Monday, December 31, 2007

Blackbeard, Management, and some LED Jellyfish

Blackbeard was just about the most ruthless pirate ever. His management style was unique, to say the least. If one of his crew misbehaved, he would drop them in a large tank full of jellyfish and delight as the jewels he kept at the bottom of the tank reflected different colors into the ballet of agony that played out before him. According to the infamous pirate's diaries, it really calmed his nerves, too. Wow. Well, while we don't recommend all that for your office, there is something we can take from this story: colorful jellyfish are relaxing.

From the sales copy for ThinkGeek's latest gizmo: The LED Jellyfish Mood Lamp.

You know you want one.

True Films

Kevin Kelly has written a True Films E-book, which he describes as 200 documentaries to see before you die, which is a macabre but effective nudge.

Leadership's Strategy

Conventional wisdom would have it that a crisis is the most common trigger for change. A company faces bankruptcy, court proceedings, or sudden, fierce, business-destroying competition. Current strategies aren’t working. Urgent turnaround is needed. And in fact, the perceived threat of extinction is often a prelude to the dramatic entrance of a turnaround artist from the outside, such as Carlos Ghosn at Nissan in 1999, Robert Stevens “Steve” Miller at Delphi in 2005, and Robert Nardelli at Chrysler in 2007. The fate of the company often depends on how well this new heroic figure can draw upon leadership capabilities: his or her own, those of the senior leadership team, and those of people throughout the company.

In our experience, however, only about 15 percent of the companies that voice a need for change are truly in crisis. A far more common situation — involving as many as 60 percent of those companies — is a state of inconsistency. A leader recognizes that, of the half dozen or so strategic initiatives currently under way, one or more aren’t delivering results or living up to expectations. “Why aren’t we getting a better multiple?” asks the leader. “How can we improve our poor performers?” This was the condition of General Electric when Jack Welch was appointed CEO in 1981; he famously dealt with it by decreeing that every business unit would have to be number one or number two in market share in its niche; otherwise, he would “fix, sell, or close” divisions. The number-one-or-number-two criterion doesn’t apply to every company, but the general challenge is much the same: to find a prescient way to distinguish the value of activities and improve or prune the laggards.

Read the rest of the article by Steven Wheeler, Walter McFarland, and Art Kleiner in strategy + business.

Culture Break: Remington's Snaps

The great painter of the old West, Frederic Remington, was a camera buff:

Remington first carried a camera with him in 1886 while in pursuit of Geronimo. He dreamed in color, but as an illustrator lived in a black-and-white world. The camera was an invaluable ally, supplementing sketches and color notes on the landscape (“The ground of the south west has more burnt sienna in it than I had thought”) by recording the precise details he needed in order to work up convincing illustrations. “After a good night rest” in Tucson, Arizona, he “went to the detachment of 10th Colored Cavalry—took a whole set of photographs.” He photographed soldiers, scouts, buildings and, at Fort Huachaca, a trooper posing for a painting he planned that would show Lt. Powhatan H. Clarke’s daring rescue under heavy Apache fire of a wounded man.

New Year's Resolutions for Managers and Supervisors

  1. I will not manipulate people and pretend that I'm withholding information for their own good.

  2. I will not automatically assume that anything that is good for me is also good for the organization.

  3. I will listen more and talk less. Much less.

  4. When I listen, I will listen for what they mean, not simply what they say.

  5. I will expand my network of informal advisors in order to gain a wider and perhaps more seasoned or fresher perspective.

  6. I will consider how the things that I do well may be damaging my team.

  7. I will seek anonymous feedback from my employees.

  8. I will avoid petty disputes over turf.

  9. I will drastically reduce the number of staff meetings.

  10. I will do what I say I will do and will avoid overpromising.

Auld Lang Syne

The New Year celebrations approacheth. An eclectic collection of the in-tune as performed by:

Leon Redbone

Aretha Franklin and Billy Preston

and the best - because it features bagpipes - Andre Rieu and his orchestra.

The history of Auld Lang Syne here.

When the Best is the Enemy of the Good

Recently, I had coffee with former Intel chief executive Andy Grove moments after he had admonished a room full of scientists about being too good at what they do.

"They are so caught up in doing the best science that they are failing to translate that science into anything useful," he said, his Hungarian-lilted voice rising and blue eyes intense."When we set out to develop the microchip," he had just told a packed room at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego, "we did not try to make the best chip, but one that worked for as little cost as possible." If one chip idea didn't work, he said, they tossed it and built a better one, learning from their mistakes.

Read the rest as David Ewing Duncan looks at natural selection and the thought-provoking comments by Andy Grove.

Quote of the Day

When you become the manager, people stop telling you things - especially about your own performance.

- David Maister

Sunday, December 30, 2007

7 Things That Every Job Applicant Should Know

  1. The requirements that are in the job advertisement are probably not the real requirements.

  2. The person who placed the ad may not know what the job entails.

  3. The person who supervises the position may not know what the job entails.

  4. Odds are the people doing the screening do not know why "five years of experience" are needed.

  5. In most cases, the degree requirement means they want a person who is reasonably well educated, can write, conduct basic research, and is in possession of enough self-discipline to get through college. Needless to say, there are plenty of people without degrees who have those qualities.

  6. Although the application deadline is next week the job may already be filled.

  7. Landing the job and successfully performing the job are two very different things.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Remembering Beau: Jimmy Stewart reads a poem about his dog.

Back by popular demand: Loreena McKennitt sings The Lady of Shalott.

Still great after all these years: Our main man Rudy The Kip.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Tacky Christmas Yards blog.


Here's a nifty resource:

Bhutto and the West

Bernard-Henri Levy on the western reaction to the murder of Benazir Bhutto. An excerpt:

They have killed a woman. A beautiful woman. A visible, indeed a conspicuously, spectacularly visible woman.

