Archive for the ‘Inequity’ Category

Via the SwampFox Insights blog:

“The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.”

—Dr. Paul Polak, International Development Enterprises

The man has a point.

Check out this brilliant website.

A lot of people don’t think of “design” as being all that important, because our daily interactions with “design” are limited to gadgets like the iPod or the latest pair of Oakley sunglasses, or maybe a faucet or something. Maybe we think of design when it comes to cars and clothes and furniture. But smart design can also save thousands of lives every day. Yes, something as seemingly superfluous as “design” can change the world. (Starting with the first tool, taking a detour via the wheel, and fast-forwarding to the millions of things we now take for granted, like the plasma TV, the hybrid automobile, the artificial heart, and even the ubiquitous bottle of Coca Cola.

If you aren’t the humanitarian type and couldn’t care less about saving lives, bear in mind that design can also create entirely new markets. (We just talked about getting there before the herd, so your ears should be perking up just about now.)

How can smart design can create new markets? According to this article in the New York Times entitled “Design That Solves Problems for the World’s Poor” (annoying subscription required):

“A billion customers in the world, are waiting for a $2 pair of eyeglasses, a $10 solar lantern and a $100 house.”

For starters.

That’s something to think about. Not in terms of exploitation, but in terms of wealth and opportunity creation. (The development of the easy-to-use, virtually crunch-proof windup $100 laptop – specifically designed to introduce computers and the internet to 3rd world children – is probably among the most ambitious of these types of endeavors, but also a great example of how we can start to create opportunity in regions of the world in which mere survival is still the order of the day.)

While everyone else is trying to appeal to the richest 10%, maybe, just maybe, the real opportunities are elsewhere. Maybe the time to get into these markets is before they even exist. The seeds are being planted now. The herd is starting to gather. Maybe by the time the market exists and the pastures are green and lush, you’ll find yourself in the back again. Maybe you’ll kick yourself in the butt for not having made a move sooner. (History repeats itself.)

What if you could create one of the most lucrative companies of the 21st century AND save tens of thousands of lives at the same time? What if you really could be enormously successful AND help save the world all in one fell swoop? What if you could have your cake and eat it too?

In this economy, perhaps these are questions worth asking yourself – especially if you are a US or Western European manufacturing company looking for a reason to go on.

Don’t even approach the problem from a humanitarian standpoint if you don’t want to. Approach it from a business standpoint. Here’s the problem you need to solve: 90% of the planet’s population wants something that they probably can’t get very easily. All you have to do is figure out what that is, how much they’re willing to pay for it, and how to get it to them. It could be a mode of transportation. It could be a light source. It could be a sanitary product. It could be food. It could be a garment. It could be knowledge. It could be something as simple as a tougher bicycle wheel. It could be anything.

There is no single answer. There are probably thousands upon thousands. And that’s exciting.

Whatever it is, it could also have applications right here, where the richest 10% of the world population lives and eats and shops 24/7/365.

It might even be a better option than trying to become the next Google.

Food for thought.

So… what are you working on right now?

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Watching it burn

Some of us who have managed projects know a little bit about budgets. Simply put, a budget is a bucket of money set up to pay for all of the line items in a project – or a series of projects.

Typically, the budget is set based on little things like what the client (internal or external) is looking to accomplish, what the client is able to spend, and ROI: (Return On Investment) Do the project’s benefits outweigh its cost, etc.

If you’re thinking “wow, that sounds like it takes a lot of planning and strategery,” you’re right. It does. The one thing you want to ensure as a project manager is that the goals, tactics and budget are aligned before a project starts: If the project is going to cost more than the budget allows, something is going to have to be cut from the project. Simple, basic stuff. If you don’t do this, you might run out of money before the project ends, which isn’t good. Your options then are a) ask the client for more money, b) close the project before having delivered it 100%, or c) eat the added cost. None of these options are good.

It’s with this simple methodology that I look at our federal budget deficit. Is it more complex than a marketing campaign? Of course it is. Infinitely so. But the principle is the same: Figure out how much funding you need to operate your series of projects (social security, national defense, infrastructure, research, wars, etc.), make the necessary adjustments, and go forward with what you can afford.

… Except… that isn’t how everyone understands the fundamentals of running a business/country. The latest Budget Deficit figures look pretty impressive. From CNN.com:

The White House on Monday predicted a record deficit of $490 billion for the 2009 budget year, a senior government official told CNN.

The deficit would amount to roughly 3.5 percent of the nation’s $14 trillion economy.

The official pointed to a faltering economy and the bipartisan $170 billion stimulus package that passed earlier this year for the record deficit.

The fiscal year begins October 1, 2008.

The federal deficit is the difference between what the government spends and what it takes in from taxes and other revenue sources. The government must borrow money to make up the difference.

President Bush inherited a budget surplus of $128 billion when he took office in 2001 but has since posted a budget deficit every year.


Maybe I am reading this wrong, but if the FY’09 $490 BILLION deficit is indeed for the 2009 budget year, we’re talking about overspending $1,342,465,700 per day for 365 days in a row.

