Tuesday, August 30, 2011

More on the Detrimental Impact of Too Many Rules

Disclaimer: I have written about this topic within the past three (or five) years.

I received an email today titled, "Requirement." The sender of the email is a man in whom I place a great deal of trust. I admire him because he is a thinking man who considers issues with efficiency and caution. He, however, is a player in an industry that is gasping its last feeble breaths, thanks in large part to silly, knee-jerk regulations that are applied across an entire industry, regardless of whether or not they mean anything or add to the work product.

It seems that a small cadre of consultants has been in serious breach of a specific regulation. The rule, handed down from the towers of wisdom, requires all consultants to clearly state in every report whether or not the consultant has ever worked on a specific project in any capacity in the past three years. (There is some debate about the three year rule - should you report for a five year period, lifetime, etc. One particularly inept consultant, the one who gets really excited about the rules and making sure they are obeyed and implemented, even suggested that if you mowed the lawn for someone involved in a specific project in 1987 then you are required disclose that in the report.) To be clear: I have written about this topic within the past three (or five) years.

I always include this statement in my letter of transmittal, right up front, so that my clients are clear about any past activities with respect to any given assignment. Turns out, that's wrong. The statement MUST be included in a certification (one portion of the report that bears signatures), not in the letter (which happens to be another portion of the report that bears signatures, but who's counting?). If a consultant does these things he or she is in complete compliance with regulations, unless a client requests that it be included in the letter.

Oh, and just to be sure, probably better make mention of your past experience with a particular assignment in the history section as well, as required by many clients and as interpreted by some of those who reside in the aforementioned tower of wisdom (And that particularly inept consultant, the one who gets really excited about the rules and making sure they are obeyed and implemented.). Also, best make sure that you describe any changes in your analysis and why you made said changes.

So, we now have the exact same sentence included in a single report in three separate places. Inclusion of this sentence in no way increases the reliability of a given report. It does not add to credibility to the analysis. It does not, in any way, have any impact on the conclusions derived for a given assignment. But it's in there, as required.

Certification: I, Thomas H. Humphreys, do hereby certify that I have written about this topic within the past three (or five) years. The specific date upon which I penned my last post pertaining to this peturbance was March 3, 2011. In my last discourse describing the disturbing detriments of too many directives I discussed the broad over-arching framework of too many rules. I still hold that opinion. This post, the one written today, is not a departure from my previous analysis, rather a more specific example of the broader problem, an elucidation of the sheer idiocy and voluminousness of regulations mandated by the committees that oversee a certain industry.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Sartorial Sleuth - The Well Dressed PI

I think we’ve lost our way. Casual Fridays, corporate logos, and “authentic” hipsterism have shoved proper style to the back of the closet.

Sam Spade

There was a time when men dressed like men. Search for 1920s men’s style and you’ll see. Watch an episode of MadMen and you’ll see. Hell, even stream an episode of Rockford on NetFlix, you’ll see. Men used to dress like men. They had style.

The old-school gumshoes, creations of Dashiell Hammett and his contemporaries, dressed like gentlemen - though, it seems that everyone in that era dressed to impress. Let’s be clear, the clothes do not make a man a gentleman. We’ll just accept as a given that being a gentleman is the foundation upon which we’ll build our wardrobe.

I spend a lot of time with federal agents, detectives, and other private investigators. The feds understand: they apparently have a dress code. Police detectives sometimes get it (see this story about best dressed detectives). PIs are, quite possibly, the worst.

Still, in my cadre of private dicks, there’s a sense of professionalism that seems to demand a higher standard.

In the office and at leisure – The PI as Professional – Dolling up for clients

Client Meeting
Office - Appearance is key, first impressions paramount. I never go to a client meeting, deposition, or court without dressing for the occasion. My clients expect a certain style from me. I wear denim often and am completely comfortable going to meet a long term client sporting a pair of jeans, mid-tan shoes and belt, pressed oxford cloth shirt, and an odd jacket, maybe even a bow tie.

That’s as casual as I get. For depositions, a pair of gabardine slacks, likely grey, nice sport coat, and definitely a tie. Court demands a suit, sometimes three-piece, but always a suit.

The minutia
These are fairly easy ideas to grasp. It’s the minutia that makes a difference. Ties, pocket squares, cuff-links, these small items add color and elegance to any outfit. Ties should be classic and colorful. Ties should never have products or cartoons patterned across them, never. Pocket squares should not match the tie, rather complement it. Again, color and quality are of utmost importance. Cuff-links should be metal, simple, and match your belt buckle and watch.

