Thursday, January 31, 2008

Creative Takes

Katmandu as creatively portrayed by Cat Stevens and Bob Seger.

Miscellaneous and Fast

A 2,500 year-old tomb has been excavated in eastern China.

Andrew Klavan looks at Hollywood's war films.

A radio station employee sets fire to the station after they change his playlist.

National Journal has announced the most liberal senator of 2007. [HT: RealClearPolitics ]

Ryanair's latest ad has sparked controversy, which is probably exactly what the company wanted. [HT: Adrants ]

Opposing opinions on changes to civil rights law.

Cool Tools looks at the Scooba Floor Scrubber...and likes it.

A profile of Julie Christie.

Generational DNA

One of the most interesting blogs out there is The Executive Update.

Check out this post on the Xs and Ys and the DNA of Executive Succession.

Predatory Employees

Some of the strangest cases I've encountered have involved predatory bosses; even stranger ones, however, were with predatory employees.

The power-hungry, cruel or harassing boss is practically a stereotype but the cold and calculating employee barely receives attention in the press or the general culture.

And yet these creatures exist. Know ye them by these symptoms:

  • The capacity to play two roles almost simultaneously; e.g., the highly competent professional who is not only capable of handling any stressful assignment but would be seriously insulted if that capability were questioned...and the sympathetic victim who suffers severe emotional distress if someone utters a sarcastic remark or tells an off-color joke. Hypersensitivity and an eagerness to ascribe malice to innocent or blundering behavior are part of this performance.

  • The declared and open recording of all perceived offenses... and the subsequent documentation of any co-workers or supervisors who avoid interaction because they don't want their casual remarks to become part of a court case.

  • The creation of purported friendships in order to gain information that may assist an eventual case.

  • A jail house lawyer's knowledge of all complaint procedures and lines.

  • An expectation that supervisors and co-workers be understanding and tolerant of various lapses in job performance...combined with a failure to give those same individuals the benefit of the doubt.

  • A conspiracy to demonstrate that all others are conspiratorial.

Wait a minute, the plaintiff attorneys may say. Don't causes of emotional distress defy logic? Cannot the combat veteran quake at the thought of giving a speech? Isn't the declared intention to document simply a form of self-defense? Who can plumb the reasons for a broken friendship and aren't you being harsh in implying ill intent? Shouldn't employees know their rights? Wouldn't you distrust people if you feel you've been subjected to poor treatment? Is it not possible that actions taken to prepare a defense may seem to be conspiratorial?

Those all are great questions and they illustrate not just the fine line that exists between proper and suspicious conduct but the reason why employers are so vulnerable to the predatory employee. Employers fear how suspicious or reprehensible behavior on the part of an employee may be represented to a jury as the expected conduct of a victim. They worry, in turn, about how a manager's reasonable and appropriate behavior may be portrayed as oppressive or harassing. Their assumption is that juries will have an automatic sympathy for the underdog - the employee - versus the big, rich employer. Fear of litigation is both the sword and shield of the predatory employee.

The impact of this fear should not be underestimated. Employers overlook misconduct and keep people on the job who are highly destructive to efficiency and morale. This cowardice fosters mistrust among the managers and supervisors who correctly sense that they won't be backed up if they try to manage properly. Matters that would normally be handled informally are lawyerized and candor is severely restricted.

The problem needs to be surfaced and discussed. Selection procedures need to be improved so the predators can be screened out. Early intervention in potential cases, with the energetic involvement of the firm's attorneys, should be the rule and not the exception. Team values need to be set forth and reinforced.

These actions, while hardly magical, are justified by one simple fact: A predatory employee can poison a workplace for years. The people who suffer the most from the predators, namedly their co-workers and immediate supervisors, deserve better.

Too Pretty?

Stephen H. Wildstrom started a bit of a firestorm with his article on the virtues and limits of the new Apple laptop, the MacBook Air.

Here are the comments from his readers.

Quote of the Day

What I call loaded I'm not. What other people call loaded I am.

- Zsa Zsa Gabor

[Advertise job openings on this site. Go to: ]

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

7 Ways to Lose a Job

As a public service for those who have grown tired of a paycheck, here are some time-tested ways to lose a job:

  1. Don't be punctual. It's strange, but when employers say they want you there at 8:00, they don't mean 8:05, 8:17, or 9:00.

  2. Fight with your co-workers. If you have run-ins with Tom in operations, Dick in Marketing, and Mary in accounting, it won't be too long before your boss notices a common denominator to those incidents.

  3. Turn in sloppy work. They didn't hire you so they could do part of your job. Show them that you can delegate...upward.

  4. Miss deadlines. Few people have never missed a deadline but making it a habit is as lethal as scrawling "Unreliable" on your forehead.

  5. Be unenthusiastic. Although Fred's Furry Critters BBQ Joint may not play a main role in your career dreams, odds are Fred thinks it's a pretty important place. If you act like it's just a paycheck, don't be surprised if Fred is offended.

  6. Make excuses for poor work. Employers hate this. You can put a cherry on top by also failing to apologize.

  7. Shoot off your mouth. Lewdness, profanity, truculent opinions, and just flat-out indiscreet remarks have zapped many a career. Don't overlook this colorful option.

"One for the Books"

Via Governing:

“Hell’s Kitchen has a rich history, but this is one for the books.”

