Relating to Different Age Cycles

In the last column, Strauss and Howe’s theory of history repeating itself every fourth generation was discussed. Those generations, Hero, Silent, Prophet, and Nomad, have different values and driving forces. We like to say we treat all employees the same but in fact, we dare not. They are different people from different times.

Behavior of people within our organizations changes with the changing cycles, and with it, management style must change. Kurt Lewin identified three major leadership styles; authoritarian, participative, and delegative.

Authoritarian leaders provide clear expectations to group members on what should be done, when it should be completed, and how it should be accomplished. Frederick Winslow Taylor was the foremost expert on this leadership style. His time and motion studies were a small part of his teachings but became attached to his name. These authoritarian leaders make decisions without input from group members. It worked well with the Silent generation following WWII as exemplified by the book and movie, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Over use of an authoritarian style can be construed as bossy and controlling. Worst-case examples of this style can be seen when leaders utilize bullying techniques such as yelling, abusive power, or demeaning of group members.

Participative leaders accept input from one or more group members when making decisions and solving problems, but the leader retains the final say when choices are made. Group members tend to be encouraged and motivated by this style of leadership. It often leads to more effective and accurate decisions, since no leader can be an expert in all areas. Input from group members with specialized knowledge and expertise creates a more complete basis for decision- making. This leadership style resonates with the Artist and Prophet generations.

Delegative leaders allow group members to make decisions. This style is best used in situations where the leader needs to rely on qualified employees. The leader may not have the most expertise in all situations or be available when immediate decisions must be made. It is important to delegate certain tasks out to knowledgeable and trustworthy employees. These employees match the characteristics of the Hero generation.

The complexity of technology today almost demands use of the delegative style but occasions can require utilization of all three styles, depending on the situation, for example:

  • Use an authoritative style if a group member lacks knowledge about a certain procedure.
  • Use a participative style with group members who understand the objectives and their role in the task.
  • Use a delegative style if the group member knows more than the leader about the task.

Group leaders need to adapt and change based upon the objectives, needs of group members, and situational factors. Needs can be real or perceived and both need to be understood by the effective leader. The current generation of the majority of workers, Hero, Silent, Prophet, or Nomad, largely shapes perceived needs.

Just like we need to understand the needs and wants of our customers, we need to understand the needs and wants of our employees. Not all are the same and their age group largely impacts their behavioral traits.


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Cycles of Behavior

Some books are entertaining and some are profound which cause us to think. A good example of the latter is The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Stowe published in 1997. The authors provide food for thought on how to position or change our business and how to relate to fellow workers.

They predicted in 1997, four years before the 9/11/01 attack, that in about ten years a grave moment of opportunity and danger. Their predictions included:

  • Economic distress, with public debt in default, entitlement trust funds in bankruptcy, mounting poverty and unemployment, trade wars, collapsing financial markets, and hyperinflation (or deflation).
  • Social distress, with violence fueled by class, race, nativism, or religion and abetted by armed gangs, underground militias, and mercenaries hired by walled communities.
  • Cultural distress, with the media plunging into a dizzying decay, and a decency backlash in favor of state censorship.
  • Technological distress, with crypto-anarchy, high-tech oligarchy, and biogenetic chaos.
  • Ecological distress, with atmospheric damage, energy or water shortages, and new diseases.
  • Political distress, with institutional collapse, open tax revolts, one-party hegemony, major constitutional change, secessionism, authoritarianism, and altered national borders.
  • Military distress, with war against terrorists or foreign regimes equipped with weapons of mass destruction.

The authors made these predictions by studying history and determined that history repeats itself every fourth generation. They described these generations as:

  1. High, an upbeat era of strengthening organizations and weakening individualism when old values decay. Current example is the Baby Boomer or Prophet generation, those born between 1946 and 1964.
  2. Awakening, a passionate era when the civic order comes under attack from a new values regime. This is the era of the Gen X or Nomad generation, born between 1965 and 1980.
  3. Unraveling, a downcast era of strengthening individualism and weakening institutions with the decay of civic order and emergence of new values. This would be the era of the Millennial, Generation Next, or Hero generation, born between 1981 and roughly 2000.
  4. Crisis, a decisive of era of upheaval when the new values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one. This is the era of the Artist or Silent generation, born after 2000.