Leisure – Those of you who read the [FIND] Investigations blog on a regular basis know my fondness for a hand-crafted cocktail and fine wine. I love cocktail hour. Here in Nashville, we usually head to The Patterson House or the Oak Bar for cocktail hour. It amazes me how people show up to a classy bar in shorts and t-shirt.

When we host our Bow Ties and Bourbon events once a month at The Patterson House, everyone is encouraged to dress. The wonderful thing is this: a table full of judges, lawyers, investigators all in their finery somehow makes the whole joint feel classier, like a throwback to yesteryear, gentlemen and ladies behaving as such.

Again, these are the faces we show in our capacity as professionals. The real fun starts when the work begins.

In the field – The PI on surveillance – blending in

Assignment – Surveillance
Location – New Orleans
Weather – Sweltering hot with turgid skies
Time – 9:00 PM – until
Conveyance – Foot mobile

This is where creativity and a sense of style allow the professional investigator to blend in perfectly. 

Pocket Square and Seersucker
Last month we traveled to NOLA for a bit of sub-rosa work. Our team costumed to match the surroundings. White linen pants and a seersucker jacket, with a rich red pocket square, allowed us to melt into the background at Galatoires, all the while observing our subject and documenting his activities. We strolled, in a classic front-and-follow maneuver, across Canal Street to the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel over on Baronne, never once drawing unwanted attention. We sidled up to the bar and continued our surveillance (unfortunate mocktails in hand), the subject completely unawares. 

It’s not always like this. Sometimes you have to get down and dirty (trash collectors uniform, hard hat, safety-vest), but it’s the urban neighborhood surveillance that allows us to have a bit of fun, look like we give a shit, and blend in at the same time.

This little exercise in styling a PI for a specific job is our introduction to a quarterly column under the Sartorial Sleuth heading. We’re going to call this tri-monthly exercise The Sartorial Sleuth, dressed for success(ful surveillance).

Monday, August 8, 2011

Innovation : Investigation - Open your mind

[FIND] Lexicon: Innovation: noun \ˌi-nə-ˈvā-shən\ 1 : the introduction of something new 2 : a new idea, method, or device

Harvard business professor and acclaimed author Clay Christensen leads the way in studies of innovation, says the latest issue of The Economist. He penned three books on the topic over the last 15 years: "The Innovator's Dilemma," "Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns," and "The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators."

In the latter, Christensen cites five habits of mind that lead to disruptive innovation: associating, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting.

Sounds a lot like the habits of mind required to be a solid investigator. Let's break it down:

Associating - Professional investigators, the ones with whom you would want to work, always seek to broaden their associations. When a new detective hangs her shingle, I try to reach out. There's always something to learn from another professional. From the obvious organizational associations (ACFE, AIIP, etc.) to the simple teaming up with another investigator (or company) to attack a problem, associating can lead you to new ideas and methods.

Questioning - This one is pretty obvious. We, as professional investigators, constantly question methods, practices, and approaches to problems. We question motives, actions, and behavior. Questioning our methods and practices, though, tends to lead to the highest return in innovation.

Observing - Again, this one is fairly self evident. We observe. Surveillance, research, study, all methods of observation that we employ on a daily basis. The best detectives, however, turn that methodical study of behavior on themselves and their competition as well as their subjects. Watch how other people do their work. There's always something one can learn.

Networking - Networking is key to any business, any endeavor, any social exercise. When traveling, [FIND] Investigations staff is encouraged to look up a local PI with whom to share a coffee or a cocktail. It's almost mandatory. The network of friends, investigators, LEO, and researchers we've built over the years is our primary source for help, referrals, and new ideas. I could go on and on on this point, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. - all fine tools, implements that allow us to grow a superficial network of "friends." But when it comes to people to whom you can turn for advice, direction, and assistance, a web of actual people is invaluable. With that web of real people, social networking tools (FB, TW, LI, etc.) become a way to maintain those relationships.

Experimenting - Always, always, always try new things. Sometimes you may push the envelope more than you should (maybe even face a criminal trespass charge along the way), but without trying new ideas, new methods, new tools, you will never grow as an investigator. I've heard way too many people in this profession say, "That's just how we've always done it." Well, the day I utter that phrase, please shoot me. [FIND] Investigations likes to partner with tech geeks and information nerds, anything to shift the POV and see a problem in a new way. Processes are good, standards are necessary, but if you never push, you'll never excel and certainly never be an innovator.

Final thoughts - Disruptive innovation, that leap or step forward that makes a "ding in the universe" requires an open mind. All of the traits detailed by Christensen hint at one basic tenet: keep your mind open.