- New York City police spokesman Paul J. Browne on the arrests of two men who allegedly pushed a corpse seated in an office chair along a sidewalk in the once-notorious Manhattan neighborhood to a check-cashing store to cash the dead man’s Social Security check.

Source: New York Times

Hack Job

Anti-Scientology agitators have repeatedly harassed and threatened violence against a 59-year-old PG&E worker and his wife, who were mistakenly flagged as pro-Scientology hackers.

John Lawson, who lives in Stockton, California with his wife Julia, began receiving threatening phone calls around 2 a.m. Saturday morning. He didn't know why until THREAT LEVEL explained that a hacking group calling itself the g00ns (goons spelled with zeros, not goons with the letter o) posted his home address, phone number and cell numbers, as well as Julia's Social Security number, online. The obscene and threatening calls have continued through Tuesday, according to Lawson.

Read the rest of this strange story.

Wristwatches and Geezers

Michael at 2Blowhards explores the "no wristwatch" trend among the young.

Rewarding Negative Behavior

Despite all of the grand talk about rewarding accomplishment and merit, in far too many instances the louts get the prize.

Sadly, they are often inadvertently abetted by decent people. Here are a few of the ways in which negative behavior is rewarded:

  1. The employee who pesters the boss for some sort of special privilege is finally granted it in the name of peace.

  2. The negotiator who makes outrageous demands is rewarded with concessions instead of refusals or counter-demands.

  3. The attorney who doesn't abide by the meeting terms that were previously agreed upon is allowed to reshape the nature of the meeting.

  4. The customer who behaves rudely is given better treatment than those who are polite.

What should happen, of course, is that conditions should worsen, not improve, when a person behaves unacceptably. The best that the offending side should hope for is no change, not a better deal.

Take reasonable people for granted and reward the louts and you'll get more of the latter and fewer of the former.

Electric Football

Electric football is still around and apparently has a sizable number of followers.

The description of the action is a little baffling to me. The game that I knew was more chaotic. When the electric switch was flipped, the players "ran" all over the field or in the wrong direction. It was more Marx Brothers than Knute Rockne.

Quote of the Day

Success generally depends on knowing how long it takes to succeed.

- Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Miscellaneous and Fast

HR World released its list of the top 25 HR Blogs of 2007.

Still Back by popular demand: Flea Market Montgomery. Makes me want to drive down South and buy a sofa.

Jim Fusilli looks at the soundtracks nominated for the Oscar.

WaiterRant encounters a haggler.

Tim Ferriss on personal branding in the digital age.

Tricky Dick

From the Wikipedia entry on Dick Tuck:

As the ballot totals piled against him on Election Night, the candidate was asked his reaction. Referring back to his cemetery speech, Tuck quipped, "Just wait till the dead vote comes in." When defeat became inevitable, Tuck made the now notorious statement, "The people have spoken, the bastards."

Quote of the Day

One never goes so far as when one doesn't know where one is going.

- Goethe

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Lessons Learned Stage

Many organizations make "after action reports" and "lessons learned sessions" part of their standard routine.

While not all of those organizations are successful, I suspect that most successful organizations use such practices and their value lies not simply in avoiding the repetition of mistakes.

The other important benefits are:

Awareness. The word is out that all of the team members are supposed to be on the alert for ways in which matters can be better handled. You don't merely focus on achieving the results; you also are sensitive to the process.

Boldness. People and processes should not be fragile. Mistakes will happen and a goal is to make sure that all of the mistakes are minor. There are certain balls that the juggler must keep in the air.

Responsibility. Improving the game is not the sole responsibility of the team leader. All members have a role in assuring success and all should be open to ways in which their own specific areas of responsibility can be improved.

Although such analyses usually follow special projects and zero in on specific project-oriented recommendations, it also makes enormous sense to elicit weekly or monthly comments from staff members on their latest accomplishments and areas of frustration as well as the current state of their morale.

Those too will have a sizable impact on the success of future projects.

Quote of the Day

I do most of my work sitting down; that's where I shine.

- Robert Benchley

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Useful Maxim

One day Solomon decided to humble Benaiah Ben Yehoyada, his most trusted minister. He said to him, "Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me. I wish to wear it for Sukkot which gives you six months to find it." "If it exists anywhere on earth, your majesty," replied Benaiah, "I will find it and bring it to you, but what makes the ring so special?" "It has magic powers," answered the king. "If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy." Solomon knew that no such ring existed in the world, but he wished to give his minister a little taste of humility. Spring passed and then summer, and still Benaiah had no idea where he could find the ring. On the night before Sukkot, he decided to take a walk in one of the poorest quarters of Jerusalem. He passed by a merchant who had begun to set out the day's wares on a shabby carpet.

Read the rest of the story here.

Leading the Clever

When I spotted this essay by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones on leading clever people, the skeptical management consultant in me was prepared to mock...but it actually has some good ideas.

Crystal Ball Time

How do you predict the future without making a fool of yourself? You can extrapolate current trends to their logical next steps, but unless you stick to the weather -- hurricanes a-comin' next year! -- you're likely to be wrong. Human beings should have been cloned by now. Gasoline should be pumping at $5 a gallon. California, to the disappointment of many, has yet to collapse into the sea along its fault lines, metaphorical or otherwise. What, then, is the point of predicting the future at all?