We can relate to earlier cycles of the Hero generation of WWI followed by the High of the early 20s, the Awakening of he depression, the Unraveling of international accord, and the WWII spawning another Hero generation. The Heros of that generation were born somewhere between 1900 and 1928, followed by a Silent generation born between 1929 and 1945.

From these reoccurring cycles, the authors of The Fourth Turning based their predictions detailed earlier. An understanding of these cycles can provide guidance of action on a global, national, and local level.

As stated earlier, armed with this knowledge, we can make better business decisions and learn how to deal with employees of different age groups. I am a member of the Silent generation and was brought up to do as I was told. I did because I had great respect for the Hero generations of WWI and WWII. We cannot expect this of the other generations and need to understand the differences and how to relate with them.

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Workplace Behavior

Have you ever had sleepless nights stewing over “office politics”? I have, plenty of times, while working for large organizations. An old saying notes that little people don’t become big by putting others down, but little people keep trying.  Work should be enjoyable and something employees look forward to each day. However, people don’t always behave the way we would like them to in daily activities, if cultural behavior is not addressed.

Good organizations develop a system to involve employees in creating a set of guidelines to remind each of them on what is expected in terms on the way they conduct themselves on a daily basis. They can be called Operating Principles, Behavioral Guidelines, Values, Code of Conduct, etc. Each organization should develop their own set with employee involvement so they have ownership. Following is a set of Operating Principles developed by a company in southern Minnesota, which I think is exceptionally good, to give you an idea of what they might look like.

Operating Principles


  • Optimize the System

Work together for the success of the organization as a whole in a strong and unified system, recognizing that all activities are inter-related. Break down “silos” and work for the good of the entire organization.

  • Foster Learning

Provide opportunities for all employees to develop to their full potential,             recognizing people’s inherent desire to do their best.

  • Optimize the Supply Chain

Establish long-term cooperative relationships with employees, customers, suppliers, and other key stakeholders aimed at delighting our customers and achieving our vision.

  • Improve/Innovate Processes

Practice continuous improvement through on-going coaching, learning,             development, and innovation focused on delighting internal and external             customers.

  • Incorporate Quality

Develop an understanding of the causes of variation from planned             performance and take appropriate action to eliminate waste, rework,             and redundancy from the operation to improve overall quality through a             disciplined process. Measure outcomes and celebrate the successes.

  • Encourage Communication

Communicate openly and honestly the status and direction of the             organization to our employees and stakeholders. Practice effective and             timely communication strategies in support of answering to internal and             external customers needs through mutual respect and cooperation to be             embraced by employees.

  • Evolve Culture

Create a working environment, which removes barriers to effective             performance and fosters mutual respect, trust, and engages the hearts             and minds of others.

  • Demonstrate Leadership

Leaders at all levels will model the behavior desired in the organization.             They will:

  • Challenge existing processes and ways of doing things.
  • Inspire a shared vision to uplift, enable, and enroll others in achieving the company vision.
  • Enable and empower others to act to strengthen their abilities, will, and sense of personal worth.
  • Encourage the heart to celebrate team accomplishments regularly and recognize individual contributions to the success of projects.

This example is provided to stimulate thinking on a similar set of guidelines you might wish to develop with your employees for your organization. One should not copy someone else’s work but develop your own that fits the needs of your organization and its people.

Once developed, it should be discussed with all employees for modification and acceptance. Then copies made for each employee and postings in conspicuous places to remind everyone of their own actions and help them to help others.

A follow-up system should be created to track progress on each guideline and by different parts of the organization. Culture is like any other process, it needs to undergo continuous improvement because it will never be perfect, but it will become better and better.

This new and improved culture will lead to happiness and self-satisfaction in your work. Who doesn’t want that?





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Leadership or Management?


A friend gave me a hard time this week because I alluded in the last column that the term, manager, is outmoded and we should look instead to become leaders. Yet, in the citation of my name and position, I used the term, Managing Director. I thought he had me until I thought further. Hopefully, we manage things and lead people.