Wait… Let me get this straight. The US government is overspending (all up) at a rate of 1.3 BILLION dollars per day?

Tell me I’m not understanding this correctly. Please. Someone tell that figure needs to somehow be stretched out over the last 8 years or something… Pretty please? Tell me there is no way that the United States of America’s operating budget is so poorly managed that it bleeding $1.3B per day. Tell me I am wrong about this.  Tell me there is a plan to fix this. One that doesn’t involve a) just printing more money, or b) borrowing from foreign banks.

Maybe this kind of topic changes the conversation when it comes to what types of questions really need to be on people’s minds (and lips) when political candidates (from Presidential elections down to your municipal seats) run for office. Maybe the conversation should shift from soft broad-sweeping opinions about religion and security to cold hard facts and specific plans to fix what is broken. And by the way, this isn’t an indictment of either political party. Republicans and democrats together need to fix this – which is to say this isn’t just about this candidate or that one, but about us, American taxpayers and voters, who perhaps should refocus our attention when it comes to our definition of political leadership, and what our silver-haired years will be like, and the future our children will inherit.

Maybe there’s a branding lesson in there somewhere, both for world powers and the political candidates who aspire to help run them.

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In 1970, the average CEO in the US made 28 times more than the average worker. 35 years later, that number had increased to 465 times. Nice visual/interactive presentation over at Business Interactive.

I haven’t done the math yet, but I suspect there might be a direct correlation between CEO compensation and the increase in CO2 levels in Al Gore’s inconvenient presentation.

465 times the salary of the average worker. Wow. That would buy a lot of $0.99 junior Whoppers.

What does this post have to do with building brands? When the gap between CEO pay and their average workers’ pay gets this wide, people start getting cynical about their company. Especially when benefits get cut every year. Especially when more jobs start getting outsourced. Especially when layoffs become common. Especially when the company’s products, customer service and innovation quotient are suffering. Inequity doesn’t exactly sell brands. Fatcat loser CEOs are seen as merchants of exploitation, and no one wants to be a part of that.

As the asian stock markets start to crash again today (hopefully, things will get back to normal in a day or two), I thought it might be fun to look at who won’t be hitting the bread lines when the fit eventually hits the shan.

Wages 465 times greater than the average worker – in many cases, for playing a lot of golf. Brioches, anyone?

To leave comments (and read previous, related posts) hit the brandbuilder’s main page.

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Whether we like it or not, the good old US of A is a brand. Our mark is the Stars & Stripes. Yep, that’s right. The United States of America, like France, like Switzerland, like Canada is a brand.

If you were to show an American flag to most people around the world in 1950 (except maybe Japan and Communist countries), you would probably get a very different reaction than you would now.

The US was basically the political equivalent of Superman or Captain America back then. The US had defeated the original axis of evil. The US, through NATO was protecting Western Europe from Soviet invasion. The US was dumping mucho dinero internationally to try and help rebuild Europe and other parts of the world that had been shattered during WWII. The US made the coolest cars. Had the coolest cigarettes, the strongest economy, the best commercial airliners, the most glamorous musicians and movie stars. The US was the bright shining light of 20th century civilization. It was the land of milk and honey.

Kinduv. But you get the drift.

Jump to 2007. Go around the world and show people an American flag and see what happens. The reaction won’t be the same as it was just two generations ago.

Now, the brandbuilder blog is not a political vehicle. I keep political topics and viewpoints out of the discussions we have here. So don’t assume that I am either pro-Bush or anti-Bush. My political views are irrelevant to this discussion. The point I am trying to make is that in sixty-some years, the image of the United States of America has not improved. Quite the contrary.

If you don’t agree with this statement, you live in La-La land. (And by that, maybe I mean Los Angeles. And by Los Angeles, maybe I mean the Los Angeles Sheriff’s office. More on that in a sec.)

I think it’s safe to say that the US has lost some traction when it comes to being a bright shining example for the world. Aside from the current administration’s lack of popularity, and the ill-fated war in Iraq, the US’s image isn’t being helped by the rampant alledged corruption surrounding companies like Enron, Halliburton, Tyco, etc. Golden parachutes, mass firings, and bankruptcies don’t help anyone feel all that great about the US either. The gap between the super-wealthy and the poor keeps growing.

Our obsession with wealth and materialism is reaching Roman proportions: While the super-rich become more and more irresponsibly extravagant, hundreds of thousands of middle-class Americans are slipping into poverty, thanks to the skyrocketing costs of healthcare, energy products, and interest rates.

None of this is healthy.

When people talk about the fall of the Roman Empire, one of the terms they invariably use is decadence. Perhaps a more relevant term may be inequity. Decadence, in and of itself, doesn’t destroy empires. Inequity does. When a) the have-nots outnumber the haves, b) the haves start acting like complete jackasses, and c) the haves start to appear to be above the law, bad things start to happen.

This is what starts revolutions in most countries.

The last thing the US needs is another Enron. Another Katrina. Another Rodney King case. Another golden parachute.

And another Paris Hilton get-out-of-jail-free card.

The word of the day, remember, is inequity.

