Monday, March 31, 2008

Play Ball!

For much of the next 10 years this cycle would repeat itself. The Cubs could've, would've, should've won in 1970 and '71 with mostly that same all-star lineup. In 1978, I went off to college on Aug. 20 with the Cubs in first place by nine games, but they ended up losing the division by seven. In 1984, the Cubs won a division title and then pounded the lowly San Diego Padres in games one and two in the best-of-five playoffs. One win away from the World Series, my team dropped games three and four, but no worries -- we had the Cy Young Award winner Rick Sutcliffe pitching in game five.

His record that year was 16-1, and he had won something like 12 games in a row. The Cubs were winning 3-0 going into the sixth inning, and then my idiot brother came over and uncorked some champagne. We all knew we were done for. They lost. The first baseman Steve Garvey, playing for the Padres, hit a game-winning home run and rounded the bases with his fist in the air, and for that he was recently voted the most loathed professional athlete in Chicago history.

Read the rest of Stephen Moore's column on the travails of being a Cubs fan.

Please, please give me some clout.

If you want to see HR-types assume a fetal position, bring up the subject of clout.

They'll moan about the unfairness of life and how cloddish operations managers beat them in power struggles and how they aren't given sufficient deference in executive sessions.

Boo hoo.

If you have been begging for clout, I've got a message for you: you aren't going to get any.

Clout comes with power and power is something you either take or create. Taking can be risky so instead of embarking on the workplace equivalent of the Hundred Years War, it makes sense to cook up some clout on your own. Here are the ingredients:

  1. Be thoroughly professional. If you act like a schlub, you'll be treated like one. Dress professionally and speak persuasively and confidently.

  2. Do your homework. Other departments can make mistakes and no one thinks of replacing them. The Human Resources folks blunder and people question everything else that comes of that corner. Outsourcing may dance across their minds. You cannot have clout if people are wondering why they have you around.

  3. Bearhug the departments. Have coffee with department heads. Try to find out how you can make their jobs easier. Don't dismiss them as a bunch of neanderthals. Listen carefully to their concerns.

  4. Stop treating departments as if they are enemies. Do you have to play cop on occasion? Sure, but far too many HR departments remain in that role and then wonder why they're unloved.

  5. Pick your battles. Get the lawyers to deliver the bad news about compliance requirements. If you have to cross a department head, make sure that you are on high ground.

  6. Don't engage in memo wars. They already think of HR as a nanny. Don't send them memos to confirm the impression.

  7. Quantify the problems that you've prevented. Your greatest achievements often revolve around negatives you've headed off. Calculate how much money would have been spent if you'd not taken effective action. Report that on a regular basis so upper management sees a tangible reason for your presence.

  8. Stop being adversarial with the employees. Be alert to any indication that your staff is regarding employees as nuisances. Squelch that immediately. Having contempt for your customers is not a wise move.

  9. Focus on how you can help employees achieve their personal best. You desire to find the best and develop the best. You never want the employees to believe that you don't have their welfare at heart.

  10. Quit whining. As Hannibal said, "We will either find a way or make a way." Groaning will help do neither. Clout goes to the strong, not to the hand-wringers. Your goal is to make your department indispensable. Get to it.

Nine to Fivers

I don't work hourly. I work on projects. Some days I'm in the office during normal office hours and others I'm not. Due to a proclivity to work both very early and in the evening, it is a rare day when I only work eight hours. I don't deserve a medal for this because hours don't matter.

What matters is effectiveness.

If I can be more effective in four hours than I would be while staring at my desk for another four in order to get in the Magical Eight, then those highly productive four hours are fine.

Some of the most worthless executives, managers, and employees I've ever known were in early and left late. They spent sizable amounts of time on matters of minor importance and not enough on the big stuff. They genuflected to the clock.

And they never let you forget the amount of time they'd spent. For some odd reason, many of their reminders revolved around missed meals. "Did I mention that I worked through lunch?" "I skipped breakfast today in order to get that report to Thompson." [I can't hear you. Your stomach was gurgling.]

The weirdest were the supervisors who would get uptight if one of their top sales reps showed up 15 minutes late. A demented few even kept careful records of such infractions. When they revealed the detailed documentation of five minutes late here, seven minutes late there, and a shocking 14 minutes last week, it was apparent that the sales rep wasn't the one with the problem.

