Friday, February 29, 2008

Buckley's Friends

Many thanks to Cultural Offering, which is a must-read site, for pointing us to the marvelous article that William F. Buckley Jr. wrote a few years ago about some of his close friends. An excerpt from the section on David Niven, who was suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease:

I remember one afternoon, coming back from skiing to go to work. He was there with his paintbrushes and hailed me. He wanted to tell me something. His face choked up with laughter. It was hard to make out what he was saying, but I managed. He had been in his car when stopped by the red light in Gstaad. An old friend who knew nothing about the illness was coincidentally stopped opposite him, headed in the other direction. He leaned out the window. "What have you got?" he asked David.

"I tried to get out to him," he had a problem with the words, "that I had amytrophic lateral sclerosis. He could hear me well enough but couldn't make out what I said. He yelled back just as the light changed. 'Oh? Well I've got a Lamborghini 500S!' " It hurt David to laugh, and that was the truly unbearable burden.

Start-Up Tips

Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge has collected some helpful interviews and tips on business start-ups.


I'm glad the Levenger Circa Notebook has received some recognition at Cool Tools.

I've been using them for years and they are fantastic, especially if you also get their paper punch so you can transform other papers so they can be clipped into the Circa.

It is one of the best paper management tools out there.

3 Questions

D. Michael Henthorne of the South Carolina Employment Law Letter gives three questions to ask in a discrimination case.

Econ 101

Lesson in crime and economics:

Ferrari might really be a Pontiac.

But it is highly unlikely that your Pontiac is really a Ferrari.

Men on the Faculty

The percentage of male teachers has hit a 40 year low. The reasons are troubling.

Keeping Them Posted

This is a recommendation from one who has sinned in this area but my transgressions do not diminish the importance of the topic:

Give updates to others on your projects.

By "others" I don't mean those who have no interest in the work. [I recall a co-worker many years ago who used to copy all of his associates on practically everything he did. If I had a royalty for every time a Delete button was pushed in that office, this post would be coming from Tahiti.]

Those who do have an interest, however, appreciate a brief status report even if there is no change in the status. It tells them that neither they nor the project have been forgotten and thus is quietly reassuring. In the absence of such reports, it is easy for the person to conjure up all sorts of negative images that produce one irksome thought: They don't count.

Although that may be far from your true feelings, you still need to announce that matters are in hand in order to banish the fear that they might be in for an unpleasant surprise. At a minimum, this should be done once a week. I've long recommended to clients that they write a weekly Significant Action Report so they can, via a one or two page memo, bring their boss up to speed on their projects. It can also help to send single topic updates to associates or clients on a weekly basis.

These updates reassure them and, let's be frank, help to keep us on track so we don't forget about their concerns.

Lifestyle Change

After a highly publicized trial and losing his appeal, Conrad Black goes to jail on Monday.

SOX first gives some details on what he should expect.

Tip Jar

Starbucks' chairman and CEO, Howard Schultz, has embarked on an aggressive campaign to restore the company's luster after various missteps, such as selling glorified Egg McMuffins (bad) and hawking CDs by Kenny G (worse). Stores nationwide were shut down for a few hours Tuesday so that baristas could be retrained to work the espresso machines correctly. But if Mr. Schultz is eager to improve the Starbucks experience, there's a simple place he could start: Lose the tip jars.

During the second half of the 20th century, the practice of tipping largely retreated from American life. The earliest of tipped workers -- railroad porters -- gave way to flight attendants (the first of whom were registered nurses, whose station was deemed above gratuities). Gone are telegrams, the receipt of which required a tip. Men stopped getting shaved at barbershops -- where one stiffed the barber at one's peril. In June 1903, an unlucky New York streetcar conductor named John Shanno failed to tip his barber, Joseph Ferlanto. "I'll teach you not to forget to tip," Ferlanto screamed, and went all Sweeney Todd on him.

Read the rest of Eric Felten's article on the point of tipping.

Quote of the Day

When I came back from Dublin, I was courtmarshalled in my absence and sentenced to death in my absence, so I said they could shoot me in my absence.

- Brendan Behan

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Training Tips

I'm an old trout when it comes to conducting workshops so for what it's worth, here are some guidelines that I've followed over the years:

  • Keep a fast pace. The program should have a sense of momentum and, although people shouldn't feel rushed, it's best if the workshop moves at a good clip.

  • Don't try to tell them everything. Let them leave a little hungry for more information.

  • Give a short break (7 to 9 minutes) every hour and use odd numbers for the breaks. They tend to pay more attention to the time if you use odd numbers.

  • Let people interrupt with their questions. Tell them that if a question is going to be too long or is too specialized, they should ask it over the break or after the class. By permitting them to interrupt with questions, you get their queries while they are fresh and create a more dynamic learning atmosphere.

  • Use a lot of case examples and frame the ensuing discussion with practical guidelines.

  • Have a simple goal: To give them information that is practical, easy to understand, and which can be put to immediate use. Never deviate from that standard.

  • Don't use exercises that needlessly stretch out the time. A lot of inflated programs are hidden under the guise of group exercises.

  • Take a position. People will want to hear your reasoning but they'll appreciate some clear guidance instead "Could be this and could be that" equivocation.

Ted Goff

Ted Goff, whose cartoons on business and management score one bulls eye after another, recently wrote in to correct a link.

I know he didn't expect this but check out these samples of his cartoons. Great stuff.

Miscellaneous and Fast

The stuff dreams are made of: A political campaign provides some real clothing bargains.

Treasure hunt: Looking for Nazi gold and perhaps some amber.

