Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Drucker believed that the challenges facing companies now were more dramatic than anything he had seen in his long life. Consumers were gaining unprecedented power. Global competition had gone from wind level to storm level to hurricane level. Clever new companies were inventing not just new products but new human needs. (Who knew that it was impossible to live without carrying 10,000 songs around in your pocket?) Seven of the 10 companies that have seen the biggest growth in share value over the past five years did not exist a couple of decades ago.
To thrive in this new environment, Drucker claimed, companies would have to rethink everything. They would need to partner with "rivals" and consult with customers so that they could view themselves from the "outside in"; they would have to tap new sources of talent, such as retirees, and focus fiercely on their core competencies. "If it's not in your front room, then make it someone else's front room," he liked to say.
As for individuals, they are now in charge of their own progress. "Knowledge workers are neither bosses nor workers," he said, "but rather something in between--resources who have responsibility for developing their most important resource, brainpower, and who also need to take more control of their own careers." In the 21st century every man is not so much a king as a CEO of his own career.
Read it all here.
Twenty or even 10 years ago, it would have been inconceivable that the historic left-right divide in British politics could have taken this form. Old leftist friends of mine from the 1960s are now on Labor's front bench and staunchly defend the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as a part of the noble anti-fascist tradition, while dyed-in-the-wool reactionaries are warning against American hubris. I keep having to pinch myself.
- I am sometimes under enormous pressure from upper management; pressure that you seldom see. Anything that you can do to make my job easier will be greatly appreciated.
- Your interests are important, but please remember that I also have to juggle the concerns and feelings of a bunch of other people, including individuals outside of the department.
- I may not have been given a huge amount of training before being named to a supervisory position. As a result, I’ve had to learn through trial and error. That's not always bad. Many of my responsibilities can only be learned through practice.
- If you are a former co-worker of mine, please recognize that supervising former peers is one of the toughest jobs any supervisor faces. The support that you give me is crucial.
- I will make mistakes. Please give me the same understanding that you’d like me to give you when you blunder.
- If I do something dumb or am on the verge of doing so, please tell me. Don’t hint. Tell me.
- I don’t like unpleasant surprises. Let me in on bad news as soon as possible. (Things that you believe are obvious may not be that clear to me. On the other hand, you'd be surprised at how quickly the latest gossip reaches my ears.)
- I expect you to take initiative. If you keep bouncing things to me, I’m going to wonder why I have you around.
- You should ask questions if you don’t know what to do. On the other hand, you should not have to be taught the same thing over and over again.
- Let’s respect each other’s time. We each have a job to do and the more we can reduce unnecessary interruptions, the happier we'll each be.
- Don't let all of my talk about meeting goals and producing results lead you into unethical behavior. You always have my permission to be ethical.
- If either of us has a problem with the other's performance, let's talk about it.
9AM Then You Lose Them and We Send You Another Set
Consultant guy: Yeah, we overnight the documents to you. It takes about a week for you to get them.
Garden City, New York
The total size of its [Britain’s] armed forces has shrunk from 305,800 in 1990 to 195,900 today, leaving it No. 28 in the world, behind Eritrea and Burma. This downsizing has reduced the entire British army (107,000 soldiers) to almost half the size of the U.S. Marine Corps (175,000). Storied regiments such as the Black Watch and the Royal Scots, with histories stretching back centuries, have been eliminated.
Even worse hit is the Royal Navy, which is at its smallest size since the 1500s. Now, British newspapers report, of the remaining 44 warships, at least 13 and possibly as many as 19 will be mothballed. If these cuts go through, Britain's fleet will be about the same size as those of Indonesia and Turkey and smaller than that of its age-old rival, France.
Britain is hardly alone in its unilateral disarmament. A similar trend can be discerned among virtually all of the major U.S. allies, aside from Japan. Canada is a particularly poignant case in point. At the end of World War II, Canada had more than a million men under arms and operated the world's third-biggest navy (behind the U.S. and Britain), with more than 400 ships. Today, it has all of 62,000 personnel on active duty, and its navy has just 19 warships and 23 support vessels, making it one-fourth the size of the U.S. Coast Guard.
