Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Survival Tool

Cool Tools has the details on the credit card-sized survival tool.

Leadership Essential: Credibility

If I were to pick the one characteristic that is essential to leadership it would be credibility.

Credibility can rest on the actual ability to lead, the perceived ability to lead, and the integrity that causes others to place their trust in the leader. The integrity involves a certain reliability that permits the followers to know that the leader will, within reasonable boundaries, be predictable. A leader who is frequently unpredictable will soon lose followers and resemble the man who jumped on a horse and rode off in all directions.

A major reason why so many executives, managers, and supervisors fail in their leadership responsibilities is they have, in either a dramatic event or a series of damaging actions, lost credibility. How is credibility lost? The ways are too numerous to list but the usual suspects are insensitivity to others, failing to keep commitments, and failing to produce. One trucking executive put it well: "People don't give you their trust; they only lend it to you."

Quote of the Day

An efficient and successful administration manifests itself equally in small as in great matters.

- Winston Churchill

Monday, July 30, 2007

Miscellaneous and Fast

Get ready for more nuclear power plants.

US News & World Report gives its take on the most overrated careers.

Garry Kasparov on how The Godfather pertains to modern-day Russia.

Tim Ferriss lists his eight favorite beverages in the world. Needless to say, Pocari Sweat made the list.

A classic Outside article on the captain of the Exxon Valdez.

Winning in Iraq

Michael E. O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, liberal critics of the war, have returned from Iraq with the conclusion that this war might be winnable after all.

[HT: Instapundit ]

Caste Systems

The side that summons versus the side that is summoned.

The side called by a title versus the side called by first name.

The side that does not carry material versus the side that totes briefcases and files.

The side that does not have to explain versus the side that does.

The side that orders the drafting of documents versus the one that does the drafting.

The side that does not need a nameplate versus the one that does.

The side with the nameplate on the desk versus the one with the name on the uniform.

The side with the wooden desk versus that with the metal desk.

The side with the private office versus the one with the cubicle.

The side that sits versus the side that stands.

The side that can speak softly versus the side that has to shout.

Fear-Mongers and Stress-Producers

Much attention has been given to bullies and manipulators in the workplace, but there are two other types that deserve some time under the magnifying glass.

Fear-mongers take an already contagious item and ensure that it quickly spreads throughout their work units. If they have ties to kindred spirits in other departments, their message of woe can extend to the entire organization within hours. Their theme usually has enough plausibility to gain attention and the impact of their work should not be underestimated. Fear-mongers frequently regard themselves as bold dissenters or tellers of truth. They fail to see the damage caused by their actions.

Stress-producers joke that they don't get ulcers, they give them, haw haw. Unlike the fear-monger, the stress-producers don't pass along bad news, they create it. Unlike the bully, they refrain from overtly cruel behavior. Their technique is to walk into an operation, within minutes have it in turmoil, and then stroll out. Their own mood may rapidly brighten but the victims of their outbursts seldom bounce back that quickly. I've seen stress-producers who are dumbfounded to learn that their explosions are taken seriously. If left unchecked, stress-producers drive off good employees and demoralize those who remain.

In far too many workplaces, these types are permitted to continue their weird ways because their infractions are thought of as personality quirks that are not seriously harmful. That reaction is almost always a mistake. Fear-mongers and stress-producers are corrosive influences that can destroy effectiveness and morale. They should be confronted and corrected.

Quote of the Day

The less important you are in the table of organization, the more you'll be missed if you don't turn up for work.

- Bill Vaughan

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Customer Service: Slick or Genuine?

David Brooks once noted how furniture styles evolved from chrome and smooth lines to distressed wood and antique effects. It appeared to be evolution in reverse but it was an indication of a desire for the genuine as opposed to the slick; coffee beans from a paper bag instead of ground coffee in a can.

I've been reviewing various books on customer service and have been struck by how often they propose transparently slick techniques for "handling" the customer instead of addressing the customer's real concerns. There is a need to cut through the techniques so the customer gets one thing first and foremost: Respect.

Respect means:

  • Listening for the customer's concerns, not for an opportunity to voice your own.

  • Adapting your approach to those concerns. A customer who is in a hurry may not want to hear about this week's sale.

  • Being knowledgeable about your product. You are supposed to be the resident expect and, if that is not the case, the expert should be readily available.

  • Treating the customer like a human being and not a prospect or an account. Human beings have fears and vanities that are far from irrelevant and deserve attention.

  • Doing what you say you will do.

  • Following up to make sure that other members of your team did what they said they would do.

  • Listening for ways in which products and services can be improved.

  • Always being courteous and thanking the customer for being a customer.

  • Making the person feel important.

Quote of the Day

We are never living, but only hoping to live; and looking forward always to being happy, it is inevitable that we never are so.

- Pascal

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Culture of Repentance Update

Myron Magnet on an unusual dogma that infected poor neighborhoods in America and has become exemplified in gangsta rap. An excerpt:

It was cultural, not economic. Begun by the elites, vast changes reshaped mainstream attitudes in the 1960s. Sex became fine outside marriage, and illegitimacy lost its stigma. Drugs were cool; social authority and tradition weren't. America was deemed a racist, unjust society that victimized and impoverished blacks, who could rarely better their condition and who therefore deserved generous welfare benefits as reparations for past and present oppression. If blacks committed crime, the system that drove them to it, out of poverty or as an act of protest, was at fault: we shouldn't blame the victim, as the saying went—meaning the poor criminal, not his prey. Since people shape their actions according to the ideas and beliefs they hold, when these new attitudes reached the inner cities, what could result but an epidemic of social dysfunction?

Inequality and Happiness

Arthur C. Brooks on income inequality and what really brings happiness. An excerpt:

In one study, two-thirds of subjects said that they would be happier at a company where they earned $33,000 while their colleagues earned $30,000 than at one where they earned $35,000 while their colleagues earned $38,000. In another, 56 percent of participants chose a job paying $50,000 per year while everyone else earned $25,000, rather than a job paying $100,000 per year while others made $200,000—forgoing $50,000 per year simply to maintain a position of relative affluence.

"You can spit on freedom...."

The gracious Ayaan Hirsi Ali, being interviewed by an anti-American who seems oblivious to his bias.

[HT: Jonathan Wade]

Deal Making Fashion

The subtle strategies of dressing for deal making:

When the Allen Edmonds shoe company sought a controlling investor last year, a string of private-equity groups trooped through its Port Washington, Wis., headquarters. "When the buyers would come in, every single one of them would have brand-new Allen Edmonds on," says Mark Birmingham, the company's president. Then in walked the crew from Goldner Hawn Johnson & Morrison, an investment firm based in Minneapolis. "They had seven-year-old shoes on. They were customers," says Mr. Birmingham.

