Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Many versions of the truth in Israel Gaza conflict

In any conflict situation there are many sides to the story. In the case of the current conflict in Gaza there is the Israeli version, there is the Hamas version and there are many shades in between. News reports have been accused of being one-sided by both sides. Palestinian sympathisers accuse the media of harbouring an Israeli bias. Israeli supporters have detected an anti-Israeli slant.

It is evident that the events are tragic. People are suffering and dying. The results are in fact not that different from the results of the US attack on Iraq or the UN sponsored attack on Afghanistan that preceded it. Acts of war do have the terrible consequence of loss of life.

What is behind the conflict? Israel decided to withdraw from Gaza three years ago. This was a first step in the move towards a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank. Hamas gained the ascendancy in Gaza. They do not recognise Israel and saw the Israeli withdrawal in a sinister light.

Since then, Gaza has been used as a launching pad for missiles that are fired daily across the border into Israel. A little over six months ago a truce was called between Hamas – the government of Gaza – and Israel. Missile attacks continued though not by Hamas. Hamas did not attempt to stop these attacks. As a response to the continued missile attacks, Israel blockaded Gaza at various times preventing the movement of people and goods.

Through all of this many Gaza residents suffered the consequences of a siege economy.

Hamas announced that they would not be extending the truce after the six months were over. Missile attacks into Israel continued and increased.

The Israeli government eventually decided that the situation was intolerable. Four days ago, Israel began air attacks on Hamas targets. These are located in densely populated residential areas. Tunnels used for smuggling weapons and food have been attacked. There has been heavy loss of life.

The world has been presented with a picture of Israeli aggression, attacking civilian targets, and Hamas ‘responding’ by firing more missiles. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas has stated that Hamas could have avoided the situation by stopping the missile attacks.

The US launched an attack on Afghanistan following the 9/11 Twin Tower attack. There was great loss of life and seven years later the conflict continues. Soon after, Iraq was attacked under the false premise that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. The loss of life has been huge and the conflict continues.

Israel’s attack on Gaza is small by comparison. The loss of life is tragic, but cannot be compared to the recent Western acts of war. Yet Israel is seen as the villain, ruthlessly attacking a helpless population. Many supporters of the Iraq invasion are outraged at the Israeli action.

How would the UK respond to daily missile attacks from France or vice versa?

Indeed, it seems that there are many versions of the truth.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Should I buy a home now or wait?

The economic crisis sweeping the globe has prompted many into selling their equities and postponing the decision to buy a home. Warren Buffet has recently stated that now is the time to buy. He has the means to buy anything that he wants and is active on the bargain trail. With markets of all sorts lower than they have been for years, now is the time to pick up bargains. If you are able to buy a home now, there has never been a better time. Once the recovery begins, home prices are likely to rise rapidly. A lot of people will be lamenting the fact that they didn't buy in 2008 when prices were low. There is no doubt that the economic crisis will end. The only question is when.

It doesn't really matter when you buy a home. The long term returns will make up for the difference in the purchase price. John Carpol bought a home in a good location in 1987 for $76,000. The market had just started rising and within a year the value had doubled. By 1993 the house was worth about $350,000. Another property slump followed, and for the next few years the value hovered between $250,000 to $300,000. In early 2001 prices began rising quite steeply and the value of the home quickly rose to $1,500,000. Once again prices have dropped by about 20%. But the return on the original $7,600 investment (the deposit) has been phenomenal - even at current low prices.

The property market is cyclical. Prices of homes rise and fall. After many years of booming property prices the latest drop has been triggered by a number of events in the wider economy. In spite of the cyclical nature of house prices, the long term trend is always up. Property is seen as a long term investment where the return on investment can be very significant.

The current downturn has transformed the property market from a "sellers' market" to a "buyers' market". Under booming conditions, home sellers have the option of holding out for the best price. In a buyers' market, the buyer has a distinct advantage and is often in a strong position to negotiate more favourable terms.

The problem is to identify when the market has bottomed out, and once the next property boom begins (as it inevitably will) the waiters once again be taken by surprise. Home prices have become more affordable than they have been for many years. Under these conditions, many wait before taking the plunge. People do not want to pay more than is necessary for a house and believe that by waiting they may be able to get a better deal.

The mainproblem with waiting is that the only way to know when the market has bottomed out is when prices begin rising. Once the market turns around, prices can increase very quickly and you could end up paying much more than under current market conditions.

