Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Instead of curling up with a book or watching The Nightmare Before Christmas, I'm on candy distributing duty tonight.

That means dealing with the hordes.

Last year, more than 200 kids came to our door. That is no exaggeration. Apparently, our home is in a Halloween Hot Zone. Vans bring in children and drop them off. Small kids, big kids, and kids who should have given up Treat or Treating several Halloweens ago come by seeking loot. We turn no one away until the candy is gone and since my earnest goal is to get these calories out of the house, I'm half-way tempted to empty it all into the sacks of the first three tricksters.

But, to quote Richard Nixon, that would be wrong.

Car Dreams or Car Nightmares?

Will there be a "car of the future?"

Elizabeth Kolbert, writing in The New Yorker, reviews a book that may both encourage and frighten. An excerpt:

Consider what’s happening in India and China. As Carson and Vaitheeswaran point out, car ownership in both countries has been and still remains, by U.S. standards, almost absurdly low. There are nine personal vehicles per thousand eligible drivers in China and eleven for every thousand Indians, compared with 1,148 for every thousand Americans. But incomes in the two countries are rising so rapidly—the Chinese economy grew by eleven per cent last year and is expected to grow by the same amount this year—that millions of vehicleless families will soon be in a position to buy automobiles. Assuming that incomes continue to rise, in a few years tens of millions of families will be buying their first cars, and eventually hundreds of millions. (To satisfy increasing demand in India, the country’s second-largest auto manufacturer, Tata Motors, is set to start producing a four-door known as the one-lakh car—a lakh is a hundred thousand rupees—that will sell for the equivalent of twenty-five hundred dollars.) Were China and India to increase their rates of car ownership to the point where per-capita oil consumption reached just half of American levels, the two countries would burn through a hundred million additional barrels a day. (Currently, total global oil use is eighty-six million barrels a day.) Were they to match U.S. consumption levels, they would require an extra two hundred million barrels a day. It’s difficult to imagine how such enormous quantities of oil could be found, but, if they could, the result would be catastrophe. “Just consider the scale of the potential problem—for instance, the effect on global warming of seven hundred and fifty million more cars in India and China, belching carbon dioxide,” Carson and Vaitheeswaran write.

HR Carnival

The latest Carnival of HR, with its collection of Human Resources-related posts, is up at HRO Manager.

Worth checking out!

The "Acting Director"

Being named as the Acting Director of an operation can be both a curse and a blessing.

On one hand, you have the power - at least most of it - to demonstrate your skills and if you are interested in becoming the permanent director, you'll have an advantage over your rivals. On the other hand, since you are in an acting capacity, your power may not be seen as full and some individuals and departments may not provide complete support or cooperation because of what they regard as your quasi-lame duck status. You have the opportunity to succeed but you also have the chance to screw things up.

My advice is to act as if you are indeed the director but to refrain from pressing the question of when the ultimate selection for the job will be decided. Time is on your side. The longer upper management procrastinates on filling the position, the stronger you will be. You'll have a greater list of accomplishments while in that job; you'll have built up better relationships with other key players in the organization while in that position; and people will begin to think of you as the real director and not simply as an acting one. This latter point has the added benefit of scaring off potential rivals who will interpret management's delay as a signal that the folks at the top plan on naming you anyway and that any outreach efforts will be simply pro forma.

The worst thing you can do, aside from creating a disaster or picking fights, is to drift. You've been given a grand opportunity and if all you are doing is simple office maintenance, management will have a legitimate reason to question your creativity and your judgement. See which procedures can be streamlined, survey your internal and external customers on ways to improve your area, talk to employees about things they'd like to see changed (and those which they hope won't be altered), form new networks to increase professionalism or increase the unit's profile, etc.

In short, show them that you are a serious performer.

Go out of your way to avoid conflicts with your new peers. Management hates fights and you'll be at a disadvantage both in status and in knowledge of the personalities. Your goal is to be perceived as both creative and reliable, not as a disruptive radical or an immature player.
Be friendly and reasonable. Erase any tendency to be sarcastic. Save your wilder ideas for a better time, such as after you've landed the job. In the meantime, your job is to reassure upper management that the job is in good hands, matters are under control, and you have the social and political skills to succeed at a higher level.

Now is the time to be at the top of your game.

Don't plan on showing them what you are capable of after you've gotten the job.

Do it now.

Quote of the Day

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.

- Albert Einstein

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Protecting Your People

In the standard workplace, one of the basic responsibilities of leaders is to put themselves between their followers and upper managers who are abusive or unreasonable.

This can be a challenge since the upper managers who are most likely to cause problems are also the least likely to be responsive to common courtesy and common sense. The unpleasant nature of those characters, however, does not reduce - indeed it increases - the leader's obligation to shield followers.

Some strategies to consider are:

Increase the information flow. If the interrupter is a micromanager, the disruption may come from a desire for information and an assurance that things are getting done. A short status report in the morning and late afternoon may placate those concerns and reduce the tendency to interfere.

Have a direct talk. Tell the upper manager that you want him or her to deal with you directly if a matter or person needs to be corrected. If you are going to be out of the office for several days, designate your temporary replacement as the contact point. Stress the importance that you place on your being the person to correct matters and how going around you reduces your authority.

Distinguish between the event and the reaction. Train your employees in how to deal with difficult people, be they customers or upper management. Note that while they may not be able to control the event (the unpleasant behavior), they can control their reaction so their behavior is always thoroughly professional.

Post and advertise your values. Make "Respect" one of the key values. Let upper management know that you are stressing that with your employees and that it will help if the upper managers exemplify that value.

Will these approaches be fool/jerk-proof? No way. But they can mitigate the effect of unpleasant people while showing your associates that you are not indifferent to their treatment. If the behavior goes above garden variety obnoxiousness, you should seek redress further up the chain of command. There may be a risk in doing so, but that's why you're a leader.
Leaders take risks to protect their people.

Bad Sell

Valeria Maltoni on the world's worst seller.

[I think I may have spoken with him.] An excerpt:

All without once, not even for a minute, listening to and internalizing what I was saying. I ended the call with the request for more information to share with my team. Information I have not received. Sadly, this was his version of lead generation – pushy, unkind, and one-way. A conversation it most certainly was not.