Paul Boutin looks at a couple of books on predicting the future.

Quote of the Day

Let us treat men and women well; treat them as if they were real; perhaps they are.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Don't Look Up

Investigative journalism gone awry.

Miscellaneous and Fast

A cyber war is traced...and it leads to a guy in Estonia.

Consumerist reports that far more iPhones were sold than were activated.

News from The Chauffeur of the Year awards.

Will China and India destroy the planet? And is that a fair question?

Voting is open on the 2008 "bloggies."

Fortune's slide show: 9 things you didn't know about Google.

Gridskipper provides hilltop views of San Francisco.

Top Five on Illness

Laura Landro gives her top five books on living with illness.

Losing History

Please forgive a brief rant on a heart-felt issue.

I wrote a history book years ago. One of the many benefits of that exercise was a keen appreciation of how rapidly the past can be lost.

One of the individuals interviewed for the project had handled the publicity portion of a very contentious political campaign almost 30 years earlier. When we sat down for the interview, he remarked, "It's a shame you didn't call me a few weeks earlier. I cleaned out my garage and threw away several boxes of material."

You can imagine how that made me feel.

The Arizona Historical Society is holding an Historical Photographs Fair today in Tempe, Arizona. Members of the public have submitted various photos so they can be scanned into the historical museum's archives and preserved. Some marvelous items have surfaced and they'll be shown at the Fair. It is difficult to avoid wondering how many of them would have been lost if the event had not been held.

The historical items that are currently tucked away in attics and basements will far too often wind up in trash dumpsters as heirs try to lighten the load of dividing their parent's and grandparent's memorabilia.

That common practice is a nightmare for historians.

Quote of the Day

Who has fully realized that history is not contained in thick books but lives in our very blood?

- Carl Jung

Friday, January 25, 2008

Up North

Mark Steyn on the Canadian and American economies. An excerpt:

In the province of Quebec, it’s taken more or less for granted by all political parties that collective rights outweigh individual rights. For example, if you own a store in Montreal, the French language signs inside the store are required by law to be at least twice the size of the English signs. And the government has a fairly large bureaucratic agency whose job it is to go around measuring signs and prosecuting offenders. There was even a famous case a few years ago of a pet store owner who was targeted by the Office De La Langue Fran├žaise for selling English-speaking parrots. The language commissar had gone into the store and heard a bird saying, “Who’s a pretty boy, then?” and decided to take action. I keep trying to find out what happened to the parrot. Presumably it was sent to a re-education camp and emerged years later with a glassy stare saying in a monotone voice, “Qui est un joli garcon, hein?”

Midways Time

On the Moneyed Midways is up at Political Calculations. Good stuff.

Cavorting in Davos Update

The news coming out of Davos, as always, makes me kind of queasy and resentful. The sight of the world’s super-capitalists, including some former communists, cavorting with canapes coming out of their ears is an annual source of amusement and irritation. I’ve been to enough boondoggles. I know what these guys are up to.

Read the rest of Stanley Bing on Davos.

7 Reasons Why Job Searches are a Drag

  1. You don't know what you want.

  2. They don't know what they want.

  3. The interview has all of the attraction of a blind date.

  4. The job you are interested in will always schedule an interview with you for one week after you need to make a decision on a job offer you don't want.

  5. Being "overqualified" doesn't pay the rent.

  6. Being the best person for the job doesn't mean you'll get it.

  7. Your best interview answers are composed on the way back to your car.

Jump Shot

How is the strategy working? Consider China, the land of Yao Ming, the 7-foot, 6-inch Shanghai-born star of the Houston Rockets who was chosen number one in the 2002 draft., China’s premier sports website, estimates that one-tenth of all Chinese are soccer fans. That’s 130 million people. By contrast, the NBA reckons that 300 million Chinese watch NBA games on TV or the Internet. That’s roughly the entire U.S. popula­tion. Eighty-nine percent of Chinese aged 15 to 54 are aware of the NBA, according to a survey by the European research firm TNS of 11 major urban markets in China. Every year, thousands of basketball courts are constructed, even in the most remote provinces.

The NBA is also gaining huge popularity in other parts of Asia, Europe, and Latin America, and it is starting to make inroads in Africa. In the summer of 2007, the NBA held 262 international events in 162 cities spanning five continents—nearly dou­ble the 135 events in 87 cities in 2006. In October, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic played exhibition games in Shanghai and Macao. Four other teams—the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Memphis Grizzlies, and Minnesota Timberwolves—held training camps and played exhibition games in Europe. NBA Commissioner David Stern has announced that his goal is to hold regular-season games in major European cities.

Read the rest of Charles Euchner's article on whether basketball can overtake soccer as the world's most popular sport.

Quote of the Day

This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back again.

- Oscar Wilde

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Notes from a Meeting

As you think back on the meeting that was recently held, consider:

  • Which important items were not discussed?

  • Which relevant decision maker was not present or, worse yet, not invited?

  • Which items seemed to flow to easy agreement and was that agreement just a bit too easy?

  • Which areas will be likely points of blame if the project doesn't succeed?

  • Which responsibilities do you assume are being handled elsewhere and why are you making that assumption?