Men with banjos: Steve Martin and Earl Scruggs. [HT: Jonathan Wade]

WFB RIP: Adfreak remembers William F. Buckley Jr.

Calvin Trillin on race, memory, and a killing in the suburbs.

The Curious Crew

The day I learned that management consultants are expected to be eccentric and perhaps even a bit disheveled, I thought, "That's the job for me!"

Consultants, especially if they are outside the lofty, pinstriped realms of the Mega-Firms, are a pretty odd lot. Loners for the most part, they have a passion for some particular discipline that would drive a normal person to tears. That capacity for the narrow is their bread and butter.

The really good ones, however, know how to connect various disciplines and read sign with the savvy of an old grizzly tracker who can look at a bent leaf and tell the size, sex, and weight of the bear. This ability comes with the sort of experience that is not handed out with MBAs. The best consultants have seen a few things. They may sport a few scars as a result.

This strange mixture of specialization and general knowledge requires no small amount of preparation time. If the consultant, as the old joke goes, knows the right place to hit in order to get the machine running, it also helps if he or she knows how to deal with the people who are normally in charge of the machine and why some of them may regard the device as a threat, a nuisance, or a complete waste of time. The best consultants are partly psychologist/lawyer/historian/political scientist/dramatist/professor/auditor/analyst/commander.

The usual monster stories about consultants involve ones who never leave and who always seem to have another project in store to make themselves indispensible to the client and run up the bill. I venture to say that in most cases, those consultants come from the more traditional firms. Their desire for continued contact does not fit the standard loner consultant personality, which is somewhere between Boo Radley and The Man in the Iron Mask.

The eccentric consultants love their work but they aren't gladhanders who want to milk the client. Their view is quite the opposite. They want to fix problems while making the client as independent as possible.

After all, independent clients permit them to escape and devote more time to thinking. And that, in the world of the eccentric consultants, is a happy balance indeed.

Condo Vultures?

In hard-hit Miami-Dade County, condos originally costing as much as $1.4 million at the peak of the market now sell in some cases for $840,000, a 40% drop. Farther north, a coming auction at Solaire at the Plaza, a new condo tower in downtown Orlando, has set a minimum selling price of $170,000 on 24 one-bedroom units once priced as high as $296,000.

Read the rest of The Wall Street Journal article on condo vultures in Miami.

Quote of the Day

I have been told that Wagner's music is better than it sounds.

- Bill Nye

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Expressing Data Through Art

For those who like to break barriers, consider the use of art as a visualization technique in business. An excerpt from the Business Week article:

The exhibition opens with a room full of visually stunning displays that are as compelling as the contemporary paintings or sculptures that viewers might expect to see in a MoMA gallery. The show begins with "Lightweeds," a striking example of data visualization by young Dutch designer Simon Heijdens. The work features light projections of silhouettes of giant weeds with realistic stalks, stems, leaves, and buds.

The plant images are produced by a software program developed by Heijdens, and the computer it runs on is hooked up to a live weather sensor outside the museum. The plants' size, shape, and movement reflect real-life conditions outdoors—meaning they would shrivel if there were a drought or flourish in a healthy mix of rain and sun. The piece is a wonderfully poetic example of how design can turn raw data (in this case, the weather) into a display that communicates information in a compelling and engaging manner. Businesses would be wise to pay attention to hip designers such as Heijdens, who also could have ideas for intriguing retail displays or arresting ways to communicate other data such as stock market fluctuations.

The Messenger

Hard won wisdom is contained in this Managing Leadership post on the perils, and necessity, of being the messenger:

Thanks to Ted Goff for providing a correct link!

10 Ways

Rob May has wrapped up his time at BusinessPundit, a blog that he turned into a must-read site for those of us who are interested in business and management issues.

He will be missed.

He has, however, written an excellent post on 10 ways in which his business thinking has changed over the years.

Check it out.

Observations on Stress

What are the daily stress-producers?

  • The projects that you've not completed produce far more stress than the ones you haven't even started.

  • The little projects are more stressful than the big ones, possibly because you confront and deal with the large challenges.

  • The desire to work in a continuous flow as opposed to in bursts can produce feelings of guilt as well as stress. The truth be known, most of us work in bursts and then pretend to work between the bursts.


Launch a perfume in 1921 that becomes and remains the world's best seller.

Die in 1971 and your company preserves your apartment in Paris.

The Berman Career

This article, written in 2005, is an interesting review of how the career of a comedic genius, Shelley Berman, was severely affected - unjustly I believe - by one instance of anger. An excerpt:

Sinking deep into a blue velveteen couch in his dusky living room, surrounded by his collection of handmade knives—including one that folds into the shape of a tulip blossom and one inlaid with mastodon tusk—Berman begins the story of his downfall. "NBC wanted to do a documentary," he recalls. His eyes form sad crescents beneath a thicket of brow. Cameras followed Berman around for months, he says: at home, on the set, to the Army-Navy game, and finally, on New Year's Eve 1963, to the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, Florida, where he was to play the Café Cristál.

Berman had already earned a reputation as an exacting, even difficult, performer. Early in the one-week engagement, he was onstage when a phone rang backstage. He made a joke of it, but afterward he reminded his road manager that backstage phones should be off the hook.

A few nights later, the backstage phone rang again at a disastrous time: the last few tear-jerking moments of a sketch about his own father. Berman finessed the distraction, but when he got backstage, he freaked. "Take those phones off the hook when I'm working," he shouted, throwing his freshly lit cigarette down. "I'll pull the damn phones out of the wall!" He dashed the phone's receiver to the floor with a clunk. Then he put on his suit coat and leaned face-first into a corner, arm overhead and head down.