[HT: RealClearPolitics ]
To produce a pound of organic sun-dried coffee, farmers in the southern Ethiopian village of Fero spread six pounds of ripe, red coffee cherries onto pallets near their fields. They sun the fruit for 15 days, stirring every few minutes to ensure uniform dryness, then shuck the shells.
Last season, that pound of coffee fetched farmers an average price of $1.45. Figuring in the cost of generator fuel, bank interest, labor and transport across Ethiopia's dusty roads, it netted them less than $1. In the U.S., however, that same pound of coffee commands a much higher price: $26 for a bag of Starbucks' roasted Shirkina Sun-Dried Sidamo.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Doing a name tag right isn't easy. Here are my rules:
Monday, February 26, 2007
- Don't automatically assume that the person has bad intent. Some questions or challenges are poorly worded and may sound more contentious than intended.
- Seek to clarify and then focus on the area of disagreement. Lack of clarity can unnecessarily expand the scope of conflict. Furthermore, as you clarify the issue, you may find areas of agreement and reduce the adversarial nature of the exchange.
- Be professional and polite at all times. The more polite you are and the more obnoxious the other person is, the more likely it is that the audience will sympathize with you, even if they disagree with your ideas. Few people favor the rude. It will be tempting to slam back, but - unless the other person's behavior is extreme - resist doing so.
- If the other person has made a valid point, admit it. You want to maintain your credibility. A honest exchange means that valid points should be acknowledged.
- Don't let the heckler dominate the proceedings. Once the person has had a reasonable chance at being heard, move on. The rest of the audience deserves to hear the entire presentation.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Most companies would never outsource their sales reps, but we all know what happens with most tech support.
Imagine this: A young Jew from a thoroughly assimilated family that has lived for generations in Italy. Like many other Jewish students in the early years of Mussolini's regime, he joins the Fascist youth organizations. A serious scholar, he studies chemistry at the university. And then, when Mussolini decided to placate Hitler by adopting anti-Semitic laws, Levi's world deteriorates. Eventually, he is sent to a Nazi death camp.
Thomson's book goes beyond mere biography. It is a study of a society gone mad.
While Branson was hitting the beach with future passengers, his competitors-- smart, rich and innovative like him--were busily at work plotting to beat him into space. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos just tested his first prototype for personal space travel in West Texas. John Carmack, co-creator of the Doom and Quake games, is test-firing rockets for the next generation of spaceliners and lunar landers near Dallas. In California, Jim Benson, founder of Compusearch, is developing a space taxi with a motor that runs on rubber and laughing gas. (Don't laugh. It works.) PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, who has a NASA contract to build a robotic Pony Express to the International Space Station (ISS), is pouring his own millions into a ship for galactic travelers at his factory south of Los Angeles. Robert Bigelow, founder of Budget Suites of America, already has a small-scale, inflatable space station--hotel in orbit, an outgrowth of his curiosity about UFOs. New Mexico wants to become the Cape Canaveral of space tourism, but six other proposed spaceports across the country are vying for business too. There's even an Orbital Outfitters store to provide space suits for civilians--whether portly or petite.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Ferdinand Mount reviews Hugh Brogan’s biography of de Tocqueville.
MJT: When speaking of the Barbary War you used the word “jihad.” I don’t think you used that word in your book, though, did you?
Oren: No, I didn’t really have to. There was the case in 1785 where Thomas Jefferson is sent to negotiate with the envoy of the Pasha of Tripoli. Jefferson says to him that America only wants peace with the Barbary states. And he says to Jefferson “No, we want war with you. We have a holy book called the Koran which says that we have to conquer and enslave all infidel states. And the United States is an infidel state. And moreover our holy book the Koran tells us that if we are killed in the course of carrying out this war that we’ll go directly to Paradise.” So I didn’t think I even had to put the label jihadist on there. I figured that remarkable report of Jefferson’s at the Continental Congress would suffice to alert contemporary readers what Jefferson was dealing with in the Middle East.