Now, I have no problem with sales professionals. I think they are very special people – it takes patience, resiliency and ability to adapt to be in sales. Today, it also takes a generous reserve of emotional intelligence. If this is your sales team, pull them off the phones and teach them some manners.

[HT: Tim Berry ]

Orson's Invasion

On this day in 1938, Martians landed in New Jersey.


Computer and/or Blogger problems.

Bear with me.

Quote of the Day

To attract men, I wear a perfume called New Car Interior.

- Rita Rudner

Monday, October 29, 2007


The public-relations firm hosts an annual Black and Orange Bash, a party of socializing and networking for its staff and clients. There is usually musical entertainment and novelties such as fortune tellers or temporary-tattoo artists; this year, an artist will be drawing caricatures, said Linda Clarke, executive vice president for the firm, based in the San Francisco Bay area.

Yet you're not going to find the 200 attendees mingling in creative Halloween costumes, Ms. Clarke said. The party attire is simple and direct: Wear orange and black.

"You never know what you're going to get," Ms. Clarke said, referring to the creative -- and sometimes office-inappropriate -- costumes that adults might wear. Plus, she said, making a costume mandatory might make some people uncomfortable and turn the invitation down.

Read the rest of Amy Houk's article on how some organizations celebrate Halloween at work.

Chicken Man

It is Monday. I'm on the road. And you are longing for a classic essay from Calvin Trillin on the history of the Buffalo chicken wing. An excerpt:

Fortunately, the actual moment that Buffalo chicken wings were invented has been described by Frank Bellissimo and his son, Dom, with the sort of rich detail that any historian would value; unfortunately, they use different details. Frank Bellissimo is in his eighties now, and more or less retired; he and his wife, Teressa, are pretty much confined to an apartment above the Anchor Bar. According to the account he has given many times over the years, the invention of the Buffalo chicken wing came about because of a mistake—the delivery of some chicken wings instead of the backs and necks that were ordinarily used in making spaghetti sauce. Frank Bellissimo thought it was a shame to use the wings for sauce. “They were looking at you, like saying, ‘I don’t belong in the sauce,’ ” he has often recalled. He implored his wife, who was doing the cooking, to figure out some more dignified end for the wings. Teressa Bellissimo decided to make some hors d’oeuvres for the bar—and the Buffalo chicken wing was born.

Quote of the Day

There is in all a strong disposition to believe that anything lawful is also legitimate. This belief is so widespread that many persons have erroneously held that things are "just" because the law makes them so.

- Frederic Bastiat

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Over Tibet and Onward

It was a sleeping carriage, the start of a run east. Tomorrow I would cross the border to Nepal on foot. Then on to Kathmandu. Then Lhasa. Then over Tibet and onward, sometimes west and always north, to places unknown. Tonight the train was jostling, hot, full of brilliant Indian colors and smells, the famous synesthesia of the subcontinent, too much of everything. The cabin had four bunks. The pair on the right were occupied by a Brahmin couple, having their feet kissed in farewell by their adult children. And on the bunk below mine, what had to be perfect luck: a Buddhist monk, his elegant robes dark mustard, his disposition affable.

One is enjoined to seek, on the road to the hidden kingdom, the blessing and advice of wise monks, and around midnight, after rubbing menthol all over himself, this learned man listened to my plan. I was setting out on the ancient pilgrimage route to Shambhala, I told him, to seek the king and paradise here on earth. I was afraid, I said. Did he have any advice?

Read the rest of Patrick Symmes's account of his journey to Shambhala.

Business Travel: Unconventional Tips

My training schedule has been crazy lately and a few out-of-town trips have sparked a review of what should go into travel planning. The standard tips can be found in many places, but minor, unconventional, practices that have paid off can be just as important in the short-term.

For example, I've found that taking my own pillow has saved me from many a restless night wrestling with some foam monstrosity provided by the hotel.

And those little packets of crackers with cheese or peanut butter that have enough preservatives to survive a nuclear war? They can be easily slipped into a travel bag or briefcase. When the schedule gets tight, they can turn into breakfast.

Use your flight time to sort out business reading. Take along several business magazines and then rip out the articles you want to read. Toss the rest of the magazines as you get off the plane. You've lightened your load and focused your reading.

Any others?

"R" Here, But Not Later

Deceptive advertising?

You may find an R-rated trailer for a film but the scenes shown on the Internet probably won't make it to the movie theater.

What have they done to Grendel's mom?

[HT: Adfreak ]

The Know It All

A classic response to the following letter:

Hi Prudence,

I'm an office manager at a very small company, where I work with three other girls. In short, I am much smarter than my co-workers. When one of them asks a dumb question (i.e., "What's so bad about Fox News?"), I try to be sensitive and explain without making them feel stupid. Sometimes, though, I get very frustrated, and it's difficult to hold my tongue. Yesterday, my co-worker's sister came in to visit and announced shamelessly that she had never heard of Craigslist. After she left, I exclaimed to my other co-workers, "I can't believe she's never heard of Craigslist!" My co-workers defended her, saying they had never heard of Craigslist until they moved to New York City. I find this preposterous. I didn't say anything else because I didn't want to come off as a snob (which is probably how I'm coming off in this e-mail; my apologies). How does one handle working with people like this? I could keep my mouth shut and go with the flow, but it makes me feel dumb when I don't speak up—I feel that if I don't acknowledge their stupidity, then I'm not doing my duty as an informed young woman.

Quote of the Day

We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity.

- Rejection slip from a Chinese economic journal, quoted in The Financial Times

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Oh, Really?

Brandon Keim at Wired fills us in on the latest, greatest, self-evident scientific findings.

Smarter, Not Harder

So I'm well-disposed to the laconic. Seated next to Calvin Coolidge, a lady supposedly said to him, "Mr. President, my friend bet me you wouldn't say three words to me." Coolidge replied: "You lose." We want the story to be true because his conversational stinginess reflects his belief in parsimonious government: he was a magnificent tax-cutter, and he vetoed hugely popular farm-subsidy bills on the grounds that, "if the government gets into business on any large scale, we soon find that the beneficiaries attempt to play a large part in the control. While in theory it is to serve the public, in practice it will be very largely serving private interests. It comes to be regarded as a species of government favour, and those who are the most adroit get the larger part of it."

