We had company over the weekend. My youngest daughter and new son-in-law (a phrase I’m still getting used to) came to visit, which meant taking time out to write a new KJR just wasn’t going to happen.

So instead, enjoy this oldie but very, very goodie (in my not very humble opinion, at least). I’ll be back live next week.

– Bob


Dear Bob,

I know this is a rather odd question, but I need your help with ManagementSpeak. No, it’s not translating it, it’s me translating to it!

I’ve been told that although I speak very well to and/or with end-users, I need to work more on talking with upper management. Three different managers have suggested this, so for the sake of my career and IS survival, I’m taking them seriously.

I’m pretty sure the very thing my manager wants is what you lampoon in your columns. Do you have any suggestions on learning how to translate into ManagementSpeak instead of your normal practice of translating from it? Just as important, can you tell me how to not snicker while I’m doing it?

Dancing around issues and trying to put a positive spin on everything, even when they are potential issues that need to be addressed, seems rather hypocritical. However, in the interest of my career, I have to at least try to overcome this particular “weakness.” Any suggestions, thoughts, or comments would be greatly appreciated.

– Talkin’ Trash in Tennessee

Dear Talkin’,

Here are a few suggestions that may help out. They may sound cynical, but they’re intended to help you be more persuasive, not manipulative. Use them with restraint, or you’ll go home every day feeling like you need a shower.

Rule #1: Never say “no.” You can present alternatives and estimate costs. You can explain that you don’t have the authority to say “yes” on your own. You can “see what the committee thinks about it.” “No” wrecks your image.

Rule #2: Never argue. “I think you’re wrong” just entrenches your opponent. If possible, make your own idea sound like a simple modification to your opponent’s moronic notion. If that isn’t possible, you can usually get away with, “I used to think the exact same thing. Then I ran across a book by Irving Slobodkin, and it made an interesting point.” That way you aren’t arguing — it’s Slobodkin who’s arguing.

Rule #3: Never present an idea as new or original. “I’ve read that some other companies are doing this [this being your great idea] when they’ve found themselves in this situation,” is far better. Why? First, new ideas are risky; “others are doing it” reduces the hazard. Second, nobody inside your company is allowed to be an expert. Why? That would make them better than the rest of us — who do you think you are, anyway? By quoting the experts rather than presenting yourself as one, you maintain the appearance of humility.

Rule #4: Find the upside. There are, after all, no problems, only opportunities. To avoid the cliche, make it a question: “How can we turn this to our advantage?” Many problems really are opportunities in disguise. Most are solvable challenges when faced with the right attitude but disasters when faced with the wrong one. (Don’t be asinine, though. The atmosphere gets icky when managers say brainless things like, “Don’t think of it as being unemployed and unable to feed your family. Think of it as an opportunity to broaden your horizons.”)

Understanding why you should follow these rules should help you keep a straight face and stay inside the fine line that separates diplomacy from stupidity on the one side and simple deception on the other.

Management has a lot in common with chess strategy. Each move you make has more at stake than achieving a single objective. Each should help you build a strong position as well. That means your speech should enhance relationships and alliance while avoiding the creation of antagonism or antagonists.

If all you want is to be right all the time, fine — just forget about your management aspirations. Being right is for staff. Leadership roles require you to be effective as well. Among the many skills this requires is the ability to present intrinsically unpleasant notions in ways that make them seem palatable.

Think of it this way: Somebody once figured out how to make raw oysters sound like a delicacy, not a pile of slimy goo. Sometimes, when you’re leading people, you have to achieve the same, seemingly insurmountable goal or nothing good will ever happen.


Well this is gratifying, other than getting no credit: According to a story in Bloomberg News,White House, Equifax Agree: Social Security Numbers Must Go” (Nafeesa Syeed and Elizabeth Dexheimer, 10/4/2017).

While I’d rather my vindication came from a more credible pair of sources, I’ll take it where I can get it.

Speaking of revisiting a subject, as regular readers know, one of my hobbies is collecting sources of market failure. Another one has just popped up, and like the others it’s relevant to you: ATM fees are going up, and have been for 11 straight years, this according to a recent story in Bloomberg, “ATM Fees are Out of Control” (Susan Woolley, 10/2/2017).

I know you, as a regular KJR reader, are as astonished as if you’d read “Sun sets in west for 11 straight days” or “Helium balloons continue to rise.” Let me reassure you. The rise has been at roughly three times the overall rate of inflation. It’s real.

Still, inflation is an average — the price of different products rises at different rates. So it isn’t that ATM fees are increasing that’s interesting. It’s why: ATM fees are rising because demand has been steadily falling.

The interrelationships among supply, demand, and price are supposed to be governed by a universal and inviolable law.

But it’s only inviolable until we violate one of its underlying assumptions.

So just as the second law of thermodynamics (entropy, which states the net disorder in a system must always increase) only applies when the total amount of energy in the system remains constant (snowflakes can form when it doesn’t), so the law of supply and demand only works when the cost of supply is variable.

But as much of the cost of banks’ ATM networks is fixed, supply is, in the short and medium term, fixed as well. Demand, on the other hand, changes one consumer purchase at a time. Over the 11-year span in question, consumer purchases have steadily switched from cash to plastic, and, for that matter, from plastic to on-line.

A fixed number of ATM machines divided by fewer cash withdrawals means a higher amortized cost per withdrawal.

Viola! Market failure at its finest.

But it isn’t just that the cost of supply is fixed in this system (or semi-variable for those of you who insist on such matters). There’s another, hidden assumption this system violates: The law of supply and demand assumes whoever is selling a product is competing for customers’ business … not only against those who sell highly similar wares, but also against those who sell equivalent wares.

Which is to say, banks aren’t in the business of selling cash to consumers, so they have no particular reason to make cash a more attractive payment vehicle than credit and debit cards.

So I suppose it’s equally valid to say cash isn’t a product, so there’s no market here to fail.

What do these perspectives have to do with running an IT organization, or, for that matter, any cost center in a large business?

It has to do with how too many executives in large enterprises think about supply and demand: Just as banks, faced with a decreasing demand for cash money, will eventually shrink their ATM networks until the cost of supply is more in line with decreased demand, so large enterprises, when faced with decreasing demand for their products and services, tend to invest far more time and attention to decreasing supply than increasing demand.

That is, they lay people off, diminishing delivery capacity, with far more gusto than figuring out why they aren’t selling enough products and services, and what they can do to fix the problem.

This can and does enter the world of the absurd, where cost-cutting includes shrinking the sales force and reducing the advertising budget.

Not to mention the IT budget, much of which, in this day and age, is devoted to acquiring and retaining customers, and increasing their walletshare.

What can you as an IT leader do to prevent cost-cutting as a way to deal with declining revenues?

If you’re facing this situation, nothing. It’s too late. But if the business isn’t in crisis, here’s what you can and should do.

Businesses can invest in only four areas: Revenue enhancement, cost reduction, risk management, and mission. Your job: Recommend that all strategy discussions start with deciding how to allocate the company’s investment budget among these four bottom-line goods.

It’s a way to make sure the company’s management culture includes a revenue focus. Because it is, after all, always the culture.

Not that I’m going to say I told you so.

But I did.