Quote of the Day

In examinations those who do not wish to know ask questions of those who cannot tell.

- Walter Raleigh

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Chilling Indeed

The HR Capitalist has correctly identified one of the most dangerous devices in the workplace.

[You'd think there would be more calls for a design change.]

1984 with Sugar

Stories about the future often have a clearly ominous tone. It's hard to consider 1984, Brave New World, The Omega Man, Logan's Run, and Soylent Green as attractive worlds.

But what if benevolence can also be a problem? Alexis de Tocqueville warned of a society in which the government was too caring:

For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

You can extend that warning to parenthood and the workplace. There is a point at which caring becomes debilitating whether it is for a citizen, a child or an employee. It may rob them of the strength that is acquired by personal achievement and accountability.

That can be a difficult point to discern because we do care.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Dark Tuesday: Starbucks is closing for three hours of training.

Killed Off First in France?: More on the devil frog.

Wooing: Burton, Taylor, Shakespeare.

Not My City: Which cities have the best tap water?

Mask It: Just the thing for your next staff meeting.

We Want [Fill in the Blank] Out

In the interest of time, this form has been prepared for employees who wish to send a message to management without having to write a lengthy memo.

Dear Powers That Be,

We would like the following individual/individuals (see circled items below) removed as soon as possible so the rest of us can have a fighting chance of having a decent and efficient workplace:

  • The gross incompetent whose load is being carried by the rest of the team.

  • The hyper-sensitive hothouse flower who searches for insults and invariably finds them.

  • The sloth who retired on the job.

  • The bully who routinely destroys morale with unsolicited opinions and temper tantrums.

  • The office politician who takes credit for the work of others.

  • The gossip who leaks confidential information and spreads outrageous stories.

  • The would-be seducer who already has at least one co-worker pondering a harassment complaint.

  • The bigot who will never judge people on the basis of their real merit.

Thank you for your attention and support.

Quote of the Day

When I am dead, I hope it may be said:

'His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.'

- Hilaire Belloc

[Advertise jobs on this site: Go to ]

Monday, February 25, 2008

"If I'm Nuts..."

Great moments in political damage control: Louisiana Governor Earl Long 1959.

When Customers Give Feedback via Google

Jeff Jarvis on the Google version - to use a loose term - of Consumer Reports. An excerpt:

Here's some free advice: Go to Google (GOOG), enter any of your company's brands followed by the word "sucks," and you will see the true consumers' reports. Brace yourself: It won't be pretty. Wal-Mart's (WMT) unofficial Google Sucks Index turns up 165,000 results; Disney's (DIS) 530,000; Google's 767,000. What's your number?

The Jihad Cases

Andrew C. McCarthy, the man who prosecuted Omar Abdel Rahman, writes about the legal and investigative blunders in dealing with jihadists in America.

What's Your Plan for Failure?

You can find a lot of advice on how to make plans to achieve various goals.

Equally important, however, is your unacknowledged Plan for Failure..

If that sounds odd, look over these items and ask yourself how many of them slip onto your daily To Do list:

  1. Neglecting your health, be it physical, mental, or spiritual.

  2. Taking family and friends for granted.

  3. Not identifying or putting off important tasks.

  4. Believing in magical solutions.

  5. Failing to raise your profile among groups that are essential to your success.

  6. Being easily discouraged.

  7. Not acquiring important skills.

  8. Doing trivial things at the expense of the important.

  9. Wanting a result while disdaining the process that leads to the result.

  10. Letting comfort with the known and fear of the changes that would come with success create a form of paralysis.

Don't be surprised if you are doing several items. Plans for Failure are often more vigorously pursued than Plans for Success. The biggest saboteur of many a Plan for Success is the one in the mirror.

To paraphrase an old line, he who masters that opponent is greater than any conqueror who ever took a city.

Quote of the Day

Life is real! Life is earnest!

And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

Was not spoken of the soul.

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Movie Ideas

Many of us read marvelous books and then expect to see a film version within a few years, only to be disappointed as we scan past the latest list of teen slasher and dysfunctional family epics in the movie section of the paper.

Since this is Oscar night, it may be appropriate to mention Books That Deserve a Film Version.

My modest and grossly incomplete list:

  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. The story of Ignatius Reilly, a true eccentric and victim of Dame Fortuna in New Orleans, who offers colorful observations while hot dog peddling, lute playing, and scrawling on Big Chief tablets.
  • A River Town by Thomas Keneally. An Irish storekeeper in a small Australian town near the start of the 20th century is asked to identify a head and discovers how doing the right thing is sometimes punished.
  • Eagle in the Snow by Wallace Breem. A Roman commander on the Rhine faces the tribes that will eventually engulf the Roman Empire.
  • Dead Famous by Ben Elton. A reality television show gets a new dimension when one of the people in its camera-filled house is murdered. [An extremely funny take on pop culture.]
[Update: How could I have forgotten Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa?]

Any other nominees?

HR Carnival

The Carnival of HR is up at HR Thoughts.

Good stuff.

Dysfunctional Team Member Etiquette

  1. You are assigned to a team with Tom, Carlos, and Mary. The team is to determine the best way to complete a particular project. When Mary starts to put the team's ideas on the flip chart, be sure to take that as a personal insult and silently vow not to share any helpful information unless you are directly asked.

  2. When Carlos indicates that he has some experience in a particular area, scratch that topic off of your list, let him shoulder all of the associated chores, and don't revisit it.

  3. When Mary begins to buckle under the weight of the majority of the work, sigh and tell the others that you suspected that she wouldn't be able to handle it. Snipe at her during team meetings and ridicule her efforts to accomplish tasks you ignored.