A woman who made a point not only of holding rallies in one of the world's most dangerous countries, but did so with her face uncovered, unveiled--the exact opposite of the shameful, hidden women, the condemned creatures of Satan, who are the only women tolerated by these apostles of a world without women.

Quote of the Day

"Relationships," not love affairs, are what they have. Love suggests something wonderful, exciting, positive, and firmly seated in the passions. A relationship is gray, amorphous, suggestive of a project, without a given content, and tentative.

- Allan Bloom

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Memorable New Year's Day Worker's Protest

On New Year's Day, 1965, miffed at having to work on the holiday, Sales ended his live broadcast by encouraging his young viewers to tiptoe into their still-sleeping parents' bedrooms and remove those "funny green pieces of paper" from their pants and pocketbooks [1]. "Put them in an envelope and mail them to me," Soupy instructed the children. "And you know what I'm going to send you? A post card from Puerto Rico!" He was then hit with a pie. In his 2001 autobiography Soupy Sez! My Life and Zany Times, Sales admits it is true. He was suspended by the station for two weeks for encouraging children to steal.[4]

Read the rest of the Soupy Sales story here.


Business Week has a report on Toyota's new hybrid truck. An excerpt:

"Other makers are ditching the category, but we see an opportunity," says Andrew MacLachlan, a senior strategic planner with Toyota. "If oil doesn't go below $90 a barrel in the foreseeable future, this could be where trucks are heading."

The Meaning of Cheese

Take a few minutes and read Wally Bock's requiem for a cheese and simple trust.

Moments of Envy

The general walked into the mess hall for the first time. He noticed that as the soldiers went through the chow line, they couldn't see the people serving the food due to some wooden screens. He said to an aide, "I don't like that." Within five minutes, the screens were down.


It was early morning. The elegant, elderly gentleman sipped the last of his coffee as he sat on the resort's veranda. He watched the distant lights of a ship cruising past the Hawaiian coast. The waiter brought the bill.

"I'm leaving for New Jersey today," the old man said.

The waiter replied, "Will you be back again next winter, Mr. Carson?"



The woman at the front desk helped the first group in fluent French, then shifted to Italian for the second, and spoke to an associate in German before turning to me and asking, "How may I help you?"

Humor Break: Baldwin Does Bennett

I was going to save this for New Year's but can't resist posting it now:

Alec Baldwin as Tony Bennett in "The Tony Bennett Show."

[HT: Lou Rodarte ]

Top Five: Cold War Classics

Ernest Lefever gives his list of five Cold War classics.

Quote of the Day

The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking done by cowards.

- William Francis Butler

Friday, December 28, 2007

No Sympathy

Laura and Scott Bell didn’t like their children’s school district’s dress-code policy. So they sued the school in Indiana state court, claiming violations of their guarantee of a free education and their children’s rights to free expression. To save money, they represented themselves. The school district had the case removed to federal court in Indianapolis, where the judge granted the school’s motion to dismiss the case and ruled that the Bells had to pay the school’s attorney fees — $40,931.50.

“What in the hell are we supposed to do?” Laura Bell asked, according to a report in the Indianapolis Star. “It’s flat ridiculous.” Later, she answers her own question: “I’m not paying it, obviously.”

Read the rest from The Wall Street Journal Law Blog.

Music Break: A Touch of Spain

Andres Segovia plays Asturias.

Disaster Hunters and Porn-Surfers

Stanley Bing is featuring the year's highlights of his "Ask Bing" column, including the case of the porn-surfing boss.

IT Secrets

Get Sticky

The always interesting Tim Berry looks at Made to Stick and the traits of sticky ideas.

Reasonableness in Style

Analyzing the presidential race, the insightful Peggy Noonan pens a column that is eloquent, amusing, and wrong .

By her standard - which relates more to style than to substance - Neville Chamberlain would have been a better selection than Winston Churchill and Daladier would have been preferable to de Gaulle.

Andrew Wylie Interview

If you are a published writer or wish to become one, don't miss Lloyd Grove's interview with literary agent Andrew Wylie.

Reprise: Note From Boss To Employees

Looking back on all of the posts that I wrote over the past year, there is no doubt that the greatest reaction was to the Note From Boss To Employees. It has been translated into several languages and bounced around the Internet. Here it is for those who missed it:

  1. I am sometimes under enormous pressure from upper management; pressure that you seldom see. Anything that you can do to make my job easier will be greatly appreciated.

  2. Your interests are important, but please remember that I also have to juggle the concerns and feelings of a bunch of other people, including individuals outside of the department.

  3. I may not have been given a huge amount of training before being named to a supervisory position. As a result, I’ve had to learn through trial and error. That's not always bad. Many of my responsibilities can only be learned through practice.

  4. If you are a former co-worker of mine, please recognize that supervising former peers is one of the toughest jobs any supervisor faces. The support that you give me is crucial.

  5. I will make mistakes. Please give me the same understanding that you’d like me to give you when you blunder.

  6. If I do something dumb or am on the verge of doing so, please tell me. Don’t hint. Tell me.

  7. I don’t like unpleasant surprises. Let me in on bad news as soon as possible. (Things that you believe are obvious may not be that clear to me. On the other hand, you'd be surprised at how quickly the latest gossip reaches my ears.)

  8. I expect you to take initiative. If you keep bouncing things to me, I’m going to wonder why I have you around.

  9. You should ask questions if you don’t know what to do. On the other hand, you should not have to be taught the same thing over and over again.

  10. Let’s respect each other’s time. We each have a job to do and the more we can reduce unnecessary interruptions, the happier we'll each be.

  11. Don't let all of my talk about meeting goals and producing results lead you into unethical behavior. You always have my permission to be ethical.

  12. If either of us has a problem with the other's performance, let's talk about it.

2nd Anniversary:

This blog is two years old.

Alert the media.

Loads of thanks go to all who visit on a regular basis.

