Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Star Beginnings

A flash-back moment: Old commercials featuring people who later became stars.

Among others, it includes John Travolta singing about Safeguard soap, Tom Selleck as the Chaz cowboy, and well, Keanu Reeves has a thing for corn flakes.

Diversity Fatigue?

Po Bronson wonders if Americans are suffering from "diversity fatigue."

I think many of the reactions are more against the hectoring zealots who have become associated with diversity and who tend to paint any opposition as racist, sexist, etc.

Summer Reading

Fortune magazine has assembled a list of summer reading.

Unlike most summer reading lists, this one is eclectic enough to be interesting.

There may be a Father's Day gift or two lurking there.

We're Watching You

The Ubisense Employee Tracker permits employers to track the whereabouts of employees and then note the locations on screens.

That should build trust.

The Problem with Labels

One of the truly harmful, and understandable, practices in life and the workplace is labeling. We label people and things in order to simplify matters and to close off further thought.

You may be given a good label, such as “Marie is a creative person” or “Tom is a solid performer,” as the result of one memorable moment of effectiveness that was witnessed by or brought to the attention of influential people. I’ve known some executives and managers who have coasted for years on a single incident even though their effective performance was a fluke. Like some celebrities who are famous for being famous, these individuals enjoy a good reputation which is based, after a while, on having a good reputation.

Conversely, you will see people who’ve been given negative labels. They are the designated whiners and eccentrics who are permitted to remain employed but only in a parallel universe. Their chances of rehabilitation are usually remote and the odds of promotion are nil.

Aside from the questionable ethics of such caste systems, there is another problem: Sometimes, the whiner is correct. Occasionally, the eccentric is brilliant. But if the labeling is in full force, management can miss those moments.

Ask yourself how often your views of people have been shaped by positive and negative labels and then consider whether the label is accurate based on your own experience with the person. You may discover that the image doesn’t match the reality, either for good or for bad.

40 Million?

Robert J. Samuelson, one of the most interesting writers on the immigration issue, examines the Senate bill and press coverage. An excerpt:

The Senate passed legislation last week that Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) hailed as "the most far-reaching immigration reform in our history." You might think that the first question anyone would ask is how much it would actually increase or decrease legal immigration. But no. After the Senate approved the bill by 62 to 36, you could not find the answer in the news columns of The Post, the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Yet the estimates do exist and are fairly startling. By rough projections, the Senate bill would double the legal immigration that would occur during the next two decades from about 20 million (under present law) to about 40 million.

The Not So Beautiful People


Which will hurt a film's chances at the Cannes Film Festival:

Being anti-American or pro-American?

Ah, you already knew the answer.

Lighten Up

At last, solid proof of global warming.

Fooling Smart People

A skeptical – and accurate – view of the fog that clouds many a workplace:

I’ve been to quite a few consultancy presentations where all kinds of jargon and graphs are flashed up on the screen. The consultants will drop terms like “inverted blade-center uptime matrix” into the presentation while showing some baffling data on the screen. If I look around the room while this is going on, everyone will be nodding and wide-eyed. The audience is baffled by the cool-sounding words and the clever-looking graphs.If, at this time, you ask the consultant what exactly an “inverted blade-center uptime matrix” is, they’ll often try to fob-you off with even more meaningless jargon. If you persist in trying to pin them down, they’ll start acting like you must be some kind of incompetent idiot for not understanding this stuff. And the audience will probably be on the consultant's side - they don't want to be seen as incompetent idiots.

Consultants behave this way because they know that’s how to get a sale. Bombard people with clever-sounding stuff they don’t really understand, and they’ll assume that you’re some kind of genius. It's a great way of making money.

Business Pundit ]

Presentation Ceremony

A minor public speaking tip: If you are going to make a presentation of an award, know the award.

Click here for the brief video.

Rube Goldberg

I referred to a "Rube Goldberg device" the other day during a workshop and some of the younger class members looked at me as if I'd started speaking in tongues.

For the uninitiated, this is a Rube Goldberg device.

Quote of the Day

On the whole human beings want to be good, but not too good and not quite all the time.

- George Orwell

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Nitwit Update

Who says that otherwise smart people can't do really stupid things?

The Home Depot annual meeting turned out to be a demonstration of arrogance.

Read the reviews here and here and here.

Fashion Blindness

One look at this photo will confirm the fact that there was a collective loss of taste in the Seventies.

How could that be? People could still see movies from the Twenties, when men and women knew how to dress with style.

Did the fashion designers shield their eyes? Was it a weird attempt to combine the styles of the Fifties and the Sixties to produce some Hybrid Fashion Demon from Hell?

If so, they succeeded.

Choices and Impulse Buying

New research is challenging the assumptions about impulse buying.

For example, the longer you shop, the less likely you are to make an impulse purchase.

[Translation: Set aside a couple of hours the next time you go to the store for milk.]

"Actually collects and stores heat"

James Lileks ponders a 1956 Ford Country Sedan:

The thing itself, however, is a reminder of the Old Days: while the engine will take you into the troposphere in four seconds, it lacks power steering and air conditioning, which means that driving is work on a 98 degree day. The seats are made of a material that actually collects and stores heat, it seems, and the steering wheel itself can take the flesh off your hands if you don’t park it in the shade.


Forget the Porsche.

Lose the BMW.

I want a Isotta-Fraschini.

Updike Talks

John Updike talks about his upcoming novel, Terrorist, in an interview with TIME.

[I was amused by the question about whether Updike can write about an Arab American. The presumption is that you have to be a member of the group to write about a person who is a member of the group. It's nice that Tony Hillerman and a huge number of other writers never embraced that notion.]

Flunking "Myself 101"

Adrian Savage has hit another home run with his essay on common mistakes in self-development.

I've made every one. Please don't ask me how many times.

Puff Puff

Christine Sismondo takes on the precautionary principle, already a popular concept in helmeted, strapped-in, and cushioned North America, which is now being rocketed to a new extreme in Toronto.

No smoking outdoors?

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]

Ask Me Anything!

This CareerJournal article has some solid advice on how to handle any job interview question.