Want to make the bar exam fairer and more closely tied to the actual practice of law?
Require that all practicing attorneys pass it every five years.
Trivia Test. Which of the following prominent individuals failed a bar exam?
John F. Kennedy Jr.
New York City Mayor Ed Koch
Attorney Gerry Spence
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley
[Answer: All of them.]
Eskimos do not have more words for snow than English. James Cagney never said “You dirty rat” in any of his films. Abraham Lincoln had a reedy voice, not the elegant baritone of Sam Waterston.
Those misconceptions are hard to shake because they sit so comfortably in the mind. There is another one more disturbing: the bien-pensant American’s assumption that the reason inner city schools are such disasters is because the feds starve them of money, instead shunting cash to schools in leafy suburbs.
Jonathan Kozol’s book “Savage Inequalities” set into the Zeitgeist an image of poor kids sharing textbooks in schools “with peeling paint.” The paint, which one hears cited again and again, seems to have made an especially deep impression on readers. The lesson is that lack of funds is the reason no learning goes on in these schools.
Interesting, though, how little interest people, who impose Kozol’s theory on students nationwide, have in observing cases in which Mr. Kozol’s advice is actually taken. Such cases teach a new lesson.
Read the rest here.
Friday, February 23, 2007
Imagine you have a choice between earning $50,000 a year while other people make $25,000 or earning $100,000 a year while other people get $250,000. Prices of goods and services are the same. Which would you prefer? Surprisingly, studies show that the majority of people select the first option. As H. L. Mencken is said to have quipped, "A wealthy man is one who earns $100 a year more than his wife's sister's husband."
This seemingly illogical preference is just one of the puzzles that science is trying to solve about why happiness can be so elusive in today's world. Several recent books by researchers address the topic, but my skeptic's eye found a historian's long-view analysis to be ultimately the most enlightening.
Consider a paradox outlined by London School of Economics economist Richard Layard in Happiness (Penguin, 2005), in which he shows that we are no happier even though average incomes have more than doubled since 1950 and "we have more food, more clothes, more cars, bigger houses, more central heating, more foreign holidays, a shorter working week, nicer work and, above all, better health." Once average annual income is above $20,000 a head, higher pay brings no greater happiness. Why? One, our genes account for roughly half of our predisposition to be happy or unhappy, and two, our wants are relative to what other people have, not to some absolute measure.
Spurred by adding hundreds of new linguists and help from allies overseas, the FBI is translating a record 34,000 wiretapped conversations a month, bureau officials tell the Bad Guys blog. Long criticized for its lack of language specialists, the FBI, they say, is finally catching up to an unprecedented intake of foreign-language surveillance recordings, electronic data, and text since 9/11.
Most of the wiretaps are tied to counterterrorism and counterintelligence cases, officials say. Since 9/11, the FBI's counterterrorism agents, in particular, have collected a mother lode of intelligence. In a widely overlooked report to the Senate Judiciary Committee in November, bureau officials ticked off their counterterrorism take over the past four years:
519,217 hours of audio
5,508,217 electronic data files
1,847,497 pages of text
Thursday, February 22, 2007
The leaders of Europe can no longer pretend that they don't know what Iran is up to. A leaked internal document prepared for the European Union's foreign ministers warns that it is probably too late to prevent the Iranian government from acquiring nuclear weapons. "At some stage we must expect that Iran will acquire the capacity to enrich uranium on the scale required for a weapons programme." The document also admits that efforts to impede the Iranian nuclear program have failed. "In practice . . . the Iranians have pursued their programme at their own pace, the limiting factor being technical difficulties rather than resolutions by the U.N. or the [International Atomic Energy Agency]." Nor do the limited sanctions announced by the U.N. Security Council hold out any hope: "The problems with Iran will not be resolved through economic sanctions alone."
So now they know. Years of diplomacy have made virtually no difference. Carrots and sticks have been tried and failed. The regime in Tehran is determined to become a nuclear power--the first nuclear power with a yearning for martyrdom. Europe's strategy has hitherto been merely to play for time--but time is on Tehran's side.