Guess who won the bidding.

Grapevine Metrics

Political Calculations has done the math on whether you should engage in gossip.

The Sushi Economy

Jet travel allows perishable goods to speed over oceans. Fishermen call in their catch across distant seas via satellite phone. Agents are able to sustain orders by quickly moving capital across currencies to out-of-the-way docks in developing countries.

As the world gets smaller, the selection in those glass cases gets bigger—and better. Nearly every business across the world has been in some way affected by the currents of global capitalism, but in few places are the complex dynamics of globalization revealed as clearly as in the tuna’s journey from the sea to the sushi bar.

In the sushi system, tuna is the trophy fish: the most demanded by diners, the one that is tested as a benchmark of a restaurant’s merit. A little over a generation ago, red tuna was worthless in most parts of the world, where an established market existed for it only as pet food, but the ability to make fresh tuna available to diners across long distances, and a newly acquired taste for fat among the Japanese changed all that. By the mid-1970s, it was common for a bluefin tuna caught in the Atlantic on a summer Sunday evening to be served for lunch in Tokyo on Wednesday. Over the course of the following two decades, the average price paid to Atlantic fishermen rose by 10,000 percent.

Read the rest of Sasha Issenberg on "The Sushi Economy" here.

Dark Top Five

George Fetherling gives his top five list of books about assassinations.

[After hearing a talk by the author, I recently picked up James L. Swanson's Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer.]

Wisdom's Limits

All's well that ends well. A more eloquent way of saying that the end justifies the means.

Don't just stand there, do something. Good stuff, but there are times when George Schulz's "Don't just do something, stand there" is better advice.

None of us is as smart as all of us. Correct. Often, all of us are dumber.

No pain, no gain. No pain, no pain.

Quote of the Day

In 1938, you could travel from New York to Chicago by train in 16 hours. Today on Amtrak the trip takes 21 hours. In the 1930s, Americans rerouted the Colorado River and built the Hoover Dam in 5 years. Boston's Big Dig - which rerouted 3.5 miles of highway - labored to official completion in 2006 after 15 years. The 1,472-foot Empire State Building was built in 410 days in the Depression. Construction of Philadelphia's tallest skyscraper, the 975-foot Comcast Center, began in January 2005 and isn't scheduled to be finished until this coming fall [of 2007].

- Jonathan V. Last

Friday, July 27, 2007

Roughing It

Back to the Caves

Strange but fascinating: If you want to learn about your most ancient ancestors, get prepared to use a cotton swab and deal with The Genographic Project.

Back in Town

FYI: After a fast and interesting time in California and Washington, I've returned to the desert.

I'll be quickly shifting into full consulting/teaching/blogging mode.

Role Playing

To what extent is the ability to play a role an essential part of a job?

Most jobs carry a certain number of stereotypes. Whether we are considering doctors, lawyers, professors, plumbers, truck drivers, or whatever, a certain expected image pops up. Some individuals who go against that image may brilliantly blaze a trail of their own and yet others may find that the expected image is not devoid of logic. It has been noted that if you look like a Hell's Angel and tell people you are an accountant, they won't believe you. Conversely, if you look like an accountant and tell them you're a Hell's Angel they also won't believe that.

Professional roles require a certain amount of superficial behavior for several reasons:

  1. They reassure followers and customers that the role-player's conduct will meet expectations.

  2. They provide a comfortable level of predictability.

  3. They give the role player an unwritten script with which to handle unexpected events; e.g., "This is how a professional [fill in the blank] is supposed to behave."

It is easy to regard role playing as phony or insincere. Those who ignore its benefits, however, need to create an alternative that possesses equally powerful positives.

Gilded Boorishness?

The gap between rich and poor is great, and there is plenty of want, and also confusion. What the superrich do for a living now often seems utterly incomprehensible, and has for at least a generation. There is no word for it, only an image. There's a big pile of coins on a table. The rich shove their hands in, raise them, and as the coins sift through their fingers it makes . . . a bigger pile of coins. Then they sift through it again and the pile gets bigger again.

A general rule: If you are told what someone does for a living and it makes sense to you--orthodontist, store owner, professor--that means he's not rich. But if it's a man in a suit who does something that takes him five sentences to explain and still you walk away confused, and castigating yourself as to why you couldn't understand the central facts of the acquisition of wealth in the age you live in--well, chances are you just talked to a billionaire.

Peggy Noonan elaborates on the relationship of "great wealth and lousy manners."

[My take: I don't think wealth has anything to do with it. Manners and the concept of nobleness receive far less attention than in the past.]

Quote of the Day

To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.

- Theodore Roosevelt

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Miscellaneous and Fast

Jeffrey Frank on a new novel in which office politics = murder.

Some directors who chose to resign rather than approve executive pay increases.

Seth Godin giveds an update on permission marketing.

Taylor Dinerman on Robert A. Heinlein's legacy.

Tim Berry on whether happy employees make good companies.

Elizabeth Brown Pryor on the secrets of Robert E. Lee.

Ali's Journey

Ayaan Hirsi Ali on her long road to America. An excerpt:

Then came 9/11! Muslims everywhere cheered. Not all cheered, but those who did made history. I took part in debates; I wrote op-ed articles. I argued that there was a link between the attacks and the failed assimilation of Muslims in Holland and in Europe. The suicide killers of New York and Washington were motivated by belief and not poverty. Education in civilization was the answer and the emancipation of women for the Dutch Muslims. For that I was threatened. My generous and naïve Dutch friends had no idea what to do. So they sent me to America. When I returned to Holland and to the parliament, I refused to adjust my message to the polls of the day and thus caused my party and the coalition some headache. The jihadi elements in society continued their threats. Meanwhile, Theo van Gogh, the nation's greatest provocateur, and I made a small film with verses from the Koran on women's bodies.

PC Bias

John McWhorter on how saying that creole is a less complicated language than Polish can get you labeled as racist. An excerpt:

I have similar experiences on the race punditry scene. At least once a day someone approaches me on the street. Often, they say they were prepared to loathe me, but that after reading one of my books they realized that I am sane. “I don’t agree with everything,” they usually say. But I’m not the Antichrist. Yet, while in linguistics, I find that it is relatively easy making people see that all I am doing is trying to make some sense, with race, it’s harder.

There are only a few thousand linguists, but countless millions of people interested in race. I can’t lecture personally to any but a sliver. And for every person who has bothered to read one of my books, there is another one who has heard some shard about me as “anti-Affirmative Action,” “hating rap,” “wanting black people to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.”