Read the rest of Mark Steyn on the virtues of laconic leadership.

Dumber Than Ever?

My friend often summarizes for me what he sees, firsthand, every day and every month, year in and year out, in his classroom. He speaks not merely of the sad decline in overall intellectual acumen among students over the years, not merely of the astonishing spread of lazy slackerhood, or the fact that cell phones and iPods and excess TV exposure are, absolutely and without reservation, short-circuiting the minds of the upcoming generations. Of this, he says, there is zero doubt.

Nor does he speak merely of the notion that kids these days are overprotected and wussified and don't spend enough time outdoors and don't get any real exercise and therefore can't, say, identify basic plants, or handle a tool, or build, well, anything at all. Again, these things are a given. Widely reported, tragically ignored, nothing new.

No, my friend takes it all a full step — or rather, leap — further. It is not merely a sad slide. It is not just a general dumbing down. It is far uglier than that.

Dangerous Beliefs

Beliefs that are more optimistic than realistic can cloud your vision and harm your career. Here are a few:

Job requirements have been carefully analyzed and established. Not so. For many positions the most accurate part of the job description is "Other duties as assigned."

Organizations want the best qualified person for the job. Wrong. They want a reasonably qualified person who is trustworthy, will get along with others, and won't cost too much.

Procedures must always be followed. Part of career success consists of determining where this rule applies. Many procedures are routinely ignored with no repercussions.

People admire candor. People may admire candor but they love discretion.

You should carefully consider how you would react if a colleague behaved in a particular manner toward you. No, you should carefully consider how others - not you - will regard your behavior. Your standard is not the only one.

If you produce great work, that will inevitably be acknowledged. If only that were true. In reality, the only thing you can be sure of is that if you produce great work, then you have produced great work. On the other hand, reliability often trumps brilliance.

It's not what you know, it's who you know. It's both. Contacts may get you in the door but they won't keep you in the room.

If you are technically proficient, you can let your people skills slide. In some jobs, that is true, but those occasions are becoming increasing rare.

Organizations have clear paths of progression for all jobs. Unfortunately, there are some jobs that provide no opportunity for advancement. Sometimes, that is formally acknowledged. In other cases, that is informally understood.

Organizations have human qualities. Ascribing human characteristics to an organization is tempting but unwise. Organizations are not fair, logical, or ethical. Only the people in them can ensure those qualities.

Top Five on Business

Cathie Black gives her top five list of books on succeeding in business.

Resisting the urge to add around ten more, I'll mention one that is not directly on business but is one of the best books on leadership that I've ever read: Wooden On Leadership by John Wooden and Steve Jamison.

Quote of the Day

Everything considered, work is less boring than amusing oneself.

- Charles Baudelaire

Friday, October 26, 2007

Your Work Space

What does it take to make a comfortable work space?

Short answer: Whatever is comfortable for you.

Some thoughts on work areas:

All I needed was a steady table and typewriter. A marble topped bedroom washstand table made a good place; the dining room table between meals was also suitable.
- Agatha Christie

Appealing workplaces are to be avoided. One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.
- Annie Dillard

If your desk isn't cluttered, you probably aren't doing your job.
- Harold Geneen

Miscellaneous and Fast

Back by popular demand: The Gettysburg Address Power Point.

The world's largest jetliner just completed its first trip ...with passengers paying as much as $50,000 for two seats.

From Portfolio: The Internet is harming the porn industry?

Pass the steak: Still another book on
the evils of carbs.

Adfreak wonders about this ad: Cautionary or sexist?

Cool Tools gets excited about ice chests.


Correctly noting the narrow base of too many newsrooms, Peggy Noonan believes the editors at The New Republic may have watched too many Vietnam movies. An excerpt:

On the Thomas stories, which I read not when they came out but when they began to come under scrutiny, I had a similar thought, or a variation of it. I thought: That's not Iraq, that's a Vietnam War movie. That's not life as it's being lived on the ground right now, that's life as an editor absorbed it through media. That's the dark world of Kubrick and Coppola and Oliver Stone, of the great Vietnam movies of the '70s and '80s.

If that's what you absorbed during the past 20 or 30 years, it just might make sense to you, it would actually seem believable, if a fellow in Iraq wrote for you about taunting scarred women, shooting dogs, and wearing skulls as helmets. This is the offhand brutality of war. You know. You saw it in a movie.

If you'd had a broader array of references, and were less preoccupied by the media that is the great occupying force in our own country, and you were the editor of the Thomas pieces, you might have said, "Whoa." Just whoa.

Quote of the Day

Small crimes always precede great ones. Never have we seen timid innocence pass suddenly to exteme licentiousness.

- Jean-Baptiste Racine

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The "Secret Menu" Market

The secret menu appears to be on the upswing, so I decide to taste-test this theory on local terrain. I press Monitor intern, Alison Tully, into service – she hits Jamba Juice and Starbucks; I take the rest.

In-N-Out, which used to be the Golden State's own fast-food secret with its freshly stamped fries and authentic shakes, is known for its helpful servers. It's also famous for offering a select, few items on that glowing outdoor board – basic burgers, shakes, sodas, and fries. I speak my secret desires – in proper lingo gleaned from the website – into the squawk box, "a two by two, animal style, and a neopolitan." Translation: a two-patty mustard burger, with everything, including extra sauce and grilled onions, and a three flavor shake (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry). The box cheerily blasts back, "Pay at the first window, please. Have a nice day!" Say goodbye to the days of "Five Easy Pieces," when Jack Nicholson couldn't get toast at a coffee shop because it wasn't on the menu.

Read the rest of The Christian Science Monitor article here.

Liability in Space

Going where no lawyer has gone before:

An interview with Henry Hertsfeld, expert on space law.

Woo Woo

Broken Equipment

What should employers do when employees break equipment?

The West Virginia Employment Law Letter provides some analysis. An excerpt:

No doubt about it, employee carelessness can be very costly for you. Some of the equipment you provide employees in today's high-tech world, such as laptop computers and BlackBerries, can be quite expensive.

Pay-docking policies, however, can create a lack of trust, anger, and resentment in your workplace. They also can breed secrecy. For example, if an employee thinks there would be a detrimental consequence for losing company property, he may be reluctant to report it. That could be extremely damaging to you if that missing piece of equipment contains confidential information.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Portfolio gives its list of favorite blogs.

