Commentary by Michael Wade on Leadership, Ethics, Management, and Life
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Calling Amateur Archaeologists
If you are an Indiana Jones wannabe, you might be interested in the 2007 Pecos Conference in New Mexico where amateur archaeologists mingle with professionals in the great outdoors.
Just don't wear a polo shirt.
The rise of executive pay, its defenders claim, is no more problematic than the fact that, say, Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez is paid much more than earlier stars like Ted Williams.
But the process affecting the compensation of star athletes is quite different from the one that determines CEO compensation. A team executive negotiating with an athlete can be expected to be guided by the club's interests, while the player's agent is looking out for the client's demands. When independent buyers and sellers hammer out a transaction this way, the market's invisible hand is commonly expected to produce efficient arrangements.
But in setting executive pay, as we document in our research, directors have not been guided solely by the interests of shareholders. Instead, they have had various economic incentives, reinforced by social and psychological factors, to go along with arrangements favorable to top managers.
See all of the article by Lucian Bebchuk and Rakesh Khurana of Harvard Business School here.
Mark Steyn looks at 9/11 conspiracy buffs and debunkers and has some interesting side observations. An excerpt:
Just for the record, I believe that a cell of Islamist terrorists led by Mohammed Atta carried out the 9/11 attacks. But that puts me in a fast-shrinking minority. In the fall of 2001, a coast-to-coast survey of Canadian imams found all but two insistent that there was no Muslim involvement in 9/11.
Oh, well. It was just after 9/11, everyone was still in shock.
Five years later, a poll in the United Kingdom found that only 17 per cent of British Muslims believe there was any Arab involvement in 9/11.
Ah, but it's a sensitive issue over there, what with Tony Blair being so close to Bush and all.
Spirit of 76
Warren Buffett, on his 76th birthday, has married a 60 year old vixen.
Anna Nicole Smith is distraught. They had so much in common.
I knew the M&Ms would work.
The downside: Will this encourage chocoholic art thieves?
By Any Means Necessary?
The campaign against an initiative to end quotas in Michigan has been very ugly. Terrence Pell, writing in The Wall Street Journal, notes:
Just a few weeks before the deadline for Proposal 2 to get onto the state ballot, the "Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action By Any Means Necessary" (BAMN, loosely) argued that the signature gathering process used to qualify the referendum was tainted by racially targeted fraud. From the beginning, BAMN has claimed the initiative disguised an anti-black and racist agenda. But because many black individuals had signed the petition, BAMN had to show they'd been duped.
So the group launched an "investigation." They systematically called and personally visited blacks who'd signed the petition. In some cities, they had friendly talk show hosts read the names of black signers over the radio. In all cases BAMN's message was the same: How could you, a black person, sign a petition to roll back affirmative action?
That Which Does Not Destroy Me
What recent graduates do when they encounter those "post-grad blues."
How to Screw Up a Meeting
The following steps are by no means all-encompassing but experience shows that if you follow them carefully, you can sink any meeting:
- Don't have a goal. Better yet, have a vague goal and change it during the meeting. Just never let anyone know that you're doing so.
- Forget the agenda. Get a bunch of egos in a room and let them drone on. Ask your secretary to summon you after an hour. Turn over the meeting to the biggest bore. Don't return.
- If you must have an agenda, rigidly stick to it regardless of reality. Has the third item become moot? Discuss it anyway.
- Circulate the agenda to only a few of the attendees. The others will enjoy looking over their shoulders.
- Pick the meeting room with care and select either of the following: a spartan, poorly ventilated cell with hard chairs that the participants will be eager to escape or a comfortable, lavish board room with large, leather seats that induce fantasies and napping.
- If it is to be a long meeting, don't have refreshments. Empty stomachs produce creative minds. If some malcontents insist upon food, bring in the left-overs from an earlier meeting. That'll teach them.
- Address the most difficult item at the beginning of the meeting. If discussion bogs down and no time is left for the other subjects, that's no problem. The agenda for your next meeting is already written!
- Call on the senior people and ignore the junior. Rank hath its privileges. Besides, after listening to their betters the junior team members won't be inclined to interrupt with semi-rebellious witticisms. They'll either be comatose or mentally composing their resumes.
- Get as many people as possible into the room. Line the walls with smirking staffers. Pack the table with those who possess only a remote knowledge of the subject but are armed with plenty of opinions. The more people, the more complicated the personal relationships and alliances. In large organizations, you can usually count on having at least four people who hate one another. That always livens things up.
- At the close of the meeting, make sure that responsibility is unclear and deadlines are hazy. Don't schedule the next meeting. Let that be a subject of mystery. Linger with other participants so you can squelch any questions that might clarify matters. Drop a few acerbic remarks to encourage acrimony. Stroll back to your office. Mission accomplished.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Before and After
Be sure to read Kathy Sierra's post at Creating Passionate Users on why marketing should write the user manuals.
Humor in Nazi Germany
Spiegel reviews a new book on humor, and its use as a means of dissent, in Nazi Germany. One of the bits of dark humor:
Two men meet.
"Nice to see you're free again. How was the concentration camp?"
"Great! Breakfast in bed, a choice of coffee or chocolate, and for lunch we got soup, meat and dessert. And we played games in the afternoon before getting coffee and cakes. Then a little snooze and we watched movies after dinner."
The man was astonished: "That's great! I recently spoke to Meyer, who was also locked up there. He told me a different story."
The other man nods gravely and says: "Yes, well that's why they've picked him up again."
Atlantic City Air Show
A video with highlights from the 2006 Atlantic City Air Show.
A lot of Blue Angels action. You might want to turn down the volume.
Work + At Home + Children
Dane Carlson gives his tips for working at home with children.
[A friend once recalled how, because his father worked at home, he and his brother developed the art of fighting quietly. They'd slug and throttle away without a shout or a whimper. I think it affected him.]