  • Is it possible that the decision that you supported because the others supported it was being supported by the others because they trust your judgment?

Miscellaneous and Fast

Jalopnik drives the Smart Car.

Omnivoracious has a list of science fiction and fantasy links. [HT: Instapundit ]

Steven Malanga looks at racial/ethnic turmoil and immigration.

Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge has a Q&A with Thomas J. DeLong on the challenges facing professional service firms.

Women, Wardrobe, and Power

The Wall Street Journal's Christina Binkley is back with a review of the clothing tips and strategies of powerful women. An excerpt:

High-ranking women on Wall Street in particular are a thinly traded commodity, and they quickly learn to keep their fashion issues in the closet. In fact, most don't like the word "fashion."

Instead, many women focus on practicality. Michaela Jedinak, a London-based media and entertainment lawyer who advises executives on communications and style, says women need "hard-wearing" clothing that won't look sloppy and wrinkled by late afternoon. Don't wear make-up that has to be reapplied, she suggests, because it will make you too "self-conscious."

The attention brought to clothing is a two-edged sword for authoritative women everywhere. A style misstep can be career-limiting. Yet paying too much attention to one's appearance risks accusations of frivolity -- which is equally career-limiting.

Best Employers

What are the best companies to work for in your state?

Check out Fortune's list.

Quote of the Day

Character is much easier kept than recovered.

- Thomas Paine

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Paperless Office

Is there a concept in the modern workplace that has become more of a joke than "The Paperless Office?"

I think not.

You may nominate TQM and yet we all respect Toyota.

Diversity Management may be a zealot's dream but there are some practical versions.

Time Management has its various cults and you can still find shrines to Management By Objective.

No, The Paperless Office is the planner's equivalent of a Whoopie Cushion. In all but the most bizarre and exceptional workplaces, it was a joke from the start.

Why? Because we love paper. We like its feel and its smell. [Remember those tests in elementary school and how 25 noses immediately sniffed the hallowed product of the mimeograph machine? Those who do not have been deprived of a marvelously sensual experience.]

Paper serves not just as a recording instrument but as an visible nudge, a symbolic and therapeutic item to crumple, a basketball or baseball, a tangible piece of evidence that can be waved dramatically or quietly passed, a doodle sheet, and an easily transported bit of wisdom.

If we'd started with electronic files, we'd have danced in the streets when someone invented paper. The Paperless Office folks tried to disguise their approach as an advance but, deep down inside, we all knew it was a Great Leap Backward.

Paperless? No way.

Did Success Kill Bobby Fischer?

In his day, he was the best chess player in the world, maybe the best the world had ever seen. For fans of the game, the tragedy is that his day passed all too quickly. And for the last 30-odd years of his life, Bobby Fischer was the chess world's mad uncle, an embarrassment to be apologized for, belittled or ignored. He died last week at the evocative age of 64.

Carnival Time

The Carnival of HR is up at one of the most interestingly named - and interesting - blogs out there:

8 hours & a lunch.

Quote of the Day

If they cured cancer tomorrow it would take a day before analysts worried about the impact on Medicare, what with people living so damned long and all.

- James Lileks

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

French General Staff: 1940

Recently, I've sat through some very impressive briefings lately on a very complicated project. The speakers have been knowledgeable and persuasive. The plans have been comprehensive. All possible downsides appear to have been anticipated. I'm confident that the client's project will be a success.

In the back of my mind, however, arose the thought that if we'd attended the briefings of the French General Staff in 1940, shortly before the German blitzkrieg turned the very idea of the Maginot Line defense into a strategist's joke, we would have also been impressed. No doubt the briefers were well-versed and eloquent. The visual aids were probably first-rate. All possible questions would seem to have been resolved.

How can we root out the possible flaws?

Re-examine the assumptions. The French thought one especially vulnerable area was blocked by an impenetrable forest. It wasn't. They had no effective response when their assumption proved to be false.

Review the danger of cumulative effect. Perfect storms occur. What happens if a series of small problems merges? Where is the final trench?

Make sure you have reserves. There is a famous moment in the battle of France when Churchill asks the French generals where is their strategic reserve and is told none exists.

Recognize, as the old saying goes, no plan survives contact with the enemy. The flexibility to shift with events is crucial. Planning is great but rigid plans can be senseless.

Overcommunicate. If you think you are overcommunicating with other units you are probably sharing information at an adequate level.

Finally, don't believe your own P.R. All joking aside, the French General Staff had some pretty capable officers in 1940. Beware of smugness and be especially wary of automatic deference to the top.

As a wise Italian diplomat once said, one of the most lethal gases is incense.

The Little Things

There are days when it is easy to conclude that there are no little things.

Some small item triggers a glitch which in turn spirals into a significant setback. Such events are enough to create a paralyzing level of paranoia but the danger of the little things, of course, lurks not in a spark but in erosion.

The slow and barely perceptible decline can be far more dangerous than the sudden fall because it trips no alarms and may even be accepted. With erosion, the abnormal quickly appears to be normal.

Historians studying the decline of great empires seek out the small turning points that, taken together, aided the descent. Business and governmental organizations need to do the same investigative work and I would suggest that the first area to examine should be subtle changes in the values. The overarching assumptions may remain the same as before but seemingly minor modifications of the core values are the real change masters.