Oren Harari provides a quick lesson in strategic schizophrenia.

Christopher Hitchens sees the values of the Anglosphere as an asset in the war for civilization.

Seth Godin notes that Apple just sent an important message by firing 800 of its employees.

Nidra Poller on why Sarkozy is popular in France.

Quote of the Day

Labor disgraces no man; unfortunately you occasionally find men disgrace labor.

- Ulysses S. Grant

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Writing and Elmore Leonard

So you feel most of your books have survived the transition to the screen?

Lately they have survived. But one of my books, The Big Bounce, when I saw the movie, I thought, there must be something worse, but that's gotta be the second-worst movie ever made. Then they remade it a few years ago, and set it in Hawaii, and when I saw that, I knew, aha! Now I know what the worst movie ever made is. It had a decent cast, Owen Wilson was in it, but it was so bad the director basically gave up. He sent me the script and said, "Do what you want with this." Then they wanted me to play a part in the movie, playing dominoes with Harry Dean Stanton. But it was shooting two days after Christmas, and when I learned that, I said no.

For the most part, yeah, my books have done OK on the screen. Out of Sight, Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, it worked for those.

Rainy Comments

The process of chewing over old conversations is referred in psychology circles as rumination. It's prevalent enough in the office that various leadership-training programs administer personality tests asking how often you "replay an incident over and over" in your mind.

The idea is to probe whether someone is predisposed to festering in a cycle of anger that produces more bad thoughts that then create more anger, says Craig Runde, director of new program development at Eckerd College Leadership Development Institute, St. Petersburg, Fla. Ruminating too much, he says, "keeps you stuck."

That explains, says Mr. Runde, why some festerers can't concentrate on the task at hand, drip sarcasm and fly off the handle at the first mention of something that only to them sounds like the umpteenth time.

Blogs as Targets

Will a hot blog become a takeover target?

That reminds me of Hugh Hewitt's remark that when Instapundit was just starting, Glenn Reynolds probably would have accepted $10,000 for a lifetime ad. The article's focus, however, is on the mega-blogs.

Free Speech Update

Critic Emily Hill notes that one of the best things Martin Amis has going for him is his critics:

Put your hands up, said Amis, if you think you are morally superior to the Taliban. When a minority of the audience did so, Amis muttered: ‘About 30 per cent…’ His implication is that, in our current relativistic climate, it is taboo to assert your superiority to anything – even the Taliban. Anyone who values freedom, Amis says, should have a problem with Islamism. He graphically went through some of the feudal punishments that the Taliban metes out to women who step out of line. ‘We’re in a pious paralysis when we can’t say we’re morally superior to the Taliban’, he said. His attack on cultural relativism is welcome, and it certainly exposed moral sheepishness amongst the assembled at the ICA. But I couldn’t help thinking: is that it? Is that what it means to be ‘Enlightened’ and principled today – to be Not-The-Taliban? Amis didn’t go any further on the matter.

Arts & Letters Daily ]

Pixie Dust

If we send out a bunch of letters and place a lot of ads, we'll be sure to get customers.

Because in the night, the pixies will come and scatter the special magic dust that creates customers.

And if we turn out products that are far better than those of our competitors, all of our plans will fall into place.

Because once again the pixies will do their work and people will quickly see the superiority of our goods.

And if we have employee relations problems, we can just send out a memo or mention a few positive things at staff meetings or have a motivational speaker at our next retreat.

And those pixies will do their stuff!

If you think that people don't really believe in pixie dust, perhaps you have not been in the workplace long enough.

Beep is Good

High tech crisis management in the California fire areas:

You call your home answering machine to see if your home is still standing.


Arthur C. Brooks observes that giving makes you rich. An excerpt:

How does all this generosity relate to our high average levels of prosperity? Let's begin with individuals and families. The Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, completed in 2000, is a survey of about 30,000 people in more than 40 communities across the U.S. and is the best single source of data available on the civic participation of Americans. The S.C.C.B.S., which takes into account differences in education, age, race, religion, and other personal characteristics, shows that people who give charitably make significantly more money than those who don't. While that seems like common sense, it turns out that the link in the data between giving and earning is not just one-way. People do give more when they become richer--research has shown that a 10 percent increase in income stimulates giving by about 7 percent--but people also grow wealthier when they give more.

Quote of the Day

On average, Americans work over 1,800 hours per year, substantially more than most workers around the world. Although we get fewer vacation days per year than other Western countries (thirteen days, compared to twenty-eight in Great Britain, and thirty-seven in France), we let more than twice as many go unused. And really, what's a vacation to us these days without our BlackBerry? In 2006, almost a quarter of us (23 percent) checked our work e-mail and voice mail while away - up from just 16 percent in 2005. A lot of us love to work.

- Mark J. Penn

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sneak Attack?

Joe Brancatelli sees the beginning of the end for frequent flyer programs as of December 1, 2007.

Miscellaneous and Fast

How hackers are different from the rest of us.

Eclecticity has possibly found the perfect gift for the person who has everything.

Roger von Oech notes that hunger gives us a cognitive advantage.

Christopher Hitchens on why
"Islamofascism" is an appropriate term. [HT: Instapundit ]

Lava Lamps in the lobby? Sheridan Prasso looks at Google in India.

The incomparable Ronald Colman in A Tale of Two Cities.

On the Range

WaiterRant finds a bridge between Left and Right at the shooting range.

Perhaps Havana?

Hugo Chavez wants a Bank of the South and he's not talking Memphis.

And then there's this bridge....

This has been a busy morning.
In addition to preparing for some workshops, I've gotten one e-mail from a man in a British investment firm who kindly seeks my discreet assistance in helping him to invest some embezzled funds and another from a charming lady in the Ivory Coast who cannot wait to give me a major chunk of a multi-million dollar estate left to her after her father was poisoned by his business enemies. [Apparently, people often turn to complete strangers in foreign countries when they want investment assistance.]

That's not to mention the multiple notices of lotteries that I've won without even buying a ticket.

It warms the heart to know that there are so many kind people who want to give me money.

