CONNECT THE DOTS

Today’s edition is not about the horse racing in horse racing business, but rather, is about the business part. In business writing in newspapers, magazines, and on the Internet, as well as in reporting and discussion on TV, some of the hackneyed phrases and worn-out words are enough to drive one to distraction.

Following is my personal list of the most objectionable and grating clichés and a primer concerning what each means. I am certain I have left some out, my mind humanely repressing them from my consciousness.

Out-of-the-box thinker

Translation: His/her solutions are bizarre…or “I am a quirky thinker and this phrase is a way to turn a negative into a positive by portraying me as a creative genius.”

He/she is a team player

Translation: He or she does exactly as told.

He/she is a winner

Translation: He or she sees things as we do…or is filthy rich.

24/7

Translation: Shorthand for busy, busy, busy. 24/7 is often meant to signal to customers how hard you are working for them.

Prioritize

Translation: “To establish priorities” has been turned into a verb, something that was never intended. Same for finalize instead of to finish.

Paradigm shift

Translation: A business model no longer works well, so  obscure the fact by saying that the model has been eviscerated by a sea change causing a paradigm shift. This high faluting obfuscation is preferable to saying that the old business model is almost defunct and “We don’t have a clue what to do about it.”

Connect the dots

Translation: “Looks like a trend has developed and you obviously missed seeing it.” Can be a smart aleck remark, depending on how it is said.

Grow the business

Translation: Grass grows, children grow, but businesses expand.

Stakeholders

Translation: Everybody and their brother and sister. Normally, the person using the term wants badly to be included in an aspirational group or organization.

Cut to the chase

Translation: Please see the explanation of the next item for an example of proper usage.

The bottom line

Translation: Cutting to the chase, the situation is as shown, which is often dire.

Monies

Translation: Evidently more than a single unit of currency. Its usage is like referring to the deers, the mooses, the aircrafts, the offsprings, the fishes, and Japanese Yens.

Stimulus dollars or (more aggravating) stimulus monies

Translation: “Woo Pig Sooie”  (To learn about the etymology of this agricultural term, you may want to contact the office of the University of Arkansas football team.)

At the end of the day

Translation: When all is said and done. Or, to be as redundant as possible, “Finally, in the end.”

Having said that

Translation: “I acknowledge the fact, but I am still going to hedge or stick to my contradictory view.”

Do the math

Translation: A put-down, for sure, by a wise guy or gal with a superiority complex. “Don’t you see, are you stupid?”

The last time I checked

Translation: Another put-down. “Don’t you know the facts, you dunce?”

Got your back.

Translation: “I will come to your aid, if it is in my best interests to do so.” Kinda like Major Reno reassured General Custer at the Little Big Horn.

Having said all of this, at the end of the day, business writers and commentators will undoubtedly continue to use these offensive slang terms. ..until they can invent some new ones. That’s the bottom line. Do the math and then connect the dots.

I know that you stakeholders/readers can be stimulated to add to this ignominious pantheon of words and phrases by first prioritizing and then thinking outside the box. I’d bet monies on it.

Oh, by the way, “Have a nice day (or else).”

Copyright © 2010 Horse Racing Business

RACING’S POPULARITY AND SHORT ATTENTION SPANS

Because I have spent many years as a university professor, people sometimes ask me how students of today are different than those from previous generations. This is an easy question to answer: as a cohort, their attention spans are much shorter and the trend has been accelerating over the last decade…in conjunction with the explosion of affordable information and communications technologies.

Colleges and universities retain professionally educated staff whose job it is to assist students with learning disabilities like Dyslexia and also with test anxiety. These kinds of issues have been commonplace for years. Only in the last decade have I seen and heard of so many students diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). In layman’s terms, this is basically a problem of having trouble focusing or concentrating for long. In earlier times, educators and others called it a wandering mind. The pharmaceutical industry offers drugs for its treatment.

In my university career I have been a professor, an associate dean, a department head, and a committee member evaluating professors for promotion and retention. Consequently, I have read countless student teaching evaluations of instructors. Compared to a decade or two ago, the word “boring” or a close equivalent crops up much more frequently to describe a classroom experience. Many contemporary students expect to be entertained, which, of course, is not the same as learning. Ipso facto, by the nature of the coursework, professors teaching the most intellectually challenging material and majors are disadvantaged in this regard, as compared to someone conveying less rigorous subjects.