I have neither written nor said any of that. But those who think I did, reasonably, never put forth the effort to read my books. And why would they trawl through my opeds written over seven years?

The Extra Touches

As I recall, Toyota was the first car company to come up with a change holder in the glove box.

It was later described as an "Aha!" feature. I know people who showed me the inside of the glove box before discussing the rest of the car.

Some skeptics probably dismissed the idea as fluff and yet for many a prospective buyer, the little touch gave some very positive signals:

1. They know I need a convenient place for spare change. [They know me!]

2. They didn't have to put it in the car but they did. [They care about me!]

3. If they pay this much attention to a minor feature, they probably are real fanatics when it comes to the major ones. [What I can't see must be great!]

The little things, in short, aren't that little. Many an entrepreneur acts like a Maoist when it comes to product presentation; quickly dismissing extras as needless and costly distractions. There is a difference, however, between an item that gilds the lily and one that produces "Aha!"

It is a challenge all of us can face: How can we tweak a product or service so it becomes memorable?

Quote of the Day

It is simple to be happy but it is hard to be simple.

- Anonymous

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Management Navigation

A great many bad managers think of their work as the equivalent of a rocket launch. Punch in a few coordinates here and there, then push a button and, if their staff hasn't let them down, all should go well. [Note to NASA personnel: I know it is much more complicated.]

Good managers are inclined to regard their work as the captain of a ship. Storms and currents will move the ship off-course and it is the captain's job to adjust so, in the end, the destination is reached. A captain who announced at the beginning of a voyage that the proper course has been charted and so that question has been resolved would not be a captain for long nor would the person be thought of as rational.

Captains are expected to anticipate and handle storms and currents. A "fair weather" captain would be of little use. So too with managers. Workplace storms and currents are not enjoyable but they are part of the process and managers who accept that will have the foresight and flexibility to deal with them.

Quote of the Day

It is my contention that Aesop was writing for the tortoise market. Hares have no time to read.

- Anita Brookner

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Boss Rater

Evil HR Lady is not too keen on a "Rate my Boss" site.

I can understand her points. Such sites may well attract malcontents unless there is a method for getting a larger cross-section.

One safeguard: The malcontents usually overplay their hand and you can tell that they are unfair.

Don't Miss Jayber Crow

If you are ever in need for affirmation of the goodness of most people, read Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry.

The beautifully written story of a small town barber, Jayber Crow explores the value of a modest life well lived. I recommended it on this site years ago and recently, while having some discussions with my son on life, I was reminded of how Berry's novel had affected my own interpretation of true achievement.

Most novels contain unpleasant surprises. In Jayber Crow, you may be surprised when people do good things and yet afterwards conclude, "Yes, I have seen more of that in life than its opposite."

There are many fine people out there. Jayber Crow takes us into the life of one.

The Motive Mess

Dwight Eisenhower used to warn his associates to judge people by their actions and to avoid ascribing motives.

I'm reminded of Eisenhower's wisdom whenever I see individuals operating with a combination of good and selfish motives or thrashing about in a state of confusion as to what their true motives may be. If they are unclear, it is probably hopeless for the rest of us to attempt to guess what is behind their actions.

Ascribing motives wastes a considerable amount of time. I suspect the practice stems from a desire to blame instead of understand. This does not mean that nonjudgmentalism needs to be embraced. Shabby and evil actions can be called precisely that. Focusing on the actions, however, does open the door wider for reform. The person who acts poorly today may act wisely tomorrow. Such turnarounds can be far more difficult for the person whose deeper intentions are challenged.

Quote of the Day

I pity the fool.

- Mr. T

Monday, July 23, 2007

Anatomy of a Great Meeting

  1. A clear purpose.

  2. No more than 12 members. [Beyond that and it gets very strange. The personal dynamics become too complicated.]

  3. An agenda circulated in advance if it is a major meeting. If not, have everyone stand and limit the meeting to 10 minutes.

  4. Cover the easy items first to create a climate of cooperation and progress.

  5. Call on the senior people last and make sure they don't dominate the discussion.

  6. Identify items as Action items, Information items, and Analysis items. Make sure the Action items are completed.

  7. Unless there is an extraordinary reason, stick to the agenda and prevent detours.

  8. At the end of the meeting be crystal clear on specifically who (avoid the vague "we") will do exactly what ( both in quality and quantity) by precisely when (beware of "as soon as possible").

Quote of the Day

Rock stars! Is there anything they don't know?

- Homer Simpson

Sloth Blogger

Many apologies for the sparse postings. I've had wireless problems and a crazy schedule. [More on that later.]

Sunday, July 22, 2007

21 Things New Supervisors Should Do

  1. Have periodic discussions with your boss regarding the priorities of the job. Don't simply rely on your job description. Most job descriptions are obsolete within weeks of their creation.

  2. Learn what it takes to get fired in your organization.

  3. Study and gain an expertise in your responsibilities. If you are doing just enough to get by then some day you won't.

  4. Listen carefully to your subordinates. Odds are, many - if not all - of them know more about various aspects of the job than you do. Respect their level of expertise until they give you reason to think otherwise.

  5. Don't take yourself too seriously but require basic respect.

  6. Recognize that although your team may be very capable, you were placed in that job for a reason. You bring a perspective that the team may lack. Know what it is.

  7. Don't badmouth upper management to your team. It won't score points with either side.

  8. Shield your employees from unnecessary hassles from the outside.

  9. Make sure that your employees eat or rest before you do.

  10. Learn how to walk into a room and sense the morale of the occupants.

  11. Ignore trivial infractions unless they are linked to a major one and never ignore a major one.

  12. Act promptly to squelch factions.

  13. Avoid sarcasm. It will gain you little and may cost you much.

  14. Strive to build a workplace in which trust is the centerpiece. This requires both integrity and competence because without either then trust cannot be given.

  15. Evaluate all of your actions to determine whether they are merely superficial or are capable of making a real achievement.

  16. Give a sense of urgency to important tasks. If you don't convey it, where will it be found?

  17. It is nice to have both but, given the choice, pay less attention to form than to substance.

  18. Treat everyone with courtesy.

  19. Never permit turf concerns to overwhelm the concern for the mission.

  20. Don't tolerate bigots, bullies, and jerks.

  21. Lead by example. Always.

Quote of the Day

Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk; and now we stand by each other always.