From my experience of previous home price cycles I have learned that the best time to buy is during a falling market. I was working as an estate agent in Johannesburg in 1979. Home prices were low, and a general pessimistic outlook led many people to wait and see. About midway through the year, the climate changed. Home prices began rising by the day. A strong sellers' market emerged and there was strong competition amongst buyers! By the end of the year prices had more than doubled. Many of those that waited ended up paying much more.

It is important to remember that you are not buying a house, but a home. Your home is your castle. It is a place where you centre your life and raise a family. A home that you buy is yours to keep. You are free to change, improve or even rebuild it.

Renting is a poor alternative. Rents have a tendency to increase annually and sooner or later the owner of the property will want to sell or move in. Any money spent on renting is gone forever, while money paid into a home loan increases your equity in the property.

The main criteria in the buying decision should be you and your family's needs. The best time for newly-weds to buy is when they begin their new life together. If you are expanding your family and need additional accommodation, or looking to down-size for a retirement home then now is the ideal time. The only constraint is affordability. Are the mortgage repayments affordable? Will you still be able to cover the payments if interest rates rise?

The property market is still falling. This provides leverage for the buyer in any property negotiations. The seller knows this and you should be able to buy the house of your dreams for a song. Waiting may put you in line for even bigger bargains, but you may just miss the boat.

Buying a home is an investment, but the main value lies in the use that you will get from it. Investment value is only realised when you sell. But as the value of your home increases you may be able to use some of the equity in your home. The investment aspect of buying a home should be a secondary and not the primary reason for buying. If buying for investment purposes, then a second or third home are good options. Don't expect a quick profit under current market conditions. The down-turn could last anything from six months to five years or more.

Buy now. Prices may still drop, but over the long term you cannot lose. In the short term who knows when the market will turn-around making property expensive again?

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Stuck in traffic

The traffic on the way home from the office last Wednesday came as quite a shock. Just one kilo meter from the highway but little movement. Over an hour later I reached the highway and travelled the remaining 20 KM in about 10 minutes.

I took the opportunity to photograph night scenes and stormy weather. The change in available light over that time was quite dramatic.

All pictures were taken with the Nokia N95. While the camera may have its limitations, it performed remarkably well using available light.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

How currency rates are determined

There was a time not so long ago when currencies were linked to gold. A typical bank note would say "I promise to pay the bearer the sum of $100 in Gold" or words to that effect.

All currencies were fixed in relation to other currencies and in relation to gold. Only central banks or governments were able to change the exchange rates between two currencies by means of devaluation or revaluation. Today the "gold standard" is history. Currencies themselves have no intrinsic value.

Sometime during 1970 under the guidance of market orientated economists, most Western countries decided to float their currencies. The market would determine the value of one currency against another. "Eastern Bloc" countries retained a fixed exchange rate. During the 1970's I visited the then communist Bulgaria. There were two exchange rates - one official, the other black-market.

In today's world, most currencies 'float'. The exchange rate between any two currencies fluctuates from day to day and throughout the day. The exchange rate at any point in time is determined by market forces. In countries where a fixed exchange rate is in force, a black-market for western currencies often emerges and flourishes reflecting a rate somewhat closer to the market forces.

A range of factors influence the exchange rate of any two currencies or the underlying supply and demand. These factors include:

The buying power of a currency compared to the buying power of another currency. This is known as Purchasing Power Parity or PPP. In theory, currency exchange rates fluctuate so as to achieve a state of equilibrium whereby the purchasing power of each currency become equivalent. If $2 = 1 on the foreign exchange market, then the buying power of $2 should equal the buying power of 1.

The rate of interest in each country is also important. An increase in the rate of interest in South Africa this month led to a strengthening of the local currency against the dollar. The higher interest rate makes investment in the country more attractive to foreign investors and increases demand for the currency.

The rate of inflation may affect the exchange rate. If country A has an inflation rate of 10% while country B has an inflation rate of 5%, then country A's currency should depreciate against country B's currency at 5% per annum.

The balance of payments. A current account deficit causes the central bank to hold large amounts of foreign currencies which reduces the value of the currency against that of other currencies.

The stability and strength of the economy and political situation are also important in determining the exchange rate. The currency of a country going through political turmoil will be weakened. If a country experiences a recession then its currency will also be affected.

Speculators may also play a part in influencing exchange rates especially of smaller economies where buying or selling huge volumes of the currency can have a marked if temporary impact on the rate of exchange.