  4. Be sure to keep careful notes on the mistakes of your team mates so you can use that as evidence when the project implodes.

  5. If any actions are proposed with which you strongly disagree, say nothing either in favor or opposition. If the project doesn't succeed you can declare that you had serious reservations and if it works you can claim it always had your support.

  6. If a decision is made based on seemingly reliable information and the project blows up, attack those who supported the project and note that you always felt the information was inadequate even though, of course, there was no evidence of that inadequacy at the time.

  7. Ascribe negative motives to the blunders of others and always repeat negative gossip.

  8. Overpromise and underperform. Never attend a team meeting without an ample supply of excuses for missing deadlines.

  9. Speak soberly of how the team must have a commitment to open communication but never let that commitment pertain to yourself.

  10. Broadcast the team's troubles to people outside the team.

Quote of the Day

If you are idle, be not solitary; if you are solitary, be not idle.

- Samuel Johnson

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Change This Change This

Many thanks to success wizard Nicholas Bate for guiding us to this nifty site.

Wake Up. You've Been Promoted.

Wally Bock on Rip Van Winkle promotions:

There will be temptations. In the beginning you may want to be The Superboss from Olympus, giving orders crisply based on your superior wisdom and experience. You'll find that doesn't work well. You'll be tempted to be everybody's buddy. That doesn't work well either.

McCullough on Leadership

I hesitate to mention this because I don't have a link, but the March 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review has an excellent piece on "Timeless Leadership" with historian David McCullough. An excerpt:

Spotting talent is one of the essential elements of great leadership. Washington had it to a remarkable degree. Washington was not an intellectual. He wasn't a spellbinding speaker. He wasn't a military genius. He was a natural born leader and a man of absolute integrity. And he could spot ability when it wasn't necessarily obvious. . . Henry Knox was a big, fat, young, and totally inexperienced Boston bookseller who had a brilliant, brave idea - to go to Ticonderoga, get the big guns there, haul them back to Boston, and thereby drive the British out of the city. And this in the dead of winter. There were all kinds of reasons why it wouldn't work, but Washington not only saw at once that it was a very good idea, he saw that Knox was the man to do it.

From Russia with Crude

Charlie Szrom and Thomas Brugato look at the effect of oil in Russia. An excerpt:

We found that as the price of oil rose, the aggressiveness index increased: that is, the more valuable oil became, the more hostile Russian foreign policy became. The reverse was also true: when oil prices dropped in 2001 and 2002, so did Russia’s aggression. The relationship proved strongest at the annual level: a $1.48 increase in oil prices yearly correlated with an additional “point” increase in Russian aggression. Oil prices rose from $17.37 a barrel in December 2001 to $73.88 a barrel in September 2007; over that same period, the aggression index rose from 17 to 55.

Quote of the Day

Money couldn't buy friends but you got a better class of enemy.

- Spike Milligan

Friday, February 22, 2008

Sun State

I hope so.

A Noble Life

Amid all of the world's calls for pleasure and quests for fame, it may help to consider what constitutes a noble life.

"Noble" is not heard much these days. People may be kind or cruel, generous or stingy, hard working or lazy, but to describe someone as noble sounds outdated and probably excessive.

After all, noble is so uncool. Think of a noble person and dust quickly settles on the image. Probably not up on the latest fashions. Old. Stodgy. Nice but not passionate. A model to consider, for a few seconds at least, before getting back to the real world.

We lost a great deal when being noble went out of fashion.

Did you give your word to someone? No big deal. We have lawyers who can find a loophole. Commitments are for suckers. They didn't expect you to keep your word in the first place. Move along.

Will a personal sacrifice be required? Forget it. Who has time for such quaint thoughts? Power is what matters. Setbacks look bad on resumes.

I've thought about some noble people among my family and acquaintances and the following characteristics emerged:

  • A willingness to help those who are needy.
  • Gentleness without weakness.
  • Honest.
  • Dedication to doing the right thing even if it hurts.
  • A more than normal amount of courtesy and kindness.
  • Never rushing to blame others.
  • Intellectual curiosity.
  • Impatience with injustice.
  • A love of freedom and independence.
  • Disdain for cheap and shabby behavior.
  • Courage, both physical and moral.
  • A pleasant nature.
  • The ability to survive setbacks without becoming bitter.
  • Confidence mixed with humility.

We measure so many things in life. It might improve the world if we thought more about what it takes to be noble and whether our behavior even comes close.

Defining "Prompt"

The question came up the other day of what constitutes a prompt response to a problem.

If the matter is important but not urgent, then starting the response process within a couple of weeks may be acceptable.

If the matter is urgent and important then responding within a day may be fine.

But if there is a safety or a major, long-term, and possibly irreversible, threat, then responding in an hour may be too long.

It's important to distinguish between these areas for two reasons: You don't want to be too late in dealing with a lethal threat and you don't want to rush a decision on a matter that is neither lethal nor demanding immediate attention. There is a huge difference between a situation that requires "action now" - as Churchill used to describe many of his directives during the Second World War - and ones where we would be better advised to remember former Secretary of State George P. Schultz's admonition to "Don't just do something, stand there."

Blood, Gore, and Depression at the Movies

Jason L. Riley's decision regarding several of recent films is probably shared by many:

In "No Country for Old Men," a so-called literary thriller about a drug deal gone bad, Javier Bardem's character, a murderous psychotic, is equipped with "a slaughterhouse mechanism for killing beef cattle by driving a piston through the brain," writes Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post. "He uses it to terminate the extremely unwary who allow him to get up close and place it against the skull." In his Wall Street Journal review, Joe Morgenstern, who's been critiquing movies since the 1950s, says that "No Country" features "some of the most horrifically violent moments ever put on screen." Thanks, but I'll pass.

