Sunday, April 25, 2010

Organization Bloomerg Style

My most recent “fun” book is Michael Bloomberg’s autobiography entitled Bloomberg by Bloomberg. I just kind of stumbled on to it. Both my roommates work for the company so not only does our household own a copy, but I also wanted to get to know more about my roommates’ work environment. In the book, Bloomberg tells an inspirational story of Bloomberg’s (the company) nascent years, the challenges the company faced and ultimately over-came.

What I liked about this book (and autobiographies in general) is learning about some of Michael’s eccentric, yet insightful philosophies on life, work and success. I liked Michael’s ideas on organization in particular, something I personally struggle with.

With regards to deciding which business tasks (accounting, logistics, sales, etc) to focus on, Michael had this to say:

"In computer terms, doing it whenever needed, on the fly, is working from a “heap,” not a “stack” or a “queue.” Working from stacks and queues is the rigid, bureaucratized method of operating; it makes you take out things in a predescribed order (i.e., last in, first out for a stack; first in, first out for a queue). But if you work from a heap, where input and output are independent, you can use your head, selecting what you need, when you need it, based on outside criteria that are always changing (e.g. what’s needed now, such as responding immediately to a customer complaint or getting a gift for your spouse’s birthday when that day arrives and you’ve totally forgotten). Look at your desk. Is everything in order? Or is it in a big pile like mine? Take your choice."

What I like best about Michael’s “heap” approach to organization is its focus on responding to external pressures. It is the most merit-based approach for organization. Those tasks that are most important to the business (our your daily work) are done first, regardless of how long other things have been on the to-do list.

Essential to this approach, however, is a constant evaluation of external pressures. In high-level, macro analysis of strategy, this could happen on a quarterly or monthly basis. On a more micro, personal to-do list level, this could happen weekly, even daily. In this regard, it is the most demanding approach to organization.

That’s not to say the “stack” or “queue” approaches to organization are not useful. I can only imagine the customer service rep that decided to switch to the heap method of organization (Don’t bother calling if your problem isn’t life threatening). These two systems certainly have their uses.

As I mentioned above, organization is a real problem for me. Some times I over organize and some time I don’t organize enough. Either way the result is paralysis.
After trying a couple different approaches to organizing my work load, I have come up with the follow action points. Maybe they will be useful to you. Please share any thoughts you might have.

Action Points
On a weekly basis I will create a high-level to-do list that incorporates everything I am responsible for. This will give me a bird’s eye-view of what my week will look like and it will also give me the opportunity to share with my manager(s) to decide priorities.

I will use Outlook’s task function to create smaller tasks for each project I am working on. This will help me to keep track of the finer details of each project and insure they are completed on time.

I will trust my organization approach. This will help me to stop loosing focus on the project at hand for fear I have forgotten something.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Future of Hong Kong