None of these factors on their own determine the exchange rate. It is a complex mix of these and their effect on the perceptions of foreign exchange dealers and investors that will ultimately determine the rate.

South Africa, scenes, wildlife ...

Tuesday, 09 December 2008

Do you hate your job?

Whether you hate your job is often a question of attitude rather than because of the job itself. Work can keep us occupied for almost a third of our lives. What are you doing to yourself if you hate your job?

I am writing this from a relatively affluent point of view. Even with a downturn in the economy I still have a choice of jobs. As a consultant I have moved from one company to another over the last six years. Now I have found a company that I really like. I will stay where I am for quite a few years to come - if I have the choice.

My feelings about my job are governed by three main criteria.

The first relates to the work itself. The work must be interesting and challenging. There are times when some menial tasks have to be done. I do it. Some of these could have been given to a junior clerk, but what the heck! Simple repetitive tasks can be quite relaxing and therapeutic at times.

The second is about the people. If you find a job where you really get on with the people you have found a gem. Sometimes the work environment is like a family. You grow to care about your colleagues. You look forward to Monday mornings. If you have a psychopathic boss, then forget it! Find another job as soon as you can.

The third is about the money. Money can make a huge difference to your view of a job. If you are paid enough then almost any job becomes a pleasure to do. But for me a poorly paid job is just a non-starter. The financial stresses can outweigh the benefits of doing your ideal job.

When I was young I stopped short of following my dreams. My dream was to become a professional musician. I did show a lot of talent as a musician, but success in the music business is often dependent on other criteria. For every star there are 10,000 talented musicians battling to stay alive. SO I opted for a job in business. I have no regrets. My current view is that people must follow their dreams. If you are passionate enough, success should follow.

Very recently I have attempted to shift the focus of my career to writing. I have a number of blogs and write regularly. At the moment the earnings are enough to provide some pocket money from time to time. But the earnings are growing. My plan is to gradually increase my earnings from writing until this becomes my main source of income.

I don't hate my job. I enjoy the people, the money is adequate (but never enough!) and the work is interesting. In my spare time I write, have some academic involvement and run an occasional training course. Who could ask for anything more?

Monday, 08 December 2008

Life is a journey and not a destination

Life is a journey at times sweet and pleasant at other times bitter and hard. We are all on this journey, forever changing, forever growing forever dying. During the course of this journey there are many destinations. But each is merely a short stop signifying a new beginning.

As we travel along the journey of life we see many destinations ahead. We think in terms of destinations, of arriving at the desired stop. "When I turn 18 "; "When I get married"; "When I graduate"; "When I retire". But as we travel we discover that these are not destinations at all. They are merely events, stations where we can change the direction.

The journey begins on our arrival from the womb - perhaps earlier. This is our first destination, and the start of the journey through babyhood. We are curious and helpless, overwhelmed by the newness of it all. Gradually we grow stronger and more familiar with the people around us. We begin to crawl, utter our first words, and take our first tentative steps.

The next destination on our journey through life is toddlerhood. We have acquired more tools to use in our exploration. Life is still a journey of discovery. Knowledge and language are awakened. We continue through to the next destination of childhood. Now we begin to learn our place as social beings. Friends become important. The journey still focuses on learning through play and through school.

There is a thin line that signifies the next destination. The teenage years are the beginning of a period of self discovery, of defining out unique identity. During this part of the journey our peers and the outside world assume a much greater importance. We need to be cool - accepted and admired by our social groups. We experience the pressures of the wider society. We break away, rejecting our childhood naivety. We become risk takers, experimenting with life. This is the part of the journey where sexual awareness has begun. The next few years are dominated by the search for partners.

The journey continues to the next destination of adulthood. With school days over we enter the world of business and work. Suddenly we are able to earn our own money, make our own decisions. Perhaps we meet a life partner. We marry and live happily ever after.

The fairy tales make this part of the journey seem like the destination of life. Young people dream of marriage which will tell them that they have arrived. But arriving at this station is another turning point in our journey through life. We are now in a partnership and much is till to follow. We have become a family. This is the next destination and a start of a whole new adventure. As our babies grow and develop our journey through life continues.

We experience success and failure, joy and heartbreak. The journey never stops, not even for a moment. In the blink of an eye our children are beginning to strike out, forming their own relationships and having their own children. Suddenly we are grandparents. Yet still we do not feel old!. Now the newlyweds look like children! How can they be ready to take on this journey alone?

