Friday, February 22, 2013

Inspiring Greatness...


Mentally compile a list of the most influential people in your life...
I’m certain that your list would include a few of the following people:
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Grandparents and other extended family
  • Neighbors
  • Sports coaches
  • Church leaders
  • Community volunteers - such as scout leader
  • Close friends
These people helped to create and mold you into the person you are today by helping you to explore new ideas, thoughts and concepts.  They provided mentoring and encouraged you to always do your best.

And while the people listed above are of an extreme importance in our lives, there was no individual or group that was more influential in my personal development than that of the school teachers that I was so fortunate to have had.

My teachers, as a whole, were patient, kind, encouraging, demanding, intelligent, energetic, understanding, generous and dedicated to the principle of transference of knowledge, experience, and sometimes wisdom to their students... students like you... students like me...

It was through their guidance that traits like perseverance, leadership, ethics, self-esteem, creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking were first introduced and developed.

My teachers were selfless and were passionate about teaching... they found ways to motivate students... tailoring their teaching methods to adapt to different learning styles... to put the children and their formal education above all else...
... but then things began to change... for reasons that are very unclear and opaque... (at least to me... )

Along the way... tests scores, as measured against the rest of the world, began to decline... blame for these low scores was soon cast about...

First, the curriculum was the target... "whole language" learning... "new" math... too much time being spent on the arts and not enough time being spent on the sciences... not enough time was being spent on the three "R"s.

Then it became a matter of money... if we just throw enough money at the problem... then the problems will go away... and the test scores will go up...

The problem with this thinking is that each state spent money independently on education... therefore there would always be the highest spending state and the lowest spending state... this eventually turned into a runaway competition... whoever could spend more would naturally have better resources and consequently better test scores...

Consultants were hired... advanced degrees were required... theories and hypotheses about how to fix the problems abounded...

The fingers of blame quickly started pointing to the teachers... "it must be them since they are on the front lines... the teacher, via the unions, are sucking the schools dry of resources and we’re getting very little back in return... "

(A quick side bar: In California, education K-12 funding amounts to $9,375 per child - 35th highest in the nation - the average class size is close to 25 children (depending on grade) - this means that each average classroom is funded to the tune of $234,375... even supposing that a teacher earns 1/3 of the average funding ($78,125)... that still means that 2/3 of the funding is being spent for things besides teacher salaries... definitely something to think about).

The problem with education is not programs... money... teacher’s salaries... or testing...

The problem is the entire system... the rules... the laws and regulations... politics... mandates... lawsuits... tenure... the administration... the unions... THE BUREAUCRACY!!

Education should be about... transferring knowledge... encouraging creativity... developing young and fertile minds into critical thinkers... making learning fun and enjoyable!

In response to the bureaucracy and political problems that now shrouds education, new charter schools have emerged that allow educators, children and parents to start the education process anew.

One such charter school is the Knowledge is Power Program... known as the KIPP schools

Founded in 1994 by two former educators, KIPP now comprises of more than 125 campuses in more than 20 states.

Over 85% of the children attending KIPP are from low-income families and 95% of the students are African-American or Latino. 9% of the students have special education needs and 14% speak English as a second language.

The basic goal of the school is simple; prepare its students to graduate from a four-year college.

Although each campus is different, they all operate under the school’s core values known as the 5 Pillars: 
  • High Expectations
  • Choice and Commitment
  • More Time
  • Power to Lead
  • Focus on Results
Although they are not paid any better than the prevailing wage, KIPP attracts only the best and the brightest teachers. Each teacher is measured, mentored and monitored.

At KIPP schools, the teachers learn just as much as the students, constantly honing their skills while learning new techniques in a cooperative not competitive environment.
KIPP believes in and fosters team teaching... where multiple teachers work together, not only to teach students, but to learn from each other as well.

At the KIPP schools, they are not satisfied with hiring just good teachers... they want to hire good teachers and make them great.

Students are only admitted by lottery and are required each week to attend over 40 hours of classroom instruction including 4 hours on Saturdays, plus regular homework (More Time - Pillar 3).