Workplace Prof Blog reports on an arbitrator's decision to reinstate a Nebraska state trooper who was fired for being a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Would you trust that trooper's testimony in any case involving a black person?
Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of a young man who tried to poison his teacher.
It has a surprise ending.
The Big Not-So-Easy
If you read anything about the efforts to rebuild New Orleans, this Fortune article by Charles C. Mann is a good place to start. An excerpt:
Erin Levins returned to the city in early October, as soon as the checkpoints opened. As a manager at Cox Communications, he'd used Google Earth to learn that his house was standing.
But the blurry images on his screen had not prepared him for what it was like to see his neighborhood vacant and wrecked. Or to discover that every surface inside his home had been transformed into a garish ecosystem - pink, black, white, and green - inhabited almost exclusively by molds. Like tens of thousands of other homes in the city, the Levinses' house was structurally intact but completely consumed.
Wearing a respirator and a Tyvek suit, Erin ripped out the washer and dryer; the dishwasher, stove, and especially the refrigerator; and all the furniture, clothing, linens, and papers, including his wife's collection of art books, 3,000 strong. Out to the sidewalk went every scrap of wallboard, pipe and electrical fixture, insulation batt, and most of the floor.
Although this happened over 20 years ago, I can still recall the call from Ed.
He was in a jovial mood, so my defenses immediately shot up.
"Do you remember Francis, the man you pushed us to hire last year?"
I did. Ed's department had an abysmal record when it came to hiring African Americans. As the EEO Officer, I finally told them that they could not make any job offer until it had been cleared with me. They danced around a bit with Francis, but even Ed - who would have been sent by Central Casting if you'd requested a white bigot - had to admit that a black man was the best qualified candidate, so Francis got the job.
His success was part of a long journey that I'd taken with Ed.
Ed had started out regarding any outreach program as a bleeding heart employment project for incompetents. In time, he began to realize that we were serious when we emphasized hiring the best person and that the best candidate could even be a woman or minority. You would never have reached Ed by extolling Affirmative Action much less diversity but he could buy into equal opportunity and he was even more enthusiastic about getting people who'd do a decent job. It took a few years, but some sources began to report that the bigot from Central Casting had become a closet supporter of equal opportunity.
That's why I was more than curious when he called about Francis. "What's up?"
Ed drawled out, "I have some good news and some bad news."
"You are enjoying this far too much. Tell me the bad news first."
"Well, the bad news is Francis, that fine worker you recommended, got into an argument with another employee this afternoon."
"And he stabbed him."
"Good Lord! Did the guy die?"
"No, no. The man will live. The stab wasn't that bad, as stabs go."
I stared out the window. "What's the good news?"
Ed lived for moments like these. "The good news is that it appears the other man started the fight and Francis can claim self-defense. So we aren't going to fire Francis. We'll suspend him for a few days, but he'll keep his job."
It was then that I knew that Francis had achieved a whole new status in that department. If he'd been a poor employee, Ed and the team over there would have jumped to toss him out the door.
Now, they were twisting and turning to save his job.
I asked Ed to keep me briefed and put down the phone. Some days, you take your victories where you can find them.
Quote of the Day
The British created a civil service job in 1803 calling for a man to stand on the Cliffs of Dover with a spyglass. He was supposed to ring a bell if he saw Napoleon coming. The job was abolished in 1945.
- Robert Townsend
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
The other team members were capable, but early on they chose to defer to Harold.
Harold decided to play a greater role because the others seemed passive and he wanted to move things along.
As Harold did more, the others grew used to it. Some resented it, feeling that Harold was treating them like second-class citizens. A few secretly hoped that Harold would fail so they adopted a passive-aggressive approach: If he directly asked for help, they've give it, but they wouldn't volunteer assistance and any contributions that they gave would be minimal.
Time passed and Harold started to feel overwhelmed. The work piled up, the others didn't pitch in, and Harold harbored a slow anger toward the rest of the team.
The others in turn blamed Harold. "We would have helped," they muttered to one another, "if only he had permitted us to participate."
"Gloryhound!" they charged.
"Slugs!" fumed Harold.
Each side thought it had behaved properly and the other was at fault.
The only amusing part of the tale is they all thought their story was unusual.
Ann Althouse has a good post on an interview with Judge Richard Posner, author of Not a Suicide Pact, in which he discusses the Constitution and the war against terrorism.
One of several interesting points:
How much privacy did we have years ago with "party lines" for telephones?
Ah, those were the days!
It didn't take Tony Bono long to figure out he had a problem with telecommuting: "My mailman was scared of me," he says.
A new job assignment had led him to start working from his Cherry Hill, N.J., home. But Mr. Bono soon grew so lonely that he found himself waiting for the mailman each day and racing to greet him: "Hey! Hi, Tom, how are you doing? Want to come in and have a drink?" Mr. Bono recalls saying. He wasn't surprised when the postman started avoiding him.
It's an ironic twist on corporate America's march toward telecommuting: A small but significant number of foot soldiers dislike the trend. As more employers encounter work-at-home employees who yearn for a cubicle again, a few are developing specific strategies to help.
Read the entire CareerJournal article here.
Here's a commentary from The Christian Science Monitor on whether we can expect to see more women as CEOs in the near future.
My recommendation to those companies: Increase outreach and employee development, but don't use quotas and always select the best person regardless of sex.
Another recommendation: Pay more attention to achieving intellectual diversity.
"May I Reword That?" Quiz
This is from a quiz that I use in classes on discretion. The answers are at the bottom of the post.
On some days, life needs a rewind button. Who said the following?
- “Whenever I watch TV and see those poor starving kids all over the world, I can’t help but cry. I mean I’d love to be skinny like that, but not with all those flies and death and stuff."
- “Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.”
- Referred to the retirement community of Leisure World as “Seizure World.”
- “Everybody knows [Hitler] was good at the beginning but he just went too far.”
- “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies.”