The formula is Q = A + 1

Off the Fat of the Land

Here's a Pepperdine University article on how the marketplace has responded to reports on obesity.

Think Subway.

What Goes Around...

Group dynamics in the Tour de France. An excerpt:

It was a sultry day in 1978, and the Tour's 100 racers were grinding through a 130-mile stage from Bordeaux to Biarritz. Most of the competitors were riding together in the peloton, the picturesque mob of competing teams that glides in formation across the French countryside every July.

With little warning, but as sometimes happens during long stages, somebody called for a bathroom break. Many riders from the race's ten different squads pulled to the side of the road and hopped off their bikes to relieve themselves. Those who didn't stop slowed down.
But instead of extending that customary courtesy, French rider Dante Coccolo decided to attack. His goal: sprint while others were taking their respective breaks, thereby putting a large time gap between himself and the group. Perhaps he'd even snatch one of bike racing's most prestigious prizes, a Tour stage win.

But Coccolo's gambit backfired: He had breached peloton etiquette. Again.

Read the rest here. Justice is done.

Hubris Update

A simple truth: Go on the witness stand, act like a controlling person, and people will find it difficult to believe that you didn't know what was going on.

More Enron analysis here.


I came in to the office before 6:30 this morning in order to work in silence.

Don't get me wrong. I have great co-workers and I enjoy talking with them. The greater benefit of silence dwells in my own silence. There is something very calming about not speaking for a sizable portion of time. That's one reason why Gandhi's practice of dedicating part of a day to silence did not mean that his staff couldn't talk to him - they could - but that he would not speak.

I suspect that most people, in this world of hubbub and demands, know what I'm saying. I have a stack of papers to handle this morning. I'll sip some coffee and work through them...without saying a single word.

Take your small pleasures where you can find them.

25 Worst Tech Products

PC World has released its list of the 25 worst tech products of all time.

And AOL came in first.

[HT: ]

Quote of the Day

I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing.

- Socrates

Monday, May 29, 2006

Leadership Physical

Random Thoughts from a CTO offers some very good questions for your "leadership physical."

Honk Not

Some t-shirts demand to be read and considered.

The Invisible Hand?

Larry Kudlow looks at the behavior of Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling and asks, “Would Adam Smith approve?”

Indeed, ownership is a self-help virtue, and it is held in much higher cultural esteem than the vice of government-dependant welfarism. This investor culture has at its core the very same ethical foundation that Adam Smith wrote about in 1759. This includes the rule of law that was so badly violated by Lay and Skilling, along with some other rotten apples like Tyco’s Dennis Koszlowski, Worldcom’s Bernard Ebbers, and Adelphia’s John Rigas.

Planet of the Apes?

Why are there so many corporate scandals?

Political scientist Barbara Kellerman suggests that the culprit may be our inner ape.


"Always think of it: never speak of it." That was the stoic French injunction during the time when the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine had been lost. This resolution might serve us well at the present time, when we are in midconflict with a hideous foe, and when it is too soon to be thinking of memorials to a war not yet won. This Memorial Day, one might think particularly of those of our fallen who also guarded polling-places, opened schools and clinics, and excavated mass graves. They represent the highest form of the citizen, and every man and woman among them was a volunteer. This plain statement requires no further rhetoric.

Christopher Hitchens on Memorial Day.

For Those We Remember

"I'm afraid I'm a practical man," said the doctor with gruff humor, "and I don't bother much about religion and philosophy." "You'll never be a practical man till you do," said Father Brown.

- G.K. Chesterton

It's Memorial Day in the United States. For many, it has as much meaning as a National Barbeque Day or a National Day at the Beach. For millions more, however, it is a reminder of the great, intangible, qualities that make a person, a community, and a nation.

The extent to which one believes in such qualities is the point at which nations divide. For many years, we have had influential people who scoff at patriotism and who view the world in economic terms. You've heard them: "All wars and foreign policy commitments are fought and made because of money." "The people who go into the military do so only because they cannot find a job elsewhere." "Whenever someone says 'It's not the money, it's the principle,' then you know that it's the money."

Oddly enough, many of the individuals with those opinions claim to disdain materialism and yet theirs is the most materialistic viewpoint of all. They miss the power of the intangible love for freedom that causes people to act against their material interests. George F. Kennan wrote years ago about the moralistic aspects of American foreign policy that separate it from policies driven solely by power politics. He was not saying that Americans are immune from such temptations, but that there is another element to most American policies; an element that can confuse observers who believe that all nations operate from selfish interests.

The people we remember today were part of that great intangible love for freedom. They did not bleed and die for a ledger sheet. And the Americans, Britons, Australians, Poles, and others who are in the front lines are the living representatives of those who knew the something that "practical" men and women have forgotten.

Carnival Up!

The Carnival of the Capitalists is being hosted this week by the Working Solo blog in Australia.

Click here for a great selection of articles on management and business.

Disability Legal Studies

You can now get a certificate in Disability Legal Studies at the University of Pittsburgh College of Law.

Ward Churchill Report

Here is the report of the investigative committee on the allegations of academic misconduct directed at Professor Ward Churchill.

[HT: Noodle Food blog ]

Quote of the Day

Q. Can you tell me how a battle works?

A. Well, in my opinion a battle never works; it never works according to plan.... The plan is only a common base for changes. It's very important that everyone should know the plan, so you can change easily. But the modern battle is very fluid, and you have to make your decisions very fast - and mostly not according to plan.

Q. But at least everybody knows where you're coming from?

A. And where you're going to, more or less.

- General Dan Laner, Israeli Defense Forces commander, Golan Heights, 1973

Sunday, May 28, 2006

A Learned Skeptic

I confess that I have not read Jeffrey Pfeffer’s new book but it is nearing "The Read Zone."

An excerpt from
an interview with Pfeffer:

You make a case for running a lot of little experiments. You give examples of a few internet companies doing it, which is easy at some level, because of all the metrics they can run. But I think some people think, "God, run experiments in my company? I didn't do so well in science in high school. Scientific method is beyond me." Do you think there's any possibility that that's what prevents people from really looking at evidence for why they're doing something?