And if I have anything to say about it, there will be a special place in heaven for those who have mentioned this blog to their friends, co-workers, neighbors, and probation officers.

Quote of the Day

Every practice rests on theory, even if the practitioners are unaware of it.

- Peter Drucker

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Miscellaneous and Fast

Quality, not quantity: A major actor who has made a handful of movies in ten years.

Foreign Policy magazine gives the top ten stories you missed in 2007.

Here's a shocker: Too much e-mail makes workers unproductive.

The Vlad Man? Roger von Oech wraps up the year with Russian sayings about Putin.

Where's Jagger's version? Getting down with Guy and Carmen Lombardo.

Bill Roggio on the Bhutto assassination.

Victor Davis Hanson reviews Norman Podhoretz's World War IV.

Jalopnik adds a Rolls-Royce Phantom to its "fantasy garage."

"They want them to think that working really hard matters."

Here's an excerpt that will be sure to please those extremely bright HR professionals who are also extremely insecure:

Adler says he knows which personality traits help make for a responsive customer-service rep, which make for an eager salesman. (Rule of thumb: Throw the obsessives into operations.) That customer-service rep should have an agreeable, tolerant personality and one without deep ambition. “There’s no incentive pay,” Adler says. The salesman probably should be achievement-oriented, someone who needs to prove himself against measurable goals. In the same vein, another researcher reports that one law firm deconstructs its HR needs by personality traits. It insists on extremely bright employees who are also extremely insecure. “They want them to think that working really hard matters,” he explains. Through this prism, personality types can even be mixed and matched to make a team function more efficiently. Psychologist Robert Hogan, a pioneer in organizational psychology, says it’s a matter of balance; three basic types are required. “You need an ambitious person, someone who will step up. You need someone inquisitive and with ideas. Then you need one smoother-outer, a person who’ll keep on task.”

HR Carnival Time

Want to check out some posts on HR?

The Carnival of Human Resources is up at Compensation Force blog.

Conversations from the Workplace

That's pretty basic stuff.

If it's so basic, why aren't they doing it?

Well, because most of them don't know it.

* * *
There's a policy against retaliation. You should file a complaint.

You don't know these people. I just sense that at some point, it may be next month or five years from now, they will get back at me. These are very vindictive people.

So in other words, you can't trust them to follow their own rules?

If they violated their own rules in the first place, what's another violation more or less?

* * *
We need to reword this policy so it's understandable.

But if we do that, more people will take advantage of its provisions.

Isn't that the idea? After all, you circulate the policy to the employees.

Well, yes, that's right. That doesn't mean we want them to actually use it.

Let me get this straight. You want to be able to say that you have such a policy, but you really don't want anyone to use it.

That's right.

Then why don't you just put it in a foreign language?

That's ridiculous. Nobody here would be able to read it.

The Torture Debate

He was, in short, a highly successful, fully engaged, career mass murderer. Think back to those pictures of workers crouched in windows high up in the burning World Trade Center towers, choosing whether to jump to their death or be burned alive. This was in part Abu Zubaydah's handiwork.

At the time of his capture in 2002, just six months after the Sept. 11 attacks, there was strong reason to believe Zubaydah knew virtually the entire organizational structure and agenda of al-Qaeda around the world. He was supervising ongoing plots to kill hundreds if not thousands of people. He was, for obvious reasons, disinclined to share this knowledge. Subjected briefly to waterboarding - less than a minute, according to published reports - he became cooperative and provided information that, according to the government, resulted in preventing planned attacks and capturing other key al-Qaeda leaders.

Read the rest of Mark Bowden's defense of waterboarding.

[HT: Instapundit ]

The Unpredictions

Writing in Business Week, Ronald Grover predicts ten things that won't happen in 2008.

Quote of the Day

Most of us spend the first six days of each week sowing wild oats, then we go to church on Sunday and pray for a crop failure.

- Fred Allen

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Retail Strategies

Writing in The New Yorker, James Surowiecki explores the challenges and tricks of retailing. An excerpt:

Even the sheer profusion of products available represents a strategic choice. In an experiment in the early nineteen-nineties, people were first asked whether they preferred a $110 microwave oven made by Emerson or a $180 oven made by Panasonic. Only forty-three per cent chose the Panasonic. But when a higher-priced Panasonic model, costing $200, was introduced into the mix, people’s choices changed in a curious way: suddenly, sixty per cent wanted the $180 oven. Just adding a more expensive model made the medium-priced version look more attractive and boosted Panasonic’s total sales. Change what surrounds a product, in other words, and you can change what people think of it.

Voter I.D. Case

Can you be required to show identification in order to vote?

The Supreme Court will decide.

My take: Certainly.

[HT: Overlawyered ]

Top Career Blogs

Via McArthur's Rant, the listing of the top 50 Career Blogs is out.

You might want to check it out and vote because there are some really neat blogs on their list.

[Alas, Execupundit is in neither the top 50 nor the honorable mention group but there is a rumor that it was briefly considered for the coveted "Directing Traffic in the Parking Lot" category.]

Driving Through Detroit

Detroit Free Press reporter Bill McGraw drove down every street in that city and has written a series of articles based on his journey. An excerpt from the introduction:

I saw well-to-do people moving into $1-million homes. Forlorn people emerging from sleeping in weeds. Artists taking over old factories. Trash cooking in the sun. Neighbors talking on porches. Roosters crowing. A prostitute on a bicycle.

When I completed the journey, I went back out and re-explored a number of areas, and was joined by a team of Free Press photographers, videographers, designers, artists, editors and others.

I wasn't a stranger. I have covered Detroit for 35 years and lived in it or next to it for virtually my entire life. In some respects, Detroit was worse than I thought. In other respects, it was better.

[HT: 13th Floor ]

Stroup's Even Dozen

Jim Stroup at Managing Leadership has put together a list of a dozen blogs that he reads in a regular basis.