- Repeatedly referred to an NAACP audience as “You people.”
- “If you’ve seen one slum, you’ve seen them all.”
- Told a 13-year-old who expressed interest in being an astronaut, “You’ll have to lose a bit of weight first.”
- "I drank a fair amount of Scotch on an empty stomach and a colleague and I ended up dancing on a tabletop to 'She Drives Me Crazy' by the Fine Young Cannibals. For weeks after that, everyone who had been at the party started humming the tune whenever I walked into a room. It was funny but I don't think it did my career any good."
- “We have every kind of mix you can have. I have a black, I have a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent.”
- “It’s the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the [Number] 7 train to the ball park, looking like you’re [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair…next to some dude who got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing.”
- “We’re going to Hymietown.”
[Answers: (1) Mariah Carey; (2) Marion Barry; (3) John McCain; (4) Marge Schott; (5) Hillary Clinton; (6) Ross Perot; (7) Spiro Agnew; (8) Prince Philip; (9) Person recalling holiday party; (10) James Watt; (11) John Rocker; and (12) Jesse Jackson.]
Defenders of Buick and Pontiac
James Surowiecki, writing in The New Yorker, explains why General Motors won’t get rid of Buick and Pontiac. An excerpt:
When General Motors was the biggest and most profitable auto manufacturer in the world, its strategy was to provide “a car for every purse and purpose.” G.M. offered a panoply of distinctive brands, each targeted at a particular category of buyer—Buick for the successful but conservative driver, Cadillac for the wealthier and more flamboyant, and so on. This was a tremendously successful strategy in the days when G.M.’s domination was unchallenged. But now, with G.M. losing billions of dollars a year and struggling to restructure, it just looks like a waste of time and money. When analysts talk about how to turn G.M. around, most start with the need to slim down the company and get rid of less popular brands. (Buick and Pontiac are perennial nominees.) It’s an eminently sensible approach, but it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon, because it would challenge the interests of some of the most powerful players in today’s auto industry—car dealers.
Before the Protests Begin
What some companies do to head off ethics-related consumer boycotts.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Neatorama presents "A Short History of Hacking."
Who Leaked the Gervais Videos?
Remember the Ricky Gervais training videos for Microsoft?
I posted them on the blog several days ago.
Apparently, Microsoft is not amused that they were leaked.
They should relax.
The company's reputation probably shot up when the word was out that they were cool enough to hire Gervais and his unconventional humor.
The Kinkster Cracks Down
From the Governing blog, the story of an innovative disciplinary action:
“I don’t want this picking-on-each-other, back-biting stuff to go on. It’s not the cowboy way.”
Texas musician/humorist/novelist/independent gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman, disavowing the criminal complaint his campaign manager, Dean Barkley, filed against gubernatorial opponent Carole Keeton Strayhorn — while declining to withdraw it or apologize for it — and saying he would punish Barkley by forbidding him to visit his favorite Austin bar for two weeks.
Original source: Houston Chronicle
Word of Mouth Marketing
Guy Kawasaki gives a "preview" of Andy Sernovitz's book, Word of Mouth Marketing.
Good ideas - I especially like the resort's move with the cab drivers - but Thomas Mann was onto the the word of mouth barrier years ago:
"There is at bottom only one problem in the world and this is its name. How does one break through? How does one get into the open? How does one burst the cocoon and become a butterfly?"
Profound Judgments Dept.
Take a break.
The Onion reports: Teacher Sees Potential In Student With Glasses.
Google versus Microsoft
Google today announced the launch of a suite of Web-based applications for small businesses, a step analysts say moves the company toward more direct competition with Microsoft.
Google Apps for Your Domain (google.com/a) bundles several of the tech giant's popular features--E-mail, group-scheduling calendars, voice calling and instant-messaging services, and Web design and hosting features--adding some administrative controls. The launch version is free, supported by advertising. Google plans to introduce a paid version of the service that will include more storage and some technical support. It most likely will be ad free by the end of the year; its price has not been set.
Read the entire US News & World Report article here.
This week's Carnival of the Capitalists is up at Business & Technology Reinvention.
It has its usual variety of helpful posts on management, finance, and biz.
I went to a retirement party the other day. It was for a city executive and, at her request, was very low-key. Speeches were kept to a minimum and she had a chance to get around and see the sizable group of people who worked with her recently or years ago.
The tone was just right and she eloquently spoke about her plans for the future.
As I looked around the room, the old thought occurred of just how much talent was going to walk out the door. At the same time, of course, her departure opens up some opportunities for others who will, in time, make their own mark.
That's the way it works. You spend years creating and maintaining and then head off; preferably at a time of your own choosing and while you can still do other things. Later on, you may return and new people will wonder just who you are. And, of course, by then you are indeed a different person from the one who left.
She plans on traveling and reading more and the usual indulgences one dreams of when the daily routine is packed. Knowing her, she'll do all of that in a year and then will be looking for something more challenging. That's good news.
If her only goal was to play golf, I'd be really worried.
Hallucinating to The Sixties
Rod Dreher, reflecting on an article by Robert Hughes, remembers the nightmare that was the Sixties and an encounter with Abbie Hoffman, icon of loons.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
From "Nearing Zero"
Check out the site here.
Creating Passionate Users examines Geek Marketing Myths.
I think I'll re-read this on a regular basis.
Creativity and Ice Cream
One of the better business strategies is to take a known commodity and improve upon it.
In this case, it is the ice cream sandwich.
Shelby Steele sees “white guilt” as a factor in the war:
White guilt in the West--especially in Europe and on the American left--confuses all this by seeing Islamic extremism as a response to oppression. The West is so terrified of being charged with its old sins of racism, imperialism and colonialism that it makes oppression an automatic prism on the non-Western world, a politeness. But Islamic extremists don't hate the West because they are oppressed by it. They hate it precisely because the end of oppression and colonialism--not their continuance--forced the Muslim world to compete with the West. Less oppression, not more, opened this world to the sense of defeat that turned into extremism.