We Don't Need to Know

Here's the problem: Your role in the story (victim, hero, etc.) is based on the listener's perception. You may believe you were blameless or even worthy of praise for your actions in the life stories you relate, but the person who hears your story three degrees away from the actual event may see things differently. Can you afford to have your professional reputation tarnished by a personal anecdote (or saga) that puts you in a less than favorable light—fairly or not?

Tough Customers

James B. Twitchell looks at why some churches thrive and others shrink and notes it reflects some classic customer psychology. An excerpt from a review of Twitchell's book:

Another key to product success, Mr. Twitchell argues, is "innovations in supply." Thus megachurches offer playgrounds, coffee shops and a mall's worth of services. But megachurches have also, crucially, found ways of attracting men. Just as department stores put men's products near the entrance because they know that men are the hardest customers to draw into a retail space, so megachurches, Mr. Twitchell says, have catered to men's interests.

Citing Bill Hybels, the pastor of Willow Creek Church in Chicago, Mr. Twitchell explains: "Men are the crucial adopters in religion. If they go over the tipping point, women follow, children in tow." So now megachurches sponsor sports ministries and groups whose members ride motorcycles together. The language of prayers and sermons has moved away from a condescending lecture tone and taken up sports metaphors instead, asking congregants, for instance, to step up to the plate and help the team. In such a way are men induced to buy the megachurch product.

Quote of the Day

Leaders are people who know who they are and know where they are going.

- Thomas Cronin

Monday, October 22, 2007

Selling Guide provides an introvert's guide to selling.

It's quite short, can be quickly read, and will be a pleasant intermission if you're building a furniture fort in your living room.

Being in Charge

Being in charge of a project means that you are in charge.

It helps to consider a list of people and things that are not responsible for the results:

  1. Your team members. They will make important contributions and you should not have to do all of the work, but they are not in charge. You are.

  2. The schedule. It can be brutal and unreasonable but it is inanimate. Numbers on pages are not in charge.

  3. The resources. You may not have all that you'd wish; in fact, you probably don't. Too bad. Make do with what you have.

  4. The goal. If you didn't like the goal, you should have mentioned that before taking on the assignment. You did and got overruled? Then if the project is ethical, do your best to achieve the goal. If the project is unethical, do nothing to implement it.

  5. People who promised things and didn't come through. When you are in charge, you are responsible for anticipating such problems, not moaning about them. You should have had a Plan B and perhaps even Plans C and D.

  6. Dissenters. Someone doesn't like your approach? Listen carefully. If they have a good point, make a change if doing so with not be harmful. If they don't, proceed with your plan of action. You can't please everyone.

  7. Perfectionists. Your plan has flaws? All plans do. Don't let prolonged analysis turn into paralysis. You're in charge. Make things happen.

Reality Check

Trizoko on how to spend your days. An excerpt:

Here’s what conventional wisdom thinks:
The more X hours you work, the more $X you’ll make.
The more stress you have, the more $X you’ll make.
The more hectic your schedule is, the more $X you’ll make.
The busier your schedule, the more $X you’ll make.

Reality check time:
No one cares how hard you work.
No one cares how tired you are.
No one cares how many stars you have.
The world doesn’t care.
Your mom doesn’t care.

Leadership Development Failures

If you are in any way associated with leaders or leadership, read Wally Bock's post on what we're failing to do...right now.

The Foggy Career Path

I was listening to Jeffrey Toobin discussing his new book on the U.S. Supreme Court when he gave a brief review of his career. He talked about serving on the Iran-Contra investigation and writing a book about Oliver North and at one point he slipped in a line to the effect of "And then I got a job at The New Yorker."

Whoa, I thought.

But he went on to chat about his book.

I hate it when successful people do that. They mention some significant career move and, because it is ancillary to their story, they shoot past the really interesting part of their commentary. Paul Theroux, the often caustic but fascinating travel writer, once noted that too many writers talk about Abdul the cab driver picking them up at the airport and taking them to some famous monument and then they go on and on about the monument when you really want to hear more about Abdul.

That's my reaction to career tidbits. As a person who wishes he could stop at large residences and, without triggering a call to the police, quiz the inhabitants about their career moves, I've long been frustrated by foggy career path stories. It is understandable that Toobin probably doesn't want to talk about the connections and/or campaigning that landed that New Yorker gig but the rest of us would love to hear it. We suspect he didn't just get there by sending in a resume.

In this oddly open yet closed world, many people would rather tell you about their sex lives than about their promotion secrets. Organizations fearing lawsuits build durable domes of silence over any selection decision. Why weren't you selected? Well, another highly qualified candidate was chosen. End of conversation. Don't ask anything else or your potential for advancement will sleep with the fishes.

The truly valuable story tellers are the ones who are willing to reveal the real reason why they got the job: "The boss hated my competitor." "They mistook me for someone else." "I was the safe choice." "I had just worked on a project that was near and dear to them even though I didn't know it at the time." "They wanted someone who'd worked in Asia." "I'm close friends with the general counsel who told the CEO that I was clearly the best person for the job." "They were impressed by my superficial knowledge of French." "I was willing to travel and the other candidates weren't."

The real reason may be irrational, foolish, and a "luck of the draw" sort of thing, but it is the real reason.

And that is why you want to hear about it.

Quote of the Day

I would prefer to fail with honor than win by cheating.

- Sophocles

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Good Stuff: Midways Time

On the Moneyed Midways, with its collection of blog posts from a variety of blog carnivals, is up at Political Calculations.

Comp Time versus Common Sense

Example 1: Jim, a full-time hourly warehouse worker, typically works a 38-hour weekly schedule, Monday through Friday. For payroll purposes, the seven-day workweek for all warehouse employees runs from 12:01 a.m. Sunday through midnight the following Saturday. Because of the arrival of a particularly large shipment of inventory, Jim has already worked 38 hours by the end of the day on Thursday. Things have slowed down toward the end of the week. Jim's supervisor, anxious to avoid overtime, tells him not to come in on Friday. Is that OK?

Kara Shea, writing in the Tennessee Employment Law Letter, answers questions about comp time.

Ford is Finer?

Stroll - or drive - down memory lane: Donald Pittenger at 2Blowhards looks at the evolving face of Ford automobiles.