Gradually we get older. We approach the final destination of life, the destination from which no-one returns.

Life is a journey taking us on a rocky ride. The destinations are merely new beginnings, a new phase of the journey. There will be highs and lows, happiness and grief. But as long as we live, the journey carries on.

"Life is a journey; enjoy the ride;

be kind along the way." -Lori Carangelo


Photo: Nelson Mandela in May 2006 with my son and I.

Madiba is 90!

Quite an accomplishment.

An accomplishment for a man that spent 27 years in prison.

A man that remained true to his dreams and ideals no matter what.

A man that has the most astounding humility.

A man whose integrity has remained intact for 90 years.

Sunday, 07 December 2008

Life is a precious gift

As I barbecued a large salmon one summer evening, my bare foot happened to stand upon a bee. The bee struck out, thrusting its stinger deep into my foot. My son helped to remove the stinger and brought me an anti-histamine.

Within moments my vision began to blur. I passed out, moved in and out of a state of semi-consciousness. Hatzolla (a Jewish voluntary medical emergency organisation) arrived with an ambulance within minutes. I breathed the oxygen as I travelled the short distance to the nearest hospital. The hospital was ready and waiting. I was rushed straight through to the emergency unit. Adrenaline was pumped into my body and electrodes and other monitoring devices were attached to my body. The attending doctor monitored my progress throughout the night. My blood pressure almost disappeared. By morning I had recovered enough to return home where I continued to rest.

I didn't realise quite how close to death I was. The doctor later told me that it was touch and go. She did not know that I would survive. Without Hatzolla and my special doctor (she is now my GP) I would not be here to tell the story.

For the next few weeks my response to the standard "how are you" became "I am alive".

Life is a precious gift. It is a gift that we only get to use once. We spend time worrying about trivialities, about wrongs that we have experienced, about money. But it is only when faced with death or the death of someone close that we realise just how much life means to us. Life is sacred.

Life tends to be taken for granted. Some people reject the sacred gift and take their own lives. Others kill so as to steal the victim's money.

A number of years ago the journey to the summit of Mount Everest caught the attention of the media. Inevitably, some members of the party did not return. Other members of the expedition were not particularly upset by this. They themselves had been close to death. They had to step over bodies while ascending the mountain. Injured people were left to die as any attempt at a rescue would have jeopardised the ascent. To these adventurers reaching the summit was more important than life itself. If they care so little about their own lives, why should they care about others?

By contrast, there are numerous stories about people risking their lives to save others. Some do this on a daily basis in the line of duty in the fire service, sea rescue, the police and many others. Stories of heroism emerged following the attack on the twin towers or the tsunami that swept through Thailand taking many lives. These heroes know that life is a sacred gift. These are people that will do anything to save a life.

The Talmud teaches us that "To save one life is as if you have saved the world." Not only have you save a single life, but all the possible lives that will follow from that life.

Each life is precious. Jewish law recognises this to the extent that saving life takes precedence over all other laws.

Life is sacred. Life is a precious gift.

What kind of people use an online dating site?

Visions of all sorts of dangerous characters come to mind when pondering the using on line dating services to find your ideal partner. What about stalkers, weirdoes, scammers and midnight ramblers? And of course, how do you select the right online dating website?

If the truth be known, then the chances are that you will come across some undesirables. Just as you do in everyday life. Some strange characters. Those that are looking only for sex – and they make it obvious. Couples seeking new adventures. There are some are unpleasant. Some seem to have very little brain.

These can effectively be avoided. You can block anyone that you do not want to talk to and report those that are abusing the system.

But visit a dating site and you’ll find a lot of normal people of all ages, cultures, religions and nationalities.

When I was young (a very long time ago indeed!) a dating club was something that you kept very much to yourself. Not something that you advertised!

Today online dating has become mainstream. Dating sites are a prime way to meet others, and to some a way of life. Clubs and bars don’t work for everyone. Online dating opens a whole range of possibilities!

When playing in the online dating arena it is a good idea to follow a few simple rules. Before responding to someone, check out their profile. Don’t simply rely on a photograph. A 23 year old stunner looking for a man of 30 to 80 years could well be suspect. If a member’s profile has little or no information then treat it with caution. Use your common-sense on this platform to meet the right people! In general, don’t travel across continents or send money to cover air fares to meet your dream partner. Especially as it is someone that you know very little about!