JP: I think it could be one reason. But I also think there's a tendency in companies to believe that if it's worth doing, we ought to do it for everybody everywhere, all the time, and roll it out in a big Program with a capital "P." The mentality is, "If we're not convinced it's going to work, we might as well not do it anywhere." So you can see in these companies the endless debate, "Should we do A, or should we do B, or should we do C?" When the obvious thing to do is try A, B, and C in different places or at different times, and see which one works best.

Think about it, if medicine was practiced this way, you'd have people sitting around, having endless debates about whether some drug in theory ought to work or not, as opposed to doing trials. Look at the way airplanes are designed. You obviously start with theory and evidence about physics and engineering, but you also design, you build prototypes, or you now build prototypes on the computer. You put them through various exercises and you try different things. This is how architects now design buildings.

Sneeze and Wheeze Cities

It's a windy day in Phoenix. It looked like a dust storm to the south of town. All sorts of pollen will be kicked up but at least we aren't on the Forbes list of the top 10 cities for allergies:

  1. Hartford, Connecticut
  2. Greenville, South Carolina
  3. Boston, Massachusetts
  4. Detroit, Michigan
  5. Orlando, Florida
  6. Knoxville, Tennessee
  7. Omaha, Nebraska
  8. Sacramento, California
  9. Washington, DC
  10. Baltimore, Maryland

Who Makes the Laptops?

Is this the dirty little secret of the laptop computer industry?

[HT: ]

The Violent Years

A preview of a movie from the Fifties, that wild time when the streets were ruled by violent girl gangs.

The Violent Years has everything you'd expect from a movie written by Ed Wood Jr. -- stilted dialog, tight sweaters, bad staging, tight sweaters, obvious moralizing, poor acting, and tight sweaters.

The actors look 10 years older then the characters they are playing, especially in the Girl Gang Terrorists sequence of the trailer, where it looks like a bunch of angry PTA moms tearing up classroom.

Hiring Consultants

I like this list of tips to consider when hiring a consultant and would add a few more:

  • Be sensitive to possible pockets of resistance to the consultant. It is not unusual to find that the group that needs the consultant's help the most will be one of those pockets.
  • Be prepared to shield the consultant from office politics.
  • Watch out for "mission creep" in which additional work is unfairly packed into the scope of the original proposal.

Info Overload Avoidance

I'm going through a large of stack of newspapers from the past two weeks. Some I've already scanned and others were set aside with the intent of returning to an article.

Although it appears to be otherwise, this is actually an information overload avoidance exercise.

Why? Because I've found that a large chunk of the stories that are breathlessly promoted by the newspapers don't require daily attention. They are like soap operas - "Is Meredith still in the hospital?" - and can be picked up at various points without any real loss.

The New York Times has its moments and is still capable of great articles, but editorially it has become the joke that conservative critics used to crack back in the Sixties (Under an ad declaring, "I got my job through The New York Times," one wag wrote, "So did Castro.") and you see more of its editorial bias in the news articles. The Wall Street Journal has a liberal news staff and a conservative editorial one, which makes for a nice combination.

The same can be said of magazines. The news magazines have seriously declined in quality. TIME and Newsweek are now both shallow and biased; they'd be better advised to pick one or the other. The business mags are better. I regularly read Forbes, Business Week, Inc., Fortune, Business 2.0, Fast Company, and the Harvard Business Review as well as some more specialized ones.

As for commentary, there is Commentary. When it comes to depth, one issue is worth 200 issues of Newsweek.

And that's the secret, to find the sources that are worth the time and scan through the others. Going through newspapers and magazines is like panning for gold and there are days when you know that your time would be better spent reading a book, but you still look for the nuggets.

Call it gold fever.

Tory Rock

National Review has assembled an amusing list of the top 50 conservative rock and roll songs.

They forgot "Work, Work" by Hubb Kapp and the Wheels.

Quote of the Day

After two years in Washington, I often long for the realism and sincerity of Hollywood.

- Fred Thompson

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Novel Break

To take a break from management books, I'm reading The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth.

An extraordinary, fictional trip back to several generations of a family in Austria-Hungary. Memorable characters, atmosphere, and a real plot; in other words, unlike many of the current novels.

"Merit is my caste."

More on the affirmative action controversy in India.

Muscle Car

The concept car wowed the critics.

Will GM bring back the Camaro?

Chills and Thrills in the Corner Office

This Christian Science Monitor article examines the impact of the Enron convictions on the corner office.

Prediction: These stories always have impact for a while, then it's back to the usual practices, whether they be honest or warped. As has been said, organizations get the results for which they are designed.

Have I Read This Bench?

Okay, I'm a book-lover. That's why I like these benches in Istanbul.

Don't Sugar-Coat It!

Slow Leadership has a great post on Robert Sutton's "90% of management advice is crap" theory.

Actually, that figure sounds a little low.

Statistics: Reliable and Otherwise

The Harvard Management Update gives five guidelines for using statistics.

Good stuff too, but I'd better round up something light for the blog before I drive off all of the number-phobic readers.

Saber Sale

As a service to geeks everywhere, I want to announce that Think Geek is having a sale on its Star Wars FX light sabers.

Now you can own two.

The Employee You'll Never Forget

You remember him.

He's the employee that you had some misgivings about in the job interview, but you dismissed those as foolish suspicions and hired him anyway.

At first, he seemed promising. He was technically strong and you appreciated that skill, but then he started to have run-ins with other employees. You concluded that the others were too quick to judge and possibly even jealous of his early successes. You thought things would work out over time.

He made a point of being very supportive of you and yet there was always a hollow ring present. You felt you were being played although you couldn't pinpoint a solid reason. You noticed that he would drop subtle and not so subtle criticisms of his co-workers into conversations. You wondered if you were the recipient of the same treatment.

As the months passed, a pattern emerged. People would praise him in a restrained way that made you feel something was being withheld. You didn't inquire further because you didn't want to appear to be prejudiced or looking for trouble. People began to structure work and assignments so they had minimal contact with him.