Read his entire article here.
[HT: Real Clear Politics ]
This article from The Weekly Standard should get more attention. An excerpt:
UNIFIL--the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, a nearly 2,000-man blue-helmet contingent that has been present on the Lebanon-Israel border since 1978--is officially neutral. Yet, throughout the recent war, it posted on its website for all to see precise information about the movements of Israeli Defense Forces soldiers and the nature of their weaponry and materiel, even specifying the placement of IDF safety structures within hours of their construction. New information was sometimes only 30 minutes old when it was posted, and never more than 24 hours old.
Meanwhile, UNIFIL posted not a single item of specific intelligence regarding Hezbollah forces. Statements on the order of Hezbollah "fired rockets in large numbers from various locations" and Hezbollah's rockets "were fired in significantly larger numbers from various locations" are as precise as its coverage of the other side ever got.
Here's a strange report of cell phone habits indicating the extent to which some people are addicted to technology.
What Are You Looking At?
According to a Men’s Health study, the top 10 angriest cities are:
- St. Petersburg
- St. Louis
If your city isn’t listed, find it here.
Quote of the Day
"How come you never told us any of this?" the bosses inquired. "How come you never asked?" the workers replied.
- Christopher Locke, Gonzo Marketing
Saturday, August 26, 2006
No Mind-Numbing, Time-Wasting TV? How Could He Bear It?
Now Hear This
After someone’s cell phone rang for the third time, an angry Indiana judge detained a row of spectators in her courtroom and — after she couldn’t get an answer as to who owned the chirping phones — held two people in contempt for not fessing up. After unsuccessfully questioning the five potential suspects, Lake County Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell ordered them all to sit in chairs reserved for prison inmates. There they sat for more than an hour until the court session ended.
Read what else happened to these hardened criminals here.
An intern in London sends an email inviting people to her 21st birthday party. Its snobbish tone quickly becomes the subject of ridicule as the message is forwarded.
Ms Gao is only the latest in a procession of employees whose cringeworthy personal emails have been sent around the world. Last year legal executive Richard Phillips resigned after insisting his secretary pay a £4 dry-cleaning bill for a ketchup stain on his trousers. Perhaps most famously, when the boyfriend of Claire Swire forwarded her email praising his sexual prowess to his mates, it soon ended up across the world. The chastened boyfriend and his lawyer mates were disciplined; Ms Swire went into hiding.
Read the entire article here.
To Give or Not To Give
It’s late at night. The Bistro’s closed. The busgirls are putting up the chairs. The kitchen crew’s mopping the floors. I’m in the back counting the evening’s take. There isn’t much to count. The few customers we had were frugal eaters and bad tippers. It was not a profitable night. Everyone’s anxious to go home.
The door chimes. I look up. A large disheveled looking man rushes inside the Bistro.
“Yo, I need help!” the man yells, looking wild eyed. “I need twenty dollars!”
WaiterRant explores an issue we’ve all encountered.
Demographics and Pensions
Malcolm Gladwell looks behind the pension curtain.
The key to understanding the pension business is something called the “dependency ratio,” and dependency ratios are best understood in the context of countries. In the past two decades, for instance, Ireland has gone from being one of the most economically backward countries in Western Europe to being one of the strongest: its growth rate has been roughly double that of the rest of Europe. There is no shortage of conventional explanations. Ireland joined the European Union. It opened up its markets. It invested well in education and economic infrastructure. It’s a politically stable country with a sophisticated, mobile workforce.
But, as the Harvard economists David Bloom and David Canning suggest in their study of the “Celtic Tiger,” of greater importance may have been a singular demographic fact. In 1979, restrictions on contraception that had been in place since Ireland’s founding were lifted, and the birth rate began to fall. In 1970, the average Irishwoman had 3.9 children. By the mid-nineteen-nineties, that number was less than two. As a result, when the Irish children born in the nineteen-sixties hit the workforce, there weren’t a lot of children in the generation just behind them. Ireland was suddenly free of the enormous social cost of supporting and educating and caring for a large dependent population. It was like a family of four in which, all of a sudden, the elder child is old enough to take care of her little brother and the mother can rejoin the workforce. Overnight, that family doubles its number of breadwinners and becomes much better off.
Trucking Companies Seek Geezers
At a truck stop diner along Interstate 5 near Tigard, Ore., Daniel and Becky Ford were fueling up on pancakes and black coffee for the 2,200-mile run to Dallas they were about to make in a Freightliner tractor-trailer stuffed with auto parts.
It was the 10th week on the open road for Mr. Ford, 57 years old, and his 51-year-old wife, who chucked their old life in rural Pennsylvania in May for a cramped truck cab that keeps them moving 22 hours a day.
Their new career is taking them to places they always dreamed of visiting but couldn't afford. "When the money is tight and you have other worries, you can't be too adventurous," says Mrs. Ford, a former hairstylist. "Becky and I serve as our own boss," says Mr. Ford, a former carpenter. "We can stop wherever we want."
Read the rest of the CareerJournal article here.
[HT: 13th Floor ]
Melanie Kirkpatrick gives her list of the top five political novels.
The Last Hurrah by Edwin O'Connor (Frank Skeffington is the mayor of Boston and head of a political machine that is both formidable and hilarious.)
First Among Equals by Jeffrey Archer (Which of these young men will become prime minister? You won't know until the last page.)
Lincoln by Gore Vidal (How Lincoln recreated the Union.)
I, Claudius by Robert Graves (Roman politics at its bloodiest.)
Pillar of Iron by Taylor Caldwell (A novel of Cicero and his attempts to save the Roman Republic.)
The Comedians by Graham Greene (A collection of characters in Papa Doc's Haiti)
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope (Anglican Church politics was never so amusing.)