- William Tecumsah Sherman on Ulysses S. Grant

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Gaining Control

If fear is driven by a lack - or perceived lack - of control, then what can be done to hold or regain control? Here are some strategies:

  1. Refuse to play power games that are stacked against you. Walk away.

  2. Don't let your inherent courtesy permit another to exert control over you.

  3. Buy time if you feel that you are on the verge of being manipulated.

  4. Develop a sizable zone of indifference to the feelings of scoundrels and to issues over which you have no control.

  5. Identify points that may be used as leverage against you. Eliminate them or reduce their potential impact.

  6. Avoid slippery roads; i.e. those occasions and projects where your control is likely to be reduced.

  7. Practice dealing with your classic fears and try mocking them. If necessary, get professional help.

  8. Review your priorities and jettison ones that are not truly your own.

  9. Don't permit nonethical values, such as success or popularity, to cause you to ignore or subvert ethical ones, such as honesty, caring, or fairness.

  10. Rein in your imagination. It can be a colossal fear-generator and most of those fears will never transpire. Put them on a scale of 1 to 10 and seriously evaluate the likelihood of them occuring. We often treat fears as if they are 9s and 10s when they are really 1s or 2s.

  11. Shun perfectionism. It is the enemy of reasonable control.

  12. Remember the old saying: This too shall pass.

Top Five on Artists

Saturday morning: Another top five list.

Meryle Secrest gives a five best list of books on artists.

Quote of the Day

The number of smart kids studying computer science peaked a few years ago and has dropped dramatically since. The number of new computer science majors today has fallen by half since 2000, according to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.

- Nick Schulz, writing in The American, July/August 2007

Friday, July 20, 2007

Best Commercials

Adfreak has the links to the commercials that are contenders for the Emmy for the best commercial of the year.

On the Road

I apologize for the sparse posting. Am on the road. [The usual road warrior excuses.]

Will pick up after I stop hallucinating about killer woodchucks.

Management Characteristics of the Powerful

Winston Churchill: "Action This Day" stickers and autocratic management.

John F. Kennedy: Collegial management and pragmatism.

Dwight Eisenhower: Formal hierarchy with hidden channels to gain unfiltered information.

Mahatma Gandhi: Weekly periods of silence.

Charles de Gaulle: Formal hierarchy combined with periodic semi-isolation.

George Marshall: A black book containing assessments of his colleagues.

Margaret Thatcher: Being better briefed than her subordinates on their specialties.

Jimmy Carter: Frequent micromanagement and absorption with detail.

Adolf Hitler: Dependent followers willing to create fantasy worlds rather than suspend belief in the leader.

Joseph Stalin: Management by terror.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: Intentional overlapping of assignments with the CEO at the hub of the organization.

Quote of the Day

As a novelist, I tell stories, and people give me money. Then financial planners tell me stories, and I give them money.

- Martin Cruz Smith

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Kind Executive

There might be a dissenter somewhere out there somewhere so I'll say that almost everyone likes Paul.

He is always friendly. He takes care of his team. He's a good listener, His high ethical standards are smoothly integrated into everything he does. He quietly achieves things and is willing to give credit to others.

I've never seen him playing power games or manipulating others. He's never pushed for recognition. His reputation has been that of a thoroughly reliable and thoughtful manager.

Paul was promoted to executive positions and he held several that were very challenging. He performed well in each of them. He should have been promoted even further but was not due to a promotion board that was grossly unappreciative of his accomplishments.

Paul was not soured by that setback. He never complained. He continued to work and help others as he had done before. I know what some of you are thinking. "He should have touted more of his achievements." "He failed to make political alliances."

That may be true. He is certainly smart enough to know about those options. He didn't completely neglect those strategies and yet I suspect there was a line that Paul decided not to cross, perhaps out of fear that if he did so he would stop being himself.

Paul is on my short list of one of the best leaders and most decent human beings I've ever encountered. He is far from being weak and yet sometimes I wonder, "Did the promotion board fall prey to the notion that Paul is too nice to be a chief executive officer?"

Happy or Successful? Chicken or Egg?

Research has shown that, far from leading to happiness, success is more often dependent on being happy first. Happy people do better work, forge stronger relationships, are more likeable, learn more, take more productive risks, have better health, and live longer. How is this not success? How is a life doing things that you dislike and don’t make you feel happy—and that cause you stress, pain, and frustration—going to lead to enormous happiness sometime in the future; aside, that is, from the pure joy you would get by ceasing to do it at all?Do you need wealth to be happy? If that is the case, most captains of industry should be delirious with joy all the time. I must say it doesn’t show.

Presentation Skills: Learning without Cloning

Rowan Manahan gives an insightful review of some advice on presentation skills and warns against too much imitation.

Quote of the Day

A practical business plan includes ten parts implementation for every one part strategy.

- Tim Berry

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Pirate Justice

Were pirate ships governed by unrestrained dictators?

But rules alone did not suffice. Pirates also needed to limit the risk that their leaders would put individual interests ahead of the interests of the ship. Most economists today would call this problem “self-dealing”; Leeson uses the term “captain predation.” Some pirates had turned to buccaneering after fleeing naval and merchant vessels, where the captain was essentially a dictator—“his Authority is over all that are in his Possession,” as one contemporary account had it. Royal Navy and merchant captains guaranteed themselves full rations while their men went hungry, beat crew members at their whim, and treated dissent as mutinous. So pirates were familiar with the perils of autocracy.

As a result, Leeson argues, pirate ships developed models that in many ways anticipated those of later Western democracies. First, pirates adopted a system of divided and limited power. Captains had total authority during battle, when debate and disagreement were likely to be both inefficient and dangerous. Outside of battle, the quartermaster, not the captain, was in charge—responsible for food rations, discipline, and the allocation of plunder. On most ships, the distribution of booty was set down in writing, and it was relatively equal; pirate captains often received only twice as many shares as crewmen. (Woodward writes that Privateer captains typically received fourteen times as much loot as crewmen.) The most powerful check on captains and quartermasters was that they did not hold their positions by natural right or blood or success in combat; the crew elected them and could depose them. And when questions arose about the rules that governed behavior on board, interpretation was left not to the captain but to a jury of crewmen.

Ethics and Great Products

To what extent are we ethically obligated to tell others about great products or services?

I own no stock in these companies and have no financial incentive but some products are so consistently excellent that they deserve recognition:

The Lesser Solution

In a discussion with some supervisors the other day, I was reminded that if you want to determine why a person engages in negative or self-destructive behavior, consider what problem is solved by that behavior.

Most people do not willingly engage in behavior that is clearly harmful to themselves. Many have convinced themselves that the negative behavior is preferable to its absence and that while some behavior may be an undeniable "evil," it is a lesser evil. The perceived greater evil is usually not admitted or mentioned and so the lesser evil is appears to be the only problem in the room.
For example, a supervisor who is indecisive and overly analytical may do so out of fear of being promoted to a job in which he or she is far less competent and could do far more harm. What others see as that person's problem is really a solution.