[I'm proud to be in such company and mentioned on such a fine blog.]

The Stem Cell Decision

Jay P. Lefkowitz provides an inside view of presidential decision making on the stem cell issue.

Options and Other Dangers

The Sandwich Game. Your staff has provided you with three options: Do nothing, take some moderate course, and do a great deal.

In most instances, it is a safe bet that they favor the middle option. You need to bounce the decision paper back to them with the gentle request: "Give me more options." They will become more creative.

The Either/Or Game. This is where the explanation for various actions is couched as "Either they meant this or they meant that." There may well be five or more things they meant. Think harder.

The "Life is a Mirror" Game. "To take that position would be completely irrational." Ah, but it may be very rational to the other person. If you want to predict how "mad" people will behave, should you consider your standard or theirs? We think Saddam Hussein's failure to admit, in a credible manner, that he did not have weapons of mass destruction was irrational. But what if he regarded doing so as more humiliating than being defeated in battle?

The "Hold Off on Making a Decision" Game. Holding off is a decision. Do you have enough time to make that a viable option? Or will that lead you to the next game?

The All Bad Choices Box. This is where you have fumbled about and let the good options expire. The only choices now are bad ones and you have to pick the least damaging. One of your goals should be never to reach this stage. You may never fully rebound.

How To

Ned Crabb relates the fine challenge of some "how to assemble" instructions. An excerpt:

IMPORTANT: Begin by lifting out the plune-wrapped section marked "Lithinode Distrillitor" and refer to the blue-colored picrochit-regulator intensity chart on the side. If the chart has the fuchsia-colored code BRZ3434, your unit requires an AC4(x2z3) power influrger. Extract the influrger pack from the distrillitor's surge-protection splange and check the code. If you have an AC5(x3z4) influrger instead of an AC4(x2z3) model, or if the intensity chart is colored burnt orange instead of blue, then call your local Vangplotz "Speedy Geek"™ home service provider at 1-800-UONHOLD. (WARNING: If the intensity chart is colored silver with pink stripes, then your distrillitor must be activated in person by a Vangplotz lithinode technician within 48 to 72 hours. Vangplotz service centers are conveniently located in the Yellow Dog, Ala., industrial campus and the six-story Grendel Mall-City in Frozen Badger, N.D.)

Quote of the Day

Get your facts first, and then you can distort as much as you please.

- Mark Twain

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

Miscellaneous and Fast

An Edward Abbey postage stamp? Looks marvelous.

Don't forget On the Moneyed Midways.

Historian Paul Johnson on what we can learn from heroes.

Gentler times: The Avengers and Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly.

Bourdain Goes Underground

Regular viewers will know that in my quest to appease the television Gods, I have found myself in some difficult situations. In Namibia, for instance, where I found myself politely (if reluctantly) munching on a crap-filled tube. Weeks later, after a suitable interlude on high dosages of antibiotics, I made a silent vow to myself that I would try to avoid meals like this in the future. There would be no more crap filled tubes.

Then, just a few days ago, I found myself and my crew descending into one. Yes. You heard right. Now, my producers are a fairly responsible bunch. When I read "cave exploring" on the list of suggested scenes for the Jamaica show, I figured there'd be hand rails and a gift shop. I figured we'd pull the production van into the parking lot, take a spin around the cave with our trusty guide, buy a T-shirt--and I'd be back at the hotel pool nursing a rum punch before you could say Peter Tosh. Perhaps I should have inquired further. Maybe we all should have.

Read the rest of Anthony Bourdain's account of his cave-from-hell adventure.

Free Trade

From a 1997 interview with Milton and Rose Friedman on the importance of free trade:

One voice that is hardly ever raised is the consumer's. That voice is drowned out in the cacophony of the "interested sophistry of merchants and manufacturers" and their employees. The result is a serious distortion of the issue. For example, the supporters of tariffs treat it as self evident that the creation of jobs is a desirable end, in and of itself, regardless of what the persons employed do. That is clearly wrong. If all we want are jobs, we can create any number--for example, have people dig holes and then fill them up again or perform other useless tasks. Work is sometimes its own reward. Mostly, however, it is the price we pay to get the things we want. Our real objective is not just jobs but productive jobs--jobs that will mean more goods and services to consume.

Another fallacy seldom contradicted is that exports are good, imports bad. The truth is very different. We cannot eat, wear, or enjoy the goods we send abroad. We eat bananas from Central America, wear Italian shoes, drive German automobiles, and enjoy programs we see on our Japanese TV sets. Our gain from foreign trade is what we import. Exports are the price we pay to get imports. As Adam Smith saw so clearly, the citizens of a nation benefit from getting as large a volume of imports as possible in return for its exports or, equivalently, from exporting as little as possible to pay for its imports.

The misleading terminology we use reflects these erroneous ideas. "Protection" really means exploiting the consumer. A "favorable balance of trade" really means exporting more than we import, sending abroad goods of greater total value than the goods we get from abroad. In your private household, you would surely prefer to pay less for more rather than the other way around, yet that would be termed an "unfavorable balance of payments" in foreign trade.

Christmas Choices

For those who celebrate Christmas, a number of choices need to be made that can spark a surprising amount of debate and controversy.

Real or Fake Tree?

Colored Lights, White Lights, or No Lights?

Cards or No Cards?

Christmas Letter or Not?

Mocking Christmas Letters or Not?

Cards with Religious Theme, Nature Scene or Mr. Claus and Friends?

Signed or Printed Cards?

Mailing Cards in December or February?

Alistair Sims, Michael Caine, Mr. Magoo or George C. Scott as Scrooge?

Gift Limit or Not?

Gift for Dog, Cat, Fish, Parakeet or... Are You Kidding Me?

Fruitcake as Food or as Doorstop?

Sticking to the Recipient's List of Desired Gifts or Choosing to Live Dangerously?

Early Services, Late Services, or No Services?