The Secret of Santa Vittoria by Robert Crichton (The Italian villagers seek to protect their wine from the Germans and their buffoon of a mayor, Italo Bombolini, begins to read Machiavelli.)
Friday, August 25, 2006
Almost As Good As Double Secret Probation
You know you want one: The Super Ultimate Swiss Army Knife, with every tool the company has ever made.
How Voluntary is the Volunteering?
The Tennessee Employment Law Letter considers the question of "When is an employee a volunteer?"
The warm weather months bring a host of opportunities for fresh-air charity work, from outdoor cleanup projects to fence painting to tree planting.
While its certainly laudable for you to encourage your employees to roll up their sleeves and participate in those sorts of activities, remember that some of the time spent in those efforts may be compensable work time. (But remember, those concerns apply to nonexempt employees only. Work time — including volunteer time — generally isn't an issue for bona fide exempt employees, whose salaries typically cover all hours worked.)
I don't discount the importance of straight talk, but there are times when another approach is appropriate. Here are some tips on diplomacy that I've developed over the years:
Don’t underestimate your ability to wound others with your remarks. The adage, “Sticks and bones may break my bones but words will never harm me,” is wrong. People recall painful words many years after they were uttered.
You are not required to have an opinion on everything. It is possible to live a rich and full life without having an opinion on photo radar, vegetarianism, or the Bolivian economy. In fact, we need more people in the workplace who embrace the beauty of the unexpressed thought.
Not every statement deserves a response. This is especially so when the statement has been made to provoke or irritate. In many cases, indifference is the best reaction that you can give to the obnoxious.
Buying time makes sense. Unless it is a subject where it is reasonable to have a stance there is nothing wrong with saying, “Let me think about that.”
Put "noncommittal" in your arsenal. Expressions such as “That’s interesting” and “I’ve never heard that before” were designed to permit you to say something while saying nothing of real substance. Always have them within reach.
Remember the power of the small gesture. Unnecessary kindnesses – and slights - can be remembered long after the bold action has been forgotten.
Use your wit as a shield. Your witty put-down may be seen by others as a cruel jab. Unless carried to excess, wit is a great defense mechanism but remember, the most endearing humor is self-deprecating.
Don’t exceed your portfolio. If your job involves marketing, be wary of offering opinions on production.
It is better to understate than to overstate. Once caught in an overstatement, your entire position may lose credibility. You gain credibility, however, if caught in an understatement.
Remember that people are secretly hurting. The old friend who seems to have everything together, the co-worker who is so diligent and cheerful, and the relative who always has a good word – all may be carrying burdens that you cannot begin to suspect.
Finally, don’t look at the world through a mirror. Your interpretation may not be shared by the other person. Clear and painless communication becomes almost impossible if we assume that our reaction is the only normal one.
Peter Schroeder on Ivy League schools and the madness of the application process. An excerpt:
I'm intimately familiar with today's college-search intensity. Before being admitted to Notre Dame four years ago, I looked at 20 colleges and took the SAT four times. When my father applied to Notre Dame 30 years ago, he looked at two schools and applied to one. As for the SAT, he told me: "I just went and took it. I never even thought of taking it twice. I got my scores and those were my scores."
Some Indian states are continuing to ban Coke and Pepsi despite the lack of evidence that they contain pesticides.
There is evidence that the leadership of the Presbyterian Church USA has completely taken leave of its senses. The church's publishing arm is now into wacko conspiracy theories.
Senator George Allen has shot his would-be presidential chances in the foot.
Hugo Chavez, friend of dictators, compares Israel's actions in Lebanon to the Holocaust. [HT: Drudge Report ]
Sowell on Young's Grasp of Economics
Thomas Sowell examines Andrew Young’s comments about small store owners in ghetto neighborhoods and sees a failure to understand basic economics. An excerpt:
The reason least likely to be acknowledged by those who blame the store owners is that crime, shoplifting, vandalism, and riots have raised the costs, both directly and by causing insurance rates and the costs of security to be higher in ghetto neighborhoods.
The costs of delivering goods to small neighborhood stores are also higher than the costs of delivering goods to huge supermarkets. Delivering a hundred cartons of milk to a supermarket is cheaper than delivering ten cartons of milk to each of ten local stores scattered around town.
Selling a customer $50 worth of groceries in a supermarket takes less time than selling ten customers $5 worth of groceries in a little neighborhood store. Faster turnover is one of the keys to a supermarket's lower prices.
Read the entire article here.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Analysis Through Action
There is a condition known as the Ph.D Syndrome in which the victim never completes the doctoral thesis because there is always one more theory to explore or fact to track down. The quest for perfection becomes paralyzing and the person is doomed to a never-ending task.
We live in a world of information overload. There are reports upon reports and any gaps are filled by a legion of experts. The multitude of counselors has become a chattering herd. The ability to sort out the truly meaningful from the mountains of fluff and dreck is more valuable than ever.
It all goes back to the old balance between analysis and action and yet, in many circumstances, our best analysis comes from action. Ten minutes in a boxing ring with a formidable opponent will teach you more than ten months spent pondering books about boxing.
As the maxim goes, "The best is the enemy of the good." Any review of history will reveal that more advances have been made by people in search of pretty good than by those in search of excellence.
The deciding point may be that the former know when to ship the product, launch the invasion, or wrap up the doctoral thesis while the also-rans are still running and re-running the numbers.
The Wall Street Journal Law Blog on the Sumner Redstone - Tom Cruise dispute.
Somehow, in a world in which Iran may get nukes, this doesn't seem that important.
What is Your Favorite Interview Question?
My favorite question, used for sales representative jobs, is actually an exercise:
"Sell me this pencil."
It gives you a chance to see the candidate's presentation skills, sense of humor, ability to think under pressure, and the way he or she closes a sales pitch.
I strive to fashion its equivalent for other positions. Let me know if you have any favorites.