With over half a million members worldwide, DatingBuzz is a great way to meet your ideal match. Just follow the link below!

Visions of all sorts of dangerous characters come to mind when pondering the using on line dating services to find your ideal partner. What about stalkers, weirdoes, scammers and midnight ramblers? And of course, how do you select the right online dating website?

If the truth be known, then the chances are that you will come across some undesirables. Just as you do in everyday life. Some strange characters. Those that are looking only for sex – and they make it obvious. Couples seeking new adventures. There are some are unpleasant. Some seem to have very little brain.

These can effectively be avoided. You can block anyone that you do not want to talk to and report those that are abusing the system.

But visit a dating site and you’ll find a lot of normal people of all ages, cultures, religions and nationalities.

When I was young (a very long time ago indeed!) a dating club was something that you kept very much to yourself. Not something that you advertised!

Today online dating has become mainstream. Dating sites are a prime way to meet others, and to some a way of life. Clubs and bars don’t work for everyone. Online dating opens a whole range of possibilities!

When playing in the online dating arena it is a good idea to follow a few simple rules. Before responding to someone, check out their profile. Don’t simply rely on a photograph. A 23 year old stunner looking for a man of 30 to 80 years could well be suspect. If a member’s profile has little or no information then treat it with caution. Use your common-sense on this platform to meet the right people! In general, don’t travel across continents or send money to cover air fares to meet your dream partner. Especially as it is someone that you know very little about!

With over half a million members worldwide, DatingBuzz is a great way to meet your ideal match. Just follow the link below!

Meet your ideal match at
- Free Membership, Free Matching, Free Photo Upload. Join today!

Friday, 05 December 2008

It's all in the mind - Where is the real world?

To some, reality only exists in our mind's eye. Reality only exists in our consciousness. For millennia people have tried to understand the nature of reality. Newtonian physics describes a world where the laws of nature govern a rather straightforward and real world. Does an objective reality exist, or is reality something that is created through our perceptions of the world around us?

Schrdinger's cat is a classic and rather misleading illustration that reality does not exist until observed. A cat is placed into a sealed box. Inside the box is a vial of deadly gas that will be released if a random quantum event occurs. The quantum event is the decay of an isotope. Until the box is opened there is no way of knowing if the cat is dead or alive. The cat is therefore in an indeterminate quantum state. It is simultaneously dead and alive. When the box is opened the cat is either alive or dead.

The argument that there is no reality without consciousness has been attributed to quantum physics.

Schrdinger used this example as a critique of the theory of quantum states. In reality the cat dies when the random event occurs even if we are not aware of the event. To the cat, the random event is very real.

Substitute the cat for a person. Is the person simultaneously alive and dead?

Quantum physics has produced a rather new and bizarre view of the world. The world works in ways that are far more complex than ever imagined. Ayn Rand put it quite succinctly when he distinguished between the "primacy of consciousness" against the "primacy of things".

Many attribute the "it's all in the mind" philosophy to quantum physics. But some prominent scientists dispute this interpretation. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is perhaps the source of this misconception. The principle states that "quantum phenomena have no definite values until they are observed". Simply interpreted, every quantum object has an indefinite value until it is observed and measured. Therefore reality is an illusion. Or is it?

The question is one of interpretation. The use of the word 'observe' is more than a little misleading. It is intended to refer to the interactions of one quantum phenomena to another. In other words, an object has an indefinite value until it interacts with another object. Whether we observe it or not is hardly relevant.

So even in quantum physics there is space for an objective reality that exists independently of us. Whether we observe a stream gushing forth from the earth it will continue on its course.

Our perceptions of the world may conflict with the underlying reality. People bring their own learning and understanding to every event and to every place. Contrary to popular opinion, quantum physics has illustrated that objective reality is dramatically different from the perceived reality that we experience from day to day. Our consciousness perceives and interprets reality. Our conscious perception of reality can vary from time to time according to our mental state. The reality of quantum physics is not the reality of our perceptions.

Perceptions change over time. Perceptions change according to our age. When we are happy reality seems very different to when we are sad or distressed. Drugs such as LSD can alter our perception of the world. LSD affects the perception of time and space in quite a profound way. Reality has not changed, merely its perception. Perceptions may alter our personal reality, but outside of our perceptions is an objective reality.

Could you meet your ideal match through on-line dating services?