"Silent Night" or "Santa Claus is Coming to Town?"

Opening Gifts on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Morning?

Having a Ritual for Opening Gifts or Letting the Good Times Roll?

Saving Ribbons or Not?

Taking Time to Consider the Deeper Meaning or Simply Having a Party?

For All Those

Open Mouth. Insert Foot. Instant Recognition.

Wired magazine has announced its "foot-in-the-mouth awards for 2007.

Among the winners are "Once every hundred years, media changes" and the cuddly "I love my job. I hate my customers."

Quote of the Day

Remember that you must behave as at a banquet. Is anything brought round to you? Put out your hand, and take a moderate share. Does it pass by you? Do not stop it. Is it not yet come? Do not yearn in desire towards it, but wait till it reaches you. So with regard to children, wife, office, riches; and you will some time or other be worthy to feast with the gods. And if you do not so much as take the things which are set before you, but are able to forgo them, then you will not only be worthy to feast with the gods, but to rule with them also.

- Epictetus

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Dear Old Dad

Essayist and critic Joseph Epstein recalls his father:

He appreciated jokes, although in telling them he could not sustain even a brief narrative. His own best wit entailed a comic resignation. In his late eighties, he made the mistake of sending to a great-nephew whom he had never met a bar-mitzvah check for $1,000, instead of the $100 he had intended. When I discovered the error and pointed it out to him, he paused only briefly, smiled, and said, "Boy, is his younger brother going to be disappointed."

The Mistakes of Students...and Teachers

Having taught a business law class for several years, I've encountered all types of students. Most are reasonably serious, some are very serious, and a few are, to put it gently, disengaged.

I've noticed that there are some basics that even the brightest students sometimes overlook. Here are the key ones:

  1. Failing to read the course requirements. [Obviously a wise move but perhaps not that obvious.]
  2. Failing to read the test questions. [This is so common I wonder how often in my own school days I missed the aim of the question.]
  3. Padding essays. [That is hard to miss when the same concept has been reworded three times.]
  4. Failing to ask questions. [Believe me, most professors are thrilled when a student shows enough interest to ask a question. The best students ask the most questions.]
  5. Applying their own rules to the subject. [You may feel that the French have been mispronouncing a word for years or that a law should have been written a certain way but unfortunately your interpretation is not on the exam.]

Now, in all fairness, let's look at the mistakes that teachers make:

  1. Using arcane exam questions that are more likely to trap or embarrass students than to test actual knowledge of the subject.
  2. Failing to give extensions on assignment deadlines.
  3. Failing to provide jargon-free explanations in plain language.
  4. Automatically assuming that if a student doesn't do well on an exam then the fault must be the student's.
  5. Forgetting that the teacher's job is to convey knowledge and not go through the motions of conveying knowledge.
  6. Failing to acquire decent presentation skills.
  7. Turning what could be an interesting subject into a recital of boring material.

Miscellaneous and Fast

An old interview with Adam Bellow on the new nepotism.

Clive James on a strange condition known as JK Rowling envy.

A double-standard on the Giuliani story?

Sasha Frere-Jones on the return of Led Zeppelin.

Some Wharton researchers think that firing bad customers isn't a good idea.

Robert P. George on "Law and Moral Purpose."

The Next Surprise from Apple?

What do you get when you cross an iPod with a Mac?

A super-slim laptop that uses chip-based flash memory in place of a spinning hard drive, of course. If the rumors are right, Apple (AAPL) will unveil one at the annual Macworld confab next month.

Before you begin salivating from gadget lust however, be forewarned. The rumors should be taken with a grain of salt (or a whole tub of it if you have one handy) — and not just because Apple prognosticators have predicted for years that an ultra-light dream machine is right around the corner.

Read the rest on the odds of whether Apple will produce a flash laptop.


Business Week reports this is the season for cybercriminals and special scams.

Poetry Break: Ogden Nash

In Baltimore there lived a boy.

He wasn't anybody's joy.

Although his name was Jabez Dawes,

His character was full of flaws.

In school he never led his classes,

He hid old ladies' reading glasses,

His mouth was open when he chewed,

And elbows to the table glued.

He stole the milk of hungry kittens,

And walked through doors marked NO ADMITTANCE.

He said he acted thus because

There wasn't any Santa Claus.

Read the rest of Ogden Nash's The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus.

Quote of the Day

The main job of radicals in the Noam Chomsky or G. Gordon Liddy mode is to go around from one scruffy lecture hall to another reminding audiences that while they may be disdained or ignored by the mainstream culture, they are actually right about everything. The radical bases his career on the assumption that the world is deeply out of sorts and is in fact run by a deceitful establishment that tricks the masses into holding opinions that are incorrect. In order to prosper, the radical must be out of sorts. His audience will demand vehemence, a tinge of paranoia, omniscience (the intellectual must be able to see the truth through the establishment's web of deception), and a willingness to broadcast his brave contrarianism.

- David Brooks

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ingratitude Update

A classic Monty Python scene: What have the Romans ever done for us?

When Mad was In

Back in the early 1960s, any young boulevardier between the ages of 10 and 15 knew that the greatest publication in all the world was Mad magazine. Oh, Sick and Cracked might have their aficionados, but for the true connoisseur of humor and satire these Mad wannabes functioned largely as backups, temporary palliatives to tide one over until next month's Mad appeared at the corner drugstore. In those days an issue cost 25 cents (cheap!) and featured not only the smiling freckled face of Alfred E. Neuman, but also the double-crossing antics of Sergio Aragones' Spy vs. Spy, parodies in verse by the ingenious Frank Jacobs, and the ever-popular send-ups of current television shows and popular films. Best of all, the 1960s were also the heyday of Don Martin, the comedic draftsman celebrated in these two weighty and essential volumes.

Read the rest of Michael Dirda's review .

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]

Is That HAL?