Dale Carnegie's Big Book
Dale Carnegie wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People exactly 70 years ago. He had a nerve, since his own early life — failed Missouri farmer, failed teacher, failed journalist, failed actor, failed novelist, failed husband and, most spectacularly, failed investor (he lost his shirt in the Wall Street Crash) — was not exactly a compelling advertisement for self-help.
But he turned the wreckage of serial disaster into the pillar of lasting success. “The reason I wrote the book was because I have blundered so often myself,” he admitted candidly. He believed that there was a market for a “practical working handbook on human relations” — and boy, was he proved right. How to Win Friends went on to acquire 16 million readers and be published in 36 languages. Carnegie’s homely aphorisms — “If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive” — were digested throughout the corporate world by ambitious men and women intent on climbing their respective greasy poles. His rules for massaging the thoughts and desires of colleagues and business contacts became fundamental laws in the black arts of public relations, spindoctoring, salesmanship and office politics.
Read the entire Times article here.
[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]
Abe and The Beaver
Adfreak gives his take on that sleep aid commercial:
What’s odd is that there’s only two dream characters—and they’re Abraham Lincoln and a beaver. No wonder this guy can’t sleep. He’s probably like the Twilight Zone guy who’s terrified of his dreams and is trying to stay awake forever. (Actually there’s a third, silent dream character who sidles up to the kitchen counter, but it’s unclear who he or she is. It looks like either an astronaut or a fish.)
But his analysis, as his update admits, follows the pioneering scholarship of this post.
That old lion Norman Podhoretz is baffled by both the Right and the Left nowadays. An excerpt from his article on the Bush Doctrine:
I must confess to being puzzled by the amazing spread of the idea that the Bush Doctrine has indeed failed the test of Iraq. After all, Iraq has been liberated from one of the worst tyrants in the Middle East; three elections have been held; a decent constitution has been written; a government is in place; and previously unimaginable liberties are being enjoyed. By what bizarre calculus does all this add up to failure? And by what even stranger logic is failure to be read into the fact that the forces opposed to democratization are fighting back with all their might?
And Taking Names
Sometimes, a news story seems right out of Hollywood:
As he went outside, Sjostrom said he saw the man standing over the clerk, who was kneeling over on the ground, as if he were going to punch her again. When the man saw Sjostrom coming at him, he took a swing at him, too.
But the attacker quickly found out he was no match for the bulky Sjostrom.
Sjostrom is a former Marine who taught hand-to-hand combat and currently teaches a course on Russian kettlebells, or the martial art of strength training, at the Sports Mall in Murray.
You can read the entire article here.
[HT: Fark ]
Quote of the Day
I was going to buy a copy of The Power of Positive Thinking, and then I thought: What the hell good would that do?
- Ronnie Shakes
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
The Logic of Shopping
A priceless conversation about shopping...overheard in Chicago.
I drove down to Tucson this afternoon. Thursday's project: Teaching a workshop on Equal Employment Opportunity to a group of supervisors. (Word is they're sharp. I'd better be rested.)
As with all business trips, this has been a reminder of the importance of systems. Years of running through airports on my way to remote consulting/training gigs taught me one thing:
Have a routine and do not part from it.
If you carried three bags last time, do so now. If you put everything near the front door last time, do so now. Know which items go where. Always have the essential items within reach. Don't even think of surrendering them to the mercies of the baggage handlers.
And, if time permits, avoid the baggage handlers entirely by driving.
The last one seems strange in a time-conscious world, but the fear is a stress-producer and the best way to reduce fear is to increase control. Why do airports create stress? Because we are having to rely upon the kindness of strangers who can lose luggage and delay flights. Driving puts you in control. You've got the passport and the gold and the open highway. Odds are you'll get there.
You may be somewhat crumpled, but have you seen the folks at airports? Hang around O'Hare and you'll think large numbers of the passengers just arrived from war zones. In a sense, they have. They've just escaped from a long tube filled with their hacking, wheezing, compatriots, most of whom do not want to be there and who act like it.
Think of that as you pull out onto the highway, slip a CD in the player, and sip a cool drink. That too is part of the routine. Marcus Aurelius had it right: Where a man lives, he can also live well.
The Same, Only Different
Starwood is planning on launching lower-priced "loft" style hotels in 2008.
It appears that the concept is supposed to appeal to either the high tech business traveler or George Jetson.
Law Students With Wrinkles
CareerJournal examines the experiences of some people who chose to practice law later in life.
After their nerve-endings had died.
Years ago, Michael LeBoeuf developed what he called the greatest management principle in the world: That which is rewarded gets done.
I think of the principle whenever I see abusive behavior in the workplace. What do some workplaces inadvertently do to encourage such conduct? Here are some examples:
- Rewarding the manager who yells at subordinates but can boast of great production numbers.
- Covering up rudeness with euphemisms such as "direct" and "autocratic."
- Permitting managers to "kiss up and kick down."
- Keeping notoriously dysfunctional supervisors and managers on the payroll until they commit a major blunder or produce a lawsuit.
- Hiring "junkyard dog" attorneys and extolling their aggressive behavior.
- Putting undesirable labels on employees who fail to fit the aggressive mode.
- Excusing abusive behavior by female executives and managers by noting that men have traditionally done the same thing.
- Allowing teams and crews to bully mavericks.
- Pretending that you can't correct the misconduct because "You can't fire anyone nowadays."
Leadership Trends and Dental Floss
Here’s an interesting article regarding The Center for Creative Leadership findings on leadership trends. An excerpt:
How can you design systems and structures to cultivate new leadership approaches? The leaders surveyed by CCL believe an optimal reward system would include a balance of individual performance and collaboration, innovation and long term thinking.
The Gore Company is a nice example of this approach. Gore insists 10 to 15 percent of employees’ time is spent on speculative ideas. The recognition of innovation as a core competency has resulted in Gore moving beyond Gortex to hold a significant share in dental floss and other markets.