It wasn't as if he had no supporters. Some people liked him. He participated in community activities and was even elected to head a few groups. This added to your confusion. Perhaps I'm not managing him properly, you thought. Perhaps I simply need to adjust his assignments and play to his strengths.

You did so, but the problems and the feelings continued. You were in a box. There was no documentation of any performance problems because the ones that had occurred seemed so intangible and you knew the company's attorneys would want measurable standards. You lost sleep, were snappish at home, and blamed yourself for not being as gutsy as some of your peers.

What were you missing? Several key management ground rules:
  1. Don't keep anyone on your team who cannot be trusted.
  2. In most cases, bad news does not improve with age.
  3. A technically strong employee who has a bad attitude is not a good employee. Make sure you are not giving high performance evaluations to an employee who is devoid of people skills.
  4. Attitudinal problems should never be ignored, but they should be described in behavioral terms. State the behavior you want to see and the behavior you don't want to see.
  5. Don't ignore your intuition. Any time you sense that an employee is not being honest with you, confront that person immediately.
  6. Train people who have skills problems. Get rid of people who have values problems.
  7. Good management is not possible without courage. You gain courage by doing courageous things.

Hollywood's - and the Media's - Double Standard

Imagine, if you can, a major studio releasing a thriller in which the stars investigate the origins of Islam. Pursued by a murderous Muslim cleric, they uncover a series of shocking discoveries: Mohammed was no prophet! The Koran is a hoax, the work of self-serving hypocrites! Modern-day Muslims are dupes, if not deranged psychopaths!

Now imagine, in the unlikely event such a film were ever made, what sort of reception it would get in the establishment media. Given the categorical refusal of the American press to publish the Danish Mohammed cartoons, it's a safe bet that the talking heads and big newspapers would only mention the movie to denounce it.

This is telling, given the fawning, copious attention that's been lavished upon Ron Howard's adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, which began well before the movie was even in production.

Read the rest of Chris Weinkopf’s article here.

The British are Coming

Good news!

The Times of London is going to launch an American edition.

If we get The Times, can The Sun be far behind?

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

Compared with Europeans, Americans are more likely to be employed and more likely to work longer hours--employed Americans put in about three hours more per week than employed Frenchmen. Most important, Americans take fewer (and shorter) vacations. The average American takes off less than six weeks a year; the average Frenchman almost 12. The world champion vacationers are the Swedes, at 16 and a half weeks per year.

I’m not sure if the
entire Forbes article answers the question of why Americans work harder than Europeans. I believe the cultural aspect may be more important than tax policies.

Books on the Military

James Webb gives a list of his favorite books on the military.

I'd add:

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

Eagle in the Snow by Wallace Breem

Somebody Else Will....

Hugh Macleod hits the bull's eye.

One of the most bizarre but interesting cartoonists out there.

Quote of the Day

The laws in this city are clearly racist. All laws are racist. The law of gravity is racist.

- Marion Barry

Friday, May 26, 2006

Looking at Iraq

Historian Victor David Hanson assesses the war in Iraq on this Memorial Day weekend:

The timing was equally awful — in an era of easy anti-Americanism in Europe, and endemic ingratitude in the Muslim world that asks nothing of itself, everything of us, and blissfully forgets the thousands of Muslims saved by Americans in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Somalia, and the billions more lavished on Jordanians, Palestinians, and Egyptians.

And here at home? There are few Ernie Pyles in Iraq to record the heroism of our soldiers; no John Fords to film their valor — but legions to write ad nauseam of Abu Ghraib, and to make up stories of flushed Korans and Americans terrorizing Iraqi women and children.

Yet here we are with an elected government in place, an Iraqi security force growing, and an autocratic Middle East dealing with the aftershocks of the democratic concussion unleashed by American soldiers in Iraq.

Classic Homer

Can it be that when college students of the future read the great Homer, they'll be reading about a man named Simpson?

Cute and Cuddly

Now revealed: What that guy in the suit in Chicago was saying on his cell phone.

Veteran Coverage

Here's a hint:

The article is about veterans.

It asks you to identify Jessica Lynch and Leigh Ann Hester.

The fact that you can probably identify one and not the other reveals the way the news media portray veterans.

Maister on Blogging

Here's a great interview with management author David Maister on why he blogs.

The point on self-clarification and progress is powerful. Sometimes, we are on target and other times we are not, but the process creates progress.

[Related point: If you want to learn a subject, teach it. Too many people resemble the man who didn't want to go near the water until he learned how to swim.]

Hate Group Update

If you are ever tempted to confuse anti-Americanism with a sophisticated, balanced, view of politics, check out this and this and this.

They are cartoons from The Guardian, the far-left British newspaper.

These people are true haters.

Thinking Globally

Instead of holding its annual investor briefing in New York, IBM is holding this year's briefing in Bangalore, India.

That's a signal of things to come.

On the Midways

Political Calculations has put up its list of the best posts from various blog Carnivals.

They do a great job compiling this list every week and still don't get "carnivaled out."

Their Voices

The Free Information Society has a really neat site that gives sound clips from various speeches, interviews, and films.

Among the featured speakers are Malcolm X, Bill Gates, Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, Marlon Brando (as Don Corleone), Adolf Hitler, Gloria Steinem, Margaret Thatcher, and James Dean.

Angela Gunn ]

And don't pick your teeth with their business cards!

Joe Sharkey recalls an embarrassing international etiquette moment:

Proper etiquette is generally acquired through a combination of upbringing and common sense, augmented by the occasional attention- focusing embarrassing moment in one's youth.

But several years ago, in middle age, I showed up at a business conference and cocktail reception in Tokyo, in July, wearing a tan suit. From the looks I got, I might as well have been wearing sandals, white socks and a T-shirt with a beer company's logo.

I had never been to Tokyo before. Who knew men don't wear anything but dark suits in business settings there?

the rest here.

What's in a Name?

Katherine Thompson and Jeremy Todd reveal mobile phone models that improve upon the Razr and similar names.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

After reviewing some material in a corruption investigation, Political Calculations blog has analyzed the reasoning behind a congressman's decision to give special deals in exchange for bribes.