The individual may find the will to correct the situation but only after finding a reason to do so.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Tim Ferriss on creating a paperless office and never returning another phone call.

If you want an amusing read that eviscerates reality TV programs, don't miss Ben Elton's Dead Famous.

A watch with a simple concept.

CareerJournal gives signs that a job may be on the chopping block.

80 percent of the MBA programs launched in the past ten years have been outside of the United States.

Quote of the Day

Personally, I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.

- Winston Churchill

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Common Traits of Great Supervisors

Even if you are a seasoned supervisor, be sure to read all of this post from Wally Bock on how great supervisors do it. An excerpt:

I've found that something Leo Tolstoy said about families is also true of supervisors. Great supervisors are all alike; every bad supervisor is bad in his or her own way.

There are thousands of ways to do a bad job as a supervisor. But great supervisors do the same things in pretty much the same way. And if you learn to do them, you can get the results they get. Here's a list.

Great supervisors understand that they always have two jobs. One job is to accomplish your mission through the group. The other job is to care for your people. Great supervisors help people succeed as individuals and as a team.

Great supervisors understand the strengths and limits of their position. When you become a boss, you have less power than you did before because your performance is measured by the performance of your team. But you have far more influence.

Quote of the Day

No one can be right all of the time, but it helps to be right most of the time.

- Robert Half

Monday, July 16, 2007

Blissfully Uneducated

Victor Davis Hanson on therapeutic curricula:

The theme of all such therapeutic curricula is relativism. There are no eternal truths, only passing assertions that gain credence through power and authority. Once students understand how gender, race, and class distinctions are used to oppress others, they are then free to ignore absolute “truth,” since it is only a reflection of one’s own privilege.

By contrast, the aim of traditional education was to prepare a student in two very different ways. First, classes offered information drawn from the ages—the significance of Gettysburg, the characters in a Shakespeare play, or the nature of the subjunctive mood. Integral to this acquisition were key dates, facts, names, and terms by which students, in a focused manner in conversation and speech, could refer to the broad knowledge that they had gathered.

Second, traditional education taught a method of inductive inquiry. Vocabulary, grammar, syntax, logic, and rhetoric were tools to be used by a student, drawing on an accumulated storehouse of information, to present well-reasoned opinions—the ideology of which was largely irrelevant to professors and the university.

Video Resumes and Litigation

Could video resumes lead to greater vulnerability to discrimination cases?

Some lawyers think so.

"Just don't even deal with them," said Dennis Brown, an attorney in the San Jose, Calif., office of Littler Mendelson whose firm recently advised employers about the dangers of video resumés in a seminar. "My advice to my clients who have asked me about video resumes -- and I have had a lot of clients ask lately -- is do not accept, do not review video resumes."

Brown's main concern with video resumes is that they reveal information about a person's race, sex, disability, age -- all details that could wind up in a discrimination lawsuit.... "This is one of those instances where a little bit of unnecessary knowledge is dangerous." ...

Prevention versus Remedy

The Prevention versus Remedy debate has always fascinated me.

Those of us who are in the Prevention ranks can be baffled at the recklessness of the Remedy crowd. How can they sit around and wait to get clobbered by a crisis that anyone with basic vision can see is bearing down on us like a truck on a possum? How can they fail to take simple actions that will save loads of money and time down the road?

The Remedy people, however, have a defense. You Prevention types, they say, are world-class worriers. You would tie us up in drills for everything from earthquakes to hang-nails and, as a result, we'd get little done. The employees would spend part of the day looking over their shoulders, waiting for the End of Days, and the team would become demoralized and unproductive. Your perfectionism is paralyzing!

Those points, I believe, can be easily brushed aside as hyperbole, but the Remedy advocates also raise a more difficult argument when they mutter:

Besides, management favors the Remedy camp.

This is hard to dispute. Point out dangers on the horizon in some outfits and you are relegated to status of wimps, nay-sayers, and what my father's generations used to call Nervous Nellies. Favor "Action now!" and "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" and you'll score big time as a bold decision maker.

You can ascribe this to upper management's bias for action. I believe, however, that another bias is in play. Management likes crises. Dealing with a crisis is exciting, it frees us from monotony, and overcoming crises has made many a career. You seldom get promoted for avoiding a disaster, but all sorts of upward movement can come if you vigorously respond to a mess.

Which leads to some other questions: If crises are attractive and career-boosting, how often are they subconsciously produced? Is what the Prevention camp sees as madness really a method?

Air Travel Tips

Some road warriors have provided some practical tips and some nifty links on how to ease air travel.

Not Self-Absorbed

Lessons Learned from Setbacks

  1. Before embarking on a major project, list your key assumptions and then vigorously challenge them.

  2. Most fires are extinguished but a few simply go underground.

  3. Sensitivity is not always a virtue.

  4. Risk overcommunicating.

  5. With some issues, the continuing problem is the solution.

  6. Organizations either grow or rust and beware of mistaking expanding rust as growth.

  7. A simple action has more substance than the most eloquent promise.

  8. All projects have vital responsibilities and they need to be clearly assigned, not assumed.

  9. Quickly determine if anyone regards turf as more important than mission.

  10. Pay attention to your intuition.

Quote of the Day

The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order.

- Alfred North Whitehead

Sunday, July 15, 2007

When Anything is Art

Roger Kimball on the state of the art world. An excerpt:

Why is the art world a disaster? The prevalence of exhibitions like “Wrestle,” of collectors like Marieluise Hessel, of institutions like the Hessel Museum and Bard College help us begin to answer that question. Their very ordinariness enhances their value as symptoms. In part, the art world is a disaster because of that ordinariness: because of the popularization and institutionalization of the antics and attitudes of Dada. As W. S. Gilbert knew, when everybody’s somebody, nobody’s anybody. When the outré attitudes of a tiny elite go mainstream, only the rhetoric, not the substance, of the drama survives.

Hollywood and Terrorism

Writing in The Guardian, Nick Cohen on Hollywood's choice of terrorist villains:

The global mayhem since 9/11 has not affected film in America, nor television in Britain, to anything like the degree a reasonably well-informed media buff would have predicted on the day. Hollywood has produced documentaries, from Paul Greengrass's poignant United 93, which recaptures the uprising by passengers against their hijackers, to Michael Moore's seedy Fahrenheit 9/11, which portrays Saddam Hussein's Iraq as a happy land of playful children and blushing lovers. But when we turn to Hollywood fiction we find that the 'war on terror', or whatever it is we're meant to call it these days, has barely shown its face.