Michael Barone thinks the weakness of the West is in its elites who do not want the Islamo-fascists to win, but somehow want us to lose.
In our war against Islamo-fascist terrorism, we face enemies both overt and covert. The overt enemies are, of course, the terrorists themselves. Their motives are clear: They hate our society because of its freedoms and liberties, and want to make us all submit to their totalitarian form of Islam. They are busy trying to wreak harm on us in any way they can. Against them we can fight back, as we did when British authorities arrested the men and women who were plotting to blow up a dozen airliners over the Atlantic.
Our covert enemies are harder to identify, for they live in large numbers within our midst. And in terms of intentions, they are not enemies in the sense that they consciously wish to destroy our society. On the contrary, they enjoy our freedoms and often call for their expansion. But they have also been working, over many years, to undermine faith in our society and confidence in its goodness. These covert enemies are those among our elites who have promoted the ideas labeled as multiculturalism, moral relativism and (the term is Professor Samuel Huntington's) transnationalism.
Read the rest here.
[HT: Instapundit ]
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
The Netflix System
What’s behind the scenes at Netflix?
This New Yorker article gives an interesting peek:
By the time the truck is back at the warehouse—one of forty-one similar hubs around the country—and has been unloaded, some forty employees (“associates,” in Netflix parlance) are ready for work. The majority are women who were born in Africa and in Asia. At 6:30 A.M., they sit down in ergonomic chairs and begin the process known as “rental return.” An associate tears open an envelope that contains a sleeve enclosing a disk, tosses the empty envelope into a recycling bin, removes the DVD from its sleeve, checks the title on the DVD (when “Black Dog” arrives in a sleeve for “The Triangle,” the mismatched sleeve is discarded and “Black Dog” is re-sleeved), checks the condition of the sleeve (those with coffee stains or other evidence of having been used as coasters will also be replaced), checks the condition of the DVD (for scratches and cracks), and extracts customer notes (“THROW THIS DAMN DISK AWAY. IT DOES NOT WORK AFTER EPISODE 2, CHAPTER 4!”). Fingers flying and heads swivelling, the women each open between four hundred and fifty and eleven hundred and fifty returned rentals an hour.
This video gives a brief - and funny - history of Bill Gates and Microsoft.
Which Celebrity Do You Weigh?
Your tax dollars at work. The bizarre story of the CIA and the cyborg cat.
An excerpt from Damn Interesting:
After several surgeries and intensive training, the cyborg cat was ready for its first field test. The CIA drove the cat to a Soviet compound on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C., and let him out of a parked van across the street. The cat ambled into the road, and was struck by a taxi almost immediately. Five years of effort and over $15 million in spending were reduced to roadkill in an instant. Shorty after its demise a CIA operative returned to the accident site and put the cat's remains into a container to prevent the Soviets from getting their paws on the sensitive and expensive listening devices.
This 2002 article by Paul Hollander on anti-Americanism is still timely and raises the question of the extent to which anti-Americanism is really anti-modernism.
Alan retired recently after serving as a department head for over 25 years. It is no exaggeration to say that he became a legend in his industry.
He often joked that if you were given a photo of the top management team in his department and asked to point out the director, he'd be the last person you'd select because he didn't look the part. He was quiet and thoughtful but with a strong sense of humor. He often wore Hawaiian shirts to work, which may have been his way to telling people to be comfortable and not to take themselves so seriously.
Alan pushed innovation and listening; a great deal of listening. Mistakes were dissected in an effort not to blame but to learn. Safety was a mantra but so was kindness. His philosophy was one of tough love with an emphasis on the love. There was also a strong streak of humility. I recall an occasion when one of the department managers complained that the younger workers "aren't like we were" and Alan replied, "Gee, I hope not. We were a bunch of colossal screw-ups."
Alan studied efforts and broke each aspect of the job into a series of steps. A systems person hidden within an amiable old boy shell, he wrote books on his profession, taught classes, mentored younger peers throughout the country, and still paid close attention to his family.
He wasn't one for inspirational speeches. He chose to influence people incrementally and often one person at a time. He was known to drop by field locations to "talk shop" and hear what the crews and first line supervisors were thinking. I suspect that a lot of his impact was felt over a cup of coffee as he listened to his crews review a tough project.
Many of his top associates went on to head departments in other organizations. Each of them had been heavily influenced by Alan. Their success was his success and it was no fluke. He'd turned his department into a leadership laboratory.
I've never known a better leader.
A company decides to abolish its human resources department and shift the responsibilities to its managers.
I can think of some organizations where that could work and others where it would be a disaster. An alternative, of course, is a middle ground of moving certain responsibilities while keeping others with a HR department that functions more as a group of in-house consultants.
Too often, HR departments operate more like in-house cops and are regarded as adversaries by the other departments.
Monday, August 21, 2006
CareerJournal gives some tips on what to do if your former manager might be sinking your chances to secure a new job.
Managers with loose lips can talk themselves into a defamation case.
The Carnival of the Capitalists is up at Forty Media.
An eclectic collection of posts on business, management, and financial issues.
The division was tucked away in a not-so-powerful department. On the surface, it had an important mission, but years ago upper management and the department management itself had decided to turn the division into a Siberia. No one was ever promoted from it and the word quietly spread that being assigned there was the equivalent of career termination.
What was especially sad was the top managers of the division didn’t get the word. They planned projects that would never be funded and trained employees who would soon leave. It was difficult to determine if this failure to ascertain what was common knowledge throughout the organization was because of a willful denial of reality or a sign of the ineptitude that caused the exile in the first place.
The division was mocked, when it was thought of at all, in the executive suites and the assumption was that permitting the division to survive was an act of mercy. After all, its managers were permitted to keep their jobs and they were paid reasonably well when – the reasoning went – a more ruthless executive team would have fired them and dissolved their operation.