The more favors the special interests requested, the better deal they got.

It was very business-like. Corrupt as hell, but business-like.

To Win or to Clarify?

Professional mediator Mark Gerzon explores the differences between dialogue and debate in this Harvard Business School article.

I've found that one of the biggest mistakes an organization can make is to be more concerned about being right than about doing right.

Quote of the Day

Leaders have to control their emotions under pressure. While I was mayor, on the few occasions someone who worked for me used "panic" to describe their state during some crisis in their bailiwick, I made it clear that it would be the last time they'd employ that word. "Concerned" is the attitude I wanted. If it turned out that an excess of caution had made us more concerned than we needed to be, that was acceptable, but panic was not. You can't let yourself be paralyzed by any situation. It's about balance.

- Rudolph W. Giuliani

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Friend of Tyrants

The observers are correct.

Every time you think that the unspeakable George Galloway, MP, cannot get any lower, he finds a way to slither down further.

[HT: ]

I Knew It!

The results are in and let us have no further debate: Chocolate increases brain power.

[HT: ]

Who's the Star?

Malcolm Gladwell looks at basketball and considers the difficulty of evaluating performance:

The fact that Allen Iverson has been one of the league’s most prolific scorers over the past decade, for instance, could mean that he is a brilliant player. It could mean that he’s selfish and takes shots rather than passing the ball to his teammates. It could mean that he plays for a team that races up and down the court and plays so quickly that he has the opportunity to take many more shots than he would on a team that plays more deliberately. Or he might be the equivalent of an average surgeon with a first-rate I.C.U.: maybe his success reflects the fact that everyone else on his team excels at getting rebounds and forcing the other team to turn over the ball. Nor does the number of points that Iverson scores tell us anything about his tendency to do other things that contribute to winning and losing games; it doesn’t tell us how often he makes a mistake and loses the ball to the other team, or commits a foul, or blocks a shot, or rebounds the ball. Figuring whether one basketball player is better than another is a challenge similar to figuring out whether one heart surgeon is better than another: you have to find a way to interpret someone’s individual statistics in the context of the team that they’re on and the task that they are performing.

Don't Work So Hard!

The virtue of sloth is touted by Michael Maiello in this Forbes article:

Every month, the U.S. Labor Department releases another jobs report that becomes fodder for the financial press. Yay, we created 138,000 new jobs! Yet nobody ever seems to ask if people actually, you know, like the jobs that have been created. The oft cited but never seen observer from Mars would think that work is the point of American life. But the aesthetics of life are far more important than whether or not a PowerPoint presentation was finished on time. In order to contemplate and enjoy life as art, people need time to be lazy.

[HT: ]

Kawasaki Time

Revealed at last!

The top ten lies of Guy Kawasaki.

[Confession: I'm a Kawasaki fan and so found this interesting.]

Disaster Planning

Jaime Michaelson and David M. Smith of Pepperdine University on business survival skills:

Businesses may find themselves in great peril if they have not taken the necessary precautions to maintain sustainable access to communication and power. Months after the advent of Hurricane Katrina, an evening drive through some of the most popular neighborhoods in the city of New Orleans reveals streets that are eerily dark. While Hurricane Katrina was an extraordinarily destructive event, it is important to plan for the possibility of a complete infrastructure failure in which conveniences we have grown to rely on such as Internet, television, power and phone lines become unavailable, perhaps for an extended period of time. In order to sustain a basic level of information and safety, residents in disaster prone regions know that the simple presence of battery powered radios and flashlights can go a long way to calm fears in times of uncertainty.

Read it all here.

Enron Convictions

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog gives its separate takes on today's Enron case convictions of Skilling and Lay.

"Things could be worse."

Okay, you need a little humor today.

Go immediately to the Despair site, scroll down, and watch the video on addressing employee complaints.

It's part of The Art of Demotivation series and their admirable "Things could be worse" program.

It's All Relative

I heard a person wondering the other day if the "old guy" was going to be chosen as American Idol.

Taylor Hicks, the "old guy," is 29.

Speaking of age, Washington Mutual has created a web site with the trapped bankers that are featured in its commercials. (If you don't ask a question, they yell at you.)

[HT: ]

Good Fences = Good Neighbors?

Support for a border fence is Mexico.

See this New York Times article.

[HT: ]

Take a deep breath. Buy time. Go somewhere and think.

CareerJournal covers what to do during and after a poor performance review.

And no, assuming a fetal position is not on the list.

Acceptable Humor or Bad Taste?

There can be a very fine line between humor and bad taste, especially when the joking is directed at a person.

One reason why I find the old line "Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?" to be acceptable is I suspect that Abe Lincoln would have laughed at it. But the joke would have sparked a very different reaction in 1865 and I still have an odd feeling whenever I hear it. There would certainly be no humor in a joke about JFK's assassination.

That said, these Jimmy Hoffa cupcakes make me uneasy.

Is it the hand or the timing?

Talking about Ethics

Here is an extremely interesting discussion of ethics by some faculty members at Pepperdine University.

I certainly fall in the camp of those who believe that not everything that is unethical is illegal, but also take the view that because of that, people should strive to meet a higher standard than the law requires.

Outsourcing Skeptic

Not all companies have been pleased with outsourcing.

Here's one that eliminated it entirely.

Is it warmer in here?

Here are two reviews of Al Gore’s movie on global warming:

One likes it.

One doesn't.

Quote of the Day

The future ain't what it used to be.

- Yogi Berra

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Lebanon Photos

Travel junkies: Michael Totten sends more photos from Lebanon.

Employment Law Guide

The Department of Labor has issued its Employment Law Guide.

Workplace Prof Blog has the details.

Just the sort of reading to curl up with on Saturday night.

Spoof Advertising

Here are some ads to make you sit up and say, "Aargh!"

Kumbaya Watch

The Michigan Department of Education wants the term "American" to include Canadians, Mexicans, and other nationalities in the western hemisphere.

Perhaps they'd better spend more time on teaching kids how to read.

[HT: ]

Umbrellas before the Storm

Jeff Cornwall has crafted some great tips on preparing for stormy economic times.