Living in London in the early 70s, one friend always arrived at parties and other events with a different – and usually very attractive – date. Although perfectly presentable, he was neither particularly good-looking nor rich. What was his secret? The rest of us showed-up and hoped for the best. It was a long time before we discovered his closely guarded secret. He had been advertising in the personal columns of the Evening Standard – something that had never occurred to the rest of us. Today, the online dating industry has largely replaced the classified adverts and dating services of the past. Gone is the stigma. People that use online dating services are generally quite open about it.

Online dating services have grown rapidly over the last few years. Social networking sites such as Face Book and My Space are mainly geared for people to stay in touch. When it comes to meeting new partners online dating sites offer a specifically targeted service. Members of the sites range in age from eighteen to a hundred. They span every culture and religion.

At a recent wedding - of an attractive couple in their twenties - the groom spoke about how he and his bride had met through an Internet dating site called Dating Buzz! A middle-aged divorced friend and colleague met his second wife in the same way. The system works! He met a number of women through the sight and it wasn't long before he got hitched.

Meet your ideal match at
- Free Membership, Free Matching, Free Photo Upload. Join today!

Bars, clubs and social events do work for many, but not for everyone. Casting the net wider seems to be one of the answers. Some people are just not keen to spend their evenings in bars in the hope of meeting and clubs provide a poor meeting environment. Online dating is an alternative. Men and women looking to meet each other are there on a large scale – it really can open the doors! Dating Buzz is a South African company that has spread its wings and is now active in all four corners of the globe. Their membership grows daily, so there are literally thousands to choose from. Success stories abound.

"But what about the dangers?" I hear you say. "We hear about people misrepresenting themselves on the Internet all the time. Is it safe?"

The answer is that it is as safe as meeting through any venue. Follow a strategy that allows you to know as much about a person before taking the contact any further. The sites allow you to block anyone that you don't trust. Use it. Check the other person's profile. If it is empty ask why. If there are too many blanks, treat it with caution!

If you are looking to meet, why not give it a try? Click on the convenient link provided to the right. And please let us know if it works for you!

Thursday, 04 December 2008

Business strategy versus tactics

Business strategy has its origins in military thinking. In his classic The Art of War written over 2000 years ago, Sun Tzu states that "Strategy is the great Work of the organisation. In situations of life or death, it is the Tao of survival or extinction. Its study cannot be neglected." Definitions of strategy abound, but as a general rule, business strategy can be seen as long term, based on an understanding of the environment and an understanding of the business organisation or self-knowledge. Tactics on the other hand relate to short term actions to gain an advantage.

Wordweb defines strategy as "An elaborate and systematic plan of action" or "The branch of military science dealing with military command and the planning and conduct of a war". Tactics is defined as "The branch of military science dealing with detailed manoeuvres to achieve objectives set by strategy" or "A plan for attaining a particular goal".

The first distinction is therefore one of duration. Strategy is long term. Tactics comprise the actions taken to achieve strategic objectives. A company may have a strategic objective to become the largest player in the market. A price war is a tactic that may be employed to help achieve this objective.

Strategy relates to an organisations direction. Tactics relate more to operational goals. A company's marketing strategy defines the way it wants to be seen in the market-place. The specific marketing campaigns are tactical in nature.

Every chess player understands the difference between strategy and tactics. Chess strategy governs the way the entire game is played. The player may want to dominate the centre of the board, dividing the opponents men, or may wish to surround the opposition. Tactical play involves the individual manoeuvres that help to achieve the strategy. Chess tactics are a series of 'tricks' that the chess master has stored to surprise the opponent, to gain a material advantage and to advance his strategic objectives.

A company's strategic objectives could focus on which market segment it wishes to serve. A designer clothing store could be aimed at the super rich, while a chain of burger bars attempts to maximise turnover by keeping costs down. In each of these cases the businesses may follow a series of actions or tactical manoeuvres to assist it to achieve these objectives. The clothing store may buy an established exclusive store to help provide the right status. The burger bar could embark on a simple but aggressive competitive strategy aimed at undercutting the rest of the market. Tactics may include a price war or buying out the competition.

Business strategy involves identifying what a company wants to achieve, how and when. The pursuit of these strategic objectives may involve a series of tactical manoeuvres, each of which is aimed to bring the business closer to achieving its goals.

Wednesday, 03 December 2008

Business strategy: planning and managing change

Business strategy represents a company's the long term objectives. Strategic planning is carried out to plan for the medium to long term after conducting an in depth analysis of the competitive environment, opportunities and threats and the competencies found within the organisation.