Ancient Rome's shifts in the responsibilities of leaders and citizens may have had more to do with its fall than any weapons or strategies of the "barbarians."

Crisis P.R.

One to save because you never know: a list of crisis P.R. firms.

Wanting "More" in India

When the conversation turns to social issues, India's young people are likely to erupt in grousing about arranged marriage, the caste system, and interactions with Westerners—all of which should concern employers. Caste attitudes, for instance, clash with merit-based corporate values, and young techies sometimes feel they're treated poorly by American and European clients. "We're not Martians. We're human beings," says a young woman engineer at a Bangalore tech firm.

Read the rest of the Business Week article on India's younger generation.

Quote of the Day

In lapidary inscriptions a man is not upon oath.

- Samuel Johnson

Monday, January 21, 2008

Institutional Memory

The recent version of the film National Treasure surfaced the tantalizing thought that there is a book containing secrets known only to the presidents of the United States.

If only a mild version of such a book existed in most organizations. Rather than continually relearning what should be institutional knowledge, executives and managers should consider the following:

  • Keeping a departmental log of important presentations to boards, councils, and key decision makers so future presenters will know which issues were surfaced, the types of questions that were asked, and which decision makers had special concerns;

  • Creating and updating a book of how significant challenges were overcome by individuals or groups (one example: sales reps who described how they dealt with customer objections or problems);

  • Writing an annual history of the department's key accomplishments and setbacks complete with analyses of what was done well and what should have been handled differently; and

  • Having departing executives, managers, professionals, and technicians write an account of the lessons they learned on the job and tips they would give to their successors.

Would such accounts be sanitized? Sure. But they'd contain enough substance to be of real assistance and it is ridiculous that such accounts aren't more common.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Michael Barone on mostly decent politics.

As good as it gets: Greenstreet and Bogart in The Maltese Falcon.

The sad story of a computer hoax that led to a girl's suicide.

Less is More: Some communities are seeking to save their local bookstores.

Mark Steyn on The New York Times's version of the Oxford Declaration. [HT: RealClearPolitics ]

Road warriors know there's no substitute for face-to-face communication.

Dr. King

Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech.

The Old Campaigner

Sad news. Noted folk singer John Stewart, formerly of The Kingston Trio, has died.

Here is a video of him in April of 2007 singing "Mother Country."

Too Busy?

It's Monday and thus an appropriate time to read Stanley Bing's list of questions on whether you're too busy.

An excerpt:

Do you eat lunch at your desk just about every day and are forced to talk to people, either on the phone or in person, with tuna fish hanging off the end of your chin?

Do you sometimes find yourself running to get to a meeting in your own building?

Are you late for things a lot of the time when before you used to be punctual?

Are you often shocked to find out what time it is? That the days seem to whiz by and at the end of them nothing really got done to completion?

Quote of the Day

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.

- Martin Luther King Jr.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Christopher and Tom

He was born and educated in England but became an American citizen and patriot. He was an egalitarian moralist and left-wing political radical. He was involved in the political and revolutionary currents of his time, almost always on the side of reason and universal freedom. He made his living as a brilliant political essayist, pamphleteer, and controversialist and often quarreled in print and elsewhere with former comrades in arms. He wrote a best-selling critique of religion in defense of rationalism as the basis for political, social, and moral life. He was to some Americans a national treasure. He was to others an obnoxious pest. I’m talking about Tom Paine. With an appropriate change of tense, I might be talking about Christopher Hitchens.

Read the rest of Jerry Weinberger's City Journal article.

Presentation Zen

Guy Kawasaki talks with Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen about secrets of great presentations.


The other day, while sipping DayQuil and staring at my bedroom ceiling, I came up with several good ideas for some work projects.

It was the old story of creativity being fed by inactivity. That, in turn, leads to this thought:

We take time off for vacations, sickness, and personal chores. Why not take time off to think?

Doing so while at the office can raise some eyebrows. Action or the appearance of action are preferred. Sitting and pondering has a close resemblance to goofing off.

I've long suggested to clients that they take at least one hour a week to get away and think but it also makes sense to take a longer amount of time every month.

This can depend, of course, upon personal styles. For some, the best thoughts occur in the midst of action while others require inactivity as inspiration. The trick is to seize the activity - be it playing tennis or watching clouds - that will unlease the creativity.

It will be time well spent.

Top Five on Fanaticism

Alan Charles Kors gives his top five list of books about fanaticism.

Quote of the Day

The ablest man I ever met is the man you think you are.

- Franklin D. Roosevelt

Saturday, January 19, 2008


"I remember when Phil was a little kid, instead of picking up a book, getting bored, and then throwing it at his sister, he'd actually sit down and read the whole thing," said mother Susan Meyer, who declared she has long given up trying to explain her son's unusual hobby. "At the time, we thought it was just a phase he was going through. I guess we were wrong."

Over the years, Meyer has read dozens of books from beginning to end, regardless of whether he was forced to do so by a professor in school or whether a film version of the reading material already existed. According to girlfriend Jessica Kohler, he even uses a special cardboard marking device so that he can keep track of where he has stopped reading and later return to that exact same place.

From The Onion: "Area Eccentric Reads Entire Book."

