Conveying a simple message

In the manufacturing business as in the military, communication, particularly between two speakers of the same language, is not simple nor should anyone assume what you say will be understood by the recipient of your message.

This is painfully obvious when dealing through email.

An email sent to a group of people, including two managers, a technical peer, a manufacturing engineer, a logistician, and a quality assurance engineer, was received very differently. At least two managers told me my report was, in a word, unintelligible. My basic mistake? Adding too much detail, and confusing the recipients. I tried to answer / direct my answer to 3 separate audiences in one email.

To correct this, a man I respect offered this simple formula. In the email, subject line:” <project> <problem> will require < new part/ software/ repair/ test”. In the email body: “Approval request to issue a replacement <widget part number> for <internal customer/ test/ troubleshooting>”. (Period)

In a new paragraph, “DETAILS:”

And keep it specific to that ONE issue. And brevity is key.

After I cooled off, the situation reminds me of the time, long ago, when my Division Lieutenant asked me for a status on some equipment on his problem report. When he stopped me ( I was really a greenhorn then), he asked me to state my response in ten seconds or less:

” System requires a new <part>. $10,000 with exchange. Will arrive next Tuesday.”

first lessons:

a business mindset

I tried and failed at business ventures three times before. With a couple years of technical training, I tried earning a second income as a small appliance and home electronics repairman. It was cheaper to buy new than repair “old”. The next venture was selling solar-heated hot water systems. People could just as easily put garden hoses on their roof (it was southern Arizona) and save the expense of a metal system up there. And then, last year, I saw how my father-in-law’s young relative was making six figures in a health-focused business. She has Amazon- and Facebook- founders-level intensity which produces her ongoing results (building over the past 8 years). I was not interested, youth-focused, or charismatic enough to do what it takes. My prior ventures were great personally, just not rewarding financially for me.

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the importance of a “niche”

This year, my wife and I found a “niche” business. A “niche” is a product or service need, that is not widely available, nor really has much awareness outside of the profession. But is necessary nonetheless. With a lot of support, name recognition, and professional experience, my wife one evening reported to me that a business opportunity was offered to her – that she wanted to do. This was due to pending retirement of the principal operators in the niche market. The business requires unimpeachable ethics, scrupulous attention to detail, military-like precision with clients and retaining or bringing on skilled employees (or contractors).

do not quit your “day job”

A mistake of many new entrepreneurs, is to launch a business enterprise with little financial resources. They then have few options when mistakes are made or customers are slow to provide payment. Then there is even more emotional and physical stress learning the “do’s” and the “don’t”s of operating a business. In just the few weeks after initially deciding to engage in this business, the guts required to seriously and diligently apply ourselves to learning,- particularly with family and job requirements always keeping you busy, is challenging.

In the United States, working for yourself, with the intent to make a profit – to separate your enterprise from what the taxman (the IRS) would label a “hobby” – requires record-keeping, talent, and effort. Depending on the venture, every business has local, state and federal tax statutes regarding individual, partnership, and incorporation to stay within the law. Similarly, there are permits, licenses, and fees with all the aforementioned, to conduct business.

With certain businesses, providing products or services, there are many regulations, certifications, and insurance to purchase and renew yearly. While trying to classify whether there were workers considered by statute as employees to consider, we need general business and professional liability insurance. And probably, workmen’s compensation insurance: California is very strict on business operations. If you are still determined, you have done homework on your competition in the niche market, and calculated the profit versus expense projections before the first customer dollar is received – there is one consideration you may miss. You may find that your business needs to be funded almost entirely from your own “primary” income for a time. One of the first “rules” I have learned is to avoid going into debt while learning the “ropes”. Do not quit your day job before it sustains you.

seeking advice from experienced mentors

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I have only just started to explore the business banking relationships we will need for our venture. We will explore and weigh options on credit, payment processing, and loans. Similarly, I have only attended one seminar run by the small business education group, SCORE, (there are chapters in most communities) taught by people with decades of experience in all aspects of business. But for the entrepreneur, anywhere you find someone to help with the pitfalls to avoid, is great. One can then make all new mistakes to learn and develop as a business person.

your “why” has to be bigger than your fear

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After a career in the military, another in private industry, and still looking for challenge (and change), our own business will prove to be well worth it. After many years of doing without asking why and making someone else’s careers and dreams possible, you also can make your dreams, as well as those of your clients, become reality. But it takes ethics, drive, humility, implementing what others can teach and eagerness to keep pressing on to the goal.

hiking veterans

Wearing a “veteran” ballcap starts conversations.