If pressed, the executives would have declared that creating the Siberia produced fewer problems than any alternatives and, besides, if the division ever did anything worthwhile, they’d be willing to give it a look.
What was never acknowledged is that there are worse things for people than termination.
The Symphony Conductor
The leader/manager is often compared to a symphony conductor.
In this video from The New Yorker, Justin Davidson examines the style of several conductors and shows how their body language builds upon what has been established earlier in rehearsals and meetings.
Authorities probably had a very good reason for allowing JonBenet Ramsey murder suspect John Mark Karr to live it up on the 15-hour flight to the United States, legal experts say — they wanted him to talk.
Denver attorney Larry Pozner, past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the royal treatment during Sunday's journey — king prawns, champagne, French wine — was "a brilliant move."
"What the cops want most is this guy to talk. They say he is not under arrest. Then they do not put him in handcuffs on the plane. And they say he is over the age of 21, free to drink," Pozner said. "He is therefore free to talk."
Read the rest of the article here.
[HT: Drudge Report ]
Ave Maria U
Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan is starting a university and is already having disputes with the faculty.
I understand Larry Summers is available.
I apologize for the delay in posting.
Something was weird with Blogger this morning and it kept me from taking care of posts before running off to teach a class.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
EEOC Staff Expands
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is adding 70 new positions at its field offices.
The Long March
United Airlines has announced that it will offer the first non-stop flights between Washington, DC and Beijing.
It's sort of shocking that didn't already exist.
How to Word This
Google has launched an alternative to Word?
May it grow and prosper.
I love great first lines in books. The gold standard is Herman Melville's beginning of Moby Dick:
Call me Ishmael.
Hard to beat that though Leo Rosten came close in his novel, Silky, about a Jewish-American private investigator:
Call me schlemiel.
Some other great first lines:
For a long time I used to go to bed early.
- Marcel Proust, Swann's Way
They don't often invite me to Balmoral nowadays, which is a blessing; those damned tartan carpets always put me off my food, to say nothing of the endless pictures of German royalty and that unspeakable statue of the Prince Consort standing knock-kneed in a kilt.
- George McDonald Fraser, Flashman in The Great Game
I have lost count of the days that have passed since I fled the horrors of Vasco Miranda's mad fortress in the Andalusian mountain-village of Benengeli; ran from death under cover of darkness and left a message nailed to the door.
- Salman Rushdie, The Moor's Last Sigh
I am American, Chicago born - Chicago, that somber city - and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.
- Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March
When Augustus came out on the porch the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake - not a very big one.
- Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove
It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself.
- Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere
Any other favorites?
Why people make false confessions.
It happens more often than many people realize.
A Militant West?
Military analyst Ralph Peters thinks the recent news from the Middle East, although bad, may spark a new toughness in the West. An excerpt:
Bit by bit, the Western mood is turning from disbelief regarding the "terrorist threat" to hard-knuckled realism about extremist Islam. 9/11 taught the terrorists little of use and many wrong lessons. It may be hard for some of us to discern what's really happening, but the Islamists are resurrecting a militant, ruthless West.
The florid American master of horror fiction, H. P. Lovecraft, warned his characters, "Do not raise up what ye cannot put down." Islamist terrorists are reviving the West's thirst for blood. And this time it won't be slaked in Flanders.
Things are going to get uglier east of Suez. And we're going to win.
[HT: Real Clear Politics ]
Another study on what can make you happy and, yes, a shorter daily commute may make a bigger difference than more money.
"This Too Shall Pass" Dept.
Miscellaneous and Fast
Quote of the Day
A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history - with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila.
- Mitch Ratcliffe
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Mandarin Chinese Site
Little Miss Sunshine
We went to see Little Miss Sunshine in Scottsdale today.
As this review notes, this tale of an "emotional Addams family" is unusual and fun; the sort of film that is enjoyable in the theater and become moreso as you reflect on it. Not everyone will like it, of course, but my sense is that its inherent goodheartedness will win a lot of admirers.
It is an unpleasant prospect, but Michael Ledeen may well be correct. An excerpt:
Israel cannot destroy Hezbollah by fighting in Lebanon alone, just as we cannot provide Iraq and Afghanistan with decent security by fighting only there. The destruction of Hezbollah requires regime change in Damascus. Security in Iraq and Afghanistan requires regime change in Damascus and Tehran. Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, and Afghanistan are not separate conflicts. They are battlefields in a regional war.
More is Less
British feminist Sarah Baxter looks at today’s peace marches and concludes that feminism is missing in action. An excerpt:
As a supporter of the peace movement in the 1980s, I could never have imagined that many of the same crowd I hung out with then would today be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with militantly anti-feminist Islamic fundamentalist groups, whose views on women make western patriarchy look like a Greenham peace picnic. Nor would I have predicted that today’s feminists would be so indulgent towards Iran, a theocratic nation where it is an act of resistance to show an inch or two of female hair beneath the veil and whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is not joking about his murderous intentions towards Israel and the Jews.
On the defining issue of our times, the rise of Islamic extremism, what is left of the sisterhood has almost nothing to say. Instead of “I am woman, hear me roar”, there is a loud silence, punctuated only by remonstrations against Tony Blair and George Bush — “the world’s number one terrorist” as the marchers would have it.
Women are perfectly entitled to oppose the war in Iraq or to feel that Israel is brutally overreacting to Hezbollah’s provocation. But where is the parallel, equally vital debate about how to combat Islamic fundamentalism? And why don’t more peace-loving feminists regard it as a threat? Kira Cochrane, 29, is the new editor of The Guardian women’s page, the bible of the Greenham years, where so many women writers made their names by staking out positions on the peace movement. She has noticed that today’s feminists are inclined to keep quiet about the march of radical Islam. “There’s a great fear of tackling the subject because of cultural relativism. People are scared of being called racist,” Cochrane observes.
[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]
Apple has issued the report of its investigation into whether its iPod factory in China is a "sweat shop."