(The “boredom factor” has evidently carried over to the workplace. The Conference Board has been doing surveys of Americans’ job satisfaction for 22 years. The most recent survey results were reported in January 2010 and revealed the lowest level of satisfaction ever, 45 percent. The recession no doubt is a major cause but one of the leading specific reasons was that more workers find their jobs to be  uninteresting.)

No doubt students’ generally shortened attention spans and expectations for classroom entertainment have been caused to a large degree by technologies that are available to them that were not around for their parents and grandparents. Mass access to cell phones, computers, email, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook and the like have created a frenetic pace of life and instantaneous feedback.

Often, digital communications technologies are a negative for cultivating strong interpersonal skills. An AT&T survey of 1,000 people between the ages of 18 and 35 found that three out of four flirt by text messaging. I have read or heard of people at their workplace using text messaging to contact someone in the next office or carrel, rather than walking a short distance to talk face-to-face. I have witnessed people text messaging at an orchestra performance.

Moreover, if people talking on cell phones while driving cars is a hazard, text messaging has to be much worse. In fact, messaging has been the culprit in numerous auto accidents and the deadliest train crash in the United States in 15 years.

Little wonder that the arts are having a difficult time these days drawing a younger audience, who are accustomed to entertainment that is faster paced. Symphony orchestras, ballets, operas, and art museums are fighting an uphill battle to attract young men and women.

Even the most cerebral of cerebrals, Sherlock Holmes, has been brought into the digital age. The recent Sherlock Holmes film with Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Dr. Watson is more about high-tech visual effects than it is about how a cool and calculating detective scientifically analyzes the clues and follows the trail of his quarry. Holmes purists would not recognize the macho Holmes and the non-bungling Watson. The pyrotechnics and action-filled narrative worked, as the movie was a hit at the box office.

All of this also has serious implications for the old-time sport of horse racing. If racing is to make inroads with the younger generation, it will have to continue to adapt the sport to the contemporary lifestyle, as with remote wagering. On the one hand, a certain segment of the young will be attracted to horse racing by the intellectual challenge of handicapping, just as people in generations before have been intrigued by the intricacies of figuring out who is going to win. But that won’t deliver enough fans to keep horse racing at a critical mass into the future. To survive, tracks will have to develop pari-mutuel products that do not require a detailed knowledge of handicapping and not much of a time commitment. Racetrack offerings will have to extend beyond the core pari-mutuel product. In short, the whole experience will have to be more compelling.

The communications and information technologies that the young take for granted are a potentially huge positive for pari-mutuel purveyors. Betting has never been easier and, in addition, social networking can be employed to generate interest in the sport of horse racing.

Whether horse racing is around as a significant sport/business 20 years hence depends on how adept racing executives prove to be in crafting an attractive value proposition for people who have a plethora of entertainment options to choose from and a lower threshold for boredom than generations past.

I recognize that my concerns could be wrong…that the youth of today will change as they age and begin to act like middle-aged and senior adults of today and the past. But I wouldn’t bet racing’s future on that happening.

Copyright © 2010 Horse Racing Business

WHAT’S THE MATTER IN KENTUCKY? PART II

Top legislators shun [Governor] Beshear’s plea for gambling bill.” Louisville Courier-Journal, February 13, 2010

When General Motors and Chrysler were on the verge of financial collapse, the top elected officials in Michigan–and the other states heavily dependent on these firms–en masse and with alacrity did everything in their power to save the companies, which ultimately led to the federal bailout and prepackaged bankruptcies. Regardless of one’s position on government interference in the private sector in propping up weak companies, the fact is that state elected officials work closely with their business leaders to promote indigenous industries and companies. This encompasses such initiatives as tax breaks and incentives, worker training, lobbying the federal government, and loans and grants. Moreover, the more important an industry or company is to a state, the more sweeping and pressing is the effort.

The logic is obvious: industries and companies employ a state’s citizens and contribute to filling state coffers. In this day and age, the job description for governors, mayors, and other elected executives, entails economic development. This includes keeping companies from moving, attracting firms from other locales, encouraging and facilitating start-ups, and helping going concerns to expand in the state or community.

The rationale may be evident, but the situation in Kentucky pertaining to the horse racing and breeding industry defies explanation. I am the chairman of the board of a small business development center, whose job it is to assist people to start and expand businesses, have taught marketing and entrepreneurship in universities for years, and have co-authored a book on economic development. In all my experiences and research, I cannot find an example other than Kentucky where upper-echelon state elected officials have willfully worked to weaken the state’s number one industry, perhaps even with malice toward the enterprise, and have done so while ignoring the will of the majority of constituents. Imagine if prominent legislative leaders were anti-auto in Michigan, anti-wine in California, or anti-casino in Nevada. 