What if there was another September 11-style attack tomorrow? Would it have the same effect as the previous one when the nation spent weeks shifting between grief and anger or would we bounce back more quickly?

Either way, what could you do to lessen its impact on your business?

In addition to other services, our consulting firm provides training. Training and travel are usually frozen when economic times are uncertain. The more we can provide alternatives, such as individual coaching, that are smaller ticket items in the budget, the better cushioned we are against a cold economic blast. We don't pretend that is a magic answer. It isn't. But it is far better than pretending things won't go south again.

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Codes, Gospels, and Humbug

Mark Steyn goes after The Da Vinci Code and The Judas Gospel and leaves blood on the floor.

[HT: ]

Be The Ball

What can sports psychology teach you about preparing for a job interview?

Several basic things but they all boil down to getting into the zone.

Business Novels

What are your favorite business novels?

I've assembled a list of some books that I've read or have heard are worth reading. Some, such as The Warden, are remotely linked to business but they have insights that can be applied to the workplace. The asterisk means I've read it. (All of the ones that I've read, I recommend.) I'm sure I've missed some good ones. Let me know.

*What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg

*A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

* Bleak House by Charles Dickens

* A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe

* The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

* The Warden by Anthony Trollope

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

The Business by Iain Banks

The CEO by Owen Burke and Duff McDonald

Point of No Return by John P. Marquand

Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson

The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever

The Hamlet by William Faulkner

JR by William Gaddis

The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald

* Rabbit is Rich by John Updike

* Something Happened by Joseph Heller

* Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

The Diagnosis by Alan Lightman

Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville

Dylan's Birthday

Bob Dylan was born on this day in 1941.

Go out and roll a stone in his honor.

Birth Dearth

Robert Samuelson looks at the meaning of declining birthrates.

Check out the Russian figures.

Microsoft Necessity

Ephraim Schwartz imagines a day without Microsoft and concludes that if we didn't have it, we'd have to invent it.

[HT: ]

Covert Ops

The reports are out on the suicide bombings in London.

The bad news: the terrorists are becoming more sophisticated.

Lessons from a Burger-Flipper

BusinessPundit recalls some business lessons he learned in a burger-flipping job.

Well worth your time.

Metrosexual Purchases

It appears that the Gen Y and millennial men are firmly in the metrosexual camp when it comes to skin care products. They purchase far more than their older brothers and fathers.

Being an Aqua Velva man, I'm a bit out of touch with that movement.


This CareerJournal article on corporate buzzwords is informative and amusing.

I confess that although I've run across "silos," no one has yet uttered "unsiloing" in my presence.

Road to Luxury

Remember when Japanese cars were small and basic?

Here's an interesting overview of the history of Japanese luxury automobiles.

Quote of the Day

If God could be sued, we'd have no mountains.

- Dale Dauten

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

"Get It On" would have been better

It appears that Baltimore has just come up with one of the dumbest city slogans of all time:

"Get in on it."

It sounds like the motto of a crooked real estate firm.

The Furniture Guy

If you're in business and you want to make your own commercials, then at least make sure that you've got your stunts down.

On the other hand, after seeing this I was overwhelmed with the desire to buy furniture.

Skeptical HR Professionals

Here's an interesting view by British HR professionals of recruitment methods for senior roles.

Such methods have their weak points, but can they really be described as "worthless?"

The Writing Life

From The New Yorker review of a new biography of Harper Lee:

After dropping out of the University of Alabama, in 1948, the year Capote published his first book, she had gone to New York to write one of her own, despite her father’s apparent belief that literary success was unlikely to favor Monroeville twice. In the city, she scrounged for change in parking meters and used an old wooden door for a writing desk. She spent most of the fifties living in Yorkville, on the Upper East Side, working as an airline ticket agent and failing to impress the other artistically ambitious Southerners she ran into. “Here was this dumpy girl from Monroeville,” one of them recalled years later. “We didn’t think she was up to much. She said she was writing a book, and that was that.”

The Coffee Shop Biz

The real pressures behind the charming coffeehouse on the corner:

Coffee was a different story—thanks to the trail blazed by Starbucks, the world of coffee retail is now a rogue's playground of jaw-dropping markups. An espresso that required about 18 cents worth of beans (and we used very good beans) was sold for $2.50 with nary an eyebrow raised on either side of the counter. A dab of milk froth or a splash of hot water transformed the drink into a macchiato or an Americano, respectively, and raised the price to $3. The house brew too cold to be sold for $1 a cup was chilled further and reborn at $2.50 a cup as iced coffee, a drink whose appeal I do not even pretend to grasp.

But how much of it could we sell? Discarding food as a self-canceling expense at best, the coffee needed to account for all of our profit. We needed to sell roughly $500 of it a day. This kind of money is only achievable through solid foot traffic, but, of course, our cafe was too cozy and charming to pop in for a cup to go. The average coffee-to-stay customer nursed his mocha (i.e., his $5 ticket) for upward of 30 minutes. Don't get me started on people with laptops.

Read it all here.

Business Opportunities Weblog ]

Thoughts on Office Politics

There is always an inner circle. Temper any criticism of it. The people on the outside who complain about the inner circle would replace it with their own inner circle.

Don’t be too open. The Sixties mentality of revealing your feelings to all is the equivalent of a “kick me” sign on your back. Keep a sense of mystery.

Learn the organization’s culture. Some places thrive on loud arguments. Others prefer peaceful discussions. Many are conflict-adverse. Know when you risk violating a cultural code.

Be respectful of turf. Avoid end-runs. Consult others in a meaningful manner and listen carefully to their concerns.

Pick your battles carefully. Try to do right, not be right. If someone else has made a good point, acknowledge it. Don’t rush to ascribe bad motives.

Don’t aim your wit at others - many a career has been harmed by sarcasm – and stay out of the gossip game.

Take the time to get to know people. The cup of coffee that you had last week with the HR Director was not time wasted. You have to build relationships if you are going to get things done.

Don’t have a caste system when it comes to being polite. If someone is rude to your administrative assistant, will that affect your view of the person? You bet. Today’s intern may be tomorrow’s department head.