Lord’s soldier

The “San Diego Chargers” jersey worn by a twenty-something man I met near the summit of Angel’s Landing trail prompted me to ask whether he was a Los Angeles -based fan or one from San Diego. From Temecula, Californi, he and his buddies were up in Zion for a “men’s retreat”; among the faith community, that is “code” for a spiritual bonding time. We talked about our respective churches and our military service. As a Navy veteran, he asked me whether I had been to the Philippines; his father had joined the Navy from there. Eugene was an Army veteran. I told him about my son, an Army veteran. Eugene knew Fort Bragg. He and my son, were sort of, but not quite, following in each respective fathers’ footsteps. One of his companions was a veteran of the Iraq war. Both were now college students. As we talked, I encouraged him to endure the bureaucracy of the VA medical evaluation process (he had gone once and was discouraged by the red tape) to get service-connected injuries treated – or compensated. Being young men of faith as well as warriors, these newly encountered Brothers encouraged me. Like me, though my friends and several dozen people attempted the narrow and very physically-demanding ascent to the “Landing”, I knew these guys had nothing to prove to themselves. Military services do the difficult every day. The impossible generally takes just a bit longer.

DOD recorder

There weren’t but one or two available seats on the crowded shuttle bus from the Temple of Sinawawa stop in Zion National Park. It was a thirty-minute ride back to the parking lot. Looking tired and a little irritated, the large man ( solid, not stocky) squeezed into the last available seat, directly across from me. He looked at my ballcap and thanked me for my service. We chatted. He was taking in Zion while his wife was at some military event in San Diego. He is a civilian archivist for the DOD, which lead to talking about history, this blog, and travel. Apparently, Lake Powell should be on my “bucket list”. One of the things that all this military reminiscing lead to was to get some coffee prior to starting back to the hotel in St. George.

View of the Virgin River in Zion NP. Angel’s Landing trail.
Though some start, few finish the ascent to the very top

“Airdale” trucker

Tomahawk night launch, Red Sea, 1993

On Saturday morning, the motel cafe was busy. All eight little tables were occupied. At one table, a man about my age wore a Desert Storm veteran ballcap. I asked him what service, and he responded Navy. I was also a Desert Storm veteran. He offered me a seat. Mike had been an Navy “airdale”, the Navy nickname for a member of the aviation support community. An aviation ordnance technician, he served a carrier airwing in the Persian Gulf during the conflict. We chuckled about engineers who design but never actually tried to use some things in aircraft he worked on; trying to remove an assembly where you could neither lay flat or reach overhead comfortably, but in one case having to crouch the whole time removing it. My companion, a retired DOD engineer, feigned dismay. A couple of comments he made, however, suggested he was a little more ‘dismayed’ than he let on. The trucker at the table across from us was also a military veteran, though from the prior conflict. As Mike and I chatted about the Navy, missed advancement opportunities (if only those darn Master Chiefs would retire so others could move up the career ladder!), and life after the military, the more I got to thinking how a community, a brotherhood, sisterhood, or more accurately – a large extended family one can meet all over the country.

Community. Often it starts with a ballcap, a veteran-themed t-shirt, or other, and an interest in getting to know someone.

Carrying water

def. Carry water for (someone) 1. To serve, assist, or perform menial or difficult tasks for some person, group, or organization.

Ten years ago, as a retired Navy Senior Chief, the first thing I had to adapt to was my immediate loss of seniority and status. The tradition and status acquired over twenty-five years meant little to the non- military working public. As in most professions, a job in the commercial technical sector is judged only on your performance. Meeting the required output of widgets particularly at the fiscal end of the Quarter when the resources, software, or parts needed to meet the quota finally become available. Packing up an expensive piece of equipment and hustling it to FEDEX, or renting a delivery truck and driving it a hundred miles to another facility, is somewhat like carrying water for my boss.

Unless you have been working in the manufacturing world for a number of years, as an older technician, it seems that adapting to rapid changes – in technology, in workforce culture, and in tasks each employee is asked to perform, is more difficult. In engineering, procedures often lag product development. Cross-training peers is often as much how much they observe as giving them polished instructions. For some, it is jarring to be hindered by processes or lack of information, or age, or when she has been willing to “come out of retirement”, but is feeling her contribution is wasted.

Additional study, asking specific questions, and bringing one’s strengths to the job is necessary. Willing to do whatever is required, despite not being in a “job description”, helps the overall mission of the company. Working with a curmudgeon is difficult.

I have found that courtesy, whether toward peers, couriers, janitors, IT support, or supply clerks is repaid in kind. With more than a quarter-century of military service, working initially with folks cleaning toilets, and later reporting to Admirals and senior Government executives, character and a dedication to excellence count toward career success.

grinders and coffee

Mention grinders to an older Navy veteran, generally brings to mind the large parade ground we marched around in Bootcamp.  But “grinder” also means a particular type of sandwich. In Southern California, while there are different names: submarine sandwiches, hoagies, and grinders, there are some places that are vastly different than the franchises that pop up everywhere.  And in El Cajon, California, not far from my home, is an institution 50 years in the making, The Grinder.

I actually only stopped in Thursday night at the request of my son, a Vocational Nurse working the evening shift, for a sub specifically made there.  It might have been my first visit though I have lived in the area twenty years.  After a long workday and a long, rainy evening commute,  but I would drive an extra few miles for a sandwich.

It was not a fancy place.  A video game table of the sort I had not seen in thirty years  was against the wall.  On the walls, were  Navy-themed art, a Bible quote,  articles on the history of this deli, a plaque honoring fifty years, and pictures of local kids.  But the one I noted just before ordering was the image of the late Chief John Finn,  Medal of Honor recipient (Pearl Harbor) on the wall. The kids working there know whose picture it is.   San Diego County is a military community, and El Cajon in the part known as “East County” is home to a large population of veterans going back to the Second World War.