As a member of the firm of Emerson, Thoreau, and Trump once put it, it is not a question of whether we are busy but what we are busy about.

Now before I get deluged with e-mails from dissenters, let me note that in some jobs, you have to be there on time. If the receptionist shows up five minutes late, that is a problem. If the repair crew's truck pulls out of the yard at 8:00 and you appear at 8:01, no points will be awarded for being almost on time. That said, most of us labor in jobs where the results are far more important than the clock. The odd thing is that although we know that, some primal attachment to the clock remains, if only to induce guilt.

Scrap the stop-watches. Think projects. And, as David Allen has urged us, we should shoot past any listing of projects to instead give special attention to the "next actions" that will lead to the achievement of those projects. In the end, actions accomplished mean far than more minutes.

[Advertise jobs on this site. Go to ]

Quote of the Day

The big print giveth and the fine print taketh away.

- J. Fulton Sheen

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Humor Break


A bizarre but uplifting story about The Lone Ranger.

Handling the Truth

"You can't handle the truth," one of the greatest lines ever uttered on screen, is an unspoken thought behind many corporate communications. It completes the sentence for many a (here's another great line) failure to communicate. Some examples:

"We didn't tell you about the misconduct of the senior vice president because ...."
"The focus group didn't raise its concerns about the price because ...."

"Your first-line supervisors will not tell you about their fears because ...."

Being able to handle the truth, and being perceived as able to do so, are essentials if you are going to be a capable receiver of information. Much emphasis is placed on the communicator's responsibility to clarify but that will be self-restricted if the receiver is thought to be incapable of processing or carrying the burden of the information. Communicators often give as much truth as they think the receiver is able to handle. There may be concern that feelings will be hurt or relationships will be permanently damaged. (Consultants are told things that are not shared with co-workers because the communicators know the consultant will eventually be leaving and won't be shooting death-rays from across the breakroom three months from now.)

Signaling an ability to handle the truth has to be a consistent message. One lapse can discourage candor for months. I've met some executives who probably haven't heard an unvarnished opinion in decades. People won't believe your somber assurances that candor is desired if they see that frank colleagues are exiled, shunned, or fired.

Pose this question in your next moment of introspection: Can I handle the truth and do others know that?

Quote of the Day

The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.

- Fred Astaire

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Miscellaneous and Fast

Swashbuckler: The discovery of a long-lost Alexandre Dumas novel.

Martin Kettle says the Euro-army is less than impressive and those cowboys are needed. As I recall, Austria sent a mighty contingent of six soldiers to Afghanistan. [HT: Real Clear Politics ]

Eclecticity, where I get all of my fashion tips,
points out Gen Y business attire.

Jim Stroup looks at
officers known as "mustangs."

Using its Green-O-Meter, Outside magazine rates some eco-friendly getaways.

Love it!: John Phillips
translates some corporate BS.

Fore! A Segway for golfers.

Justice Scalia goes after the news media for the low caliber of their reporting of court cases.

John McWhorter reviews Larry Elder's new book on race.

BusinessPundit looks at the $1 coffee test at Starbucks.

Geek Repartee

Cultural Offering gives us a clear reminder of why the British version of "The Office" is indeed superior to the American spin-off. Tech firms should show this during customer service training.

Ideas and Metaphors

If you were describe how ideas spread in a society, which picture would you fashion?

Would it be of a wild fire sweeping across a plain? The slow dripping of water on sandstone? A new machine that, once fully assembled, almost miraculously solves a problem? Would it be a fungus or a cancer cell, a wolf or a horse, a checkpoint or a springboard, a mole or a bird? Is speed a component or does substance dominate? Is it at once transparent and then begins to form or is it the reverse?

I ask because I'm uncertain. I've watched how various ideas are formed in organizations and have been fascinated by their reception. What causes some ideas to take hold and survive while others quickly perish from lack of attention?

Part of the problem stems from the initial question. The people in the room may be seeing a different picture. One may see a cancer cell where the others see a magical machine. Determining the nature and form of the idea is one of the most important steps in addressing the idea and yet I've see groups in which people engage in prolonged sparring over decidedly different perceptions of the concept itself.