Hollywood's technical ability to give us realistic portrayals of violence may have caused some directors to think that such explicit scenes are necessary. Many of us are not against all violence in film but seriously question the artistic equivalent of a sledge hammer where a hint would be more artistically effective. Less is often more and many an otherwise good film has been ruined by unrestrained special effects.

Another observation: With age I've found myself running from films that are depressing. Been there. Done that. Tell me the movie has a message and I'll think, "No thanks. Saw more than enough message movies in the Sixties."

My quest is not for films that are devoid of rough stuff. I simply want to avoid ones where depressing the audience is the primary goal.

And I suspect I'm not alone.

Quote of the Day

Give me one firm spot on which to stand, and I will move the earth.

- Archimedes

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Miscellaneous and Fast

John Leo looks at the pitfalls of studying abroad.

Joseph Sternberg has an interesting experience with loose change in Hong Kong.

Bullet hitting bullet? Video of the rogue satellite being shot down.

Just windowshopping: How do you sell a perfume named Strip?


Wise managers and leaders do a lot of nudging.

Nudging can consist of asking open-ended questions to introduce topics, brainstorming, bringing in speakers who have new ideas, thinking out loud, sending people out in the field, and circulating articles. [It can even, I am told, include referring people to blogs! A dangerous nudge indeed.]

We nudge because we know that simply directing certain actions may create dependency and that the nudged may develop a different approach which is superior to anything currently in mind. By not drawing maps for others, we give them the powerful experience of discovery; an experience that may be far more memorable than clear guidance from the boss.

If you ever reproach yourself for not being the order-barking executive seen in films, relax.

You're probably nudging.

Professional Image Update

Mark Hovind at Career Hub notes that real executives never look tasteless and cheap.

[Operative word: "look."]

Talent on Demand

Supply chain managers "ask questions like, 'Do we have the right parts in stock?' 'Do we know where to get these parts when we need them?' and 'Does it cost a lot of money to carry inventory?' These questions are just as relevant to companies that are trying to manage their talent needs," he says. In other words, the principles of supply chain management, with its emphasis on just-in-time manufacturing, can be applied to talent management.

Read the rest of the Wharton article on Peter Capelli's ideas.

Character Compensation

Here's what the characters in Oscar-nominated films would earn in real life.

Quote of the Day

Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero. [Seize the day, put no trust in the future.]

- Horace

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Full Havana

Ah, perhaps it was the jogging suit that did it.

Take the dictator out of his romantically stylish army fatigues and put him in some Adidas wear and that revolutionary allure rapidly fades. If Castro had adopted white belt, white shoes, and sans-a-belt slacks - known in some quarters as The Full Cleveland - he'd have been gone much earlier.

I'm only half-joking but then Castro's "career" has been a study in the power of image-making.

For those who are infatuated with style, old Fidel was the "Go To" man among dictators. In truth, there wasn't much competition. Hitler and his cultish crew chose threads that just flat-out looked evil. Stalin's plain garb couldn't hide his eyes, which always seemed to be sizing someone up for a stint in the Gulag (possibly because he was), and Mussolini dressed like an usher in an ornate but slightly down on its luck theater.

Fidel's wardrobe, on the other hand, was Guerrilla Chic. Those military fatigues, even with creases, spared him the criticism that would have arisen if he'd taken to wearing gold chains, Hawaiian shirts, and alligator shoes. One glance at El Commandante and the Credulous of the Earth were eager to gush over his island prison's health care system. Although some troublesome critics occasionally found voice, Castro's reputation among many in the avant garde did not appear to suffer.

One of his principal executioners and another fashion plate, Che Guevara, is still a popular figure on mugs, t-shirts, and posters. Although Che was an early architect of Fidel's firing squads, he was quite photogenic and never slipped into jogging attire.

Less harmful versions of this image game can be spotted in the business world. We've all seen the CEO who looks the part while driving the company into a ditch. HR departments whisper about the rising young star whose appearance creates an instant halo effect in front of the interview panel but whose accomplishments, once scrutinized, do not seem to include much beyond wowing interview panels. All are testimonies to the power of the superficial.

Look the part, tap into some primal wish that you are genuine, and you'll be given a very long honeymoon period.

Of course, as Fidel would attest, it also helps if you jail your critics.

Face Time

Oren Harari notes that despite - and sometimes because of - the technology, "face time" is more important than ever. An excerpt from his post:

The second anecdote concerns Boeing’s execution woes. The 787 Dreamliner is a terrific success story. Orders left and right, sending Airbus reeling. The only problem is that Boeing can’t seem to get the damn plane built. The company is already more than six months behind schedule, which will cost them mucho millions of additional dollars in penalty fees, not to mention the blows that have already landed to its image and stock price. What happened?

Well, in order to reduce its R & D costs by over $10 billion, and to theoretically shorten time to market, Boeing outsourced most of the actual development and manufacturing of the plane to a global set of partners. The notion of a “global production model” seemed absolutely cutting edge, but because of poor face time, a whole plethora of Keystone Kops glitches has emerged.

The Uncommitted

He was the man who always kept his options open.

Others had established opinions and principles. He had only two: Keeping his options open and furthering his own interests.

Nothing was off the table. He was always ready to compromise or propose more options and life to him was one long negotiation that he would eventually win. He thought that people who locked themselves into positions were foolish. Didn't they see how restrictive that was? He bridled at limitations and was always on the look for the special advantage. Principles were for children.