The absence is all the more perplexing because before 9/11, when there had been no serious Islamist assault on America, Middle Eastern villains were so common in films Hollywood faced plausible charges of anti-Arab racism. In Back to the Future, Executive Decision, True Lies and dozens of others, Arabs were off-the-peg bad guys. Yet after 9/11, the stereotypes weren't fleshed out with an all-too-real psychopathic ideology, but abandoned.

Phrases that Chill Customer Service

When "May I help you?" sounds more like "You don't belong here."

When "What is the problem?" implies that the customer is the problem.

When "It's against our policy" could have been uttered by a robot.

When a fifth hearing of the recorded line "Your call means a lot to us" sparks the thought: "Then why won't you take it?"

When "That's not my job!" really means "I'm not going to help you."

Tony, Carmela, and the Boys

Writing in Commentary, Benjamin A. Plotinsky explores the appeal of The Sopranos. An excerpt:

The Sopranos, created and produced by David Chase (The Rockford Files, Northern Exposure), has done far more than change the lexicon. Probably no series in the history of television has garnered more extravagant praise. The Chicago Tribune calls it “the most influential television drama ever”; Vanity Fair, closely echoed by papers like the Detroit Free Press and the Dallas Morning News, sees it simply as “the greatest show in TV history”; upping the ante, the New York Times has judged that The Sopranos “may be the greatest work of American popular culture of the last quarter-century.” The industry has agreed, showering the series with Emmys, Golden Globes, and Peabodys.

How to explain this phenomenal success? Begin with the main characters—outsized but believable, grotesque but familiar, each a unique concoction of lusts, ambitions and, above all, lies. The main character is, of course, the mob boss Tony Soprano, who at the start of every episode drives west out of Manhattan through the Lincoln Tunnel. While the opening credits roll, the sequence takes Tony down the New Jersey Turnpike, past Newark Airport and the industrial wasteland of northern Jersey, into run-down Newark—we see the old butcher shop where Tony’s thugs congregate, and also a tiny boxlike pizza store—and then past rows of modest houses that eventually give way to a lushly forested road. The sequence ends as Tony pulls into the driveway of his suburban McMansion, gets out of his SUV with a scowl, and slams the door shut.

Quote of the Day

If your father is Japanese and your mother is Korean and you lived in Taiwan and then your parents got divorced, moved to Los Angeles and your father took up with the Filipino woman next door and married her - well, that's almost like being Asian American.

- Elliot Kang

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Survival Tips

National Geographic Adventure on how to survive almost anything. An excerpt:

A few years ago I was flying my airplane to the Door County peninsula in Wisconsin on a beautiful summer day. From the cockpit I surveyed the bluffs and the farmland, which sloped in waves of green, dotted with white cows, all the way down to the shore of Lake Michigan. As I slipped north past Sheboygan and Two Rivers, I became vaguely aware that the sky in the distance looked different from the rest of the big blue sky. It was dark. Very dark.During my pre-flight briefing, there had been no mention of bad weather. I had reviewed my plan for the flight, as I always do, and created a mental model of how the trip was going to unfold. That dark patch of sky simply didn't fit into my model, so I ignored it. I continued flying, despite the far-off voice in my head telling me what my father, a former combat pilot, always used to say about the weather: If it looks bad, it is bad.

Great Moments in Advertising

Sci Fi Turns Thriller

Wired has the story of how the CIA used a fake science fiction movie to help some Americans escape from Iran:
He was stuck. For about a week, no one in Washington or Ottawa could invent a reason for anyone to be in Tehran. Then Mendez hit upon an unusual but strangely credible plan: He'd become Kevin Costa Harkins, an Irish film producer leading his preproduction crew through Iran to do some location scouting for a big-budget Hollywood epic. Mendez had contacts in Hollywood from past collaborations. (After all, they were in the same business of creating false realities.) And it wouldn't be surprising, Mendez thought, that a handful of eccentrics from Tinseltown might be oblivious to the political situation in revolutionary Iran. The Iranian government, incredibly, was trying to encourage international business in the country. They needed the hard currency, and a film production could mean millions of US dollars.

Bastille Day

Troops from 27 European nations marched in today's Bastille Day parade.

No Sanctuary

Computers at home. Computers at work.

There is no sanctuary.

The line between work and personal life has been erased and, in most cases, work has prevailed.

This becomes worse if you are also tied to a cell phone or a BlackBerry. I leave my cell phone on when I'm on the road far more than I used to but seldom make calls on it. A large percentage of cell phone users remind me of an old Bill Cosby routine about the swimming coach who described all of his activities. "Now I am getting onto the diving board. Now I am walking to the end of the board." I hear people on cell phones telling their family that they are five minutes away from their house. Now it's two minutes. Now one.

Make things exciting. Just show up.

We've escaped the rigidity of a structured and set work schedule and jumped into a much looser but constant one. There's no boundary saying that you should be working now but there's also no boundary saying when it's time to play. For those few who are natural sloths, this is liberating. The rest have quietly drifted from an eight hour work day to a 12 or 15 hour one. I recall one manager fretting that if he let his employees telecommute, they'd goof off. Not so, I assured him. That old work ethic/crack addiction will kick in and they'll work even harder.

Find the work you love, the old advice went, and get someone to pay you for it. The new version seems to be a science experiment: Take what appears to be more leisure time, mix in some work, let it simmer for a few weeks, and then try to discover what happened to the leisure time.

The Good Old Days

Writing in The New Yorker, David Sedaris looks at homes, furniture, and nostalgia. An excerpt:

When it came to decorating her home, my mother was nothing if not practical. She learned early on that children will destroy whatever you put in front of them, so for most of my youth our furniture was chosen for its durability rather than for its beauty. The one exception was the dining-room set, which my parents bought shortly after they were married. Should a guest eye the buffet for longer than a second, my mother would notice and jump in to prompt a compliment. “You like it?” she’d ask. “It’s Scandinavian!” This, we learned, was the name of a region—a cold and forsaken place where people stayed indoors and plotted the death of knobs.

Abolish the SAT?

Charles Murray wants to abolish the SAT. [Loud cheers from countless high school students.]

An excerpt:

The evidence has become overwhelming that the SAT no longer serves a democratizing purpose. Worse, events have conspired to make the SAT a negative force in American life. And so I find myself arguing that the SAT should be ended. Not just deemphasized, but no longer administered. Nothing important would be lost by so doing. Much would be gained.

Quote of the Day

The unfortunate thing about this world is that good habits are so much easier to give up than bad ones.