What happened today in Los Angeles – and by that, I mean Paris Hilton’s release from jail, may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but this is precisely the sort of thing that a nation with an image problem doesn’t need.

I can guarantee that if I were pulled over by a traffic cop and failed a DUI test, my car would be towed and impounded, and I would be immediately booked. My second offense would not result in a warning or probation. My third would see my driving privileges permanently revoked, and I would be serving hard time. In a real jail. With real criminals.

And that would be fair.

Now… I don’t think that I would enjoy prison very much, so I make a point not to drink and drive. But more than my aversion for the prospect of forced prison sex with dudes named Ralph or Red Bone, the reason I don’t drive drunk is because I value human life. Not just my own, but other lives as well. The last thing I want to do is sideswipe a schoolbus, or get in a head-on collision with a family of six. I don’t want to hurt or kill anyone with my car and my bad judgment.

Let me say this again:

I don’t want to kill somebody’s mom.

I don’t want to kill or paralyze someone’s little girl.

I don’t even want to send Scruffy the family cat to the pet hospital.

So I don’t drink and drive.

Paris Hilton doesn’t seem to be on the same wavelength.

Which is why we have DUI laws – to make sure that people too dumb and selfish to understand that partying behind the wheel can destroy lives have an incentive not to kill innocent people.

Unfortunately, our strange fascination with self-destructive celebrities and the super wealthy seems to be affecting the good judgment of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department, which should have been a lot more diligent about doing their job when it comes to the chronically DUI Paris Hilton: After way too many DUI traffic stops than necessary to finally force her to face jail time, those jackasses allowed her to leave her jail cell today and go home.

Don’t even get me started on the house arrest thing, and the ankle bracelet. She’s Paris Hilton. There’s no such thing as House Arrest for someone like her. She lives in a mansion!!!!!! Come on!!!!

Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t care what Paris Hilton does with herself. I really couldn’t give a flip. She can attend all the parties she wants, drink and snort coke as much as she wants, make as many accidental sex tapes as she wants, date rock stars and billionaire sons of trillionaires, and spend her endless fortune as she sees fit. Her decadence is completely irrelevant. To each his own. I sure as hell won’t judge her for wanting to have fun and live the life that she has chosen for herself.

But when Paris gets behind the wheel of her car after having one too many drinks, she becomes a criminal, and law enforcement agencies who cross paths with her have a responsibility to fulfill.

It was bad enough that it took as many traffic stops to finally have Paris face jail time. Already, the stench of inequity was in the air. But today, her release from jail after less than a week behind bars was like a giant kick to the huevos of the American Justice System.

It is very difficult to keep a society healthy when justice stops being blind. When the super-rich or the well-connected don’t have to answer to the same laws as the rest of the populace.

Believe it or not, the entire world is watching this moronic fiasco. This next step down a dangerous road towards self-destruction. They are watching the United States turn into a second-rate nation whose institutions now seem irreparably corrupt. (When an organization as powerful as the LAPD or the Los Angeles Sheriff’s office starts to cater to the whims of a washed-out billionaire party-girl who wanted to get out of jail, you know you’ve pretty-much hit rock bottom.)

What happened here? Did poor little Paris cry for her mommy? Did her shrink insist that she might have a anorexic relapse because of the stress? Was she losing too much weight eating prison food? Did her family’s lawyers threaten to sue?

I’m glad that we’ve officially entered an era of “if you’re rich enough, you don’t actually have to go to jail anymore.” At least we know where we all stand.

Paris Hilton’s case, however insignificant to important world events like wars and elections and famines and pandemics as it may be, is sadly symptomatic of the larger problems facing the United States in the coming years. As insignificant and ridiculous as it is, it is nonetheless a turning point in this country’s history – and in the way that the United States is seen by the other 6 billion people around the world.

Thanks for turning “The Land of Opportunity” into “The Land of Corruption.” That was sweet. Well done, everybody. We used to think that the corruption was mostly at very high corporate levels like… the Enrons of the world. Now we know it has made its way to the LA County Jail as well.

Good job. Really. I raise my glass to you, whomever you are.

In a very real way, Paris Hilton is a (pop) cultural icon specifically because she embodies so many elements of American culture today, both good and bad. She is rich. She is glamorous. She does whatever she pleases. And at the same time, she is a trainwreck of self-indulgence, ego, and immaturity.

Our fascination with Paris may very well be as narcissistic as she is. That’s kind of scary, when you think of it this way: Paris Hilton isn’t just selling fashion and burgers and magazines. She is also selling the downfall of the American brand to everyone with access to a TV or a newspaper or an internet terminal.

Paris Hilton is the poster girl for what is probably the end for Brand USA. She is Inequity’s Typhoid Mary. She is what’s left of Lady Liberty once you strip her of the dusty robes once threaded with the abandoned dreams of the Founding Fathers. She has replaced Superman and Captain America as the vessel for the new American identity. And that is scary as hell.

As a friend emailed me today:

“Paris Hilton is the charicature of American success — unbelievably rich, amazingly ignorant, moderately attractive after several surgeries, slutty, and self-destructive.”

I get goosebumps just reading that. Brand USA needs some serious help. What the hell happened?!

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