To succeed and prosper, any organization has three basic things that it must manage well: strategy, process inprovement/innovation, and culture.


Leadership should supply the direction or aim of the organization, and then with as inclusive of a group as possible, develop the method or strategy to achieve the aim. All employees must understand and buy into this long-term objective and the approach to reaching it.

Leadership should supply the training for all employees to understand that all work is a series of processes and they can do no better than their process will allow. Therefore, employees need to chart their work processes, understand that no process is perfect, and constantly work to improve their processes and look for better ways.

Leadership should supply the opportunity for all employees to share the behavior traits that they would like to see from their fellow workers, up, down, and across the organization. From this discussion (s), a set of Operating Principles, Behavior

Guidelines, Values, or whatever you choose to call them, can be developed to guide interaction of employees on a day-to-day basis.

The retired Director of the Juran Center for Quality at the University of Minnesota has stated that he thinks, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” I tend to think that these three things to be managed are of equal importance but this individual was stressing the importance of managing culture as it is often overlooked. Yes, culture is a thing that can be managed.

When all employees have had an opportunity to develop these behavior guidelines and have ownership of the result, they are much more likely to behave accordingly and remind coworkers of doing likewise. A simple one-page survey can be conducted of all employees quarterly on how well different parts of the organization are complying with these guidelines. The intent is not to single out individuals but to monitor how different segments of the company appear to others. Examples are peers, front-line employees, top leaders, and supervisors. The survey simply asks that each segment is to be scored on a basis of 1-10, with 10 high, for each behavior guideline. Results are shared with everyone and they can see where more focus is needed.

As the diagram shows, Leadership is at the center of each of the three activities to be managed that are important to the success and prosperity of the organization. With these activities properly managed, leadership will blossom throughout the organization and the people will lead themselves.

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Distributed Leadership

Today’s organizations cannot afford management; they need leadership! That needed leadership is not exclusive to those on the top of the organization chart but lies with each and every employee. Empowerment is a popular buzzword but deployment is typically a farce. Many managers like to say that they have empowered their reports (the people who report to them) but the employees know better. When it comes to decision time, most managers feel compelled to call the shots and leave the workers resigned to following orders, using their arms and legs, but not their brains.

Why do we have multiple layers of managers in our organizations? They:

  • Consume capital
    • Salaries
    • Bonuses
    • Perks
    • Offices
    • Equipment
  • Distort and delay communications, up and down
  • Delay decisions
    • Shielded from the real work by other managers
    • Need for research to find out what is real
    • Justify existence

A small organization might only need three levels of employees—CEO/Owner, Process Leaders, and Process Members. The organization could then be viewed as a long tube similar to a cluster of wires wrapped in a sheath of support processes. This tube can be accurately labeled as a value-added conduit. This tube would have raw materials, suppliers, our firm, distributers, and consumers in series from front to back. The term “our firm” represents your organization includes what is done internally to change inputs to outputs in the organization.

The wires inside the tube would be the key processes of the organization and include process members who do the work and a process leader. They are responsible for the success of that process and accountable for making decisions in real time. Process members and process leaders must therefore be properly selected for their positions, trained, and given authority to do what is needed and in the best interest of the customers, employees, and the owners. They should not be second guessed for errors but helped to correct mistakes and learn. It is okay to make mistakes, we are all human, as long as they are admitted and corrected quickly. A good rule to follow is, “Fix the problem and not the blame.”

The distinction between managers and leaders is important. The word manage has a connotation of control, as if the employees need to be controlled. Business schools used to teach that the proper “span of control” for any manager was between three and ten people. A manager under that thinking could be viewed as sitting in the drivers seat cracking the whip over the employees. Another type of manager, equally distasteful, is like a passenger knowing they cannot be a hard driver and ultimately successful, therefore just sit back and hope the organization is going in the right direction. A leader is out in front of the employees, leading the way and setting the direction. Leaders lead!

Much work is going on today to decrease waste, rework, and redundancy from organizations to cut costs and improve efficiency. Aren’t too many levels of management a form of waste, rework, and redundancy?

