This is a peek into my next book, Rhetoric to Results, How the States are Getting Down to Business and Rediscovering the Promise of America. Next week’s peek: China, No Longer the Sleeping Giant.

While ingenuity still thrives in pockets of this great nation, the facts about our decline prove one undeniable truth: it’s real.

More People are Poor


  • The number of Americans on food stamps now exceeds the combined populations of Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
  • For the first time ever, more than one million public school students in the United States are homeless.  That number has risen by 57 percent since the 2006-2007 school year.
  • Approximately 48 percent of all Americans are either considered to be “low income” or are living in poverty.
  • An estimated 57 percent of all children in the United States are living in homes that are either considered to be either “low income” or impoverished.
  • One out of every four American workers makes $10 an hour or less.
  • One recent survey discovered that 40 percent of all Americans have $500 or less in savings.

The Middle Class is Losing Ground

  • Median household income in the U.S. has fallen for four consecutive years.  Overall, it has declined by over $4,000 during that time span.
  • According to the Pew Research Center, 61 percent of all Americans were “middle income” back in 1971.  Today, only 51 percent of all Americans are.

Good Jobs are Disappearing

  • In September 2009, during the depths of the last economic crisis, 58.7 percent of all working age Americans were employed.  In November 2012, 58.7 percent of all working age Americans were employed.  So more than 3 years later we are in the exact same place.
  • In 2000, there were more than 17 million Americans working in manufacturing, but now there are less than 12 million.
  • The United States has lost an average of approximately 50,000 manufacturing jobs a month since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.
  • 53 percent of all Americans with a Bachelor’s degree under the age of 25 were either unemployed or under-employed last year.

We are Less and Less Competitive

  • The U.S. share of global GDP has fallen from 31.8 percent in 2001 to 21.6 percent in 2011.
  • The United States has fallen in the global economic competitiveness rankings compiled by the World Economic Forum for four years in a row.
  • Our trade deficit with China in 2011 was $295.5 billion.  That was the largest trade deficit that one country has had with another country in the history of the planet.

Our Debt Climbs

  • Amazingly, the U.S. national debt is now up to $16.3 trillion.  When Barack Obama first took office the national debt was $10.6 trillion.
  • During the first four years of the Obama administration, the U.S. government accumulated about as much debt as it did from the time that George Washington took office to the time that George W. Bush took office.

The Wealthy are Getting More Wealthy

  • Corporate profits as a percentage of GDP are at an all-time high.  Meanwhile, wages as a percentage of GDP are near an all-time low.
  • Today, the wealthiest 1 percent of all Americans own more wealth than the bottom 95 percent combined.
  • The wealthiest 400 families in the United States have about as much wealth as the bottom 50 percent of all Americans combined.

The facts make it clear, we can no longer afford to talk about the problems, we have to start solving them.

Thirty years ago when the notion of improving processes began to get traction in the U.S., it held great promise. But one problem has kept the promise from becoming a full reality.

It’s too complicated!

How many organizations have shelves of binders chalk full of process maps and standard operating procedures? Lots. With the hope of improving performance it is common that the hard work is done to document processes and standard operating procedures.  Again, the hope is to once and for all eliminate the confusion.

The problem is once it’s written down no one ever looks at the binder again. Unless it’s time for training new employees and then we dust off the binders and hope maybe this batch of people will follow standard procedures.

I have struggled with this dilemma for a long time myself because I know the value of understanding how work should be done – the value of using processes to accumulate and transfer knowledge. I write a lot about management as a process in my book Business at the Speed of Now. But the freight ain’t worth the price.

There is a simpler way. Like in the classic scene in the movie The Graduate, its one word that matters most.  While Dustin Hoffman’s character was told it was all about “plastics”, in the case of process improvement you would well advised to understand “Checklist.”

If you want people to follow a process, create a process checklist that focuses them on the handful of factors that determine the processes success. Here are three things to think about in creating a useful checklist:

  1. Keep it simple – never more than 10 items
  2. Avoid the classic checkbox; instead require the recording of useful data (a dimension, the cycle time it took, a category or type of repair, etc.)
  3. Use the data collected to monitor performance, make further improvements and learn

If you put the right things on your checklist, the most important things for the people who work the process to pay attention to, you will get all the benefit of that boring material in the binder without following that hideous manual you know you put somewhere.