The Sci-Fi Sounds Quiz tests your ability to identify sounds from television and the movies.

[HT: Bob Fitch ]

Miscellaneous and Fast

Good stuff: A hoop dancer at the Heard Museum in Phoenix.

Talking down to the audience: Mike Huckabee identified his favorite author. [HT: Instapundit ]

Justin Peters gives the best free web games.

Victor Davis Hanson on whether the war on terror is really a war.

Tech Attraction: Via Adrants, the top ten sexy geeks of 2007.

John McWhorter on the "witches of grammar."

Staff Meetings

To paraphrase Richard Brautigan, staff meetings could be Jesse James for all the time they stole from me.

Think of the staff meetings you've attended throughout your career. Be generous and estimate the total percentage that could possibly be characterized as helpful.

My personal estimate is nine percent.

In my pre-consulting days when I had a boss, there was always careful consideration of which topics to surface at the staff meeting. The trick was to bring up items that would show progress in your work unit while not seeming to boast. The iron rule, however, was the topic must never trigger excessive attention from the dragon at the end of the table. The last thing wanted was any sort of "assistance" a.k.a. meddling, from on high. As a result, my colleagues and I only mentioned carefully sanitized topics that could bore a tree sloth. As the boss went around the conference table, we dutifully reported on these Potemkin Villages and quietly groaned when anyone went on too long. The most naive team members were those who, when the boss asked how things were going, gave a straight answer. Frankness was always promptly punished.

Another major sin was if a colleague suggested some improvement in another's area. My only regret is that such moments are not preserved on film. They were valuable lessons not because of what was said but because of the exquisite illustrations of eloquent body language. You could witness an exchange and know the paperclip Cranston suddenly began to twist was really a substitute for Fiedler's neck.

I recently learned that craigslist, the highly successful ad site, has no meetings. No meetings? That must be an exaggeration but even hearing it produced a burst of admiration.

After all, we can dream, can't we?

And in the case of staff meetings, we can daydream.

Top Five: Christmas Stories

Michael Dirda gives his top five list of Christmas stories.

Quote of the Day

Those who inaugurate systems, religious or secular, to perfect humankind invariably find themselves frustrated by the glorious intractability of men and women. First the unbelievers or the heretics or the capitalists have to go. Then the poets go, along with the dubious books. And then the "rich" peasant landholders and the adulterers have to go. Then the comrades whose revolutionary zeal appears in danger of faltering and the fellow believers whose faith may be too weak have to go too. The soundtrack for utopia consists of cell doors slamming and the shrieks of the dying, of bullets fired into the back of heads and the weeping of the survivors.

- Ralph Peters

Friday, December 21, 2007

Get a Rope

The most interesting thing about this post on Macs possibly being less secure than PCs is the nature of the comments from readers.

Glow Brick: Too Cool

Speaking of presents, this Glow Brick from ThinkGeek will probably be a better choice than the Jade East you're considering at the drugstore* although the true geeks in your life might appreciate both.

* It was recently brought to my attention that many readers may not be familiar with Jade East. Here's a link as a public service for nostalgia nuts. You'll find a few other ancient scents that can take you back to the Sixties while clearing out the nearest elevator.

Because We Care

Jessica Hagy at Indexed has charted out passive-aggressive presents.

Book Review: Strategy and the Fat Smoker

David Maister, whose previous books on managing professional firms have become must reading in many circles, has produced another winner with Strategy and the Fat Smoker.

The subtitle of the book is Doing What's Obvious But Not Easy and that sums up Maister's point. We often know the right thing, but then refrain from doing it. Maister explores the reasons why and in so doing reveals, like most great teachers, things you might have suspected but not acknowledged. Among his observations are:

If strategic rules are justified only in terms of outcomes ("Treating employees well gets us more money"), the diet will always be seen as a punishment on the way to an uncertain and possibly unattainable reward. Accordingly, it will always be resented.

[When I read the above I recalled diversity programs that tout diversity as a business advantage. Those pronouncements have always made me wonder what the firms would do if diversity was not an advantage.]

If a number of top people have plainly not signed up for the journey or are clearly not true believers, no number of systems or amount of inspired speechmaking will transport the organization there.

[In other words, if they don't get with the program, get rid of them. Don't work around them. Maister notes that you may be able to make individual but not team progress if you keep them around.]

Any business that tries to deliver all four virtues of quality, cost, variety, and speed is doomed to failure.

[You can't have it all and your message will be garbled if you try to do so.]

As companies keep discovering to their detriment, it is certain business decay if you try to please all market segments. The broader the group of clients to which you appeal, or the wider the range of services you try to provide, the less customized your operation can be to each segment within that group.

[ You have to watch for "mission creep." One client requests this and another requests that and before too long you're lost, cold, and listening to strange noises in a very dark forest.]

Maister advocates the adoption of a larger purpose, a sense of meaning, that will go beyond the standard emphasis on pay. He analyzes the usual barriers to implementation, such as problems with systems, attitude, knowledge, and skills and proposes the use of scorecards to measure peformance, coaching as a form of monitoring and follow-up on progress, tools in place before training starts, training, and rewards and recognition when people achieve.

Big shrug. You've heard that all before.

But Maister is not naive. He knows that many companies reward the short-term and transactional and that customers and employees can also resist looking at the bigger picture. He is also aware that while many managers are rigid when considering direction and loose and open when it comes to execution, those tendencies should actually be reversed.

His underlying message is a challenge which I'll ungraciously word as "Are you serious about good management or do you simply want to go through the motions?"

If you're serious, Maister's general prescription for success is a focus on passion (have lots), people (care for and develop the individual), and principles (get and stick to them). He regards none of those as negotiable. He is a fan of the U.S. Marine Corps and its non-nonsense, seriously crafted, culture that leaves little question as to how Marines are expected to behave. "Give people a goal, and little will be accomplished," he observes. "Leave it to them to find self-discipline, and most will fail to sustain high intensity. But place them in an environment where they are well coached, with colleagues equally turned on, and - contrary to what cynics might believe - the overwhelming majority of people of all backgrounds and educational levels will respond with enthusiasm and commitment."

