantive changes are made by a government agency that is in contravention of the law?

I really hope that we have a comprehensive after-action review of our elected officials’ response to this pandemic that includes a thoughtful review of how these actions impacted all of society.

Let’s not waste this crisis.

MEDIATION – PRICEY OR PRICELESS?

I’ve attended a number of mediations during my career, most of which are multi-party and multi-carrier.  “Done right” the savings can be substantial in terms of both direct costs and the avoidance of unpredictable verdicts.  An effectively conducted mediation can propel a stubborn dispute forward.  Even if resolution is not achieved in one session, the work done is the catalyst for eventual success.  It can be priceless. 

On the other hand, a poorly conducted mediation can stop progress in its tracts in which case the effort can become a bit pricey and wasteful.

How is mediation “done right”?  The following is not exhaustive, of course, but they do capture some hot-button issues, at least from the perspective of this claim professional.

First, “doing mediation right” means doing it at the right time.  Premature mediation wastes time and money and can poison future negotiations.  Conversely, convening one late in the process, while better late than never, nullifies, to some extent, the primary benefit of cost avoidance.

Particularly irritating is the inflexible case management order.  Forced mediation, oxymoronic to say the least, under the threat of sanctions is anomalous to the underpinnings of a successful voluntary effort with motivated parties, cooperation, open mindedness, and a willingness to compromise. A forced mediation is obviously contrary to the voluntary nature of mediation and jeopardizes the good will necessary for success.  While case management is certainly important to the litigation process careful thought should be given to the mediation timetable.

Second, the mediation should be of sufficient duration and structured in an efficient way so that time is used most effectively.  Posturing and histrionics are major irritants and time-wasters.  They are counterproductive.

Third, prepared decision makers should attend.  The claim professional should have sufficient authority in terms of money and ability to make concessions or other decisions, and not merely be a conduit between parties at the mediation and the insurance company.  Sufficient authority is not necessarily tantamount to policy limits authority and a claim professional should not be precluded from making a phone call or two to the company to discuss, consult, and seek guidance when necessary.

Fourth, preparation is essential and it begins before the mediation.  Pre-mediation homework is vital.  This means that each party must understand the other side’s position.  And it is imperative that the mediator actually read the submissions prior to the session.  Furthermore, if there are coverage conflicts in multi-party mediations involving several carriers, they should be addressed prior to the mediation session, in a separate mediation if necessary.

Fifth, good mediators are priceless.  What is a good mediator?  He/she should be knowledgeable about all aspects of the dispute, including technical issues.  He/she should be skilled in conflict resolution.  Communication skills are critical. The mediator should be able to laser focus on the issues that divide the parties and, similarly, should be able to exploit any commonalities.  While biases are an unavoidable part of the human condition, an effective mediator will recognize and guard against these biases.

Context, please!

Taking things out of context is epidemic. 

It truly pisses me off (can’t think of a better description of my sentiment). I’m sure others feel the same way but I’ll speak for myself.  (I find it humorous when politicians and media types say something like, “the American people won’t stand for it”. This is a bit presumptuous and, I think, egotistical on the part of the person making the pronouncement. Which American people? The polarization in our country today is palpable. It would be cool if these folks wouldn’t presume to speak for me.)

Taking quotes out of context is, “known as contextomy, the fallacy of quoting out of context occurs when an original phrase is distorted or a claim is misconstrued from its original meaning, by quoting it out of context.” Retrieved on January 31, 2019 from https://www.logicalfallacies.org/fallacy-of-quoting-out-of-context.html)

What is a fallacy?  It is, “a deceptive, misleading, or false notion, belief, etc. …a misleading or unsound argument. …deceptive, misleading, or false nature; erroneousness. Logic. any of various types of erroneous reasoning that render arguments logically unsound.” Retrieved on January 31, 2019 from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/fallacy

Look, there’s always a risk quoting out of context. Including a quote in a white paper, for example, should be done with care. The true meaning should be captured when quoting. To me this rises to the level of an ethical responsibility. To not do so is at best negligence and at worst deceptive, misleading, and false. In other words, it is a lie.

No political party, or scholarly group, or any other group across our societal spectrum is immune from criticism. It is an equal opportunity flaw in our collective character.  But it’s one thing to exploit in an academic debate; it’s quite another to make use of it in Congress. People have a tendency to believe what is said to confirm their already formed bias, and for other reasons. Their next step is to take action, like voting – – pretty serious stuff.

I find this infuriating (I get pissed off). And propagation by an agenda-driven media on both sides of the political/philosophical spectrum just makes matters worse.

I like to write and diligently work to improve my writings. If I quote somebody or something out of context. I expect and hope to be called out on it.

Bullies are cowards

Bullies use “strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.” https://www.google.com/search?q=bully&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-1-ab

A coward is “one who shows disgraceful fear or timidity.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/coward

Bullies are cowards. And I hate them.