That is why one of the best questions early on when communicating about a proposed project is "Which metaphor would you use to describe this?" If you don't clarify that, you may spend a great deal of time discussing a river when your associates are discussing a bridge.

Quote of the Day

I won't have anyone who will rock the boat.

- Neville Chamberlain

Friday, March 28, 2008

Center for Worst Practices

Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene, writing at the Governing blog, propose a systematic study of failure. An excerpt:

Results for Scared Straight, in which young people are confronted with the horrors of prison life — includinginteractions with tough, scary prisoners — were particularly alarming. It turned out that kids in the program were 7percent more likely to engage in criminal behavior than those who had missed out on the experience of its systematic intimidations.

The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado has uncovered similar problems in programs. Here's one of them: Many primary school administrators make efforts to schedule school assemblies to talk about bullies and the problems they cause. Thinking back to when we were kids, it doesn't feel like the bullies we encountered would have been moved by such public interventions. That's just what the University of Colorado study found. Meanwhile, even though it has been shown that one-shot assemblies have no impact, they're prevalent. "There is research out there and we need to pay attention to it," says Jane Grady, associate director of the center.

Before Motivating, Omit

Several years ago, I taught a series of management classes around the country.

I always started the workshops by asking the students, who ranged from new supervisors to high-ranking managers, which topic they most wanted the class to address. Approximately 98 percent of the time and regardless of the region, the first item mentioned was "Motivation."

We'd talk about various theories and approaches but the one I always stressed was simple: Stop demoralizing your employees with poor management.

You can imagine the reaction. Many of the attendees wanted a magic bullet. Praise. Recognition. Special pay incentives. Those were the more positive yearnings. The less positive simply wanted new ways to tell their employees to shape up, suck it in, and get on the ball.

Both broad approaches have their time and place but the fastest results had more to do with omission than commission. Omit the maddening bureaucracy, the caste systems, the constantly shifting priorities, the political games, the inflated praise, the turf-building, the rudeness, and the indifference to employee ideas and concerns. In other words, stop demotivating before you start motivating. Establish a solid foundation so the subsequent appreciation and recognition programs won't sound hollow.

They weren't glitzy then and they aren't glitzy now but such creative omissions have one virtue:

They work.

Quote of the Day

America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy.

- John Updike

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Group Hug

I have an actor friend who, early in his career, attended a very popular, respected acting class. On the first day, the teacher arrived, told the class to stand up and said, "Now, each of you wrap your arms around yourself and give yourself a big, hurting hug. And repeat 'wonderful, wonderful me!'"

Because, you know, that's a problem we have out here in Hollywood: we just don't love ourselves enough.

Read the rest of Rob Long's post on the complexities of flattery.

Bad Standards

Joe Queenan examines the ingredients of truly terrible movies and concludes that the recent artistic work of Paris Hilton, while in the ring, is not a serious contender. An excerpt:

Though it is a natural impulse to believe that the excruciating film one is watching today is on a par with the excruciating films of yesterday, this is a slight to those who have worked long and hard to make movies so moronic that the public will still be talking about them decades later. Anyone can make a bad movie; Kate Hudson and Adam Sandler make them by the fistful. Anyone can make a sickening movie; we are already up to Saw IV. Anyone can make an unwatchable movie; Jack Black and Martin Lawrence do it every week. And anyone can make a comedy that is not funny; Jack Black and Martin Lawrence do it every week. But to make a movie that destroys a studio, wrecks careers, bankrupts investors, and turns everyone connected with it into a laughing stock requires a level of moxie, self-involvement, lack of taste, obliviousness to reality and general contempt for mankind that the average director, producer and movie star can only dream of attaining.

[HT: Andrew Sullivan ]

When Humor Hurts

I love humor in the workplace. The idea that it should be purged to reduce the likelihood of harassment complaints has always struck me as half-witted.

There are, however, some types of humor that carry the potential to damage or end careers. Here are the usual suspects:

Sarcasm. This may not even be humor although it wears humor's clothes. More of a veiled attack, sarcasm can wound deeply and it is often remembered years later. I know a lawyer who recalls an off-hand sarcastic remark another attorney had made to her at a bar conference many years ago. That cruel comment has forever frozen its author's image in the victim's mind.