The book's journey to understand the gaps between good intentions and performance is not the equivalent of a banana milk shake diet. There are no quick fixes. Some teams, given their current make-up, can't be repaired. Maister is advocating rules, commitment, and a lot of hard work. He's telling us to get off of the couch.

I highly recommend reading and re-reading David Maister's thought-provoking book. His solutions may appear to be simple and yet for most groups they will be damned hard.

They have only one advantage: They work.

Food from Angels and Goats

It is said that around the seventh century, somewhere near the Red Sea - whether it was Ethiopia or Yemen is a subject of debate - a herd of goats ate the magenta berries of a local shrub and began to act strangely. In a classic 1935 study called Coffee: The Epic of a Commodity, the German journalist Heinrich Eduard Jacob described their behavior thus:

All night, for five nights in succession - nay, for seven or eight - they clambered over rocks, cutting capers, chasing one another, bleating fantastically. They turned their bearded heads hither and thither; with reddened eyes they gamboled convulsively when they caught sight of the goatherds, and then they darted off swift as arrows speeding from the bow.

Having observed the frisky goats, the imam of a nearby monastery - a sort of medieval Carlos Castaneda - roasted the berries in a chafing dish, crushed them in a mortar, mixed them with boiling water, and drank the brew. When he lay down, he couldn't sleep. His heartbeat quickened, his limbs felt light, his mood became cheerful and alert. "He was not merely thinking," wrote Jacob. "His thoughts had become concretely visible. He watched them from the right side and from the left, from above and from below. They raced like a team of horses." The imam found that he could juggle a dozen ideas in the time it normally took to consider a single one. His visual acuity increased; in the glow of his oil lamp, the parchment on his table looked unusually lustrous and the robe that hung on a nearby peg seemed to swell with life. He felt strengthened, as Jacob put it, "by heavenly food brought to him by the angels of Paradise."

Read the rest of Anne Fadiman's ode to caffeine.

Miscellaneous and Fast

This clip of Jack Paar, Bette Davis, and Jonathan Winters, viewed through a wall of cigarette smoke, is interesting from several angles. Note the emphasis on the story instead of the one-liner.

George Will takes a knife to Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee.

The Mad Chider has issued a challenge to bloggers.

Amazon can't offer free delivery of books in France.

Should other countries help China clean up its pollution?

A classic short story: O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi.

Quote of the Day

We were fractious and overpaid. Our mornings lacked promise. At least those of us who smoked had something to look forward to at ten-fifteen. Most of us liked most everyone, a few of us hated specific individuals, one or two people loved everyone and everything. Those who loved everyone were unanimously reviled. We loved free bagels in the morning. They happened all too infrequently. Our benefits were astonishing in comprehensiveness and quality of care. Sometimes we questioned whether they were worth it. We thought moving to India might be better, or going back to nursing school. Doing something with the handicapped or working with our hands. No one ever acted on these impulses, despite their daily, sometimes hourly contractions. Instead we met in conference rooms to discuss the issues of the day.

- First paragraph of Then We Came to the End, a novel by Joshua Ferris

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mind the Thighbone

On his Vespa outside Naples, Robert Saviano once blew a tire by riding over a splintered human thighbone. The setting of Gomorrah, his gripping new account of the city’s vast criminal business empire, is so unrelentingly brutal that this grisly inconvenience takes up just a couple sentences. And by comparison with the ends of other players in Naples’s mob drama during the last decade, the lonely roadside killing of the thighbone’s owner seems hardly grisly at all. If slow deaths by shooting, stabbing, gouging, poisoning, burning, strangling, garroting, choking, kneecapping, and slicing happen with anything like the frequency suggested in Saviano’s book, then every Neapolitan gangster should carry a suicide-pill hidden in a false tooth. There are fates worse than death, and many of their colleagues seem to have met them.

Read the rest of Graeme Wood's review of Roberto Saviano's Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of the Naples' Organized Crime System.

When Stupidity Pays

Cultural Proclivities

Oxford University researchers have identified four cultural groups:

Inactives, Univores, Omnivores, and Paucivores.

[My ranking is simpler: Adam Sandler Fans and Everyone Else.]

One More Time: Steyn and Multiculturalism

Back by popular demand: Mark Steyn on multiculturalism.

Road Warrior Strategies

The trend toward tighter security at airports is having the unintended consequence of lightening the load normally toted by the road warrior. That's because many business travelers are not only trading in their laptops for PDAs, they've taken to shipping luggage ahead to their hotels.

If airports are tough places to work, airplanes are beyond the pale. Clearly, no one who ever had to do a lot of airborne laptop keystroking ever designed an airplane. Sure, there are fine first class and even enhanced business class accommodations. Unfortunately, the cost-cutting trend at many companies means you'll probably be booking an economy fare. Traveling economy is, in my opinion, a false economy because it's such an inherently difficult environment for anyone wanting to get any work accomplished. Noisy, claustrophobic, and lacking power plugs (smart laptoppers can check out to see where the few power ports are on their jet), the low-fare option is the ultimate challenge for any businessperson seeking to be productive in the air.

Vampire Computers?

A very interesting chart of "vampire energy" consumers in your home.

[HT: 13th Floor ]

Top Workplace Blogs

The Times of London has listed its top workplace blogs.

Bizdeanstalk came in number one and Evil HR Lady also made the list!

Congratulations to all!

The Hybrid Wars

Honda was an early mover in hybrids. But so far it hasn't been able to benefit with a breakthrough like Toyota's Prius, which dominates the hybrid sector. For instance, Toyota had 79% of hybrid sales in the U.S. in November, compared to just 10% for Honda, the No. 2 hybrid maker. The Prius alone accounted for 50% of all hybrid sales in the U.S. last month.