Strategic change may become necessary because of changing market conditions or changes to the competitive environment. Technological changes and the company's fortunes may also provide the reason for change. Sometimes dramatic change is indicated simply to stay in business.

The new business strategy may have far reaching results. A change in strategic direction can result in profound changes to the organisation.

The effects of these changes will vary depending on the process used to formulate strategy. These approaches include a top-down approach, a bottom-up approach or an inclusive process that involves stakeholders at all levels of the organisation. Some companies carry out major strategic planning sessions annually while others see strategy as part of an emergent process.

Change is often the most difficult task that an organisation has to experience. The new strategy defines a different focus for the business, and almost all aspects of the business have to change.

A food manufacturing company had always focused its business on milling and baking. A massive distribution network has developed to support this. Large vehicles laden with goods are dispatched to almost all of the countries food distributers at least once and in some cases twice or three times a day. Why not use the spare capacity to distribute other goods and services?

While retaining its manufacturing capability, the focus changed to exploiting the distribution capability and employing a range of innovative marketing techniques. The entire manufacturing process was transformed to produce what is required when it is required.

The change required throughout the organisation was huge. Almost everyone, from drivers to warehousemen, financial and accounting staff, the sales team and management were faced with the prospect of doing their jobs very differently. How was this managed?

Management chose an inclusive model adopted by the organisation was of an inclusive management style. Everyone in the company became involved in redesigning how the tasks required would be accomplished. The business had been losing money and the entire staff knew that change was desperately needed for the company to stay afloat. Managing change became everyone's responsibility. Each staff member was empowered to take the initiative to find new and innovative ways to achieve his or her objectives.

A prominent oil company managed to open the lines of communication from the workers on the ground through to senior management. Many innovative ideas originated at ground level to increase profits, reduce cost and improve quality. When using bottom-up strategy formulation, change management becomes simpler. Most employees want the change. They initiated the change themselves and are aware of the benefits for themselves and for the organisation.

A top-down model of implementing strategy required a much greater degree of effort to manage the change itself. Employees are often worried about losing their jobs and even of being moved outside of their comfort zone. Change has to be planned. Change consultants may be needed to help the employees manage the transition. Implementation may initially cause a loss of morale and a temporary drop in production. This is to be expected. Strategic management require an awareness of the issues involved and must plan to manage the transitional period effectively to ensure the long term success of the new strategy.

The basics of conflict management

Conflict in the workplace is almost inevitable. Whenever you put a bunch of people together and put them under pressure there is likely to be conflict.

Colleagues working in a team may disagree about how a specific job should be done. Each has his or her own ideas and their pride won't allow either to make a concession. Conflict can arise where a dominant employee does not give others a chance to contribute to discussions. Conflict may arise between a department and the finance committee when the department is forced to cut the budget. Conflict may arise over political issues the distribution of power and promotions.

Conflict management is very important in ensuring a productive and effective workplace. The methods used to manage conflict may vary depending on the type of conflict that has arisen.

The history of the world has shown that problems are rarely solved though war. As a rule, both sides lose. The same principal may apply in the workplace. Where conflict arises in meetings or between team players over the way forward good facilitation skills are required.

The first step in most situations is to hear both sides out. Good call-centre consultants know this. An irate customer can be calmed quite effectively by listening to what he or she has to say and asking probing questions. The workplace is no different. Listen to what each party has to say. Do not allow interruptions. Ask probing questions. Often this will be enough to calm the situation and enable work to go on. At other times it may be necessary to assist the parties to find a compromise solution or you may have to take a decision.

Violence should never be tolerated at the workplace. Violence is more likely to occur when alcohol has played a part. Violence at work should not be tolerated at all. Even the most minor use of violence must be taken seriously and disciplinary action must follow.

Conflict over a promotion is a problem that cannot be solved that easily. Joe believes that he should have had the Mary's promotion. He is resentful and uncooperative. Again the best treatment may be to hear him out. Allow him to vent his frustration and air his views. While you do not have to justify a promotion decision, you have the option of explaining the reasons behind the decision. Secrecy helps to foster an atmosphere of mistrust and can increase the conflict. An open discussion as to why Joe missed out on the promotion may resolve the situation.

Winston Churchill's famous quote that "it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war" applies equally to the workplace. Most situations can be resolved by talking. Listening skills are required combined with the ability to probe.