He'd mastered the art of seeming to care about people and issues and was usually calm in a crisis because, if you don't care, being calm is easy. He knew how to fake commitment and had memorized countless dodges and weasel words that would permit him to drop anything or anyone at any time and appear to be principled.

His career thrived. Potential competitors dropped along the way; victims of their own passion for excellence or ethics or any of a legion of things about which he cared . . . nothing. A few were felled by his own manipulations. He had a true talent for being far away when the poison he'd applied to their hopes eventually did its trick. Afterwards, he said all the right words of consolation and people spoke of his eloquence.

If you'd looked into his soul you would have seen a vast, empty plain.


You'd think there is something rather odd with a airplane pilot who, after surviving a crash, insists that there was nothing wrong with his plane, the weather, other nearby planes, or the actions he'd taken.

Odd, but such behavior is not uncommon when among executives and managers.

Problem? We don't really have a problem. We've called you in to help us with some undefined situation and, now that we think about it, our status - here, move that rudder so I can crawl out - may not be a problem at all. Do you have any bandages? And there's certainly nothing here that we can't figure out. Where'd that smoke come from?

These conversations remind me of a more enlightened man who declared, "I tried this and I tried that and then it dawned on me: My best thinking got me here. Maybe it's time for another plan."

It can take quite a while - and often some external pressure - before some people will admit that they need another plan. Even using the word "problem" can be a barrier. In Bedside Manner 101, consultants learn to talk of challenges, situations, issues, matters, and current status.

Whichever term is selected, however, the person with the bandage on his head and the wing tucked under his arm will have to try out some new thinking.

As they say in the law, the thing speaks for itself.

Quote of the Day

Probably the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, but the opening battles of all subsequent wars have been lost there.

- George Orwell

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Report from the Road: Bourdain in Tokyo

Well, one can hardly complain about the plumbing here. The toilet seat is a preheated, toasty warm. A menu of warm jets of varying intensities, direction and temperature awaits should I choose to press one of the many buttons. I am afraid to do so. Since Todd discovered his toilet, it’s been very hard getting him out of the bathroom for crew calls. Yesterday, after numerous unanswered phone calls, we had to ask the management to break into his room. After a brief scuffle we were able to drag him, pants around his ankles and a copy of US Magazine in his hand, screaming, to the production van.

“But I’ve never felt so FRESH,” he kept wailing, plaintively from the back seat. His face pressed to the window as he stared longingly back in the direction of the hotel.

Check out the rest of Anthony Bourdain's account .

Geek Lust

Satoshi Fujita is not a good-looking man. He has oily skin, beady eyes, short legs and a boy-band wig to cover his balding head. But that hasn't stopped him from becoming Japan's most sought-after dating coach for geeks.

Read the rest of the Wired article about strange world of Japanese pick-up schools.

The Amateur's Eye

Most of us have groaned over the inability of technical writers to craft instructions that can be easily understood by non-techies. Why, we lament, don't they run these by some regular Joe (or Jill for that matter) who would mention that turning the ectoblaster counter-clockwise is a little hard to understand when the ectoblaster isn't identified and, incidentally, can't be turned?

And yet in all fairness we should admit that our own noble professions can be just as insular when it comes to getting outside input. "We know better" is the unspoken mantra. The idea that some unschooled outsider could contribute to our knowledge or improve our operations would be quickly dismissed if it were even surfaced.

As a result, we crank out procedures and develop grand programs that the folks in the front line have to work around. They sit through the briefings and think, "How can I prevent this from interfering with my ability to do the job? How can I do enough in this area to make these people go away?"

Every time they do so is an indictment of our failure to involve key players. Rather than ascribing bumpkin status to anyone who can't appreciate the beauty of our efforts, we should be asking them about our ectoblasters.

Quote of the Day

Standards are always out of date. That is what makes them standards.

Alan Bennett

Monday, February 18, 2008

Tom Rush

Back by popular demand: Tom Rush and The Remember Song.

This may become the Boomer Anthem.

Moneyed Midways Time

On the Moneyed Midways is up at Political Calculations.

It contains a collection of posts from various financial, management, and HR blog carnivals.

Miscellaneous and Fast

ThinkPad X300: Is Lenovo building the perfect laptop?

The flu vaccine doesn't protect against most of the latest strains of the flu.

Rowan Manahan suggests that before recruiters turn up their noses at the typos of job applicants, they might correct their own behavior.

A lawsuit is filed and an air show is cancelled.

Emmylou Harris: Making Believe.

Tim Ferriss has discovered superhuman French acrobats.


As your week begins, take some time for a reminder of what refinement and excellence can really mean.

Watch this combination of Bach and an extraordinary organist.

[HT: Rick Miller ]

The Nay-Sayer

I recall a world-class nay-sayer.

If being negative were an Olympic event, this person would be a decathlon champion. Pessimists and cynics would carry him on their shoulders to the cheers of crowds shouting, "Nope. Impossible. We tried that before."

He could readily tell you 25 reasons why a task could not be performed but seldom, unless heavy pressure was applied, would disclose how it could be done and even then you would have to ask just the right question.

In short, he was maddening.

Not that his observations didn't have merit. They often did. But his constant refrain of negativism only triggered the understandable question of whether he had any interest in our success. Although the rest of us might not be so sophisticated in our reasoning, we could easily come up with a quick list of why something might not work. Unlike the nay-sayer, however, we knew that our job was to make things happen. It was entirely reasonable to wonder why he should be kept around.

The nay-sayer had another characteristic that was especially frustrating: He appeared to take a certain amount of enjoyment in shooting down the proposals of others. Although he usually went through the motions of "regretfully" informing us of the downsides, you could see in his eyes the sparkle of a man who has found his calling: dream stomping.