With such a rigorous schedule, one would think that there would be high rate of failure; however the school boasts an 89% year-to-year retention rate. In 2011, 94% of the incoming high school freshmen graduated (as compared to a national average of 83% and only 69% for low income families).

A full 84% of KIPP graduates go on to a 4-year college or university (compared to a national average of 63% - less than 40% for low-income kids).

Each KIPP school is measured and monitored independently with a detailed annual report card for each school published on the KIPP website. This allows the schools to operate with complete transparency and work together to continually enhance, improve and repair the ways they operate and educate.

The KIPP schools are public schools and primarily funded through our local tax money, federal educational grants and private endowments (including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). The schools are public and tuition free.

As I was researching the KIPP schools, I was particularly taken by the credo developed by a local San Diego KIPP campus that really sums up the entire KIPP experience: 
  • If there is a problem, we look for a solution
  • If there is a better way, we try to find it
  • If a teammate needs help, we give it
  • If we need help, we ask
I’m very encouraged by the strides we’re making to reinvent education and finding ways to improve the lives of those less fortunate than us.

So many young people have been locked out of the idea of the "American Dream".

Education and learning are the true keys to unlocking the potential that we all have inside of us...

... inspiring the greatness that lies in each and every one...

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse, where we enthusiastically support educational endeavors and hope that we will all become life-long learners...

Friday, February 15, 2013

In All Fairness...

The other day, I was watching my favorite college basketball team play on TV. The game was incredibly exciting with the score all tied up with 2 minutes to go.  

The opposing team attempted a shot but missed.  The rebound of the missed shot was collected by a player of the opposing team due to him pushing one of my players to the floor in what was an obvious foul.  No whistle... no foul.  An easy "put-back" basket was made by the rebounding player (since his defender was now on the floor).

As a passionate fan, I found myself screaming at the referees (although since I was sitting in front of my television some 1500 miles away... I highly doubt that they heard me).

I yelled out-loud, "How could those guys miss that play... it was right in front of them!!".

Then as the ever present optimist, I thought, "well they will surely make it up when we get the ball".

On the ensuing possession, our man drove to the basket only to be thrown to the floor by the defensive player... whistle blown... OFFENSIVE FOUL on our player!!.

The TV play-by-play man couldn’t hardly believe the foul call and described the call as a travesty...

At this point my blood was boiling... now with less than 45 seconds left and down by 2 points... it was time for a defensive stance...

My team played hard man-to-man defense for 30 seconds but as the shot-clock wound down, an out-of-control guard from the opposing team ran into a solidly set defensive player for an easy charge... whistle blown... DEFENSIVE FOUL!!...

At this point, the players are going crazy... the coaches are going crazy... the media announcers are going crazy... how could the call possibly have been made that way!!...

Three plays... three horrific calls... which ultimately decided the game...

The final buzzer sounded and my team lost by 4 points...

With the game now over, I regain my composure...

The events of the last few moments gave me a moment to reflect... and once again use the experience to gain some insight and review a couple of life’s lessons...

It’s only a game

Although the game was meaningful at the moment... win or lose... it’s still only a game (although it can be argued that college football and basketball have become billion dollar businesses as well).

As fans, we can get wrapped in the emotion of the game. I suppose it’s healthy to display some passion from time to time proving that we’re alive inside and that we have the capacity to care about something.

A game, no matter how important it might seem at the time, can never bring true meaning to a person’s life.  It is strictly entertainment.

True meaning comes from helping others, while leading a rich, productive, and fulfilling life not by living vicariously through sports teams, Hollywood celebrities, and/or business icons.

We need to forge our own paths and create our own life worth living.

Success isn’t always in our own control

A few months ago, I lost a large sale to a competitor... even though I know in my heart... that we were the best-fit solution for the customer. In addition to having the best solution, our pricing was much better than our competitor’s.

But in the end, this customer decided to go with our competitor because they had a longer history and a stronger brand name in the market... not because they had better products or pricing.