Now that the threat of a second Holocaust is staring Europe in the face, however, its leaders are in denial. Worse: They seem insouciant. Why is the E.U., which makes so much of its humanitarian credentials, which sees itself as a creature of the Enlightenment, so seemingly indifferent? The answer, I fear, lies in the process that has deprived Israel of legitimacy and branded Zionism as a relic of European imperialism. That process has been grinding away for decades, but only now is it becoming plain that Europe's vast superstructure of collective atonement for the Holocaust has been hollowed out from within. The calumny that Israel--the most liberal and egalitarian country in the Middle East--is an "apartheid state" has hardened into a conviction. The mud has stuck.
Mark Steyn explores how some choose to spin the word "ally."
According to my dictionary, the word "ally" comes from the Old French. Very Old French, I'd say. For the New French, the word has a largely postmodern definition of "duplicitous charmer who undermines you at every opportunity".
For the less enthusiastically obstructive NATO members, "ally" means "wealthy country with no military capability that requires years of diplomatic wooing and black-tie banquets in order to agree to a token contribution of 23.08 troops." Incidentally, that 23.08 isn't artistic licence on my part. The 2004 NATO summit in Turkey was presented as a triumph of multilateral co-operation because the 26 members agreed to contribute between them an additional 600 troops and three helicopters to the Afghan mission. That's 23.08 troops and a ninth of a helicopter per ally. In fairness, Turkey chipped in the three helicopters single-handed, though the deal required them to return to Ankara after three months.
Read the rest here.
Some examples would be:
- Bigoted equal opportunity/diversity officers
- Prevaricating or manipulative religious figures
- Corporate HR executives who proclaim themselves to be "people persons" when in reality they are carnivorous people persons
- "Community activists" who care little for the community but a great deal for a narrow agenda.
These charlatans are often hugely successful because the chutzpah behind their hypocrisy is so large that people naturally deride the idea that they could be complete fakes. So how do they do it?
Setting aside the sociopathic operators, I've come to the conclusion that the others succeed in their fakery by first deceiving themselves. They genuinely believe that they are doing good. They justify odious behavior by asserting that it's all for a good cause.
Historian Robert Conquest observed that some of history's most murderous movements were staffed by people who meant to improve the world. If the operators of death camps or the Gulag were able to convince themselves that they were helping mankind, then the amount of self-deception needed to become a corporate hypocrite shrinks in comparison.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
That's one of the messages in this brief interview that Guy Kawasaki conducted with Michael Raynor.
Question: What is the explanation for Toyota’s success?
Answer: A big part of it was being well-positioned for the oil crisis of the mid-1970s. Toyota was influenced by its origins in the Japanese market, where size and fuel economy mattered, and in the U.S., it was focusing on the second car market, where the need for low prices similarly rewarded smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. When the oil crisis hit, Toyota happened to have products that were much better suited to the suddenly-changed environment.
As Louis Pasteur said, “Fortune favours the prepared mind,” so this bit of luck would have been useless to Toyota if it made inferior cars. But of course customers quickly noted Toyota’s vehicle quality. This reflected its tradition of manufacturing excellence, of defect and cost reduction and quality improvement, a system that is known today as the Toyota Production System, or TPS.
By the way, Toyota has been selling cars in the US since the mid-1950s. They’re #2 and threatening to become #1, but it took fifty years. GM overtook Ford as the #1 automaker in the early 1930s, less than twenty years after Alfred Sloan created GM. Toyota’s accomplishment is remarkable, but it took a long time.
In fact, the entire industry’s laserlike focus on low fares is a big reason why airline profits are often razor-thin in a good year, and, over the long haul, nonexistent. And JetBlue’s particularly low fares force competitors—who’ve usually been around a lot longer and thus have to pay for things like pensions that JetBlue doesn’t have to worry about yet—to push their fares down, too. The older airlines solve this problem by declaring bankruptcy once in a while, pushing costs onto three groups: workers, who get lower-than-agreed pensions; the federal government, since the government must make up for some of the pension shortfall; and shareholders, who lose the value of their stock.