Jokes about race, ethnicity, sex, and religion. Most of these are put-downs. Utter them and although you may not be a bigot, you'll probably sound like one.

Sexual jokes. There's a tackiness factor that surfaces here. I have yet to encounter a workplace that could benefit from more sexual humor.

What we consider to be humorous says a great deal about who and what we are. All of us have said thoughtless and out of character things that may have taken a toll on our associates and are not truly representative of our real selves.

Patterns and extremes, however, are harder to explain and, although meant well, all of the assurances of "Just kidding" will not save them.

Miscellaneous and Fast

The RAF has introduced a unique way to raise funds.

Something to look forward to: McKellen and The Hobbit.

Major arrest: In the Congo gorilla killings.

Inexpensive exercise: The resistance swimming belt.

How a klutz in the kitchen resulted in the Band-Aid.

Another reason to visit London: A new high-tech terminal at Heathrow.

Geeks and Quasi-Geeks Wanted

A truth that many ignore: Rowan Manahan warns that underestimating the importance of having computer skills is a major mistake in today's job market.

Quote of the Day

And always keep ahold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse.

- Hilaire Belloc

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Theroux on Travel

The travel book was a bore. It annoyed me that a traveller hid his or her moments of desperation or fear or lust. Or the time he or she screamed at the taxi driver, or mocked the folk dancers. And what did they eat, what books did they read to kill time, and what were the toilets like? I had done enough travelling to know that half of travel was delay or nuisance - buses breaking down, hotel clerks being rude, market peddlers being rapacious. The truth of travel was interesting and off-key, and few people ever wrote about it.

Read the rest of Paul Theroux's account of how he became a travel writer.

(My favorite of his books is still The Great Railway Bazaar.)

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]

Rushing to Mediocrity

Seth Godin on working in an urgent-only culture. An excerpt:

Add up enough urgencies and you don't get a fire, you get a career. A career putting out fires never leads to the goal you had in mind all along.

He's on target. Are we making real progress or simply in a constant struggle to restore the status quo?

Widmark, RIP

Actor Richard Widmark, who just passed away at the age of 93, gave some thoughts toward the end of his career on working in the movie business:

“I’ve discovered in my dotage that I now find the whole moviemaking process irritating. I don’t have the patience anymore. I’ve got a few more years to live, and I don’t want to spend them sitting around a movie set for 12 hours to do two minutes of film.”

Thank God the rest of us never experience such frustrations.

Has Tata Bought Trouble?

It’s been 40 years since the British government, in a bid to rebuild the country’s automobile industry, cobbled together ailing car brands such as Jaguar, Rover, Austin, Morris and Riley into a giant called British Leyland. BL, as it became known, was a failure, mainly because of endemic labor problems, uninspired products and poor quality. Since 1968, there have been many rescue attempts, but only rare short bursts of success. Several of the once proud names are long forgotten and none is British-owned; the iconic MG brand was bought three years ago by China’s Nanjing Automobile to make sports cars in China and the U.K., and the Morris Mini cult car is with BMW.

Read the rest of the Fortune article about Tata buying Jaguar and Land Rover.

Get Yourself Fired

Still another public service: a site that lets you photoshop up to four photos into compromising shots so you can get yourself fired.

[HT: Cheezhead ]

Thoughts for Monthly Meetings

Brief, on the go, meetings are one thing and larger monthly meetings are another. The latter tend to cover a lot of topics and consequently can waste a sizable amount of time if not properly organized. Some tips:

Do the heavy lifting ahead of time. Complete the research and crunch the numbers so for most topics all that is needed is Go or No Go.

Eliminate fluff. Get to the point.

Put the easy items first to create an atmosphere of cooperation.

Create a sense of urgency in the materials. This isn't a philosophy class in which we're discussing broad concepts. Note the nature of each agenda item as either Information or Action. If discussion bogs down on a topic, move that to a separate meeting.

Attach or have readily available any back-up information.

Don't allow jargon. Require plain language.