Wolfish Persuasion

Some colleagues who share some of my doubts argue that the only way to get our society to change is to frighten people with the possibility of a catastrophe, and that therefore it is all right and even necessary for scientists to exaggerate. They tell me that my belief in open and honest assessment is naïve. "Wolves deceive their prey, don't they?" one said to me recently. Therefore, biologically, he said, we are justified in exaggerating to get society to change.

The climate modelers who developed the computer programs that are being used to forecast climate change used to readily admit that the models were crude and not very realistic, but were the best that could be done with available computers and programming methods. They said our options were to either believe those crude models or believe the opinions of experienced, data-focused scientists. Having done a great deal of computer modeling myself, I appreciated their acknowledgment of the limits of their methods. But I hear no such statements today. Oddly, the forecasts of computer models have become our new reality, while facts such as the few extinctions of the past 2.5 million years are pushed aside, as if they were not our reality.

Read the rest of Daniel B. Botkin on ethics and discussions about global warming.

Quote of the Day

We learn from experience. A man never wakes up his second baby just to see it smile.

- Grace Williams

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Lynch's Rule

"Go for a business that any idiot can run - because sooner or later, any idiot probably is going to run it." - Peter Lynch, investment advisor

Peter Lynch's advice came to mind the other day when I was reviewing a manager's hopelessly complicated strategy for turning around an operation. The strategy was the equivalent of reciting The Lord's Prayer backwards while hopping on one foot and solving mathematical equations.

In other words, it was doomed.

Left unchecked, we veer toward the complex, the ad hoc, and the irrational. Simplicity requires enormous planning but simple systems pay off enormously in the rough and tumble of events.

The complexity of some systems is not revealed until the responsibilities are assumed by a less competent individual.

Top Five List

Brian Williams gives his top five list of books about Americans. I'd add:
John Adams by David McCullough
On the Border with Crook by John Bourke
Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen
Lincoln and His Generals by T. Harry Williams

Annoying Co-Workers

Slackers? Weasels? Back-stabbers? Passive-aggressives? Tree-stumps? Kiss-ups?

A poll finds the two most annoying types of co-workers.

Great Reviews But Bad Box Office

Quote of the Day

I often quote myself; it adds spice to my conversation.

- George Bernard Shaw

Friday, October 19, 2007

Flower Child

Get out your handkerchiefs! The sad story of the lawyer bride who sued her florist.

Over His Head?

James Lileks ponders his life as a short, but not a little, person. An excerpt:

There doesn’t seem to be anything in this piece that suggests short people have an unhealthy attitude to life. It just says the shrimps think they’re less healthy. We’re not talking about people like me, who stand at a Napoleonic 5’4”, but the Lollypop Guilders who top off at 5’3”. It seems that they have more difficulties in education, employment and relationships. Really? Education? Well, yes, you get picked on in school, but it’s not like you fail college because things most people would understand go right over your head. Employment? Probably; taller, better-looking people will always have an advantage over those of us in the Leprechaun range. Relationships? There are lots of short women out there. I had no trouble finding women my height, and even dated a few who made me feel like Charlie McCarthy. People would look at us and think: at the end of the night, she puts him away in a suitcase. I married a knockout brainiac an inch or two shorter, and we match well. We don’t look tiny. We look like actors from an HO gauge production of “Land of the Giants.”

The Blamer

The meeting was nearing the end of the agenda when the blamer made her report. The project that she had handled - mishandled would be more accurate - was turning out to be a disaster and so, being a blamer, she began to ascribe fault to others. This wasn't done and that wasn't done and I'll need a lot of support from the rest of you if we are to avoid serious embarrassment.

The woman who was the main target of the blamer's tirade sat quietly. She knew what everyone else in the room knew: The attack was a ridiculous ploy to evade responsibility. Her attempts to assist the blamer had been repeatedly ignored or neglected.

Had the blamer made her move at the beginning of the meeting, she probably would have been grilled and ground up for the hogs. Instead, a quick scan of the facial expressions revealed that a silent but firm decision had just been made. The blamer's moment was over. Her words had violated an unwritten code of the organization: One may be a bumbler and still survive and one may be a blamer and still survive, but being both is simply not allowed.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Henry Cabot Beck looks at the story of Jesse James.

John Updike on the new book about Peanuts creator Charles Schultz.

XN-TRX: The once a week work-out.

Why insomnia shouldn't be ignored.

Too much information? Amazing ways to tie sneakers. [HT: linkbunnies ]

Michael J. Totten on the Shia awakening.

Overheard in Chicago has found a dedicated vegan.

Quote of the Day

Never go out to meet trouble. If you just sit still, nine cases out of ten someone will intercept it before it reaches you.

- Calvin Coolidge

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Matty told Hatty, "That's the thing to do."

In the future, everyone will be a consultant:

Sam The Sham ("Wooly Bully") is now a motivational speaker.

[HT: 2Blowhards ]

Luggage Update

Paula Marantz Cohen on the problem with women's handbags:

The very idea of my needing a handbag is puzzling. How is it that men, of whom I am the equal in all other respects, seem to be well served by their back pockets or (if they’re European) sleek little manpurses? Why can’t I manage as well? All I have to carry is lipstick, eyeliner, pressed powder, reading glasses, sunglasses, small perfume spray, sunscreen, Kleenex, small brush, tic tacs, chocolate bar, small sewing kit, liquid soap, wash-n-drys, address book, key chain (with nine keys, three of which I have no idea what they open), and a wallet (containing charge cards, check book, pictures of children, membership cards, and cards that are stamped for one cup of coffee at a shop I’ll never visit again). When my children were small, I also carried crayons and coloring books, fruit snacks, and a change of underpants.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]

Why Some Places Love High Employee Turnover

  1. It avoids those pesky meetings about pay raises.

  2. There is little likelihood that a union will be formed.

  3. All dissenters and their allies have a short shelf-life.

  4. Management's decisions are rarely challenged.

  5. "Employee benefits" are as common as the unicorn and dodo.

  6. Although new employees have to be trained, all other training costs are nonexistent.

  7. The organization often benefits from the work of highly skilled workers until they catch on to the game.

  8. The incompetent human resources department can justify its pathetic existence.

  9. It reinforces management's view that people are disposable.

  10. You're always meeting new friends.

A "Hip" Cubicle?