An organization is optimized when leadership responsibility is truly distributed to each and every employee and all employees become leaders.


The New Economics, Dr. W. Edwards

Made In America by Sam Walton and John Huey

“Organizing for Empowerment”-AES, Suzy Wetlaufer

Ronald Schmidt-Zytec Corporation


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Embracing a Culture of Innovation

The next big thing is unlikely to come from the same organization that brought us today’s big thing.

Innovation usually comes from without. For example, at one time IBM and the “seven dwarfs” (Burroughs, CDC, GE, Honeywell, NCR, Univac, and XDS) ruled the computer business. They did not see the emergence of the mini-computer and DEC, Data General, and Varian took the leadership as the minis eroded the big computer market. Again, these people missed out as the microcomputer industry took over and Apple, Compaq, HP, and later Dell reigned. IBM made a reemergence in the micros but later sold the micro portion of their business to a Chinese firm. Now we have tablets led by Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon and the smart phones led by Apple, Nokia, and Research In Motion are taking big chunks of the market.

Wait, there is an anomaly; Apple has transcended a couple of generations.  How did they do that, was it the freakish creativity of their leader Steve Jobs? Has he been able to instill this innovation culture in Apple, or are they doomed to be bypassed in the future like others? Time will tell.

How does one create and sustain this innovation culture? Several people addressed this question in a recent conference in Minneapolis sponsored by Advanced Improvement Systems LLC.

  • Incremental changes are no longer sufficient in a world that is operating in fundamentally different ways, build a discipline of innovation-Barb Spurrier, Mayo Clinic
  • Proposed solutions require a paradigm shift in upper management processes-Cathy Reiter, Toro
  • Virtual Participants felt more connected than live-Melissa Lenk, Cargill
  • Commercialize faster-Bob Mitchell
  • All of Deming’s theories are still relevant-Dr. Charles Liedtke, Advanced Improvement Systems
  • Electronic suggestions must include:
    • If we do this __________________
    • This will happen _____________
    • And this is why ______________

-       Sara Rose, MN Department of Human Services

Ms. Rose reported that they still have the typical suggestion boxes in the organization but they find it much more useful to use an electronic approach for speed and quality of suggestions. One caveat, the suggestion must include answers to the three questions above.

It seems obvious to be continually innovative; organizations must tap the brainpower of all employees in real time. Individuals like Steven Jobs being the one-point innovative driver in the organization are extremely rare. To attain the all-employee involvement, they must understand and be passionate about the aim of the organization. They must be empowered and enabled to make decisions as needed. This means fewer levels of management are required or even desired. Each employee must accept the responsibility to lead. Management can create the environment for empowerment but employees must step up and accept that responsibility.

There has to be some tolerance for risk taking, willingness to try creative ideas, and forgiveness of mistakes. If you do things because that is the way they have always been done, it is probably wrong. The world is changing rapidly.

Dr. Deming was fond of offering this poser, “If you want to get ahead, you have to get ahead.”



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Developing an Empowered Organization

Times are changing and management/decision making must change with it. This means that decisions quite often must be made immediately and at the point of contact with the customer. Don’t you get upset when you negotiate an agreement with someone on the phone or over the inter-net and then they say, “Please wait for my supervisor”, and then you start over with someone anew. Or when you negotiate on an automobile and then the salesperson says, “Wait, I have to run it by my manager?”

One of the best-managed clients that I had was a manufacturing company in southern Minnesota named Zytec. They authorized every employee to spend up to $1,000 dollars to improve their work processes or satisfy a customer without approval. It was tremendously successful. When the CEO was asked one day by a fellow executive from another company if he wasn’t worried about the cost of such a program, he responded, “No, my front line workers are more careful about spending the company’s money than my managers are.”

Empowering the people is the necessary requirement to make decisions in real time at the opportune moment. That involves sharing the vision of the desired future state of the organization, its direction, strategy, and goals. The people must be trusted as the CEO of Zytec did. Management must listen sincerely to the people and provide information for decision-making. The need to delegate opportunities and authority, not just work. The idea is to solve problems and not blame people when things go wrong. When things go right, give the people a pat on the back and help them feel rewarded.  The trick is to encourage people without creating havoc. Needless to say, mutual trust and respect must be developed.