That predictability became his downfall. After a while, his credibility suffered. Several of the projects he'd drenched in cold water turned out to be unquestionable successes. Like The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf, the nay-sayer was ignored.

As in that sad tale, it was possible that some day one of his dire predictions would come true. By then, however, the victims of his earlier negativity didn't care.

They were rooting for the wolf.

Quote of the Day

The Puritan hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.

- Lord Macaulay

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Fat Camper

Journalist David Leafe signed up for a week at a British weight loss resort, a.k.a. fat camp. He did not get a fluffy robe. An excerpt:

Up at six, weighed and measured. My targets: lose half stone; 3in off waist and 2.5in off hips; cut body fat 5 per cent. Resolved to achieve all, so attack next part of assessment - three-mile walk/jog through Devon countryside - at stupidly fast pace. Have to stop after a mile, wheezing, panting. By end, feel sick.

Minibus going back passes through Bampton village. "Look, a chip shop," says mournful voice. Faces press to window but back to farm for mid-morning snack of nuts and dried fruit. Before lunch, circuit training, then game in field, involving much dragging along of car tyres on rope.

When Applications are DDI

As college admissions officers sift through thousands of application essays penned by eager-to-please high school seniors, they increasingly encounter writing that sparkles a bit too brightly or shows a poise and polish beyond the years of a typical teenager.

With the scramble to get into elite colleges at a fever pitch and with a rising number of educational consultants and college essay specialists ready to give students a competitive edge, admissions officers are keeping a sharp lookout for essays that might have had an undue adult influence. In some admissions offices, such submissions receive the dubious distinction DDI, short for "Daddy Did It."

Read the rest of Peter Schworm's article here.

Communication Responsibilities

Seth Godin on the posture of a communicator.

Planners and Impromptus

I've noticed two broad types of performers in the workplace: Planners and Impromptus.

The Impromptus are those folks who can be thrown into practically any situation and, invigorated by the challenge and sheer anarchy, will do a good and sometimes even a great job. Their lack of planning does not bother them because they do not spend huge amounts of time worrying about "What If This?" and "What If That?" and various worst case scenarios. They are confident in their ability to cobble together a quick solution. Their emphasis is on practicality and not excellence. "Reasonably good" is just fine with them.

The Planners do care about high quality and they regard quick fixes as enormously risky. Whereas the Impromptus can be creative in devising stop-gap solutions, the Planners can be creative in spotting potential problems and, given time, in preventing them. They can also be far-sighted and more readily able to see the big picture. Not surprisingly, Planners believe in planning and they get nervous when forced to operate without a net. Bold indeed when the proper elements are in place, their courage wanes when what they regard as a minimal level of control is missing.

Knowing which camp is yours can be very helpful. Impromptus can benefit from consulting with Planners who can see the downsides of various options. Planners can equally be assisted by seeking the control or some condition close to it with which they perform best and by accepting that under certain circumstances the reasonably good so favored by the Impromptus is as good as it gets.

Quote of the Day

The only thing worse than a coach or CEO who doesn't care about his people is one who pretends to care.

- Jimmy Johnson

Saturday, February 16, 2008

On Safari

The camping was described as "challenging". By that they meant washing facilities were scarce and lavatories involved a shovel. If I didn't crash or lose the way, then I surely would be gored by a buffalo, savaged by a lion or fall into a long-drop.

But doubts were soon put to rest on our arrival in Arusha. With my chum, Patrick Drummond, an old Africa hand who was also filming the trip, I caught the twin-prop air shuttle to Kilimanjaro from Nairobi and then on to a charming lodge at Ngurdoto on the fringe of Arusha national park.

The next morning, over coffee at the base camp of African Environments, the ground handlers for Safari Drive, we were given an extensive briefing on our vehicle (a Land Rover Defender with roof-top tent), the equipment (including satellite phone and a GPS gadget), route and safety: "Never leave the tent after dark without extreme caution". They had no worries on that score - once I was in the tent there was no way I'd be venturing out till sunrise.


Anne Fisher gives four ways to reduce stress at work.

Some other popular techniques:

  • Hiding from irritating people.
  • Updating your resume.
  • Fantasizing.

Paradox: Using Both - And

A Harvard Business School working paper on managing paradox.

What Your Enemies May Tell You

If you went to your enemies and asked for career advice, what words of misdirection might they pass your way?

Here are a few that I've encountered:
  1. Do everything to preserve your status by emphasizing symbols of prestige.

  2. Never compromise.

  3. Make irreversible decisions quickly.

  4. Always let others know when they're wrong.

  5. Don't be judgmental.

  6. Share your innermost feelings.

  7. Unleash your sarcastic wit.

  8. Pay attention to everything.

  9. Technical competence is everything.

  10. Focus solely on money.

  11. Ignore the money.

  12. Move slowly. You have plenty of time.

  13. Move quickly. Time is flying by.

  14. Most people wish you ill.

  15. No one wishes you ill.

  16. People expect and demand perfection at all times.

  17. Those who disagree are ignorant.

  18. Everybody does it.

  19. It's never your fault.

  20. It's always your fault.

  21. The one with the most toys wins.

Quote of the Day

I've looked at life from both sides now,

From win and lose and still somehow

It's life's illusions I recall;

I really don't know life at all.

- Joni Mitchell

Friday, February 15, 2008

Stealing Art

Last Sunday, an art museum in Zurich, Switzerland, was robbed of four paintings worth $160 million. The crooks managed to overpower the staff at gunpoint shortly before closing time and make off with a Van Gogh, a Monet, a Degas, and a Cézanne, which were easily visible in the trunk of their fleeing car. Similar heists have taken place in other European museums in recent years. Why is it so easy to steal art in Europe?

