Prairie Trail Logo

Consultant's View, 2015

January 2015

Ethical Review

Many people review their businesses at the beginning of the year. Most look at markets, sales trends, and operations. One area that can use periodic review are the ways that business ethics are implemented throughout the company. It helps to look at why these business ethics are valuable for the company and why ethical reviews are needed.



Many a request for programming help seems to come from the idea that there are these "magical" programmers out there that can create masterpieces overnight at little to no cost. Few people want to hire professionals. The requesters are often disappointed. When you need a professional, you really need a professional. This is true for plumbing, air conditioners, dynamic web sites and apps.


February 2015

Focus on the Past or the Future?

The local paper talked about Radio Shack squandering $3 billion in stock buybacks a few years ago and now, they are bankrupt. This squandering illustrates how many people make their decisions only by looking to the past and not invest in any vision of the future. There are three problems with a focus on the past: we can never totally know what the past was like, history is never a perfect predictor of the future, and a lack of vision for the future causes strong divisions within groups.


Cores and Speed

The latest way to speed up computers has been to add cores. However, there is a limit to how much benefit we get from adding cores.


March 2015

Privacy and Security Balance

Shakespeare's queen, Elizabeth I, lived under the threat of assassination from foreign powers. Religious disputes fueled the efforts along with the dash for colonies. She endured the attempted invasion by the Spanish Armada. In response, she employed secret police and a network of spies to protect her. The current NSA spying program would have suited her fine.

Our civilization needs both sharing and secrecy. When there is no privacy, new ideas, products, and companies do not form and economies stagnate. When organizations and groups can operate in total secrecy, some people use that secrecy to oppress others and to cause harm.


Are you saying No enough?

We are constantly bombarded with requests for our time. Currently, time is our most valuable asset. The reason why many of us feel like we are not getting enough done is that we feel the expectation of doing far more than is possible. We often need to start by saying no.


April 2015

Quick Training and Shoddy Construction

It is possible to hire a day laborer and after a few weeks of training, have someone who is able to do a creditable job of laying bricks in different ways. However, one would not try to use that person as the architect of a skyscraper needing to withstand hurricanes and airplane crashes.

In a similar way, we see "code camps" springing up that can train a person to create code after a few weeks of training. However, that person does not have the experience nor the training to be able to design a system capable of withstanding a major intrusion attack or design to PCI or HIPAA standards. The belief that such people are able to build major systems or that young people are the best people to hire is part of the problem that the industry has with project failures.


Types of Failure You Accept

What types of failures do you accept from your team? It is important to accept some failures and reject others. Part of the problem is that we don't always know the real cost of each failure.


May 2015

Gresham's Law

In economics, Gresham's Law has been cited numerously in many different ways. The basic definition is that "bad money drives out good whenever they are declared to be of equal value". It has many applications in management also; in planning, in employee turnover, and in quality. It can also be used to describe how a company slides into mediocracy when we do not distinguish actions.


Hope and Employment

Zappos has a policy of offering a good sized bonus to get employees to quit. They do not want people there who do not fit the culture and style. Companies offering a job are not just offering a financial transaction. They are offering hope and that hope they offer may be more important than the finances.


June 2015

Colonial Attitudes

In 1775, Benjamin Franklin was highly respected in Philadelphia and had an international reputation as a scientist. However, his trip to England radicalized him when he encountered the British attitude towards those from the colonies. He was considered a second class person and was subjected to public humiliation for a mistake he made. He came back from that trip determined to work for independence. Shortly thereafter, in early July 1776, he and a group of men in Philadelphia signed the Declaration of Independence which was as much a rebellion against the British colonial attitude as it was for freedom. Colonialism and capitalism are quite different and have very different attitudes behind them.


Playing to not lose

Many people go to Vegas to win. The casinos play to not lose. While there are the spectacular wins and the high dollar payouts, those are so rare that the casinos win by not losing. The same is true in many different industries. Investors that play to win often lose big.


July 2015

Passing It On

H.L. Hunt, the Texas wildcatter and at one time one of the richest men in the country, believed that he had a special gene for making money and tried to pass it on to lots of children. His sons Nelson and Bunker went bankrupt trying to get control of the silver market.

Passing it on is very difficult. We see that in families. We see that in the work place when handing off pet projects, or delegating tasks to others. We see it in investing when fund managers change. We see that in governments where idealists see their projects fail when handed on. We see the solution in accepting that problems will happen and that we can handle those problems.


Profiting from Failure

While we want to win, most times we fail in some way. Successful organizations know that understanding failures and working to improve their processes is one way to move into the winner's circle. How we fail often determines how well we succeed.


September 2015

Entrepreneurial Character can wreck the company

In the early 1900's, Henry Ford pushed his way against all nay-sayers to create Ford Motor Company. His single minded focus and perseverance are the marks of many a successful manager or entrepreneur. However, the same traits that made him push through to success are the very traits that caused many a problem and nearly destroyed the company. He hit his limits. The myth of successful businessperson is one who pushes through against terrible odds.


No Sharing Economy

The recent strike by drivers for Uber Black shows that the hype about the "Sharing Economy" is just hype. There have been billions invested in companies that build on the idea that we have a "sharing economy" out there just waiting to be exploited. One can make the case that the "Sharing Economy" is the 2015 version of the "Dot Com Craze". Uber, Lyft and the others are really an attack on city created monopolies and have political and demographic implications.


October 2015

Time for a new Internet

It is time to call for a new Internet. The current Internet was designed for an academic lab, not the needs of business. We need a new Internet especially when we start having the Internet of Things being used in business. The risks are just too huge. There are a couple of requirements for the new Internet.


Entrepreneurs and Revolutionaries

Reading up on revolutionaries shows that they often have a very strong idea of how the world should be. They become convinced that they know better than those who are in power today and take action to make the world in the way that they want it to be. Entrepreneurs share that strong sense that they know how the world can be changed.


November 2015

Safety vs. Risk and Trust

When the Allies invaded Normandy in WWII, the German command structure was so rigid that many decisions had to go to Adolf Hitler for approval. Similarly, during the Vietnam War, President Nixon had so much fear about how the war was going that he personally was participating in the details of air strikes and ground actions. We see similar fear in many a corporate management and similar attempts to micro-manage. Places are installing surveillance cameras, computer key stroke loggers, and other technologies to see what people are doing. On the other side, we see companies tossing out org. charts, allowing people to work from home, and looking for outcome based management.


Pushing harder vs. Redesigning

Even though Americans are the hardest working people in the "first world", many bosses pressure workers to work harder. The trouble is that pressure does not yield much more work. The best productivity gains come when we redesign the work instead of pushing to work harder. That requires taking time to step back and ask what are we really trying to accomplish.


Prairie Trail Software offers a complementary newsletter, A View from the Prairie.

These newsletters are our chief form of marketing. But beyond letting our clients know that we exist, they also provide a great source of information about consulting in general.

Our newsletters are completely free and available on request. Recent newsletters are available on the web after print publication.