Creating the opportunity for empowered-employees is one thing, getting results is another thing. It has been said, “Opportunity knocks, but you have to answer the door.” The employees must take advantage of the opportunity and make the decisions. They have to listen to the customers, internal and external, and listen to the data from the work process. This often means gathering the data on themselves on their own work. They have to use their brain and have faith in themselves. They have to do what they believe is right.

The organization has the responsibility to create a work environment, which helps foster the ability and desire of employees to act in empowered ways. The work organization has the responsibility to remove barriers that limit the ability of the staff to make decisions on their own. Empowerment then needs to come from the individual.

Empowerment can be defined as the process of an individual to take action and control work and decision-making in autonomous ways. This results in more customer satisfaction and less wasted time and effort within the organization. Who wouldn’t want that?


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Take a Strategic Inventory of Your Organization

After 29 years, Jeopardy is still the number 2 game show on television and enjoys 25 million visitors each week. What is the secret to their success? I am sure there are many reasons but one that I believe to be a factor is that the host provides an answer and the contestants must give the correct question. My belief is that it is more difficult to ask the proper questions than it is to respond with the correct answers. This applies to business and for this reason, I have collected useful questions to ask when analyzing a company.

  1. 1.    What is the purpose of your organization? This is sometimes called the Mission Statement or the reason for your business to exist.
  2. 2.    What is the key message or phrase that describes your organization? What business are you really in?
  3. 3.    Where do you want your organization to be in five years? Dream of what you want your operation to look like if you could eliminate all barriers. This is your Vision statement.
  4. 4.    What will conditions be like in your organization when you reach your answer to question #3? This is a list of the ideal conditions of your organization when you reach your dream.
  5. 5.    What do you do best? Understand your own strengths and how that can be best utilized to reach your dream.
  6. 6.    What part of your organization would your competitors most like to emulate? By truly knowing what your competitors value, you can better make the most of that resource.
  7. 7.    What parts of your operation do you most fear to lose? Protect your flanks at all times.
  8. 8.    Where are you weak in the eyes of your customers? By understanding their view, you can better react to meet their needs.
  9. 9.    Where are you vulnerable in the eyes of your competitors? Good competitors help us succeed by exposing opportunities for us to improve.

10. What are the 3-4 things that your company must do well to succeed today and in the future? Focus on the “vital few” areas to improve.

11. How do you measure “those things’? How do you know that you are improving?

12. What would be the ideal number? What do those measurements need to be to reach your dream?

13. Where are you now? Ouch! You may have exposed some areas to address.

14. What is stopping you from reaching the ideal number? Why can’t you fulfill your dreams? What are the barriers that must be overcome?

This is a simple little checklist that helps to take inventory of where we are, where we want to go, and what we have to do to get there. These questions are the hard part, now all you have to do is come up with the proper answers to move your organization toward your dream of the future.


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Business Self Analysis

Physician, heal thyself! Does this wonderful phrase apply in business? It is easy to be critical of others and their organizations, but do you really look at your own operation in detail to see where you are headed?

The hardest part is always getting started. An acronym that is useful in business analysis is FOG, financial, operations, and growth.

In the financial area, start with your income statement, comparing income with expenses, and the cash flow statement. Next, look at the projected income statement and cash flow statement for the next year by month for at least a year. You may choose to look at years two and three by quarter and years four and five in the future by year. The next year is vital, so focus on that first. The question to be addressed is whether your business is viable.

Other questions to be asked are:

  • Is your inventory optimal? Excess inventory is evil; it will cost money through carrying costs, shrinkage (loss due to lost, obsolescence, damage, pilferage, etc.), space, and handling cost. What is the turnover rate on inventory and how does this compare to others?
  • Do you have the ability to attract the cash needed in your cash flow projection?
  • Does your return on investment meet the owners’ needs? This may be your own needs and expectations.
  • Are your prices right? Are your total costs right?

Next to be reviewed are your operations. First, do you have a written vision statement of what you want your organization to be in five years? In other words, what is your dream and can you articulate it? Do your employees buy into it? What barriers are in the way of reaching your vision?