If you screw up, admit it. Your credibility is at stake. Don’t sacrifice it out of a desire to appear perfect.

Strive for reasonableness. Prima donnas are only amusing from a distance. One of the best reputations that you can cultivate is for being stable, reasonable, and wise. If you have to choose between colorful or reliable, go for reliable.

Consider and advertise your worth. If the organization were to start from scratch tomorrow, would the top dogs want to hire you? Don’t assume that your talent is self-evident. Periodically report on your - i.e., your team’s – accomplishments.

Don’t drop people on their heads. If you make a commitment, keep it, and if you cannot do so, let the other person know as soon as possible.

Be sensitive to the small things. Return phone calls and emails. Remember birthdays. Let others know they are valued. The small gestures have special impact.

E-Mail Strategies

Using e-mail to find new customers is controversial, but this Inc. article shows how to avoid spamming.

A central guideline: Giving contacts the opportunity to sign up for your e-mail list. They aren't yet a customer, but they want to hear more about your services.

One tip: Give them information they can use and keep any sales pitches in the background.

Exotic Visions

Michael J. Totten has posted some photos of Beirut, Lebanon.

And yes, they have Starbucks.

The Joy of Paper

Odds are, you have less paperwork than the Germans. This Spiegel article explains:

While much of the world tries to avoid major harm to the world's forests when looking for work, Germany casts its environmental-mindedness aside. Here, applications for jobs from high-level CEO right down to entry-level data-entry positions look more like Thomas Mann's "Buddenbrooks" than Hermann Hesse's "Siddhartha," and often stretch desktop publishing software to the limit. Why the extra heft? Applications in Germany need certificates documenting almost every year of an applicant's life from the moment he or she entered elementary school until the moment the application is signed -- including the language, computer and motivational courses completed in between.

And it's not just job applications. University students, taxpayers, home owners, visa applicants -- virtually everyone who has any contact with officialdom -- has to possess advanced organizational skills to keep the avalanche of paper scraps under control. Germans are simply obsessed with paperwork to prove prior experience. Certificates are holy. And if you don't have a signed, stamped document proving that you have received training in -- say -- slopping paint on the side of a house, or entering numbers in Excel, then you simply don't know how to do it.

Considering Consulting?

This CareerJournal article points how things to consider before making the leap to independent consulting. Some of the recommended questions:
  • Are the skills you possess in demand, and do you have the experience companies will seek?
  • Professionals with, say, more than five to seven years' experience are in greater demand, experts say.
  • Can you handle erratic paychecks?
  • How will you pay for health insurance and your retirement?
  • Are you able to market yourself, even as you work on projects?
  • Can you pay for the liability insurance some companies may require?
  • Do you have financial security for soft spells?
  • Do you like working independently? "It may sound really interesting and fun to set your own direction," says Mr. Morgan, "but you may be miserable doing that."

I'd add these:

  • Do you manage time well?
  • Do you have a network of marketing contacts?
  • Do you know how you will market your services? [Don't plan on making cold calls if you hate making cold calls.]
  • Are you able to walk away from possible projects that just don't feel right? [Make sure your values are centered.]
  • Do you have strong presentation skills? [Not a strict requirement, but they help.]
  • Do you have a specialty that will give you a marketing advantage?
  • Have you considered the need for administrative support? [It's a major revelation when you toss something into your out-basket and no one picks it up.]
  • Can you handle stress?
  • Are you patient? [Are you prepared to present a great proposal and then not see the actual project begin for 12 months?]

McCain Speech

Here is the text of the speech that John McCain delivered at The New School.

Moderation. Tolerance. Reaching out to one another.

No wonder the protesters didn't want to hear it.

To Ph.D. or not to Ph.D.?

2Blowhards blog has opened a lengthy discussion with a post: Would you hire a Ph.D.?

It raises the question of whether the skills that are successful in achieving such a degree can actually harm job performance in non-academic settings.

The Value of Play

On May 31, 2006, in Washington, D.C., there will be a panel discussion on risk, recreation, and the health of children.

This pertains to how fear of lawsuits has caused the removal of playground equipment while producing a climate of excessive protectiveness. Common Good is participating.

Quote of the Day

The trouble with doing something right the first time is that nobody appreciates how difficult it was.

- Walt West

Monday, May 22, 2006

Bad Management Update

Glenn Reynolds looks at the companies who ban web-surfing:

Sell your stock in companies with policies like this one. The management is obviously stupid, and the only employees likely to stay, long-term, in the face of this kind of a policy are those who can't get a job someplace else, someplace where the management is brighter than a bag of hammers.

Well-run companies look at outputs -- how well people are doing their jobs -- rather than simply trying to make sure that employees look busy. And given that U.S. economic performance over the past few years, as Internet usage has boomed, has been excellent, it's hard to believe that this websurfing is really threatening productivity. Instead, I suspect, it's threatening management's sense of control. (After all, if they really cared about people wasting their time with computer technology, they'd ban PowerPoint, not Web-surfing.)

Textbook Blues

My daughter is attending a Spanish language immersion program in Mexico this summer.

She just bought her textbooks. All of them are paperbacks. The cheapest was $44 and the highest was $64. The $44 one was used. The total cost for the books for two classes was $323.


Correction: $223. Still amazing.

iPod: Another Threat?

Simson Garfinkel, writing at the CSO blog, points out some security problems posed by iPods:

A lot has been written about the threat of iPods, digital cameras and USB memory sticks to information security programs. Because all of these are basically high-capacity storage devices, they make it easy for thieves (whether insider or outsider) to slip into your organization, quickly download a bunch of confidential docs, and then slip out—and all the while, you thought that they were just enjoying some groovy tunes. Thieves can hide corporate secrets on the SD card of a digital camera, and if they want to be really sneaky, they can even delete the files so that the information won't show up during a casual inspection. Then, when they get home, they can use an "undelete" program to recover the secrets.