“where do we eat and what show do we go to?”

On date night, quickly planned,  even the retired Senior Chief’s understanding wife may have felt a grinder was sub-expectations.  The mall was packed with Friday-night families.  As it turned out, a little pastry and coffee with live music at a coffee house we like was perfect.  We knew the music and lyrics; the acoustics were okay, and probably because the band and their fans are all about the same ages,  they concluded at a reasonable hour on a Friday night.  7:30 is almost bedtime.

So much for foodies partying into the wee hours (7:30PM)

lies, damn lies and politics

I started to think about Mark Twain this week, how I am at the same age when he began writing some of his most biting satire about politics, religious hypocrisy, bigotry and the nature of people.
Whatever he was as a critic of Government, he always believed in supporting the nation and his writing made people think. While I still see the fundamental good in people and role of a loving God to help change flawed humanity, I am sorely disappointed by and feel a powerless spectator to, the downward spiral caused by politics and politicians. What can a journalist do?

expose arrogance of power

A Senator chastised schoolchildren visiting the Congress who urged her to support legislation proposed by a ‘socialist’ Freshman Congressman and one of her colleagues. It could have been a moment to explain that legislation needs to be carefully studied as to the impact on the governed. But she would not be dictated to. In prior years, letters I sent her as a constituent in the Senator’s district, specifically urging support for issues she opposes, generated form-letter responses. A one-time Political Science graduate, I am angry that important issues are not often acted upon by our elected representatives. Increasingly, actions are opposed ideologically, becoming a test of wills between Legislature members and the Executive Branch. While many support “Progressive”national politics and condemn “capitalists” or “conservatives”, there are no substantive debates of the merits and the failings of policies, but often incoherent and confusing ‘sound bites’.

highlight ethical and unethical governance

Government agencies specifically charged with protecting the safety and sanctity of the nation’s citizens respond instead to political power brokers, lobbyists and vocal opponents of the nation’s fundamental principles. Elected representatives and un-elected bureaucrats refuse to operate on Constitutional and nationally-unifying principles, but at other times defend their positions using the same principles they previously refuted. Most unsettling, is that some politicians will use the formerly apolitical agencies of Government to investigate opponents or enhance political agendas, and when opposed, conclude that the victorious majority must either be “deplorable” and bigoted, clinging to outmoded ideas and philosophies, or have colluded with extra-national agents.

train people to “think” and debate

Public education over fifty years has steadily replaced literature, debate, and ‘controversial’, i.e. unpopular, topics like physical education, wood shop, and trades-based career preparation, for gender and sexual identity accommodation, activism, and uniformity. Children who are raised to question classroom stances on topics that contravene their parents beliefs (prayer, football, ‘binary’ genders, or other ‘conservative’-supported subjects) are subject to administrative penalties and peer abuse. Colleges, once institutions that provided the foundations for an educated population in everything from arts to zoology, produce impoverished liberal service-industry workers with billions of dollars in student loan-indebtedness. But teachers, professors, and college coaches have wealth and comfort regardless of student success.

expose incompetence and waste

Local and state government may demand revenue (taxes and ‘fees’) for actions that do not materially benefits those taxed. Transportation projects that incur billions in wasted dollars for “trains to nowhere”. Bureaucrats demand ‘carbon credits’ exchanged those who use personal transportation to go to work. They charge higher fees for delivering power and water to residents, due at first to ‘climate change’ which others perceive historically as periodic drought. But then the government raises fees when residents conserve too much. In the intervening years, there are no projects to collect additional water or energy.

Courts rule against voter-supported legislation that a minority oppose. Or they issue injunctions that increase the cost and delivery time of a particular resource for years. Politicians and bureaucrats deliberately obstruct law enforcement officers, both state and federal, when executing their duties. Others release dangerous criminals into the community based on alleged racial bias at sentencing, only to have them offend and be re-incarcerated.

journalism: be not a tool of politics

What, if anything, can journalists do to help expose the failures of politics and Government? Ideally, journalists are the agents of the governed, investigating and exposing fraud, incompetence, and abuse of power. Journalists must elevate their craft, to withhold biases and favoritism toward a politician, an ideology, or ‘sacred’ conclusions, and report everything that may support or refute the subject. Of course, the twenty-four hour media business is a profit-driven business, and ego, power, and prestige are just as driving influences for journalists as is determining fact from fiction. When actors create false scenarios, or others rush to attack (like the MAGA hat student and the native American) that became widespread calls for violence and condemnation, the lack of proper investigation fortunately only resulted in embarrassment and lack of journalistic credibility. It may still result in a civil judgement in favor of a maligned victim. Journalism as the vanguard of the public suffer a loss of integrity in reaching conclusions before investigating the facts.

use of Mark Twain’s image: no copyright infringement is intended

“Lies, damn lies, and statistics”, popularized by Mark Twain, was his restatement of the quote by the Nineteenth Century English Parliamentarian, Benjamin Disraeli