Listen for meaning and watch the body language. Who's checking out? Who's not buying? Get their concerns on the table.

Clarify the reasoning and the drawbacks. Tie everything to the group's larger purpose.

Quote of the Day

You can multitask? Fine. Then read a book and write one at the same time. No, multitasking is really just rapid attention-switching. And that'd be a useful skill, except it takes us a second or two to engage in the new situation we've graced with our focus. So, the sum total of attention is actually decreased as we multitask. Slicing your attention, in other words, is less like slicing potatoes than like slicing plums: you always lose some of the juice.

- David Weinberger

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Understanding Genius

There are two of them, man and boy. They emerge from a sandstorm and pass through the remains of civilization—a few broken walls and a swinging door. Beyond, they see something amazing: a ship sailing calmly through dry land. Only as the pair advance does the vision explain itself. This is the Suez Canal, a shocking stripe of blue. A motorbike buzzes along a road, on the far side, and the rider catches sight of the stragglers. He halts and shouts across the water, “Who are you?,” and again, “Who are you?” We look at the face of the man from the desert. His eyes are even bluer than the canal, but he says nothing. Maybe his tongue is too dry for speech. Maybe he has no answer.

Read the rest of Anthony Lane's portrait of director David Lean.

A Remarkable Life

Take a few minutes today and read the story of Jacob DeShazer.

It will put things in perspective.

Honesty and Expectations - Part II

In an earlier post, I mentioned some ways in which business people, and consultants in particular, could mislead clients.

That practice can be played both ways, of course, although I believe that many clients are unaware of the way in which they can alter expectations. For example, just as consultants may switch their key players, so too may clients. The client assigns a knowledgeable and responsive representative to the project but then replaces that person with one that has less information and influence and who is much less responsive.

Some other examples: The client requests that the project be completed by a particular deadline and then fails to provide the information necessary to meet the deadline or the client engages in mission creep and slowly adds work that was not covered by the initial proposal.

Status update meetings can correct some of those problems. It can also help to identify the types of practices that both sides might inadvertently adopt so the liaison meetings or teams can more easily discuss how those problems are being avoided or are beginning to surface. If good faith is present, such checkpoints should not pose a problem.

Quote of the Day

Don't fall in love with politicians, they're all a disappointment. They can't help it, they just are.

- Peggy Noonan

Monday, March 24, 2008

Honesty and Expectations

I've always had a problem with firms that used "and Associates" when there are no associates to be found.

Some consultants scramble to say, "Well, we bring on associates when we need them," but that doesn't remove the fact that you are holding yourself out as a larger operation when you aren't. It's deceptive and customers deserve better.

There are certain expectations that are reasonably assumed and we dash them at our peril. Clients will be less than pleased if they learn, after their project has been ardently and successfully courted by an experienced senior partner, that it has been handed off to a kid two weeks out of school.

Many a questionable practice has been rationalized as, "Everybody does that" or "They expect us to do that" when neither is true.

We make representations for a reason. It helps to revisit them periodically and ask why.

Have You...?

Worth checking out: A list of Have Yous from Tom Peters.

Designing for Stress

If an organization were going to design a system to create stress, these items should be considered:

Unclear lines of authority.

Inadequate training.

Inconsistent supervision.

Widespread lack of confidence and trust.


Demanding external forces.

Impending deadlines.

Delayed guidance.

Few checkpoints.


Tightly held information.

Questioning of motives.

Quote of the Day

I strive to be brief, and I become obscure.

- Horace

Sunday, March 23, 2008


One of the strangest types in the workplace is the chairwarmer; often amiable personalities whose sole goal in an office is to hold it.

We wait upon chairwarmers with the expectation that any day now, they will take some sort of substantive action but that moment never arrives. They will speak, promise, analyze, and cajole and yet all of that is mere running in place. Their only action is to give the appearance of action.

A chairwarmer can serve - if that is the term - years in an office and produce not a single accomplishment beyond the rearrangement of papers. I used to think that there was some subtle form of servant leadership at play. I hoped that they wanted, through their sloth, to encourage and develop others who, after a period of extreme frustration, would step forward to get something, anything, done.

That gives them too much credit. I've now concluded that most of these characters simply want a title.