The importance of communication skills in business

How often does your interaction with a company's call centre drive you to the opposition? Communication skills are crucial at every level of a business.

Every business has to communicate at various levels.

First is communication between the business and the outside world. Communication with clients is arguable one of the keys to staying in business. Without clients the business may cease to exist. Unless your business is a monopoly where your clients are captives, you have to be able to communicate with clients. Communication begins with your marketing. Marketing is a form of communication where you present your business to the world in a certain light.

The next level of client communication is through the sales force. Your sales force must be able to represent your products and company image accurately to potential clients. A failure on the sales front can cause irreparable damage to the business.

Many companies fail on the third level of client communication. Support for the products and product failures. Little time and effort is invested in the call centre where consultants are all too often under-trained and incompetent. The call-centre is the businesses communication to the world. A good call centre consultant is able to retain a client even where past service has been bad. A bad consultant can lose almost any client!

Also in the realm of communication with the outside world is communication with stakeholders, other businesses and the media. These areas of communication are crucial. Appropriate communication skills are required to represent the company to the world through the media. Stakeholders may include shareholders, government and other interested parties.

From time to time it may be necessary to use other business to provide services for the company. In a typical scenario, a firm of consultants is brought in to achieve specific objectives. Three years and many millions of dollars later, the consultants are removed in disgrace. The failure is often one of communication. The consulting firm is brought in and left to intuit the requirements. The actual objectives are not communicated to the company and the executive never have time to meet the consultants. Proper communication includes carefully specifying the requirements and discussing the expected outcomes. Lines of communication must be open to manage the project effectively.

Internal communication plays as important a role in running an effective business. The most important principles here are the ability to communicate requirements effectively and accurately. Lines of communication must be open. Secrecy is the enemy of effective communication and may lead to misunderstandings and mistrust.

Effective communication skills are required at all levels. These include both oral and written communication skills. Presentations must be clear and to the point. A skilled negotiator is able to listen effectively. Reports should be concise, accurate and readable. Errors and failures of an organisation are often the result of miss-communication, or even the total absence of communication. When it comes to the business's window to the world the call centre ensure that the consultants are able to communicate. They must be able to listen, and their responses should be backed by genuine knowledge.

Will the real estate market rebound soon?

The real estate market world-wide is going through one of the worst slumps in living memory. Like all markets, the real estate market is cyclical and naturally goes through cycles of boom and slump. The current environment is more serious than many of the slumps of the past. The global financial crisis and credit crunch has had a dramatic impact on the value of homes. The real estate market is unlikely to rebound soon. A recovery will only occur once the global financial crisis starts showing signs of being solved.

The crisis began with free flowing credit being issued against overvalued properties. Many of the borrowers were unable to afford these loans and defaults began to occur. At the time of writing, November 2008, the world's economies are experiencing a major down-turn. Europe is officially in recession. The harsh economic reality of a down-turn or recession means that less money is available to finance property investment. Home owners are feeling the pinch.

In this climate, most people are simply trying to hold onto what they have rather than invest in something new. Those that have lost their homes are unlikely to re-enter the market in the near future.

The banks themselves have now taken a more conservative approach to issuing credit. Obtaining credit for a home loan is suddenly not easy. Banks have been hard hit through poor investment strategies. What seemed like a good investment little over a year ago now appears risky. Billions of dollars have been lost. Many banks around the world owe their survival to government bail-outs.

The effects of the banking investment disaster affected not only the banks. Other banks and financial service business may still follow. Banks that seem to be above water now could be swamped tomorrow. Governments are using taxpayers' money to finance rescue plans. That money has to come from somewhere meaning that vast sums have moved out of the economy.

A recession or a downturn means that unemployment is set to increase. More people will be walking the streets in search of work. Wages and salaries are likely to fall in real terms and the total value of the economy - the gross national product - is bound to fall.

What all this means is that there is less money available for people to spend on property. As long as the crisis continues to deepen the hope of an early real estate market recovery is in vain. A rebound will happen once the recession has bottomed out and the world's markets and economies begin to show signs of stability. The property market recovery may lead the broader economy towards recovery. No-one knows how long that will take.

In the meantime you may buy as many bargains as you can, but be prepared for a long wait before turning in a profit.

Tuesday, 02 December 2008

Wildlife on campus

This must be one of the most ideal settings for a working environment. This is just some of the wildlife that wonder around the property.

The birds and buck keep their distance but the Zebra seem totally relaxed around me after have been there a while.