After receiving the bad news, (and in order so that I could at least learn a lesson from the experience), I asked the buyer (of whom I had now developed a good relationship with), what more could we have possibly done to win their business.

He answered me candidly by saying that we could have given them the better parts for free and we still wouldn’t have been considered...

The decision had been made by others far before we had ever given them our proposal... the deck was stack against us from the beginning...

Both basketball teams had played extremely hard that night... but in the end... the game’s outcome (success and failure) was in the hands of those not even playing (referees).

Sometimes these things happen... and there is very little we can do about it...

We’d like to believe that we’re in total control of our own destinies... but in reality... most of the time we’re not.

Trying hard doesn’t always equal success

In the classic movie Rudy, a young man without any outstanding physical attributes for playing football, manages through sheer heart and determination, to join the practice squad at the University of Norte Dame. After a series of improbable events, he is allowed to suit-up for the last game of the season and through crowd support, manages to play in one-meaningless play at the end of the game making a tackle.

Rudy is then carried off the field like a conquering hero.

Daniel "Rudy" Ruettier’s heart-warming story of overcoming adversity is perfectly suited for a feel-good Hollywood tale.

The reason we love stories like Rudy’s, is because they are the exception rather than the rule.

The truth is... a lot of people try real hard at trying to achieve a certain level of success... but success can be elusive... with only a narrow margin separating those at the top from the rest of the pack.

Competitors put in the time and energy... training and preparing... executing to the best of their ability.

In a horse race, a horse may win by only a nose over the course of a mile... but yet that horse will win 50% of the purse as compared to the second-place finisher who will win just 25% of the purse. The winner of the race wasn’t twice as good as the second-place finisher... rather just a nose better... but sometimes this is all it takes to separate a winner from an "also-ran"...

Most contests, regardless of how hard the combatants try, will produce only one winner...

This doesn’t take anything away from the losers who tried just as hard... there is no joy in losing... but there is no shame either...

Life isn’t always fair

Today several youth sports programs now regularly distribute trophies to all participants rather than to only the winners.

The idea behind this practice is that all of the participants were giving an equal effort so that they are all entitled to be winners.

Although this practice might be considered good for a young person’s self-esteem, it is a bad way to teach them life skills that they may need in order to truly compete one day.

There are times, when things will not go our way... we might get knocked down... we may have others determine our fate (good or bad)... we may be unlucky...

We may lose...

And that’s okay... life isn’t meant to be fair...

But what we can do is to pick ourselves back up... brush ourselves off... and try again... and keep going... to battle another day...

This is not always an easy thing to do... nor should it be...

It just makes the wins taste sweeter when they do come...

Thank you for your support for OptiFuse, where we might lose from time to time... but we’ll never stop trying...

Friday, February 8, 2013

Life on a Rollercoaster...

Mondays aren’t always bad. Some Mondays  are in fact pretty darn good.

This last Monday was no exception.

Life is good... 
I spent the previous weekend in San Francisco celebrating my wife’s birthday. Although it’s only a short one-hour flight from San Diego, we decided to take Friday afternoon off to get an early start on the weekend.

The weather in San Francisco was perfect; clear and crisp. Due to perhaps the offseason time of year and the special occasion that we were celebrating, the hotel upgraded us to the hotel’s honeymoon suite.

Friday evening, we had the opportunity to meet up with some old friends for an evening of drinks, laughter, and the recalling of fond memories.

Saturday night we discovered a hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant in the heart of North Beach with fantastic food and dark candle lit ambiance.  

In between dinners, we strolled along the streets and shops of the Marina District, rode the cable cars, and ate a picnic lunch in a park near the Presidio with the Golden Gate Bridge, sailboats, and Alcatraz in the background.

Sunday, we celebrated with locals as their team, the 49ers, attempted to bring a second major championship to the City within the last 6 months (with the SF Giants already a winner on the front end the daily double).

We arrived back home rested and refreshed... the perfect get-away weekend!