They would be pathetic but for the harm that they do. They do, however, remind us of the old slogan: Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way.

Happy Easter

Quote of the Day

God does not shake miracles into Nature at random as if from a pepper-caster.

- C.S. Lewis

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Creating Calm

The elements of calm are simple:

Control. You have achieved sufficient control over the present and the near future. This can be achieved either through the power to influence results or through indifference to events that may occur regardless of your actions. Control is the antidote to fear.

Acceptance. An intense appreciation of what you have versus what might be nice to have.

Creativity. An ability to look into a confusing or bleak setting and see opportunities for improvement. This can be linked with the assurance that you are capable to seizing those opportunities.

Patience. The knowledge that moving methodically may seem slow but doing so will permit you to move much more rapidly than if you rush past steps and lessons.

Humor. The less we analyze this, the better, for analysis causes it to disappear. Suffice to say, when humor is present you will know it.

Miscellaneous and Fast

As my gourmet gently weeps: Today is National Corndog Day.

Classic: The rejection letter. [HT: Evil HR Lady ]

Radical chic: Tom Stoppard looks at 1968. [HT: Instapundit ]

Neatorama gives us an ice fishing mishap.

Cool Tools has found a switchblade screwdriver.

The Accountability Dodge

Economist Gary Becker has some interesting thoughts on efforts to avoid accountability. An excerpt:

Successful attempts to shift the responsibility for bad decisions toward others and to society more generally create a "moral hazard" in behavior. If individuals are not held accountable for decisions and actions that harm themselves or others, they have less incentive to act responsibly in the first place since they will escape some or all of the bad consequences of their actions.

Quote of the Day

The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.

- Blaise Pascal

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tipping Decision

A strange story about a strange court decision ordering Starbucks to pay for having permitted supervisors to share in the loot in the tip jar.

I go to Starbucks a lot and have always assumed that the supervisors, who seemed to be pitching in as much as anyone else, shared in the tips. There have been times when I've tipped because of the efforts of the supervisor.

[HT: Instapundit ]

Two Styles

Manager A will carefully review all documents that have been prepared for signature by staff. "Happy" will be changed to "glad" and every nuance will be weighed before a signature is attached.

Manager B will glance over the documents and, unless something significant jumps out, will sign because he relies upon the staff having considered the details.

Each style has pros and cons. Which one most resembles yours?

When to Flee

There are times when it makes no sense to stay in an organization. I've met people who've spent years trying to change the unchangeable when their best option would have been to move to a better environment. These are some indicators that it might be wise to plan an escape:

  1. Your personality does not resemble that of the folks who get promoted. (This assumes, of course, that you want a promotion.) There are places that favor the gregarious and an introvert's chances are remote. Is it impossible that they will ever promote the latter? No, but it is unlikely.

  2. The organization has questionable ethics. Unless the misbehavior was an aberration in an otherwise admirable group, you'll want to leave while your reputation and character are still intact.

  3. It is apparent that you will be excluded because of your race, sex, national origin, color, religion, age, disability, or sexual orientation. This is a very difficult call. After all, they hired you so you don't want to rush to conclude that they won't promote you. In most circumstances, there are also internal as well as governmental offices that can help to provide redress if you are a victim. There are times, however, when it is better to put your energy into an escape than into a lengthy determination of whether the organization is bigoted.

  4. You are a victim of burn-out, boredom or extreme frustration and a new challenge would be welcome. Before concluding that leaving is the only option, see if such an opportunity exists or could exist - some opportunities can be created - within your current organization.

  5. There is a genuinely attractive position elsewhere. This can be the toughest scenario of all because you are forced to leave your comfort zone. My current situation may not be perfect, you reason, but at least I know the routines and who's a friend and who's a devil. My suggestion is to dedicate a renewed passion to either choice. If you decide to stay, then devote more energy and creativity to your job. You should certainly do so if you secure a new position. And if you cannot possibly conceive of doing so in your current job, that in itself is a sign that it is time to flee.

Quote of the Day

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

- T.S. Eliot

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Banality of Evil

The New Yorker provides a slide show of some photographs, which surfaced last year, from the album of the adjutant at Auschwitz. Most of them are of the staff, not the victims, and the mundane nature of many of the scenes makes them especially chilling.