Neeleman promises that JetBlue will regroup from last week’s chaos by designing new rules to compensate future stranded customers. Further, the company probably will reimburse last week’s beleaguered travelers at a much greater rate than the government requires, which might help counter some of the bad press the company has earned. Naturally, Neeleman also said JetBlue will invest in its communications system to avoid future disarray.
But all of those costs should result in higher fares at JetBlue, creating an excellent opportunity for the next JetBlue: an upstart airline that comes out of nowhere and offers crazily low fares, which it can do only because it has no legacy costs and chooses to underinvest in its vital infrastructure. Given a choice, if history is any guide, customers will vote their short-term interest, taking the lower fare and leaving theoretical problems to the future.
Update: JetBlue is doing damage control.
Members of upper management, however, do not have to deal with the character on a daily basis. Their exposure, in fact, has probably been filtered by the supervisor in an effort to keep the troll from causing embarrassment or insult. The supervisor may also be operating with the assumption that he or she must "handle" the situation without burdening anyone upstairs. This reluctance may be tripled if the supervisor hired the problem employee and fears any review of that poor decision.
If the supervisor tries the following arguments to persuade upper management to support disciplinary action against the saboteur, here's how management may respond:
"The employee is rude and disrespectful." He's never been rude to me. Are you doing something to trigger this?
"The employee is incompetent." That's not what you indicated when you gave him "Meets Standards" performance evaluations. You deal with him.
A flaw in the above approach is the supervisor is calling "Help, Police!" when the better cry is "Help, Fire!"
For years, security professionals have noted that you are more likely to get prompt assistance if you shout "Help! Fire!" instead of "Help! Police!" A cry for the police causes many people to hunker down, hide, and hope that someone else will solve a problem that may endanger them if they give assistance. A cry for assistance with a fire causes concern that the problem faced by the crier may spread to the listeners. Self-interest argues in favor of intervention. That's why the following arguments have a greater chance of getting management to help the supervisor:
"This employee's disruptive conduct is going to trigger a bunch of grievances from the co-workers." Hmm. If that occurs, it will land on my desk and the question will arise of how we backed up our supervisor.
"The law department believes that we must take action to correct or remove this employee." If the lawyers are involved, I can't fob this off on the supervisor.
"The employee is bringing down the team." That may affect productivity. My numbers won't look good.
In short, the supervisor will be more effective if he or she can show how upper management will be affected and that it is in upper management's best interest to back up supervision.
This doesn't discount the impact of idealistic arguments. I've seen plenty of times when those have carried the day. They should be accompanied, however, by points that show how the audience will be directly harmed if this or that course is not adopted.
Think Fire, not Police.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Phone rings once and someone at the restaurant picks up:
Insidemex.com describes itself as the English speaker's guide to living in Mexico.
Of course, if retirement budgets become tighter, then get ready for Insidesudan.com.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
The week's news from Iraq: According to the state television network, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, was wounded in a clash with security forces just north of Baghdad. A senior deputy was killed.
Meanwhile, the punk cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has decided that discretion is the better part of mullahs and has temporarily relocated to Iran. That's right: The biggest troublemaker in Iraq is no longer in Iraq. It may be that his Persian vacation is only to marry a cousin or two and consult with the A-list ayatollahs, but the Mookster has always had highly sensitive antennae when it comes to his own physical security -- he likes being the guy who urges martyrdom on others rather than being just another schmuck who takes one for the team. So the fact that urgent business requires him to be out of town for the Big Surge is revealing at the very least of how American objectives in Iraq are not at the mercy of forces beyond their control; U.S. military and political muscle can shape conditions on the ground -- if they can demonstrate they're serious about doing so.
Read the rest here.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
"He’s totally ill-suited for this job," Glasser tells me over a shrimp salad at the Empire Diner one chilly afternoon. Glasser ticks off a dozen instances in which he believes Romero was negligent, dishonest to the point of pathology, or bullying of his colleagues. "He lies, and he covers up for his lies," he says. "Anybody who tries to call him on this, he threatens and attacks personally. He’s got some of his own board members scared of retaliation against them or their local affiliates. And the rest of the board is suffering from some sort of willful blindness."