This Old Bureaucracy

Ken Miller applies "extreme make-over" techniques to government and draws inspiration from the private sector:

If home improvement is not your thing, anybody who has ever flown Southwest Airlines or used a George Foreman grill understands this concept. George Foreman made millions off of this very simple principle. The old way of making hamburgers was a two-step, 14-minute process. Step 1, cook side A for 7 minutes. Step 2, cook side B for 7 minutes. Foreman, with five little Georges to feed, asked the question, "Why can't we cook side A and side B at the same time?" Voila! One fully cooked hamburger in half the time. (Again, the work itself is still the same — 7 minutes per side. He sped up the process, not the cooking. Microwaving the burger would be an example of speeding up work time — but you know how well that turns out!)

Southwest Airlines is one of the few airlines that consistently makes money. Why? Because the company was founded on the radical idea that "airplanes don't make money on the ground." That is, the more flights we can squeeze out of the same fleet, the more money we can make. So Southwest used a NASCAR pit crew (another beautiful example of parallel processing) to see how they could turn a plane around quickly. The airline learned how to sequence all of the tasks necessary to clean and restock a plane and get it ready to board in 10 minutes. One of Southwest's chronically bankrupt large competitors just instituted this concept and was able to add 125 more flights with the same fleet at no additional cost. That's pure profit.

Green and Nuke

Nuclear power is gaining support in unexpected quarters. An excerpt from Duncan Currie's article:

At a hearing of the House Committee on Science and Technology last February, Pelosi assured Republican lawmakers that she would not be an “active opponent” of nuclear energy. “I have a different view on nuclear than I did 20 years ago,” she said. “The technology has changed and I bring a more open mind to that subject now.” Similarly, during a February cam­paign stop in South Carolina, Mrs. Clinton denied any “preconceived opposition” to nuclear power. “It doesn’t put greenhouse gas emissions into the air,” she said.

More and more Democrats and ardent environ­mentalists are now rethinking the nuclear option. They have been joined in Europe by politicians anxious to meet their emissions targets under the Kyoto Protocol and wary of their vulnerability to energy blackmail by unpredictable or hostile gov­ernments in nations like Russia and Iran. “It is impossible to fulfill the Kyoto objectives without using nuclear energy,” Michael Glos, the German economics minister, said in early 2007.

The New Generation

The behavior of this generation has spawned a number of recent books, including Diana West's "The Death of the Grown-Up," Jean Twenge's "Generation Me," and such academic studies as "Emerging Adults in America," edited by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett and Jennifer Lynn Tanner. For a better understanding of this cohort, of which I happen to be a part, I turned to Robert Wuthnow, a Princeton sociologist and the author of a new book called "After the Boomers." Surrounded by college students, and the father of three children who are now ages 35, 33 and 27, Prof. Wuthnow, a kind-looking gentleman with a full head of white hair, has long been fascinated by the demographic differences between young adults today and his own generation.

Here are the crucial ones he identifies: When compared with their parents and grandparents, 20- and 30-somethings are spending more time in school, remaining financially dependent on their parents longer, marrying later in life, having kids later (and have fewer of them), and changing jobs and locations more often. As Prof. Wuthnow sees it, this extended adolescence or "emerging adulthood" (a phrase coined by Prof. Arnett in a 2000 article in American Psychologist) is largely a product of longer life expectancies and has both upsides and downsides.

Read the rest here.

Quote of the Day

If you'd lose a troublesome visitor, lend him money.

- Benjamin Franklin

Friday, January 18, 2008

Business Ultra-Casual

Like wearing underwear around the office. Or walking around naked wearing only a sock to cover his genitals. He denies creating a hostile work environment and in depositions he has explained away his behavior, saying that during the plaintiff’s employment he “frequently had been in my underpants . . . because I was designing an underwear line.” He added: “I’m very proud of the underwear.” As for the sock, he says that he was considering it as a product and he “was in fit condition for it.”

Read the rest of The Wall Street Journal Law Blog post.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Commodore Alert: Check out these old computer ads. [HT: Adfreak ]

Bruce Weinstein looks at the ethics of discussing politics at work.

Around 8,000 people applied for the job of Chief Beer Officer.

Commemorating 25 years of Judge Richard Posner.

Unusual medical procedure discovered in Illinois.

Fashion consultant Amanda Brooks looks at men with scarves.

Self-assessment: 28 attributes of a failed security system.

Sol Stern calls for instructional reform in the schools.

Career Killers?

Based on your own experience, which three of the following are most likely to jeopardize a career?

  1. Talking too little.

  2. Talking too much.

  3. Not socializing.

  4. Not keeping up with developments in the profession.

  5. Not keeping a confidence.

  6. Overpromising.

  7. Being abusive to subordinates.

  8. Having turf wars with peers.

  9. Having an office affair.

  10. Gossiping.

  11. Dressing inappropriately.

  12. Missing deadlines.

  13. Not having a degree.

  14. Exhibiting bigotry.

  15. Being indecisive.

  16. Being disloyal.

  17. Losing money.

  18. Failing to advertise successes.

  19. Using sarcasm.

  20. Being overweight.

  21. Refusing assignments.

Men at Work

Director Paul Thomas Anderson and actor Daniel Day-Lewis talk about "There Will Be Blood."

An excerpt:

The origins of There Will Be Blood can be traced to a bookstore in London, where homesick Paul Thomas Anderson spotted the Upton Sinclair novel Oil!, which then became an unlikely life raft for the struggling writer/director.