The "Studio 53" cubicle is an attempt by office furniture designers to reach Generations X and Y. An excerpt:
Increasingly, many of the top-selling office furniture makers are experimenting with remakes of the boxy, boring cubicle to appeal to Generation X and Y workers who prefer collaborative working environments to isolating, generic-looking work spaces. Other companies such as Herman Miller (MLHR) and Knoll (KNL), are also pushing imaginative new designs that encourage teams to meet and work together rather than slog away alone. And many of these fresh reconfigurations also offer flexible, customizable features, such as doors that allow the workstations to transform from public to private space quickly. In addition, most conform to the small sizes of the traditional office cube to help companies maximize square footage in office spaces when workforces grow or, conversely, when a corporation has to downsize to smaller digs.

Will it?

Five Questions for Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action Officers

  1. Why should a person who arrived in this country a year ago and who is unlikely to have been a victim of discrimination while in this nation receive any hiring preference?

  2. Why should a daughter of a millionaire be given any hiring preference over the son of a mechanic?

  3. Why should a disabled employee who can no longer perform one job be automatically moved into another position in the organization even though doing so may close a promotional opportunity to another employee whose disability may be even more severe?

  4. If affirmative action is not synonymous with quotas, then why do so many affirmative action advocates assert that the specific banning of quotas will gut affirmative action?

  5. If preferences are given to attain diversity, won't that eventually lead to the setting of ceilings on the hiring of various groups once the magic representational figure has been reached for those groups?

Quote of the Day

Why do psychics have to ask you for your name?

- Steven Wright

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Save Me Before I Bid Again!

Stanley Bing reveals that he's beaten the curse of eBay addiction. An excerpt:

My story is like so many others. As Dylan said, “I started out on Burgundy but soon hit the harder stuff.” For me, it was Pez dispensers. Not too many. Just a few. After that, I kind of messed around with a number of other stimulants, experimenting to see what kind of collecting might give me the best buzz.

Watches… a few years ago my house was robbed. Among the things that the thief made away with was a pre-WWII era Titus Geneve chronograph made of pink gold, with a dark brown face and a lovely alligator Spidel twisty wristband. I put that into my favorites, so a permanent search was established. By the end of that year, I had sprung for six or seven really nice watches, none of them the exact same as the one I had lost, though. They say you can’t go home again. Maybe they’re right. But I was trying.

No Kidding

Jared Sandberg reveals an unspoken truth: If you didn't have kids you probably wouldn't be dancing in Rio or writing a bestseller.

Greatest YouTube of All Time?

Many thanks to Nicholas Bate for telling us about this clip and special thanks to those who produced it.

Rich Man in India

Right now, it’s a pile of concrete and steel, but once construction is complete, the building, estimated in the Indian press to cost $1 billion, will be the primary home of India’s richest resident—its first rupee trillionaire. Reportedly inspired by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the house will be among the tallest structures in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), at the equivalent of 60 stories—although there will be only 27 livable floors inside, each one with an outrageously high ceiling. Leaked plans for Antilia, as the future glass tower is named, reveal that Ambani and his family will keep their cars—there are spots for 168 of them—on six parking floors and have them repaired in an in-house garage. They’ll entertain as many as 50 friends at a time in a plush movie theater ideally suited to showing Hindi films—an Ambani passion. Above that, a health club and a sparkling pool beckon; there the family can swim laps, secure in the knowledge that a “refuge” area occupies a nearby floor, in case a sudden evacuation of the building is warranted. The guest apartments and four floors of living quarters for Ambani, his wife, their three children—and his mother—are near the top, with views of the Arabian Sea. The roof has three helipads, and several levels throughout the building are dedicated to gardens and terraces. A domestic staff of 600 will run the place, which was designed by Chicago architecture firm Perkins & Will.

Read the rest of the Portfolio profile of Mukesh Ambani here.

Louts Out!

The National Football League is taking action against loutish fans. An exception from the Wall Street Journal article:

"The Twins fans come in and have one or two beers," said Marty Neumann, manager of The Little Wagon, a sports bar near Minneapolis's Metrodome. "The Vikings fans come in and have 10."

Quote of the Day

The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital.

- Joe Paterno

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Miscellaneous and Fast

Kevin Kelly at Cool Tools evaluates the Strida Folding Bicycle.

What's happening with Airbus.

Moose using humans as shields against bears?

Stanley Bing on National Boss Day.


If you have a business or are interested in the elements of a successful business, take some time out and read Tim Berry's post on Market, Identity, and Focus.

A Bridget Jones Economy?

Writing in City Journal, Kay S. Hymowitz on the globalization of Bridget Jones economics. An excerpt:

Demographers get really excited about shifts like these, but in case you don’t get what the big deal is, consider: in 1960, 70 percent of American 25-year-old women were married with children; in 2000, only 25 percent of them were. In 1970, just 7.4 percent of all American 30- to 34-year-olds were unmarried; today, the number is 22 percent. That change took about a generation to unfold, but in Asia and Eastern Europe the transformation has been much more abrupt. In today’s Hungary, for instance, 30 percent of women in their early thirties are single, compared with 6 percent of their mothers’ generation at the same age. In South Korea, 40 percent of 30-year-olds are single, compared with 14 percent only 20 years ago.

Nothing-new-under-the-sun skeptics point out, correctly, that marrying at 27 or 28 was once commonplace for women, at least in the United States and parts of northern Europe. The cultural anomaly was the 1950s and 60s, when the average age of marriage for women dipped to 20—probably because of post-Depression and postwar cocooning. But today’s single 27-year-old has gone global—and even in the West, she differs from her late-marrying great-grandma in fundamental ways that bring us to the second piece of the demographic story. Today’s aspiring middle-class women are gearing up to be part of the paid labor market for most of their adult lives; unlike their ancestral singles, they’re looking for careers, not jobs. And that means they need lots of schooling.

Swami Management

When an American businessman calls upon a guru of the Eastern persuasion, he is generally seeking to be abused for his attachment to success and worldly goods while also learning how to acquire more of both. Swami Parthasarathy, eighty years old, a native of Chennai, India, having renounced a lucrative career in the family shipping business and the Rolls-Royce that came with it, and founded the Vedanta Corporate Academy two hours southeast of Mumbai, has a deep understanding of this delicate role. In the past, he has harangued and soothed supplicants at Microsoft, Ford, and Lehman Brothers, and has been invited by the deans of Kellogg and Wharton to instruct M.B.A. students in the use of the Sanskrit Vedas for purposes of serenity and profit. On a recent visit to New York, he appeared at “21” to instruct members of the Young Presidents’ Organization (to join, you must be younger than forty-five and run a business) in the management of self and stress.