It's margin call time in a real-world market investment computer simulation called upTick. Students whose investments have fallen below margin requirement levels are being told they have sixty seconds to liquidate part of their portfolio to cover—effectively locking in a loss—or gamble that their investments will recover before insolvency is declared.
"Many students find this minute—and the decision of whether to ride it out and hope for a recovery or to blink and 'puke their position' (pardon the phrase but it's how actual traders describe it)—to be an extremely harrowing experience," says professor Joshua Coval.
And that's the point. Real life money managers face such stress frequently, but it's a hard thing to teach in a classroom.
Read the rest of this Harvard Business School Working Knowledge article here.
The implication is that Newsweek calls up Powell and Armitage, relates to them something said by one of Newsweek’s supposed unnamed administration sources critical of both, and then starts taking down quotes as they fire back.Then we also get the de rigueur cry of the heart from the "former" NSC staffer who at ground zero confirms our worst Powellian fears about what the nefarious "some" in Team Bush "secretly" are conjuring:
Some view the spiraling attacks as a strand in a worrisome pattern. At least one former White House official contends that some Bush advisers secretly want an excuse to attack Iran. "They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for," says Hillary Mann, the administration's former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs.
A student in Journalism 101 would not earn a "C" on a storyline that is framed as "some view," then clarified by "at least one," and concerns what "some" advisors "secretly want."
I'll second his recommendation of Lincoln and His Generals. It contains lessons that can be applied to the modern workplace. [Many of us have had to deal with a McClellan.]
Friday, February 16, 2007
In short, his book is a powerful analysis of the harmful habits that can keep successful people from achieving even greater success and a detailed strategy for positive change.
Goldsmith, who is a legend in the field of executive coaching, identifies twenty transactional flaws that can sabotage careers. For example:
Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion.
Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty.
Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However.”: The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”
An excessive need to be “me”: Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are.
Goldsmith notes: Study the twenty annoying habits and you’ll see that at least half of them are rooted in information compulsion. When we add value, or pass judgment, or make destructive comments, or announce that we “already knew that,” or explain “why that won’t work” we are compulsively sharing information. We’re telling people something they don’t know. We’re convinced that we’re making people smarter or inspiring them to do better, when we’re more likely to achieve the opposite effect. Likewise, when we fail to give recognition, or claim credit we don’t deserve, or refuse to apologize, or don’t express our gratitude, we are withholding information.
Goldsmith’s amiable and gentle tone – his Buddhism comes through at various points – makes it all the more powerful when he occasionally bops you in the head with a hard truth. (Read his description of “the dream” and tell me that it doesn’t apply to you.)
Five stars out of five stars.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
For the history of the holiday, click here.
For information on people who dislike Valentine’s Day and want it replaced by something involving ashes and sackcloth, click here.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
No one who wasn't in a fugue state for the last year could have missed the most recent, and it turns out final, iteration of Anna Nicole Smith's public life. In the last year she had a daughter born and a son die. Her lawyer decided to come around the other side of the desk and take her in his arms, and, you know what? They seemed happy, and I hope they were. Then an ex-boyfriend took time off from eating Cheetoes to sue somebody for something, but what does it matter anymore?
Similarly, you had to have known she married the rich old guy a dozen-or-so years ago and was unpleasantly embroiled ever since with his first loving family over--what a shock--the money. When I heard the old fellow passed away, I read about his son suing her over the will, and I remember thinking, "His son? What is he, 60?" Sixty-seven, it turns out, and he's gone now himself. Since yet another of the heart-broken offspring has gallantly appeared to pick up the cudgels and continue contesting it, I'd like to offer two choices of what I think is some pretty good advice: (1) Get a job. You didn't earn that money and you don't deserve it. And, by the way, every penny of it should go to Anna Nicole's daughter. Or, (2) Try your best to get reincarnated as a sexy woman.
Read it all here.