Living and working for the past seven months in Hong Kong has been nothing less than dream. Hong Kong is full of all the luxuries of the west, but also has a charm that only the east could provide. I have been treated to fun and exciting things to do on a weekly basis, and although the air pollution is terrible compared to San Diego, it doesn’t hold a candle to the levels in some of the cities in Mainland China.
Yet, things in Hong Kong aren’t all they seem to be. There is an anxiety about the city. The leadership of the CCP in the Mainland has said a number of times that they hope to turn Shanghai into a major financial center by 2020. Obviously this would transfer the center of ‘financial services’ gravity away from Hong Kong, a financial service heavy economy, challenging the city to find new industries to keep it relevant and to maintain its high standard of living. But to be honest, when Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Donald Tsang announced his plan to add new industries to Hong Kong’s repertoire a couple months ago, few seemed to take him serious. Economically speaking, Hong Kong could be looking at a difficult future.
So why am I not scared for Hong Kong?
I regularly read one of Hong Kong’s free newspapers: The Standard. Earlier this week, as I was flipping through the pages on my lunch break, I got to a cluster of articles under the “China” section. The first was an article entitled “Internet fears deepen over ‘white list’ bid”. Apparently Beijing plans to block even more websites from people using websites in the Mainland. They say that this is to block the growing number of porn websites but politically dissenting websites will almost certainly be blocked too.
The next article was about a Father who started a website for parents of children who became ill from drinking tainted milk (tens of thousands of children became sick after executives at a baby formula factory put an industrial chemical into the formula to boost protein levels). The website was designed to provide information and resources to parents. The Father was arrested and jailed for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.
The last article was of a 53-year old man who was charged with “inciting subversion of state power” for co-authoring a widely circulated petition that called for political reform (what was this guy thinking?). After a year, he is finally going to trial. European and US diplomats have been barred from attending the trial.
The collection of these three articles was too much for me. I started laughing. If I’m a country, I would be doing my best to make my country as enticing as possible to global talent. Yet it seems like the government is doing everything it can to make the prospect of life in China a nightmare. As a foreigner, I’m giving a lot of thought to if I ever want to work in the mainland. Can I get away with living and officing in Hong Kong, and just visiting the Mainland? Would any foreigner in their right mind ever think of setting up a ‘life’ in this country? Currently facebook is blocked there. When you consider the fact that the language barrier in even the most developed cities is still a very big issue, keeping in touch with friends from home (via facebook) is a very important thing.
The top global talent will continue to flock to Hong Kong. The economic opportunities of China combined with the freedoms and luxuries that only a global city like Hong Kong could provide will ensure this. As long as the leadership in China continue to make stupid moves, no foreigner in their right mind would bother to stick around the Mainland after their fortune has been made.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Years!!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

..And Close The Loop

Though small, Hong Kong manages to pack in plenty of architectural wonders, tourist attractions, wildlife reserves and lots and lots people. It’s truly amazing how much Hong Kong has to offer in relation to its small size. But all this activity in such a small place has its downside. Waste in the ‘territory’ is becoming an increase problem. There are three landfills, which by the mid 2010’s, each will reach maximum capacity if the current growth rate of waste continues. This will require the HK Government to designate an additional 400 hectares to the development of a landfill, including the cutting down of precious carbon dioxide breathing trees, and adding another location where dangerous chemicals can enter the local habitat or poison the ground water.

Surprisingly, in my research I have found few initiatives in Hong Kong that have attempted to tackle this problem. Poisonous metals and chemicals aside, Hong Kong’s consumption-led life-style produces a staggering amount of solid waste – each year, more than 6 million tones of (municipal) solid waste is generated. Friends of the Earth (FoE), a global environmental advocate with a local branch in Hong Kong has a number of recycling initiatives for: clothing, CDs, electronics, etc; all of which, unfortunately, seem to be lacking critical features for success.

First, they lack the scale needed to engender consistent behavior. It is practically a truism to say behavior is a hard thing to change. If a service is not consistently provide, it will be hard to change peoples’ consumption and waste management behaviors. An example of a successful waste management program is when the government provides multiple bins for recycling different waste products and commits to picking those bins up on a consistent basis, over a long period of time. Unfortunately, FoE does not have the resources to commit to any recycling program of this scale and therefore cannot produce an effective recycling program.

Second, the programs do not attempt to manage or change the values of society. In Hong Kong it is polite not to spit, to give up your seat on the MTR (Subway) to the elderly, to throw rubbish in a bin, to use two hands to exchange name (business) cards and to wear a mask when you are sick. Unfortunately, it is neither polite nor impolite to recycle, reduce or reuse (rrr), it’s just something overly green people choose to do. In order to change behavior (without using economical stimulants. E.g. taxes), initiatives must change the perception of rrr – it must become as acceptable as holding the door for a perfect stranger.

Other programs in Hong Kong, such as the Energywi$e and Wastewi$e labeling schemes, are programs sponsored by the HK Gov that attempt to reward companies with positive publicity for their contribution to environmentally friendly practices. Unfortunately, these programs are also lacking. In order for these labels to be truly successful, consumers must first be aware of it and second value it. Both seem rare among HK consumers.

For my San Diego people, please have a look at http://www.recyclesandiego.org/. Recycle San Diego (RSD) offers a critical amount of services and flexibility for corporate clients and consumers alike to adjust their behaviors over time. RSD also participates in a number of community outreach and educational initiatives, attempting to change the values and priorities of consumers and professionals so that eventually recycling will become common etiquette.