One Size Doesn’t Fit All

I (Steve) am a football fan.


I love the coaches and the strategies that they need to employ to win a game. Some games are simpler in nature but football, with all of its intricacies, is more like a chess game to me. One difference is that in chess the pieces all have designated roles; but, in football the coach has to take into account the different abilities and talents of each player to come up with a game plan.

One of my favorite coaches of all time was the late John Madden, coach of the Oakland Raiders who were owned by the legendary Al Davis.  Davis’s only motto was “Just Win Baby.” So given the mission statement, the Raiders generally won…by any means necessary.  Madden did not have many rules to constrain his players as he felt too many rules would force him to be forever fining and reprimanding players for infractions. As a result, his teams also committed the most amounts of penalties. Madden accepted this fact because he felt the benefits far exceeded the negatives and, in the end, his teams successes were his proof.

Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots, is the complete opposite of John Madden. Belichick drives his team with a much heavier hand and is known to regulate and control all aspects of its activities.  His teams also have been quite successful but for very different reasons.

The fact is — there is no formula for winning in the NFL. If there were, everybody would copy what Madden did and Belichick is doing.

In technology, Google became valuable by creating a place where you ask questions.  If I need to find the best doctor in Austin, where I live, I Google the term and then I am sent to the best web sites for that service. The fact is in that instance, I spend a fraction of my time on the Google site. In essence Google has given me a great deal of information for no cost. Contrast that to a site like The Wall Street Journal which charges you to see their content, or Gawker which makes money by how many people visit their site then charging their advertisers for that demographic data.  Here, you see three very successful web sites each making their money in totally different ways.

When I (Carole) contrast this approach with government provided services, logic and past performance get turned on their ear and we get the “one size fits all approach.” If that approach worked, services such as those provided by the VA or Obamacare would be efficient and successful at their mandates; but, they are not. The U.S. Postal Service loses money every year; but, its private sector competitors, Federal Express and UPS, make money providing the same services.

As in football and business, there is no guarantee of success. But there is a formula that can maximize the likelihood of success:

Individual Creativity + Free Markets – Government Intervention = High Probability of Success.

If you want to understand why this is so, read any book by the late Milton Friedman, American Economist and Nobel Laureate. There is perhaps no one better than Friedman who understood the brilliance of capitalism and its link to personal freedom, or has been more adept at explaining it to the common citizen through his many works.

Once you understand the formula, and the principles that govern its component parts, it’s easy to see why government, especially big centralized government, will never achieve success at providing services.

Government stifles creativity, punishes originality of thought, is negligent at best and criminal at worst in managing its financial responsibility, and is forever inhibiting success through ever-expanding regulatory policies.

So when we (Carole & Steve) hear Hillary Clinton promising more taxes and new departments of immigration, or Bernie Sanders promising more taxes and more government control of services…our heads want to explode at the thought of less successes such as Google, Gawker and The Wall Street Journal and more U.S. Post Office like-lines just to get through an average day.

Even John Madden and Bill Belichick got it. Maybe we should run a Coach for President. We’re already running a casino operator.


Steve & Carole

Mike, Sully and Pressing On

I just finished watching Pixar’s Monsters University, the delightful sequel to Monsters Inc.  I have to admit I was really unprepared for the  beautiful and insightful messages this movie has to offer.

monsters university The premise of the movie is that energy in the Universe is supplied through fear experienced by young children. The two main characters, Mike and Sully, go off to college in order to become “Scarers”…making them fit  for one of the most prestigious jobs in the Universe. There is much competition for these jobs as all of the energy in the Universe is supplied this way and the scare companies only hire the scariest and most ferocious of monsters.

The protagonist of the story is Mike. He’s a lovable, one-eyed, short, green round monster. He knows everything about being a good scarer from history to tactics and strategies. In fact, nobody knows more about scaring than Mike. The problem is that Mike’s not scary at all. He’s cute! His cohort in crime, Sully, is a huge blue monster with massive hands and fangs. He can scare anything and anybody half to death!  Sully’s so scary and good at what he does that he puts in no time studying his craft. And so, because of Mike’s inability to scare anything and Sully’s lack of both effort and knowledge they are both kicked out of the program.