But there is another important threat that portable storage poses to today's information systems. Plug an iPod or USB stick into a PC running Windows and the device can literally take over the machine and search for confidential documents, copy them back to the iPod or USB's internal storage, and hide them as "deleted" files. Alternatively, the device can simply plant spyware, or even compromise the operating system. Two features that make this possible are the Windows AutoRun facility and the ability of peripherals to use something called direct memory access (DMA). The first attack vector you can and should plug; the second vector is the result of a design flaw that's likely to be with us for many years to come.

Vets Data Missing

A career employee at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs violated policy and took home some data. His home was burglarized.

Sensitive data on 26.5 million veterans was lost.

Since it appears to have been a routine burglary, the data may be in a trash can somewhere, but the story illustrates that for all of your policies, the chain is only as strong as the weakest link.

Will Borders Ban Harper's?

Robert Bindinotto joins other bloggers in wondering if Borders Books will ban Harper's magazine's June issue because it carries the controversial Danish cartoons.

Borders previously refused to carry a small magazine that had the cartoons. It cited concern for employee safety as the reason for what was a contemptible act of appeasement.

Let's see if they are consistent.

Lagos Louts

Here's another article on the Nigerian on-line scam industry.

It wraps up with a nice racial twist in which the predator pretends to be a victim.

Word of Mouth

From a somewhat surprising study on word of mouth marketing:
  • Positive mentions outnumber negative mentions 6 to 1
  • 92% of brand conversations are happening offline, of which 20% happens over phone
  • Only 9% of conversations are "mostly negative"
  • People are more likely to pass along good mentions than bad ones - so good news travels faster than bad news!
  • 41% of conversations mention advertising
  • 72% of opinions about brands are shared by family members and personal friends, 13% are shared by co-workers and 7% are shared by a professional or expert on the topic
  • The Internet (12%), television (7%) and newspapers (5%) are the top three media channels most frequently referenced in brand-related buzz
  • Email, instant message and online chat rooms/blogs comprise 6% of word of mouth

India Debates "Reservations"

Affirmative Action quotas, known as "reservations," for members of lower castes are sparking controversy in India.

Union Strategy

It can be galling to hear companies argue that they have to cut wages and benefits for hourly workers — even as they reward top executives with millions of dollars in stock options. The chief executive of Wal-Mart earns $27 million a year, while the company's average worker takes home only about $10 an hour. But let's assume that the chief executive got 27 cents instead of $27 million, and that Wal-Mart distributed the savings to its hourly workers. They would each receive a bonus of less than $20. It's not executive pay that has created this new world.

I understand the attraction of asking business — the perceived "deep pockets" — to shoulder more of the responsibility for social welfare. But there are plenty of businesses that don't have deep pockets. And many large corporations operate with razor-thin profit margins as competitors, both foreign and domestic, strive to attract consumers by offering lower prices.

Who said that? George Will? George Allen? No,
George McGovern.

[HT: ]

Carnival of the Capitalists is Up, Up, Up!

The Carnival of the Capitalists is up at The Integrative Stream.

Check it out for a great selection of business and management articles.

Saudi Tolerance

Be sure to read this article regarding Saudi school textbooks and you'll be quite impressed by how the hatred has been removed.

Now, Jews are simply referred to as apes and Christians as swine whereas before.... Wait, what were they called before?

[HT: ]

Male - Female Gaps and Title IX

It is common knowledge that American schoolboys are faring poorly compared with girls. The average 11th-grade boy has the writing skills of an 8th-grade girl. Boys receive a majority of the failing grades, while girls garner most of the honors.

Women earn 57% of bachelor's degrees, a gender gap that experts predict will widen. So what are the Department of Education and National Science Foundation doing about the problem of male underachievement?

Nothing. But they are conducting a review of math, physics and engineering programs at selected universities to root out supposed bias against women and girls. Their weapon is Title IX, which "is not just related to sports," says Stephanie Monroe, assistant secretary of Education for civil rights. "We're in the process right now of putting together our dockets." She assures us that these Title IX reviews are just business as usual for her department.

Click here for the rest of this article by Christina Hoff Sommers.

Quote of the Day

If you see a snake, just kill it. Don't appoint a committee on snakes.

- H. Ross Perot

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Jersey Bashing

Governing magazine carries a brutal line:

“If the winner of ‘The Apprentice’ ends up in Newark, what the hell happens to the loser?”

- Talk-show host/comedian Conan O'Brien, on "Apprentice" winner Randall Pinkett taking a job with Newark, N.J., Mayor-elect Cory Booker

Back by Popular Demand

Back by popular demand:

The German Coast Guard commercial.

If He Can Make It...

If you are feeling down and think that your career has suffered a fatal blow, consider this:

Ray Nagin was re-elected mayor of New Orleans.

A veteran political reporter told me years ago that the main lesson he'd learned from his career was "Today's s.o.b. is tomorrow's hero."

Americans like come-back stories. They love underdogs. They are enormously forgiving.

Furthermore, getting punched in the stomach is part of the process. The number of chief executive officers who have been fired one or more times in their careers is sizable. Winston Churchill didn't become prime minister until he was 65. Prior to that he faced one setback after another.

And the fact that Nagin isn't Churchill strengthens the point.

Lessons from a Trader named Joe

Seth Godin on Lessons Learned from Trader Joe's.

[I know some people who are Trader Joe fanatics.]

Getting Ripped Off at the Bookstore

Book sales are up but long-term growth projections are pessimistic.

Some advice for the publishers: Lower your prices. High prices discourage impulse buying. I talk to a lot of readers who say that they regularly pass over books that they'd otherwise buy if only the price were three bucks less.

While I'm on the soapbox: The price of university textbooks is scandalous. Some textbooks run over a hundred dollars and the students are in no position to bargain.

Yoga Break

For your health and entertainment, two yoga variations.

Deciding about Deterrence

An interesting National Journal article on whether deterrence would work with a nuclear-armed Iran.

It doesn't, however, adequately examine two things:

  1. What happens if a nuclear-armed Iran becomes more of a safe haven for terrorist groups than it is now and openly distributes nuclear weapons to terrorists?
  2. What if the deterrence advocates are wrong? The historical examples cited, with the possible exception of Hitler, do not involve deterring what amounts to a death cult.