But Honda is planning a counter-attack.

Quote of the Day

Good prose is like a window pane.

- George Orwell

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

You Know You Want One

Okay, I want a disappearing car door and a Mountain Wingsuit.

It will be a hit at client meetings.

[HT: Bob Fitch ]

Disappearing Car Door

A grand example of how to improve upon an existing product:

The disappearing car door!

[HT: Rick Miller ]

Law and Order Break: Mug Shots

Apparently, the mug shot stage of the arrest and booking process is an opportunity to show off your unusual t-shirt.

Check out this gallery.

[HT: Linkbunnies ]

"Sex" Reaches Poland

Kay S. Hymowitz notes the internationalization of The New Girl Order. 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.

Just a Thought

If a team of special prosecutors had examined your life for the past year, would they have enough evidence to prove that you are:






Miscellaneous and Fast

Shocking! The Iranian government is trying to repress Internet use. [HT: Drudge Report ]

Random Culture has a bundle of links of folks (such as the party animals at McKinsey and the hippies at The Futurist) who are bold enough to make predictions for 2008.

Speaking of trends: Michael at 2Blowhards notes we may be
witnessing the elimination of the middle man in Hollywood.

But it's still cool: National Geographic says the giant skeleton photo was a hoax.

Michael Kerr recommends some unusual travel books.

Progress? Michael Barone gives a review of this past year.

Excuse the knife: Jan Moir reports on a weird proposal in Britain to let juvenile offenders off if they apologize to their victims.

Intent and Effect

He walks into the office with a scowl on his face because he was cut off in traffic.

His associates think he is upset about something at work.

During a staff meeting, he marvels at how another department is so well organized.

His team believes that he's saying they are sloppy.

He loudly complains about the office equipment that keeps breaking down.

The administrative assistant who purchased the items feels personally attacked.

Either he has to start considering the effect of his behavior


his associates have to start worrying less about pleasing him.

Quote of the Day

Talent without genius isn't much, but genius without talent is nothing whatever.

- Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Geek Stuff

X-treme Geek is the natural shopping territory for the geeks in your life.

The denizens of IT departments lust for their t-shirts.


In an old but interesting interview with Powells, travel writer Paul Theroux wandered off into the exotic realm of career advice:

Anyone can do it, travel, but you have to resign yourself to the fact that you're not going to be networking. You'll probably never get rich. To rise in the world, you have to stay in a city. Monica Lewinsky's career is an interesting example. She networked with someone who was a fundraiser. She got a job at The White House. Then she got transferred to The Pentagon. Then she got a job at Revlon. Granted, she had a little help along the way, but she was twenty-two years old. When I was twenty-two, I was teaching in a school in Africa with no prospects whatsoever.

Fuzzy Bunny Interrogations?

Imagine that U.S. forces capture Osama bin Laden or a high-level lieutenant in Pakistan next month and hand him over to the CIA, amid intelligence reports that a massive new Qaeda attack on America may be imminent.

Should it be illegal for CIA interrogators to try to scare the man into talking by yelling at him? By threatening to slap him? By pretending to be from Egypt's brutal intelligence service? What about turning up the air conditioner to make him uncomfortably cold? Or denying him hot food until he talks, while giving him all the cold food he can eat?

Stuart Taylor, writing in The National Journal, notes that these may be illegal under a proposed bill.


Alex Taylor III looks at the demise of the SUV:

It is an ignoble end to a proud motoring era. Not more than 15 years ago, SUVs ruled the automotive landscape and produced record profits during Detroit's last golden age. Now the most popular SUV of that era, the Ford Explorer, is headed to the scrap heap, done in by fuel economy and the lingering effects of tire-shredding and rollover issues from several years ago.
The Explorer has been a shadow of its former self, selling at less than half of the 400,000 units a year it did during its glory years. The name will continue on but the vehicle is moving on the passenger car platform used by the Ford Taurus around 2011. (Those interested in a sneak preview can see Ford's (
F, Fortune 500) concept-car version of the new Explorer at the 2008 Detroit auto show in January.) Likewise, the Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango, latecomers to the SUV party, will shift onto the unibody platform used by the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Jackson is On

This is very good news for all fans of Middle Earth.

Pretend You Are Running

If you ever want to feel what it must be like to run for president, pretend that you have experienced the following:

  • The stupid remarks you made in high school are part of every comedy routine on late night television.

  • The obnoxious guy you could have easily avoided prior to running has you by the collar and is droning into the final 15 minutes of his fool-proof plan to achieve world peace.

  • Your quip that an opponent's foreign policy ideas are "pig-ignorant" has ignited protests from pig lovers throughout the nation. Hecklers dressed as pigs show up at your events.

  • You can't use a public restroom without a herd of reporters waiting outside the door.

  • You are expected to wolf down and praise every bizarre local dish held up by some eager street vendor.

  • You are not sure if the person who is frantically pushing through a crowd is an ardent supporter or a murderous psychotic.

  • Many of the reporters on your campaign bus secretly hope to smile and cajole you into some interesting revelation that will give them a headline, even if it is lethal to your dreams.

  • If you entirely please all of the members of your base - the same dedicated folks who will make the rafters ring in the convention hall - you have probably sunk your chances in the general election.

  • You sleep in a different hotel room every night.

  • You have to be "on" and charming with everyone who crosses your path or they will tell their friends or a nearby microphone that you are an inconsiderate snob.

  • The problems and challenges in your personal life - after all, you are no different from anyone else - have not disappeared.

  • You get up early in the snowy morning to greet factory workers as they arrive at work and many of them refuse to take your hand.

  • You drive across a city only to discover that the "Meet the Candidate" party at Rachel Emerson's home has attracted eight people.

  • Every political junkie within 50 miles is eager to tell you how to improve your campaign.

  • Some of them are correct.