None-the-less, they commit to working with each other. They craft a plan to get back into the program through a scare contest.  By way of  their efforts and guile (Sully crossed the line in helping Mike during the contest) they are able to win the contest and once again find themselves back in the elite program only to be thrown out yet again.  And yet they remain undeterred.

They get hired by a scare company to work in the mail-room. From there they work their way up to janitorial services, cafeteria workers, the canning room and, finally, the “scare floor.”

So with no formal education, they manage to reach the pinnacle of their profession.  Their combined energies eventually gets them to the best “scaring combination” of all time. Despite this achievement, Mike finally realizes he does not have what it takes to work as a scarer; but what he does have is knowledge of the business. He uses his loving nature and knowledge to coach and propel Sully to the highest level of his career.

How many of us in life have dreams dashed by not having the requisite skills? A perfect example is the story of Idan Ravin, one of the most famous basketball trainers in the world. Idan Ravin was an attorney who never played basketball beyond high school. He had a love for the game but not the skill set to play, so he coached in youth leagues and developed innovative ways to train basketball players. One day he caught the attention of Steve Francis, an NBA player, who hired him to work with him on his game. Steve was so impressed with what he learned that he recommended Idan to other players.  From there, Ravin went on to train some of the best players in the world…players such as Kobe Bryant and Lebron James.

Both Monsters University and the real life saga of Idan Ravin teach us an important lesson. One that is needed now more than ever as we go through such an accelerated and transitional period of economic change. We all have the right and perhaps even the ability to participate in the trade or profession of our choosing… but we have to be willing to accept that the end result might be different than what we intended.  That doesn’t mean we failed.

It just means we were needed elsewhere.

The True Price of Sports

As the football season winds down, the New York Jets and Giants will not be playing in the post season. The fans will not get to enjoy their teams at the Met Life Stadium where both teams call home.

Met LifeIn 2010, with much fanfare, the fans were upgraded with a new facility that cost around 1.6 billion to build. It seems like an enormous amount of money for two teams that will play a total of 16 games a year.

Most stadiums are built with the hopes that the stadium will attract store, shops and vendors that will enhance that area. But ask anybody who has been to East Rutherford New Jersey and they will tell you that the stadium sits in the middle of nowhere on a highway with no other attractions nearby. In addition, given the sheer size of the stadium, its unlikely to be used for anything other than football.

What makes the building of this facility even more interesting is that the old stadium (Giants Stadium) still has an outstanding loan balance of $100 million. It was built in 1976 and no longer exists; yet the taxpayers of New Jersey are still on the hook for the outstanding loan balance.  With the stadium gone, there is simply no way to generate the revenue necessary to pay off the loan… which is why so the full weight of the debt falls on the unsuspecting citizens of New Jersey.

This fiasco is not an anomaly. Harris County, Texas still owes about $32 million in debt on the Houston Astrodome which opened in 1965. In fact, the nation is littered with stadiums that no longer exist but have outstanding loans needing to be paid off and its the taxpayers who unknowingly step up to do so.

Politicians and fans alike think of these sport franchises as their “beloved teams”… not fully appreciating that the owners view them  as a business. They are there to make money.  The Jets and the Giants have huge TV contracts that pay huge amounts of money. They’re making money while the taxpayers foot the bill.

Bottom line: There was nothing  wrong with the old Giants Stadium other than it did not generate enough luxury revenue. So New Jersey, which has around $30 billion in debt, gave up about $15 million in annual tax revenue so that the Giants and Jets could be more profitable.

The old Giants Stadium cost $78 million… yet the outstanding debt more than 30 years later is $110 million. How is this possible? Instead of paying back the debt as revenues were generated, funds were diverted to other projects. The politicians simply could not believe that the owners would ever tear it down. Then, as the owners and politicians of old moved on, the taxpayers of New Jersey get to pay off the old debt and pay higher prices of the new tickets.

While unsuspecting fans enjoy their teams at play, they fail to realize the burden far outweighs the benefit… and the scam just keeps on keepin’ on.

Where is the accountability and the outrage?