Are Liberal Concerns Extending U.S. Wars Overseas and Boosting Budget Deficits?

 
 

 

Perhaps the saddest part of the tale of deceit by Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Deceit, is not that he stole money from his charity, lied about his charming story of being nursed back to health and didn't buid the schools he claimed to have built.

The saddest part of the story is that he made us believe we could win the cultural war in Afghanistan if only we would do good works like build schools. He played on our sentiments, in particular, by insisting we could change the nation's culture by educating its young girls.

Every U.S. soldier in Afghanistan was expected to read the book, and our mission changed from getting the bad guys to liberalizing Afghanistan.

It was a fool's errand that has cost us many lives and has contributed to many deaths and instability in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. It has also cost us a lot of money and mired us in a war that can't be won.

That is the danger of idealism. On person spins a pretty story about how we can change the world. A whole nation buys it. Now we are in trouble.

Nobody in America would disagree that it would be better if Afghanistan were to have a more tolerant culture. But you don't teach tolerance by occupying a country. You don't change a culture through force of arms. We should know that by now. Our pacification efforts in Vietnam only served to alienate more and more of the population while hardening our enemy. Once we left Vietnam, the government no longer had a reason to support such a militarist approach and the government today continues to move toward being a more open society.

Perhaps it will take much longer for societies like Afghanistan's to become more open, to protect women's rights than we would like. But that is not something we can accelerate through use of force. That change must come from within the culture.

Meanwhile, spending so much on defense weakens our ability to spend on important needs here at home.

We simply have to admit that we cannot be the policeman of the world. We don't have the resources or the authority, and we don't have much of a track record of success.

 

CEO Adviser: Paving the Way to Digital

CEO Adviser: Paving the Way to Digital

How the Northwest’s leading asphalt company is embracing technology.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

“What’s the ROI on software?”

This is the question facing many leaders of traditional mid-market companies. For a well-established family-run business, there is often the temptation to invest in assets that can generate revenue faster in the short term instead of technology upgrades that don’t deliver immediate profit.

When I first met Mike Lee, president of Lakeside Industries, he asked an interesting question: “Are we doing the right things when it comes to technology?” Lee understood that his 600-person asphalt company in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood had to make technology a strategic objective in order to ensure the future of the business.

Here are a few ways Lee showed leadership in making ones and zeroes important in an industry focused on rock and oil.

Establish crystal clarity about how digital can support the overall vision.

Lee had a compelling “why” and vision for the company in place: to make a lasting impact on our community, our relationships and our people, and to be the low-cost supplier that provides an exceptional customer experience. The core values focused on safety, environmental responsibility, quality and profitability. But there was no solid technology vision to realize it, and IT didn’t have a presence at the business table, so Lee made a point to involve the CFO/acting CIO. The beauty of setting a digital vision is in its simplicity — not looking at every solution available, but only those that can further the company’s reason for being. In Lakeside’s case, how could new technologies bring it closer to its employees, its community and its customers? How could software make it improve efficiency, visibility and environmental commitments? When Lee looked closely at his vision, it became clear that technology could help bolster it, but that it couldn’t happen without tech being elevated.

Identify the gaps that technology can fill. 

“There is more to our business than asphalt and paving,” says Lee. “We have to keep up with plant and equipment management, communications, competitors, security and environmental regulations.” Lee met with his CIO and IT directors to determine how technology was going to add value inside and outside the business. The firm developed a digital roadmap that provided clarity around the technology initiatives people were going to work on; for each, it set accountabilities, timelines and goals. They used this roadmap to manage ongoing progress and to determine whether or not the new “shiny technology objects” matched the vision and strategy. The most important initiative was to replace Lakeside’s aging enterprise resource planning system. This would require modernizing processes and technology infrastructure to support collaboration with business management across the company — a broad impact to the business. Another key initiative was improving how it estimated projects and managed customer relationships. This new system would only be successful with buy-in from the people in the field using the software.

Communicate the importance of technology to the management team.

While its employees are part of a family, Lakeside Industries is also a distributed business run by a group of autonomous regional managers who needed to believe in the vision. Lee presented the specifics of the strategy to all managers: The message was “IT can no longer be just a department.” Business and technology leaders — who rarely interfaced — had the opportunity to discuss and debate what was at stake. Their conclusion? Software isn’t a gutsy gamble or a bold bet — it’s table stakes. The result was a set of guiding principles, alignment and excitement for what’s ahead. For the first time in the company’s history, business and technology people now have harmony around a shared digital vision — working together as one to contribute to healthier profitability and improved customer relations. In the end, Lakeside Industries’ road to the future has been paved with much more than good intentions. 

TIM GOGGIN is president of Sappington, a Seattle consulting firm that advises clients on digital change. Reach him at tim.goggin@sappington.co.