Quick Fixes, Global Province Letter, 18 March, 2015

Our clients are chief executives who don't have a lot of time for chitchat. They're changing tires while their cars (i.e., their companies) are going 70 miles an hour, so they need to get the job done with a minimum of fuss and bother.

Cut the Socratic.  We never will forget the pithy get-to-the-point outburst from the boss of a specialty food company in the Deep South. He said, "Bill, cut out the Socratic stuff. Just give us an answer." "Okay," I said, "Raise your prices and get yourself a good second product." That saved the company. But it also meant he did not learn enough to create a great business. He's just one client who has taught us that both learning and solving have to be down-to-earth, succinct, but transforming.

During a consulting engagement we may only write 1-page letters. But letters with one simple recommendation. Not two, just one. It is not the client's job to weed through a whole bunch of options. Our task is to put forward one big idea that will move mountains.

Short Cuts.  In this letter we are introducing a new Dunk's Dictum--Short Cuts. The idea is the same: to spell out in a few words an action that can have big impact for you. In the future you will find Short Cuts in the Dunk's Dictums section of the Global Province. We live now in a bureaucratic, complicated, digital world that breaks down just because it is over-engineered, unbearably complicated, and littered with glitches that are waiting to create misery. The creators of our products and services often provide us with hard-to-read guides on how to remedy frequent breakdowns, The quick fixes or short cuts below (we will frequently be adding more) cut through all that. They are simple to implement and always get results. Here are a few to get you going:

a. Arnica. There are doubters as to the effectiveness of this folk cure but we can personally testify that it works. It is for swollen wounds and bruises, seemingly reducing pain rather quickly, but importantly, taking down the swelling in short order. We just had an infection on our wrist where arnica helped eradicate the bump. In June we had internal swelling in our left eye after an operation: the retina doctor was amazed about how fast it healed. We did not tell him that we were supplementing his eye drops with a coating of arnica on the external skin surrounding the eye. One can apply commercial arnica as a cream or take pills of it internally.

b. Cable Signal Strength. If your TV picture is faltering, chances are the culprit is not your TV, but your cable carrier. You can put some zip in your box in several ways. With companies such as Time Warner, you can ask them to remotely reboot your cable from the central office. Or you can unplug the modem for a minute and then restart it: this will also reboot your cable connection. We favor having a technician come out to your home (he has to have a little more knowhow than the average installer). He can check the signal level and give it a proper boost if it is out of TILT. We favor this approach. Often remote fixes only last a while and then go sour. A hands-on fix usually endures.

c. Running the Gauntlet. Getting through Transportation Security nets at airports and through immigration at international points of entry into the United States. The U.S. Government has a system called Global Entry that can speed you through immigration when coming into the U.S. and which also will speed you through security at many airports in the U.S. If you travel a lot, inside the U.S. or outside of our borders, you are foolish not to get it. There is a rather cumbersome form to fill out online. Then, by appointment, one is quickly interviewed in person in order to secure your Global Entry or Known Traveler Number. This number whizzes you through those long lines at airports.

d. Blocking Super Cookie from Verizon. Cookies are awful things planted on your computer when you access search engines, phone companies, and a host of other websites for big companies. They clearly violate your privacy and allow all sorts of snake oil salesmen to manipulate aspects of your life. If you know about them, you can get rid of a few of them. For instance, Verizon is in the process of allowing you to opt out of its particularly noxious cookie. It is the nation's largest wireless carrier, so it is no small thing to be able to bar the gates in your cellphone.

e. Universal or Region Free DVD Players. You don't know it, but your everyday DVD player may not play DVDs from other parts of the world. For instance, we frequently order DVDs from the UK, which will not play on a standard US player. It is smart and easy to get a universal player: we tend to use Sony BDP. The region-only players only exist to make you pay higher prices for dvds, further enhancing the profits of producers and distributors.

"This is achieved by way of region-locked DVD players, which will play back only DVDs encoded to their region (plus those without any region code). The American DVD Copy Control Association also requires that DVD player manufacturers incorporate the regional-playback control (RPC) system. However, region-free DVD players, which ignore region coding, are also commercially available, and many DVD players can be modified to be region-free, allowing playback of all discs."

f. Easing Your Aching Back. The physical therapist, chiropractors, and pseudo doctors have all sorts of schemes for ameliorating backaches. Fifty years ago a San Francisco general practitioner taught us how to beat bad backs easily. Lie down flat on the floor. Slowly pull your feet backwards towards your abdomen, such that your knees only are raised upwards. All the while push your back down even flatter on the floor. Then move your feet forward very slowly, keeping your back flat and as close to the floor as possible. Do this several times in each day till the back pain disappears.

Our Declining Standard of Living.  Does your phone go dead once in a while? Remember once upon a time, before Judge Greene fiddled, there was only one phone company, called American Telephone and Telegraph, and your phone always worked. Does your butcher have really fresh lamb, or sweetbreads, or chicken livers, or fulsome lamb chops? No, he doesn't. But once upon a time you did not have to go to New York to get high quality meat and sundry protein offerings.

Fact is, more and more products and services don't work and the companies that produce them design them badly and don't service them when they break down. In fact, some trenchant thinkers have written all about this in "Companies and the Customers Who Hate Them." Today's middle class not only suffers from stagnant wages: it agonizes over shoddy products and services from both the private and public sectors.

The only thing for it is to learn a few tricks that help you avoid lousy providers or, at least, permit you to neutralize their flaws. John Q. Public today needs a few tricks up his sleeve.


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