"I had been trying to write something, anything — just to get something written," Anderson says. "I had a story that wasn't really working. It was about two families, fighting. It just had that premise. And when I read the book, there were so many ready-made scenes and the great venue of the oil fields and all that. So those are all of the obvious things that seemed worth making a film about."

Student of E-Commerce Transactions

"Since I was a kid, I've been interested in understanding the systems behind these seemingly random things in nature," Gilbert says. But this was the late nineties, when the tech bubble was being inflated with tornado-gauge force, and a couple of his buddies from Yale were starting a dot-com, which he joined as a consultant. The company, like so many others, went bust, but it was an important lesson for Gilbert in how e-commerce transactions worked. More crucially, he also picked up computer programming—by teaching it to himself after work each night. (Some people have happy hour; others find comfort in zeroes and ones. These days Gilbert can't even find the time or, evidently, the right speed, for a girlfriend: "In two weeks they're usually going 50 mph—marriage, kids—and I'm like, 'Hmm, I'm trying to figure out if we should see 3:10 to Yuma at 7:00 or 10:00.' ")

Read the story behind the founder of Proclivity Systems.

Quote of the Day

A proverb is the wisdom of many and the wit of one.

- Lord John Russell

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Party in Oz

Future MacArthur Grant recipient found in Australia.

Boomer Breaks

John Waggoner, writing in USA Today, notes that the older baby boomers got all the breaks.

Aside from Vietnam, of course. That part wasn't factored in.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Christopher Hitchens pens a farewell to Flashman.

Bottled water companies try to go green.

Doc Guide: A guidebook to help you find a good doctor.

Arthur C. Brooks on political stereotypes and hate.

Conspicuous consumption: Wealth signals and race.

Art Comber: Cool Tools has the details on a portable art studio.

Victor Davis Hanson on the politics of immigration.

Fortune picks the best stocks for 2008.

Serious Integrity?

On the day we launched Hospira, we began educating our employees by giving them all a book—The Integrity Advantage by Adrian Gostick and Dana Telford—that explains integrity in a corporate setting. It boils integrity down to 10 characteristics, which it then defines. Among my favorites:

You know the little things count.
You mess up, you ’fess up.
You keep your word.
You care about the greater good.
You act like you’re being watched.
You hire integrity.

We also used this book as the inspiration for an employee Code of Business Conduct, which we distributed to all 14,000-plus employees. We followed up with live training sessions, and we asked everyone to sign a “Statement of Ethics and Compliance.” Finally, we set up a worldwide Ethics and Compliance Hotline. As 2004 ended, we conducted an employee benchmark survey. It found that just 24 percent of respondents would “strongly agree” that they were encouraged to act with integrity. Just 22 percent felt their managers set an example of integrity.

Steve Jobs at MacWorld

Better and better:

You can now watch Steve Jobs's 90 minute keynote address at 60 seconds.

Do It Herself

The home-improvement industry has always been a no-woman's land known for its drab aisles lined with nail bins and mysterious steel objects whose purpose was understood only by grunting guys in flannel shirts. Now it is going designer pink. Companies such as Tomboy Tools, Barbara K Enterprises and Girlgear Industries are offering the female do-it-yourselfer fabulous pink hammers and saws in stores and on the Web. These items usually fit snugly inside a smart satchel of the same hue, the tool box as it might be interpreted by Sarah Jessica Parker. Tomboy Trades, a Canadian concern, has also recently introduced adorable pink work boots; they also come in stylish, but less assertively girly, red, blue and green. Pink or blue, these boots are made for workin'.

There has been an explosion of womantargeted self-help books, videos, radio shows (including one called "A Repair to Remember"), TV spots and home-improvement Web sites. Some sites—including and—are specifically for women, while others offer female-friendly links and columns. Home Depot has introduced "Do It Herself" clinics for women interested in learning how to use a stud finder; the classes are evidently a success since, as NPR has reported, in some locales the store is becoming known as a hot singles spot. Even schoolgirls are joining the revolution. The Girl Scouts now offer a Ms. Fix-It badge for members eager to learn how to rewire a lamp or fix a leaky toilet, and an outfit called Vermont Work for Women has introduced a summer program called Rosie's (as in Rosie the Riveter) Girls promising "hands on instruction in the skilled trades."

Read the rest of Kay Hymowitz's article here.

Quote of the Day

He who hesitates is sometimes saved.

- James Thurber

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Culture Break: Shakespeare and Brando

Great stuff: Marlon Brando as Marc Antony delivering the funeral oration in Julius Caesar.

Slow Mo

Many apologies for my slow response to comments lately.

I just returned from a business trip and am fighting a hellish sinus/allergy condition.

Will be posting during the recovery stage but please be merciful if I start to hallucinate.

[Granted, some may say, "What's different?"]

Rethinking Selection

Recently, I've had the chance to revisit one of my favorite topics, the selection process, and it has renewed my enthusiasm for a proposal I made over a year ago.

Here goes:

  1. We should replace the selection process with a Talent Evaluation Process. Selection is far too mechanical. It places the round peg in the round hole - at least we hope - and its overall emphasis is on filling a slot. Serious evaluation of the available talent is often secondary. In too many cases it is a very far second.