- Somerset Maugham

Friday, July 13, 2007

April 1865

If you would be interested in a fascinating book on the end and aftermath of the American Civil War, be sure to check out Jay Winik's April 1865: The Month That Saved America.

Beautifully written, the book contains compelling portraits of Lincoln, Grant, and Lee and the leadership skills of each. An excerpt:

At the military academy, Grant discovered that a clerk had mistakenly written down his name as "Ulysses Simpson Grant," and instead of insisting on a correction, the insecure Grant just shrugged his shoulders and submissively accepted it as his own. He was an unremarkable cadet ("a military life holds no charms for me," he lamented, "and I had not the faintest idea of staying in the army even if I should be graduated, which I didn't expect"), who read romantic novels rather than study hard, could never quite keep in step with the rhythm of marching or compare with the stylish demeanor of the more refined Eastern and Southern boys, and actually prayed that a resolution introduced in Congress to abolish West Point would pass. Contrary to his worst fears, though, he did graduate, but only a lackluster twenty-first in a class of thirty-nine, and he later failed to get the cavalry duty he so argently wanted.

Homer Simpson: Poster Boy

Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University Medical School has some thoughts on the obesity issue whether it is really a public health crisis:

What distinguishes a public health crisis from a large-scale private health crisis? The public health literature offers—no surprise—an expansive definition of a public health crisis. In that literature, a public health crisis arises whenever any undesirable health state becomes sufficiently widespread. By this standard, all private health issues are public, and the personal is by definition political.

The problem with this approach is that it collapses a vital distinction between diseases and health conditions that harm the health and well-being of others, and conditions that adversely affect only those with the condition. A sharp increase in the prevalence of a dangerous infectious disease like tuberculosis is no doubt a public health emergency, but the same is not true for an increase in back pain. In the case of tuberculosis, drastic public actions, including quarantines and forced treatment, may be justified; in the case of back pain, such actions would be wildly inappropriate.

A wide range of unhealthy behaviors could be framed in similar fashion. Smoking, skydiving, salting our food, motorcycling, freeway driving, and sleeping too little (to name a few) are all behaviors that increase our risk of illness or worse. If an increased risk of illness is all it takes to transform these behaviors into public health crises, then the government has a broad license to limit our freedom to do many potentially unhealthy things. Concentrating public health efforts on behaviors that hurt others, not just ourselves, lets us choose behaviors that make us happy while limiting the damage to others. If smoking causes secondhand damage, then it is a public health concern. If overeating brings only private costs, it is not.

The Road Less Traveled

According to this article in CareerJournal, more people are pressing for less business travel.

Apparently, canceled flights, cramped seating, airport hot dogs, hotel mattresses, and bouncing back and forth between time zones don't have the appeal they once did.

Vulture City

I really don't know what the problem is with this property and the realtor should get special credit for looking on the bright side.

[HT: Adfreak ]

50 Forms of Dysfunctional Behavior in the Workplace

  1. Declaring war on a person or department..

  2. Withdrawing assistance.

  3. Hiding resources or information.

  4. Frequent and senseless reorganizations.

  5. Pouting.

  6. Focusing on turf instead of the greater good.

  7. Taking undue credit.

  8. Misrepresenting another's position.

  9. Staying in the job when it is time to leave.

  10. Seeking undeserved promotions.

  11. Being careless about quality.

  12. Backbiting.

  13. Gossiping.

  14. Letting personal problems overwhelm effectiveness.

  15. Treating everyone in exactly the same manner.

  16. Engaging in bigoted behavior.

  17. Using hiring quotas.

  18. Refusing to establish procedures.

  19. Being a slave to procedures.

  20. Failing to take initiative.

  21. Listening only to what is said and not to what is meant.

  22. Failing to maintain confidentiality.

  23. Bullying.

  24. Pretending to work.

  25. Disloyalty.

  26. Confusing what is good for you with what is good for the organization.

  27. Filtering bad news.

  28. Squandering time.

  29. Mistaking abusive behavior for toughness.

  30. Constantly giving alibis.

  31. Failing to confront.

  32. Excessive fear of change.

  33. Perfectionism.

  34. Smugness.

  35. Hubris.

  36. Shooting the messenger.

  37. Excessive upward delegation.

  38. Rewarding "face time" over actual performance.

  39. Undue emphasis on speed.

  40. Lack of intellectual diversity.

  41. Emphasizing equal results instead of equal opportunity.

  42. Overpromising and underperforming.

  43. Managing to the dysfunctional.

  44. Paralysis by analysis.

  45. Management by best seller.

  46. Unfriendliness.

  47. Reinventing the wheel.

  48. Undue emphasis on results.

  49. Inaccessibility.

  50. Ascribing bad motives.

Investigating: Who Should

The New York Employment Law Letter has some good advice on who should conduct internal investigations.

One bit of advice I give to clients: When people come in to file an internal discrimination complaint, give them an information sheet describing where else they can file; e.g. federal and state enforcement agencies. It provides a service to the employee, enhances credibility, and sends the signal that you are not afraid of outside scrutiny.

Widget Scramble

Business Week examines whether widgets will be the next revolution:

In the Web world, widgets are modules of software that people can drag and drop onto the personal page of their social network or onto a blog. There, widgets typically look like a little window or box, packing a bit of the functionality that you would get with a stand-alone Web site or software package. The result can be as mundane as the WeatherBug, or a YouTube clip of your favorite video of a bulldog riding a skateboard, or your wish list from online jewelry retailer Blue Nile (NILE ).

But widgets also can be storefront windows for selling products and services or digital billoards to which customized ads can be affixed. Create one that plays your favorite song and it can send visitors through to Amazon.com (AMZN ) to buy the band's album. Random House Inc. has a widget that lets you click through to buy new book releases from the company's online store. You might even share a slice of the proceeds.

Quote of the Day

Hasten slowly.

- Augustus Caesar

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Professors, Sex, and Reality

Daniel W. Drezner on why so many novels portray professors who sleep with students and why there will never be a reality show about academia. An excerpt illustrating the excitement of his typical workday:

9:00 A.M.: Dan turns on computer.
9:01 A.M.: Dan checks e-mail.
9:10 A.M.: Dan surfs news sites.
9:30 A.M.: Dan considers writing referee report that was due ten days ago; decides it's better tackled after lunch.
9:31 A.M.: Dan opens up Word document containing manuscript du jour and stares blankly at it for a while.
9:41 A.M.: Dan decides that he's really itching to work on the other manuscript du jour, because this is where his mind is wandering. He opens up that document and stares blankly at it for a while.
9:51 A.M.: On a good day, Dan gets a small piece of inspiration that he quickly converts into a paragraph of prose that will buttress his thesis.
9:56 A.M.: Dan scratches his ass.