A great book to learn more about this is The Checklist Manifesto. I recommend it.

I just had to repost this great article from Don Rainey via Entrepreneurial Corner.  Great read! Of course, the Homer Simpson/Letterman Top Ten was too good to resist.

In the world of startups, success or failure can be hard to consistently predict. One thing that’s sure, however, is that anyone who starts a business is changed by the process. The continual challenges of meeting the opportunities and issues that arise make it fun and always interesting. I think it is why many people continue to start businesses regardless of the (easier) alternatives presented by employment for somebody else.

Having started a few businesses in my life, I view some of the lessons of the experience as intuitive and others much less so. Given the time and money involved in learning these lessons, none could be characterized as cheap.

They all changed my worldview, though. And they all changed me as a person. I’m glad I learned these lessons, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wish that I knew them originally.

Here are the eight things I wish I knew when I started my first business.

1. Things take longer than you ever imagine – Everything that involves people, resources, tasks and coordination takes longer than you ever think it should take to get done. It isn’t about developing patience, as patience doesn’t really help you keep driving things forward. It is about being realistic in your planning and management.

2. Items that do succeed tend to do so quickly – I have seen more successes — products, projects, employees, etc. — start strongly than slowly. The great salesperson or employee is great from the first day. The strong employees contribute immediately. The product that is going to be a hit gets strong, initial reactions from customers.

3. People will let you down – This will happen in ways you can’t even imagine when you start out. It can range from inattentiveness and laziness to fraud and theft. You’ll see it all from the people you meet along the way.  Your faith in people or belief in them can be a dangerous thing. As Pres. Reagan put it, “Trust, but verify.” Blind faith will get your butt kicked again and again. Love and reward your employees, but don’t have too much confidence in them.

4. Good employees are really hard to find – A solid worker isn’t just difficult to find, he or she is really difficult to find. And they’re the first ones to leave. The truth is that 10 percent of the world is competent – and you’re looking for that 10 percent in every hire.

It’s hard to do consistently. And that’s why organizations that do it with frequency have such strong reputations. If you want to build a business predicated largely on finding, getting and keeping quality employees to succeed, you should understand that premise will be your greatest risk. Finding a market and profitably selling to it (usually the greatest risks) will take a back seat. Better yet, pursue a business that needs some reasonable percentage of employees to be really good.

5. Your bad employees rarely quit – For one thing, poor performers aren’t really all that motivated to look, as that might involve actual performance. For another, no one else is likely to recruit them. Your marginal and weak employees are with you for life unless you move proactively. In many years of running businesses, the only time this wasn’t true was during the dot-com bubble. At that time, every idiot could get a 15 percent to 20 percent raise here in Northern Virginia by changing jobs. And they did. Aside from that blessed time, weak employees are your most “loyal.”

6. You will be lucky and unlucky –In the fullness of time, you will be assuredly lucky and unlucky. And sometimes, things that appear to be bad luck will turn out to be good — the weak salesperson who turned down your job offer — or vice versa. You will have ups and downs, and you will win or lose things that you don’t deserve to win or lose. You will be unlucky and lucky, you just may never know when.

7. Avoid the myth and misery of sunk cost – See the item above about succeeding quickly. Don’t chain yourself to the anchors you lovingly create in pursuit of success. If it isn’t working for you or the business, let it go. Understand that it isn’t good money after bad money, it is all bad money. Fire that salesperson, let that manager go, stop selling that product, get used to moving on. You’ll make a lot of decisions in running a business. Accept that not all of them will be right.

8. Fill the pipe, always fill the pipe – The difference between good times and bad times is often reflected in how many of the opportunities, customers, etc. end up closing successfully. In good times, more deals close from a normal opportunity pipeline. In bad times, less deals close from the pipeline. So, fill the pipeline of opportunities, and always look to add to the pipeline.   Deals don’t close for a million reasons. Your only defense is to fill the pipe.

Growth.  Growth, Social Media, Emerging Technology,This seems to be a very difficult topic for many companies right now.  We are at a critical time when many organizations need to make a decision- do I want to experiment with growth or continue down the traditional paths.  There is an emergence taking place out in the markets, a place where brands no longer wait for consumers to come to them, but just the opposite- Brands go to the consumers, where they are!