  2. The selection process produces two camps: the successful applicant and the losers. The latter may be highly talented souls but the selection process is not horseshoes and you normally don't gain any points from being the Almost Selected. [Although that's a nice thing to emphasize to your mother: "I was really, really, close."]

  3. Due to the warm and caring intervention of the lawyers - those altruists! - organizations clam up when it comes to giving feedback to the also-rans. "We were impressed by your qualifications," we lie, "but decided to hire another applicant. Your application will be kept for a year in case another opening occurs." [See. We aren't bad people. We just tossed a fish!]

  4. This practice means that people can apply for job after job and never get any meaningful feedback. No one says, "Lose the tie" or "Stop talking down to the oral board." We actually think our silence is kind but with kind friends like that, you don't need any...well, you get the point.

  5. The Talent Evaluation Process would be candid. Its emphasis would be on evaluating the skills, knowledge, and attitudes of the applicants and telling them where they missed the mark. Now before the HR folks start moaning over the extra work and the legal exposure, let me propose a compromise: Limit the detailed feedback to the internal applicants, at least at the start. Let candor be one of the little benefits of working for your firm.

  6. The advantage is obvious: You can tell people what they need to do to make themselves more competitive. Some will huff and puff and claim you missed their inner beauty but others will take that budget class or dress more appropriately or learn how to handle a job interview. They will improve their ability to rise.

  7. As for the legal exposure, that is indeed real. There would be more of it. But if you let fear of litigation dictate all of your decisions, you will not be doing the right thing. There are some cranks out there, but most people are adults. They will prefer the hard truth over the cold caress of the bureaucratic rejection. They will know that you cared enough to be honest. And that's not a bad signal to send.

Quote of the Day

What the New Yorker calls home would seem like a closet to most Americans, yet he manages not only to live there but also to grow trees and cockroaches right on the premises.

- Russell Baker

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Miscellaneous and Fast

Oren Harari on the "real essence of strategy."

Dubious moments in comics history: Lileks looks at Night Nurse.

Thinking globally: What happens when someone with way too much time and questionable taste critiques the flags of the world. [HT: Andrew Sullivan ]

Nano Nano: What a small car in India means to the environmental movement. [Real Clear Politics ]

The old debate: Did Columbus bring syphilis to the New World or did he bring it back?

The Onion: Area Man Sorry He's Late.

Abu Dhabi is leaning west.

Change Over:
Can the Ford Explorer be saved?

Supersizing Opportunity

Have you ever thought of making a movie?

Michael at 2Blowhards interviews low budget film maker Tom Naughton:

The Neglected

We form committees and devote a considerable amount of time to decide on the purchase of computers ...and then rush through selecting the people who will use those computers.

Guess which one is the more expensive decision.

We quickly correct the employee who mishandles a piece of machinery but postpone confronting patterns of rude or abusive behavior. The effects of the first behavior may be limited to an individual. The latter behavior can pull down the morale and effectiveness of the entire team.

Just as we've learned the difference between working harder and working smarter, we are often reminded of the need to emphasize and re-emphasize the importance of the so-called soft skills. Technical problems are quickly and relatively easily resolved. The problems sparked by soft skill deficiencies churn the stomach acid of many a manager and keep HR directors up at night.

Why do we neglect their importance? Perhaps because of a skewed sense of supply and demand. We know that certain technical skills are in short supply but everyone is presumed to be "people savvy." After all, we reason, unless the person crawled out of a cave, he or she has to have obtained extensive experience dealing with people.

We soon learn the fallacy of that conclusion. Just as there are people who are lonely in crowds, there are those who can swim through masses of contacts without expanding their knowledge. They don't have ten years of experience but instead have simply absorbed one year of experience over and over again.

They won't change until we make them.

Five Best: Commander-in-Chief

Thomas W. Evans gives his top five list of books about the role of commander-in-chief.

Quote of the Day

I'd like to live like a poor man with lots of money.

- Pablo Picasso

Monday, January 14, 2008

Going Beyond Our Specialty

This observation from science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein has always interested me:

A human being should be able to: change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, pitch manure, solve equations, analyze a new problem, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.

Specialization is for insects!

I confess that I can do only a few of those.

But that raises some questions:

  • What types of things outside of our "insect" specialties are not a waste of time but actually add to our ability to perform the narrower tasks?

  • Does a wide range of experiences and skills make us better or more confident decision makers?

The Path to Weaseldom: A Checklist

Key steps on the way to becoming a full-fledged weasel:

  1. Lying, which usually will be cloaked as a fib or a fudge or simply not telling the whole truth.

  2. Evading responsibility.

  3. Taking credit for the work of others.

  4. Kissing up to superiors.

  5. Abusing subordinates.

  6. Faking expertise.

  7. Covering up blunders.

  8. Blaming subordinates or peers.

  9. Blaming superiors.

  10. Pretending that selfish actions are really driven by altruism.

  11. Adopting an attitude of entitlement.

  12. Pointing to the misconduct of others as justification for ethics violations.

  13. Dining out for years on the value and significance of one good deed.

  14. Letting glibness trump sincerity.

  15. Arguing that what was truly a choice was instead driven by necessity.

Quote of the Day

To do great work a man must be very idle as well as very industrious.

- Samuel Butler