What published values do you have to guide you and your employees in their decisions? Is this business worthwhile? Do you take pride in it? Do you enjoy what you are doing? Is it high risk and are the rewards commensurate?

Other operations questions are whether marketing, distributing, and support operations capable? Are legal, political, and licensing factors to be considered?  Location is always important; is labor in the area adequate and are transportation issues manageable?

Next look at the flow of production. Is it orderly and smooth? Chart it to see if time and motion can be lessened and the work process improved to eliminate waste and rework.

The final review step is growth. It seems you can never stay still; you are either growing or shrinking. Is your market growing? Have you identified a niche in which you dominate? In mature markets, there is usually room for two companies to thrive, one to just eke by, and the rest are in trouble. That is why it is necessary to focus efforts on a niche in the market in which you can be one of the two thriving organizations. Are you positioned to lead? Have you done market and competitive studies? Is the timing right for your offerings? Will it be right in three to five years? Is your marketing capable of adjusting to all of the changes in marketing techniques?

The most obvious article to review in an analysis is the business plan. The answers to the above questions are found in a good business plan but it needs to be constantly updated because the world is not standing still. You should have a dynamic business plan with, especially, the financial projections updated monthly.

You will undoubtedly never be satisfied with your answers but that only means you have discovered opportunities to improve and progress on the road to your dream. Benefit from your own wisdom.

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The Make-up of a Basic Business Plan

The most often question I hear from people who want to start a business is, “Where can I get the money to fund it?” A friend says the only free money comes from the three “Fs”–families, friends, or fools. I submit you are in endangering your relationships if your dreams do not come to fruition. The truth is, there is no free money. If the business is not successful, you can expect a financial cost and/or a relationship cost.

For other sources of funds such as banks, you will need a sound, complete business plan. This is where the rubber hits the road; it demands that you think. The hardest part is getting started.

A good source to find guidance is to go to where you can download business plan templates for either startup or existing businesses.

The business plan according to SCORE should consist of a combination of narratives and worksheets organized into sections. They should look something like the following:


This is done simply to make it easier for the reader to find the section of most importance to them.


This section should be written last after the thought has gone into developing the other sections. It should be concise, one page preferably, and positive.


This defines the business that you are in, its industry, your vision, mission, goals, objectives, and why you are positioned to succeed. It will detail the strengths and core competencies of you and your company. It will also include the type of ownership.


Included here are details on what you plan to provide, what need/want that it serves, competitive advantages, and pricing logic.


No matter how good your service or products are, you cannot succeed without effective marketing. The field of marketing is changing rapidly, so you will need to do market research. Include both what you learn from studying data from industry reports, library, etc. and what you learn first hand from talking and listening. The economics of the industry should be detailed including size of the market niche, your target percentage and how you are going to become a market factor in that niche, growth potential, barriers to entry and how you plan to overcome those barriers. Detailed information on your competitors, strategy, promotion of your products/services and distribution channels, and sales forecast are required.


Included here are your plans for how your products/services will be produced, your location, legal environment, and personnel.


Here you will talk about the company personnel and their credentials, board of directors or advisory board, attorney, insurance agent, banker, accountant, and mentors.


This is key; any investor will want to see the extent of your commitment.


These are usually much higher than expected, so plan accordingly.


The financial plan consists of a 12-month profit and loss projection plus 2 years by quarter. In addition to revenue and expenses, predict cash flow. This will probably prove the most effective management tool that you will have if you update it every month and make it a rolling 12-month forecast. You will be able to predict what will happen to your cash flow if you make a change or alter plans along the way.


Include bulk items such as brochures, studies, contracts, and any other materials to support the assumptions made in the plan.

Always remember, the real value of creating a business plan is not in having the finished product; rather the value lies in what you learn through the process of researching and thinking about your business in a systematic way. The act of planning helps you to think things through thoroughly, make sure of your facts and assumptions, and look at your ideas critically.

Knowing that you have done your homework and have a sound plan, you will have the self-confidence to lead the organization to a successful endeavor.


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