Smaller galleries and no guns. Europe has an especially high concentration of world-class art collections, many of which are housed in modest institutions. The art in Zurich was housed in a 19th-century villa, as opposed to a large-scale museum with a complicated entrance. Further, most security personnel in European museums aren't armed, mostly due to a culture of openness and trust, but also for reasons of expense and liability—you wouldn't want bullets flying around an enclosed space with lots of frightened tourists and precious objets d'art. While many galleries have alarms, guards, and other staff to prevent off-hour thefts, they don't always take precautions to avoid the most obvious scenario: armed criminals walking right through the front door.

Read the rest of Cyrus Farivar's article.

Music Break

The weekend approacheth:

Take a literary-minded music break with Don Williams singing "Good Ole Boys Like Me.

[Any country song that refers to Thomas Wolfe, Tennessee Williams, Hank Williams, and Stonewall Jackson is far above the norm.]

Miscellaneous and Fast

Crystal Skull: The trailer for the new Indiana Jones film. [HT: Instapundit ]

American political junkies should check out the Politics 1 web site.

Sorry state? Some critics look at the state of American architecture in several large cities.

Gentler times: Audrey Hepburn and Moon River.

Worthless trivia: Which celebrity is the ideal call center representative?

Michael Knox Beran believes that calls for increased aid to Africa are part of the problem.

Forgery: Robert Fisk goes on a strange journey to discover the real author of a book about Saddam Hussein by ... Robert Fisk. [HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]

Free Speech and Radical Islam

At a lunch last year celebrating his 25th anniversary with Jyllands-Posten, Kurt Westergaard told an anecdote. During World War II Pablo Picasso met a German officer in southern France, and they got into a conversation. When the German officer figured out whom he was talking to he said:

"Oh, you are the one who created Guernica?" referring to the famous painting of the German bombing of a Basque town by that name in 1937.

Picasso paused for a second, and replied, "No, it wasn't me, it was you."

Read the rest of the article by Flemming Rose.

We're Different Here

For years I've heard executives, managers, and supervisors speak of how inherently different their organizations are from other workplaces.

Upon further investigation, I've never found that to be true.

They describe strange management actions and problem employees and various attitudes as if those do not exist elsewhere but the exceptionalism is not exceptional.

There must be something comforting in the thought that only this place could have these problems. Certainly there are some differences but they are either minor or pertain to intensity and not nature. The old human and managerial tendencies will surface regardless of job titles or responsibilities. On occasion, the reason for the emphasis on uniqueness is a dodge - an effort to justify lower standards - and despite the temptation to tolerate diverse practices, accepting that line would make matters considerably worse.

Organizations, like civilizations, need connections with the outside world. Those that choose to sever such ties begin to turn inward and shrink. Isolated departments and branch offices need to be carefully watched for the first signs of this disease. Left unchecked, they will grow apart from the main organization and increasingly view company rules and requirements with suspicion. They will cease to identify with the larger group and start to run their own show. When that happens, it is almost a sure bet that the isolation will eventually produce trouble.

And when the situation worsens, one of the first excuses will be, "We're different here."

Quote of the Day

Man, proud man,

Drest in a little brief authority.

- William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

Thursday, February 14, 2008

This will teach them about the marketplace!

You're an MBA student and you want to take a popular class.

Forget about that "first come, first served" stuff.

More than one school is using an auction:

Earlier this semester, a student in an economics course at the University of Chicago tried to sell her spot online. It wasn't just any old economics course, though. The class was taught by Steven D. Levitt, co-author of the enormous best seller Freakonomics and as close to paparazzi-bait as a college professor is likely to get.

"How much is your education worth to you?!?" the ad asked. "E-mail me with your best offer."

The ad was removed soon after it came to the attention of university officials. A Chicago spokeswoman says the university "does not endorse" students' selling their seats in classes.

By contrast, the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton business school actually encourages it. Wharton auctions spots to its M.B.A. students, allowing them to bid for their classes. They don't use real money; instead, students are each given 5,000 points when they enroll and 1,000 more for every credit they earn. An average course might sell for a few hundred points while the most sought-after ones can top 10,000.

Quid Pro What?

Author, professor, and consultant Nicholas Bate takes us to Hadrian's Wall many years ago for a likely conversation.

The Swordbearers

For those of you who enjoy great but relatively-hard-to-find history books, I enthusiastically recommend The Swordbearers: Studies in Supreme Command in the First World War by Correlli Barnett.

It says as much about management as it does about history and Barnett's review of the various generals is riveting.

The Mokita Factor


(Kiriwina, New Guinea), noun. "Truth everybody knows but nobody speaks."

[Source: They Have a Word for It by Howard Rheingold]

Some common workplace examples of mokita include these unspoken truths:

  1. A sizable percentage of our marketing doesn't work.

  2. Most departments have people who have retired on the job and at least one or two who are crazy.

  3. The boost from last year's motivational speaker evaporated by the time he reached the parking lot.

  4. The CEO tells everyone how important certain training is and then quietly slips out the door.

  5. People who are unreliable are rewarded with less work.

  6. The first-line supervisors know more about employment law than the folks in the executive suites.

  7. The HR Department is frequently regarded as more of an adversary than an ally.

  8. Middle managers are afraid to fire people.

  9. Frequent reorganizations are used to disguise poor management.

  10. Despite all of the hassles, most of us love our jobs.

Happy Valentine's Day

[There is no mention of the theory that it was invented in 1955 by an executive named Hallmark.]

Quote of the Day

The greatest thing in the world is to know how to be oneself.

- Montaigne