When the steel industry was leaving Pittsburgh for offshore destinations, elected leaders in Pennsylvania fought against long odds to retain the industry. The same thing happened in North Carolina when the textile industry was eviscerated. Officials in cities that have lost NFL franchises have battled mightly to keep them, realizing their importance not only to fans but also to the local economy. Recently, when the voters in Ohio approved a referendum authorizing four casinos, the governor and legislature in contiguous Pennsylvania wasted little time in permitting the Keystone state’s casinos to add table games to their fare. Kentucky, regarding its treatment of the racing and breeding industry, is the inexplicable exception that proves the rule that state leaders fight to the end to maintain homegrown industries, especially the most prominent ones.

One can only wonder about the rationale and motives of unresponsive legislators in Kentucky, particularly given the overwhelming sentiment of their own constitutents to permit slots at racetracks (voters favor racetrack slots by over a 3-to-2 margin). What prompts a person sworn to act in the best interests of the citizenry to purposefully and apparently contemptuously derail an industry that employs thousands of people, contributes so much in the way of tax revenues, with farms that provide a beautiful tourist-attracting ambiance to the Bluegrass region and a racetrack in Louisville that has a historical gem of a two-minute race telecast around the world? From the standpoint of costs versus benefits, what benefits could possibly outweigh the costs derived from downsizing Kentucky’s number one industry? The underlying motivations must be subjective and emotionally charged.

To illustrate, consider the objection voiced by Kentucky Senate President David L. Williams, who is the leader of the elected officials opposed to slot machines at racetracks. In his view, expanded gambling is deleterious to the welfare of Kentuckians, or else he would not stand in the way. Yet the gentleman has been a vigorous supporter of tobacco, as evidenced by his recognition in 2000 as a Friend of Tobacco (as extolled on his personal website). Contemplate the contradiction. Whereas gambling in moderation can be fun and entertaining, tobacco use has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, not even in moderation, and is responsible for a litany of physical ailments, including premature death. A political leader who defends tobacco–a dying industry in more ways than one–and blocks expanded gaming in the name of consumer protection has staked out an indefensible intellectual position and thereby has called into question his agenda and/or his analytical thought process. It would be educational to also determine Senator Williams’ attitudes toward two other mainline Kentucky industries with social baggage, bourbon and coal. To what extent has he fostered and promoted their continued well being?

Whatever the reasons, the end result is to undo the 225-year work that began in colonial days with Daniel Boone and continued with the endeavors of Henry Clay, Dr. Elisha Warfield, Matt Winn, Arthur “Bull” Hancock, and numerous other Kentuckians, both famous and not (see Part I of this article for an historical perspective).

As compared to other states in terms of the educational proficiency of its citizens, Kentucky has long been at the lower end of the rankings. Certainly, this is not an enviable position to be in, especially given the increasingly high-tech world that people live and work in. Ostensibly, a thinking person in the Kentucky governorship or legislature would do everything possible to keep the best of Kentucky tradition, notably its equine preeminence, while at the same time work to prepare Kentucky residents for the jobs of tomorrow.

The way to do both is patently evident. Strengthen the racing and breeding enterprises by expanding gaming at the racetracks so that they can at least be reasonably competitive with full-line casino offerings in tangential states–Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia–and not-too-distant Pennsylvania. This is a win-win because the state’s cut of the racetrack’s revenues could be dedicated by law to education, funding of commercially-promising technology research, seed money for start-up ventures, and loans for business expansion.

Kentucky has two choices: (1) ruin the racing and breeding industry and compensate for the lost tax revenues with cuts to education, social services, and the like; or (2) bolster the industry and obtain the funds to augment economic development efforts and to improve education. What elected official would want a legacy associated with the first choice? Apparently, a few powerful ones at least.

The ever-logical Dr. Spock of Star Trek fame would look at these choices and be certain that Kentucky’s elected officials, of all political persuasions, and the business community are working together, with a sense of great urgency, to save and strengthen the Commonwealth’s flagship industry and, at the same time, are beginning to reap the wherewithal to get the state and its citizenry positioned to compete in the 21st century.

Spock would be wrong. It does not compute. Something is amiss  in Kentucky.

Copyright © 2010 Horse Racing Business