[HT: Instapundit ]

Once Upon a Time in the Workplace

An overheard exchange:

"Don't disturb him."

"Is he working?"

"No, he's thinking."

The Daily Overwhelm Myself List

The Importance of Presentations

The new CEO wanted the key staff to brief him on their areas of responsibility. We each had approximately 10 to 15 minutes to speak and a short time to prepare.

The CEO was not a warm fellow so most of the speakers were nervous. They had reason to be. Shortly after the briefings, all who had not pleased him were gone; transferred to other locations. One executive later reported from "Siberia" that his new job was so meaningless that it was three weeks before anything landed in his in-box.

The exercise illustrated the importance of presentations. One of the most knowledgeable executives was moved because he talked far too much. If he'd cut his presentation by one-third he might have survived.

His rambling gave the appearance that he didn't understand the priorities of his job. The trivial was mixed in with the crucial. It may be that the CEO concluded, "If he speaks this way, he probably thinks this way."

All of which leads to some questions that we all might consider on a daily basis:

  • If you had a short period of time to brief someone on your responsibilities, how good of a job would you do?

  • Would you have the priorities clearly identified or would you ramble?

  • Would you be able to state in one clear sentence why it is in the best interests of the organization that you should be kept on?

Climate Engineering

Writing in The Wilson Quarterly, James R. Fleming looks at the field of climate engineering. An excerpt:

Wood advanced several ideas to “fix” the earth’s climate, including building up Arctic sea ice to make it function like a planetary air conditioner to “suck heat in from the ­mid­latitude heat bath.” A “surprisingly practical” way of achieving this, he said, would be to use large artillery pieces to shoot as much as a million tons of highly reflective sulfate aerosols or ­specially ­engineered nanoparticles into the Arctic stratosphere to deflect the sun’s rays. Delivering up to a million tons of material via artillery would require a constant ­bombardment—­basically declaring war on the strato­sphere. Alternatively, a fleet of B-747 “crop dusters” could deliver the particles by flying continuously around the Arctic Circle. Or a 25-kilometer-­long sky hose could be tethered to a military superblimp high above the planet’s surface to pump reflective particles into the ­atmosphere.

Far-fetched as Wood’s ideas may sound, his weren’t the only Rube Goldberg proposals aired at the meeting. Even as they joked about a NASA staffer’s apology for her inability to control the temperature in the meeting room, others detailed their own schemes for manipulating earth’s climate. Astronomer J. Roger Angel suggested placing a huge fleet of mirrors in orbit to divert incoming solar radiation, at a cost of “only” several trillion dollars. Atmospheric scientist John Latham and engineer Stephen Salter hawked their idea of making marine clouds thicker and more reflective by whipping ocean water into a froth with giant pumps and eggbeaters. Most frightening was the science-fiction writer and astrophysicist Gregory Benford’s announcement that he wanted to “cut through red tape and demonstrate what could be done” by finding private sponsors for his plan to inject diatomaceous ­earth—­the ­chalk­like substance used in filtration systems and cat ­litter—­into the Arctic stratosphere. He, like his fellow geoengineers, was largely silent on the possible unintended consequences of his plan.

Quote of the Day

The palest ink is better than the best memory.

- Chinese proverb

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Porn Star Names: The Litigation

An aspiring porn star decides to pick a "stage" name. As part of it, she selects the middle and last names of one of her former classmates in high school.

[You can't make this stuff up.]

Her fame grows and the former classmate, possibly with an eye on how some day this might affect her chances for a Supreme Court nomination, is not amused.

Naturally, lawyers are now involved.

First, Hire Grace Kelly

Okay, so you couldn't afford film school. Here's some Hitchcock 101.

[HT: kottke ]

Marketing and the Internet

Writing in Inc., Liz Webber examines a survey of business owners and their attitudes toward the Internet.

My antennae are up on that one. Just some natural suspicion that the responses may not reflect their true feelings.

Mission Statements

I was talking to a manager the other day about mission statements. Most are bunk. A great many are posted and wisely forgotten. Many are too academic or verbose.

In my book, it is better to have no mission statement than to have a mediocre one.

Ruling out the ones that I've written for clients - each of those, of course, has the silver-tongued eloquence of Demosthenes - my favorite is that of the Phoenix Fire Department:

Prevent harm - Survive - Be nice

Are there any mission statements that you love?

Religious Accommodation Update

An airline tells its flight attendants not to talk to some monks.

Then backs off.

[HT: Lou Rodarte ]

The Longevity of New Yorkers

New Yorkers are living longer than other Americans and the reason may be...drugs?

China on the Horizon

Whether desirable or not, China is rising: Try to spend a day shopping without coming home with Chinese-made products. Adopt a baby and it may well be from China. Asian-American students comprise 50 percent or more of the student body at numerous American colleges. China’s GDP quadrupled in Deng Xiaoping’s two decades from 1978 to 1992. Since then it has been growing even faster at 10-11 percent per year. Foreign trade increased tenfold during Deng’s reign. China’s economic advance has led to military expansion, diplomatic sophistication, a relentless quest for markets, enormous oil consumption, an enhanced capacity to import and swelling nationalism.

What is China trying to do and to be? As a free society, America trumpets its goals. By contrast, China tends to hide its goals. Its stated aims are peace and development. Its real aims are to sustain its economic growth, have a tranquil set of borders for that purpose (China has 14 borders), eclipse the United States in East Asia and regain “lost” territory. (Taiwan is only one of the territories that, because the Chinese emperor once possessed it, the Chinese government believes should return to China.) While Beijing does enormous business with us, it regularly launches anti-American diatribes. And while it advocates a world free of arms, it has lined up 800 missiles opposite Taiwan.

It Depends

There are people in the workplace who would use mood rings as management guides if they could get away with it. The desire for a clear, mechanical, device to take the place of hard decision making is understandable and just as wrong. Consider how these bits of management wisdom need to be qualified:

Manage by wandering around. Not if you're a micromanager who lowers morale and initiative every time you wander near the employees.
Be candid and direct. Not if you destroy crucial relationships by doing so.

Be caring. Not if the other person needs "tough love."

Be decisive. Not if the decision is significant and irreversible and you haven't done basic analysis.

Focus on results. Not if doing so will produce greater problems and create an "Anything goes" mentality.

Pick the person with the most impressive credentials. No, pick the most qualified person. They're not always the same.

Seek to achieve the most. Only if "the most" means the highest priorities.

Devote most of your time to your "vision." No, most of your time should go to establishing systems and watching out for the details that can ambush progress.