When I arrived at the office on Monday morning, I was greeted with smiles and good news from the team. Two very large projects... ones that we had been working on for several months... had closed and were now on the books. 

Throughout the day our phones rang with new opportunities for us.

Monday was a good day...
Life is not so good...

 Tuesdays... well... they are a different story altogether...

Tuesday I arrived at the office, grabbed some coffee and went to my office to start returning e-mail.

Shortly after I sat down, my phone rang.

The call was from an irate customer who had been promised delivery of some critical parts a week ago but never received them. She received some other OptiFuse parts that morning, but the most critical parts were missing from her shipment.

She was extremely upset and frustrated. I asked her some pertinent questions about the delivery... part numbers, and order numbers... and told her that I would have someone look into the matter right away.

Immediately I enlisted the help of our customer service and shipping team members to find out what happened to the missing package.

In very short order, we were able to determine that the package was incorrectly labeled and sent to another customer on the other side of the country by mistake. The most unfortunate problem was that this package was not even expected to be delivered for 3 more days and there was no additional product in our warehouse to re-send.

I needed to inform the customer we had no alternative other than to wait for three days until the parts showed up at the wrong customer, and then have that customer over-night the parts back to the correct customer adding a fourth day to the delay.

I picked up the phone and began to dial the customer’s number, when the line went dead.
"Now what?", I thought to myself.

I walked over to our general manager’s office and asked her to see if her phone worked... no... hers was dead too.

I immediately called the phone company on my cell phone. The representative on the line confirmed that service to the building switch was operational so that meant that our phone system had died.

I tried resetting the phone system but to no avail.

After calling our phone system company and performing some basic diagnostics, I was told that an onsite repair was necessary but that the earliest that they could get a technician out was the following day.

This meant no phones for the rest of the day.

Not a good way to run a business.

Still needing to call back the customer, I returned to my office to look up the phone number.

That is when I glanced at my outlook mailbox and saw an email from an engineer who was performing some testing on a new circuit breaker application.

The e-mail began, "Dear Jim, I regret to inform you... "

I knew that I wasn’t going to like what I was about to read from that point forward...

It seems as though the circuit breakers that we have asked the engineer to test did not pass the company’s stringent elevated temperature testing (well beyond that of UL’s standard testing) and were being eliminated from consideration for their new project.

Wow... just yesterday things were going so well... we were on top of the world... what the heck happened?

Life teaches us lessons

After a deep breath, I sat down to reflect on the events of the past few moments...

There was a preventable simple shipping mistake that has now caused a great hardship to one of our customers.

We needed to do three things immediately: 
  1. Figure out how to remedy the problem, if possible, quickly.
  2. We needed to communicate with the customer as to what we were doing to correct the problem.
  3. We needed to improve the process so it doesn’t happen again. 
Mistakes happen... but mistakes can help us to become better at what we do.

Sometimes, a unexpected problem will  arise out of nowhere and can cripple us.

Our phone system was operating perfectly... until it wasn’t.

We were perfectly healthy... until we got sick.

We had a great job... until the economy crashed.

Misfortune happens... but misfortune can also help to point out our vulnerabilities and present us with a bit of humility and empathy for others going through a rough spell.

Our customer had a problem... we proposed a good workable solution (at least in theory)... only when we try to apply the solution... it failed to work like it was supposed to.

Thomas Edison reportedly failed 10,000 times in trying to invent the light bulb. He responded to his critics by telling them that he never once failed... he just eliminated 10,000 ways that didn’t work...

Miscalculations happens... but miscalculations can test our fortitude and cause us to keep going in the face of adversity.

The rollercoaster of life goes up and down... one day you’re on top of the world and the next you’re in a hole... that’s what makes it exciting and exhilarating.

We can’t control a lot of what happens in life... but we can control our responses... it’s not so much about what happens but rather how you react to what’s happening...

Throughout our lives, there will be good days and bad... our setbacks give us a chance to learn... to grow... to be human... to overcome challenges...

... and to help us to appreciate the good days even more... 
Thank you for your support OptiFuse, where we know that we’re not perfect... but we never stop trying to get better...