Read the rest of this article from The New Yorker and I guarantee that if you are a management consultant you will wonder, "How does he gets those gigs?" He should be teaching marketing, not stress reduction!

Quote of the Day

Meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything.

- John Kenneth Galbraith

Monday, October 15, 2007

100 Favorite Blogs?

PC Magazine has released the list of its 100 favorite blogs.

[HT: Futurismic ]

Lauren of Moutauk

Amiable recluse? Sounds like my kind of guy. Men's Vogue provides a profile of Ralph Lauren. An excerpt:

Sandy Siberia is the view from the back deck of Lauren's Montauk domain, perched high on an ocean bluff that might as well be the end of the earth. For someone who has devoted his life to observing—and romanticizing—the Sancerre set, Lauren shows a surprising allergy to socializing with them. "I gotta tell you, years ago, when we did that, it was hell," he says. But dodge enough dinner invites and they dry up. "We were driving around one Saturday afternoon and all of a sudden we see a pile of cars outside someone's house. I said, 'We're not invited to anything anymore! What's going on?' We were totally off everyone's list." Oscar Cohen, who grew up with Lauren in the Bronx and now runs Polo's charity—a $15 million foundation devoted to education, health care, and the arts—tells me that Ralph is still the same as he was at age 10: "Quiet, low-key, almost shy…always marching to his own drumbeat." Lauren hardly ever drinks, and has spent most of his downtime with his family and fellow autophiles. He's reluctant to name names, but eventually they trickle out: Rolling Stoner Jann Wenner, who first turned him on to Ferraris, or Ned Tanen, who ran Universal Studios back in the Jaws years. "Ned would get into New York and he'd come up to my office just to get a car fix," Lauren recalls. "We'd sit down, and we'd start talking about cars—not movies, not clothes. And then he'd say, 'Okay, Ralph, I'm finished, I'm going back.' I always loved movies, so I'd say, 'You think I got a role here? Maybe a part?' But no, he was finished."

Give Me Your Card

Edith Yeung gives 12 reasons why people want to keep your business card.

She provides a fine list but misses time-honored reasons such as "toothpick," "bookmark," and "grocery list."

[HT: BusinessPundit ]

If You Don't Snooze, You Lose

If the children aren't getting the sleep that they need, what about the adults?

HR Titles

The HR Capitalist has done a review of SHRM members in Alabama to compile a list of the job titles held by its members. The usual suspects are there - VP, Director, and Manager - but some might argue that an obvious one was not noted.

Learning from Employee Orientation

It has not taken much to improve the orientation programs for new employees in many organizations since the standard product has often been boring and uninformative. Fortunately, some creative employers have recognized that employee orientation should not follow the "One Day to Listen to Old Jake Talk About Rules, Benefits, and Ethics" format. Instead, they use a variety of approaches to give new employees time to observe, reflect, and absorb and they check back on the employee's progress.

That latter point, however, is where some firms could use extra polish for the orientation process should be a two-way street. In addition to educating the employee about the job and the organization, orientation can be a great opportunity for employers to learn how a new person sees their workplace. The view from fresh eyes can provide valuable insight into:

  • The clarity - or lack thereof - of various procedures and policies;

  • The smoothness of operations;

  • Special challenges faced by people who are learning the ropes;

  • Problems with technology;

  • The responsiveness of the organization's problem resolution program;

  • The perceptions passed on by more seasoned workers (and whether those are desirable) and;

  • The availability of resources.

Building a two-way street requires time and effort. The employer has to embrace the attitude that the new person can contribute some real insight. Doing so, however, will foster continuing benefits over the years as the older employee keeps practicing the habit of thoughtful observations that started that first day on the job.

Quote of the Day

Make money and the whole world will conspire to call you a gentleman.

- Mark Twain

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Werewolves Break

Halloween is approaching and to get in the proper mood, you cannot play this enough:

"Werewolves of London."

Listening as an Ally

One of the greatest compliments that you can pay someone is to listen.

And I mean real listening, not simply refraining from interrupting or paying scant attention while they say something or being silent while you think of what you are going to say.

Real listening requires focused attention on the other person's:

  • Level of feeling and intensity;

  • Tone and emphasis;

  • Body language and eye contact;

  • Choice of words; and

  • Underlying meaning.

The last point is crucial. What the person says is far less important than what is meant and when you sense a gap between the two then you will have to probe for the true meaning. You can ask the person to give examples or to elaborate on what was said. On some occasions, you may not get further explanation but that lack of an explanation may speak volumes.

Beware also of your own tones and body language to make sure that you signaling that you are interested and are listening carefully. Do otherwise and you'll indirectly reduce the clarity of the message as the other person will sense your disinterest and will act to shorten the conversation.

People like to be read, especially on the most sensitive of topics, and although it would be nice if they would spell things out often they'll be reluctant to do so because they are fearful or shy or the matter is not clear in their own minds.

When the speaker can not or will not be clear, it is the listener's responsibility to obtain clarification. Blaming the communicator is the habit of a poor listener. A good listener is not a passive recipient but instead takes an active role in obtaining information. In doing so, the listener becomes an ally of the communicator and both share in the benefits of a message well sent.

Peace Winners

The Wall Street Journal proposes some potential Peace Prize winners who should be considered next year.

Quote of the Day

Heroes are made in battles, but losers are made in cocktail gatherings.

- Anonymous

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Biz Trip Exposure

Jennifer S. Kessler, writing in the Virginia Employment Law Letter, notes the problems that can ensure from business trips. An excerpt:

In Penry v. Federal Home Loan Bank of Topeka, a federal district court found it relevant that a female employee's supervisor took her to Hooters, a bar where waitresses dress provocatively. Even rumors about what happened on a business trip can lead to a lawsuit. In one case, an employee successfully sued her employer for defamation after her supervisor believed a rumor and accused her of sleeping around during a business trip.