Bullies can be found in all facets of society…in the workplace, in government, in school, online, etc. Tactics change but strategy remains the same. It is to harm and intimidate those who have less power. Bullies are cowards because they, by definition, prey on those that are weaker. Tactics can be overt. They can be more insidious and, arguably, more cowardly.

It is heartbreaking to learn that a child has committed suicide because of the relentless bullying he or she has experienced online. I didn’t have to deal with cyber bullying when I was a kid. My school years began in the early 60’s. My son graduated high school in 2000. I don’t recall whether cyber bullying was an issue when he was in school. Once when he was 17, maybe 18, he had to defend himself in school but I’m not sure whether it was due to bullying or a simple conflict. In any event, notwithstanding the school’s zero tolerance policy, he successfully ended the conflict or bullying then and there. We celebrated the one-day suspension with a movie and pizza.

In my opinion, the only effective way to stop bullying is to confront it head-on, as quickly as possible, and with force if necessary, be it legal or physical. Appeasement, as a remedy, is at best naïve and at worst can be fatal. Now that I have grandsons, my opinion is even stronger.

Need to make a decision? Consult, consult, and consult again.

I’m in the 43rd year of my career and I find it fascinating, and somewhat puzzling, that many organizational decisions are still made with far too little input from the folks, you know, who actually have to implement the decisions and who know more about their jobs than anyone else. To me, getting this input is intuitive. It’s axiomatic. It’s obvious. It’s a no-brainer.

So, in the spirit of (my) “first principles”, whenever an organizational decision has to be made, consult with the people that actually have to implement it, in addition to those in the chain of command. (But if I had to choose between the two, the former would win hands-down, always.)

The corollary…if time and circumstances permit let the implementers make the decision.   This is far from a laissez-faire approach and it certainly isn’t abrogating responsibility. On the contrary, while leadership always reserves the right and has the obligation to make the decision, delegating as close as possible to those responsible for implementation is an affirmative move that realizes a wealth of benefits, not the least of which is that the decision will, in all probability, be better. 

Whether the decision is where to place a potted plant or go to DEFCON 1, consult, consult, and then consult some more. And if time and circumstances permit, delegate the decision. This should be the default position…always.

Flintstone or Jetson?

When I was a kid, I used to watch The Flintstones and The Jetsons. At the time I wanted to be Jetson. The flying car got me.

Which one would I’d rather be today?

After retiring from my former employer and during the process of setting up a consulting practice, a good amount of time has been spent dealing with internet providers, cable companies, and cellular companies.

I used to say that I would rather have root canal without anesthesia than play golf (no offense to those who play golf). 

Now I think I would rather play golf than deal with cable, internet, and cellular companies. If there is a hell, part of it must include being forced to deal with these companies to get something done…for eternity. The frustration, anger, and tears are geometrically magnified by the constant retort, “Mr. Junfola I apologize for the inconvenience,” while the inconvenience continues.

On July 28, 2019, the following article appeared on CNN Business:

 “Elon Musk is making implants to link the brain with a smartphone” Michael Scaturro, CNN Business, July 28, 2019

“…Musk wants to insert Bluetooth-enabled implants into your brain, claiming the devices could enable telepathy and repair motor function in people with injuries.” (repairing motor functions sounds wonderful; you can keep the telepathy).

His, “Neuralink devices will consist of a tiny chip connected to 1,000 wires measuring one-tenth the width of a human hair. The chip features a USB-C port…and connects via Bluetooth to a small computer worn over the ear and to a smartphone…”

“…the devices can be used by those seeking a memory boost or by stroke victims, cancer patients, quadriplegics or others with congenital defects.”

But given the problem with data breaches in general the article goes on to explain the concern over the real possibility of manipulation and exploitation of human beings. 

“While the technology could help those with some type of brain injury or trauma, ‘Gathering data from raw brain activity could put people in great risk, and could be used to influence, manipulate and exploit them,’ Frederike Kaltheuner of Privacy International told CNN Business.”

 So, do I want to be Fred or George?

 Well it depends on my mood but I’m not in the mood to answer today.

Seven daily reminders in 2020

I recently marked 42 years in the insurance business. After more than 26 good years with Admiral Insurance Co. I retired and embarked on a new venture (adventure) as an independent consultant. For what it is worth, and for those who might be interested, here are my daily reminders for 2020.

First, maximize time spent on activities and things that align with my professional and self-development. Conversely, eliminate, or at least minimize, time spent on the stuff that doesn’t.

Second, maximize straight-forward communications. And do so candidly and with respect. Conversely, eliminate BS.

Third, be ruthless against the things that don’t matter including, in particular, needless bureaucracy. This includes breaking rules, if necessary.

Fourth, differentiate between things within my control and those that are not. Focus on the former, acknowledge the latter.

Fifth, protect my time, probably the most irreplaceable asset.

Sixth, always learn. Stop learning and I stop living.

Seventh, whatever I am doing, do it well. Focus on the task at hand.

Best wishes in 2020.

Joe