Monday, February 4, 2013

Love or Trust?...

"We’re paying the highest tribute you can pay a person. We trust them to do right. It’s that simple."
~ Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
As many of the regular readers probably already know, I typically don’t watch a lot of TV each week. Outside of a college basketball game or a special event (such as the Oscars), I generally only watch one or possibly two regularly scheduled show each week (depending on the time of year).

At this time, I’m currently watching
Shameless, a Showtime series that airs on Sunday nights, starring William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum, as well as a phenomenal supporting ensemble cast.
The show is about a family of South-side Chicago kids who are basically raising themselves due to their delinquent and mostly absent parents.
In this past week’s episode, it was an especially trying day for the de facto leader of the household, Fiona (played by Emmy Rossum). In a very powerful closing scene, her boyfriend, (played by Justin Chatwin) arrives home after a trying day of his own.
In a touching moment where her walls are down, Fiona tells Jimmy that "I trust you"... and to her... those words means a lot more than "I love you"...
Fade to black... credits roll...
I sat there for several moments mesmerized by that scene.
Love is mostly a unilateral emotion in so much as it doesn’t need to be earned nor reciprocated.
We can love people we don’t necessarily like or respect.  Such may be the case of a family member or former friend or spouse. 
We may love them for who they once were or who they might become one day.
We will always love our children no matter what... even if they are incapable of returning our love... for they’re a part of us.
Love doesn’t even need to be directed at another person... one might love their pet... their car... or themselves...
One of the enduring truths about love is that it need not be returned by the recipient.  Love can be a one way street.  It can be given back... but it’s not a requirement.
True love is unconditional...
Unlike like love, trust is rarely given unconditionally (nor should it be).
Trust instead is hard-fought and earned each and every day, month and year.
There are several fundamental elements of trust.   These components may include: respect, integrity, character, honesty, charity compassion/empathy, and consistency.
There are many instances where someone can be loved by others but at the same time rarely be trusted by those same people (ask anyone who has raised a teenager).
Respect comes from setting good examples, taking the lead, and treating others with a modicum of decency.  Someone may respect someone without actually loving or liking them much (a marine drill sergeant comes to mind). 
My definition of integrity is relatively simple... say what you’ll do... and do what you say.  It’s about making commitments and keeping commitments.  Integrity is explicit not implied.
The character of a person comes from doing the right things all the time... even when there is no one looking.  Character comes from deep inside a person. It is not about intentions or words... it is about actions.  A person of high character lives their life by a certain set of principles and stays true to those principles... even when the going gets tough.
Honesty is simply telling the truth... the whole truth... and nothing but the truth.  Honesty is about relating facts not opinions, rumors, and/or innuendo (unless a disclaimer is made telling the people involved that these are just your own opinions and they don’t necessarily represent the facts). 
Sometimes too much "honesty" can hurt... therefore... it’s important to remember to consider compassion and empathy.  A person who has been bestowed the gift of trust has been given the power to inflict hurt upon another individual.  That power should never be abused or misguided.  Trust is fragile.
A person who gives of himself, is a person of charity.  This is a person who thinks of others first.  Charity is about giving more than one receives... it seems like an unbalanced equation on the surface... but deep below... things like peace, community, happiness, comfort quietly balance the scales.  A trustworthy individual is always thinking about "paying it forward" and helping others.
Trust doesn’t happen in a day... you never get one big chance to be trusted... instead you get a million of small chances.  Trust is built one moment at a time... over the course of a lifetime.  Therefore building trust takes consistency... it’s not one day on and one day off... trust is about doing the right things ALL THE TIME!!
When someone gives you their trust... they have given you the power and a great responsibility.
Trust is the highest value and the greatest compliment and it is reserved for those who earn and deserve it.
Becoming and staying trustworthy is a hard proposition... that’s why being trusted is a much greater honor than just being loved. 
Trust always trumps love...
Thank you for your support and trust of OptiFuse, where we understand that building your trust is simply a summation of doing a lot of things right each and every day...