Music Break

One of the things I like about YouTube:

An unknown playing Terms of Endearment and doing it very well indeed.

Cough Cough

Via Cultural Offering, a brilliant scenario of a sick day.

A Portfolio Life

Adrian Wooldridge, writing in The Wall Street Journal, on Charles Handy's book on his life as a management guru, which is a grand illustration of the illogical nature of careers. An excerpt:

Teaching management provided him with an escape from the corporate grind. Shell drafted him for its in-house training college. The new London Business School offered him a professorship. The government asked him for advice on management education. He was given one of those eccentric establishment positions that Britain specializes in, Warden of St. George's House, living in splendid apartments in Windsor Castle and introducing the great and the good, including highflying clergymen, to the new science of management.

The amateurishness of Mr. Handy's Britain in the 1950s and 1960s is shocking, as is the antibusiness prejudice that he routinely encountered. Shell gave him a job as an economist (he had been to Oxford, after all) though he had no acquaintance with the dismal science. The London Business School made him a full professor though he had no academic training or publications in the field. (He was sent off to MIT for a year to mug up on the subject.) He was once told, when he used the word "economics," to avoid jargon.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Robots report: Global warming may have taken a "breather?" [HT: Instapundit ]

Lessons: What Dieter Zetsche learned at Daimler-Chrysler.

Mrs. Chang must be so happy: Securities trader sues lap dancer.

It's not the smiling: Do red light cameras cause accidents?

Looking good: 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe.

Quote of the Day

The shortest way to do many things is to do only one thing at once.

- Samuel Smiles

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cinderella and Modern Leadership

Jim Stroup, whose Managing Leadership blog is consistently thought-provoking, looks at the fictions surrounding elites. An excerpt:

While the working and management environments have dramatically changed over the subsequent decades, it must be said that our instincts have not kept pace with that change. There remains a strong paternalistic trend in both the theory and practice of management even today, and even a strong attraction to that attitude by the rest of us.

The classic example of this is the still thriving modern leadership movement, with its characteristic emphasis on the exclusiveness of the club, not to mention the presumption of its natural superiority over mere management, which latter calling has come, in the modern age of organizations, to be dominated by commoners, however well-trained. And that impulse to hierarchically distinguish the two functions is the clue to the ongoing presence of the traditional discrimination between those few who believe they inherently can, and the accompanying conviction that the rest of us are the sadly benighted masses whose greatest privilege is to have these luminous exemplars among us.

Roots Update

Take a science break and read David Ewing Duncan's exploration of whether you're a T-Rex or a chicken. An excerpt:

In the basement of Bozeman's Museum of the Rockies, I'm running my fingertips over a stump of the T-rex's cool, hard femur bone, or what's left after scientists sliced up and pulverized most of it in search of microspecks of soft tissue that should have decayed eons ago.

Instead, paleontologists discovered fragments of a protein with apparent similarity to Type I collagen [link to definition below], a building block of both skin and bone. In bone, it both holds the bone together and keeps it flexible. In human skin, collagen is the single largest component (after water). Collagen is found in most creatures with bones—including humans.


The Carnival of Human Resources is up at Wally Bock's blog.

It has lots of interesting stuff.

[Small world: I think I went to high school with one of the participants.]

Resign as Master of the Universe

This message won't apply to all readers but it will for a surprisingly large number:

It's not your fault.

In your effort to avoid being one of the whiners and malcontents who blame everyone else for their troubles, you have traveled too far in the other direction. You've assumed that way too much is within your control and, hence, it is your fault if things are not turning out as they should.

Stop that.

A great many of those burdens that you carry would have happened no matter what you did. The people you think you could have changed and the events you assume you could have prevented would have turned out that way or close to it regardless of any additional cleverness or effort on your part.

Your desire to assume responsibility is admirable but the extreme that you've adopted is both crushing and unfair. You may disdain those who seek to avoid accountability and yet your decision to soak it up like a sponge is equally destructive. Your bag of self-reproaches is overflowing.

Start emptying it. You don't need to ascribe ownership of the blame to anyone else. You do need to stop assuming that it is yours.

Drama on the High Seas

The captain of the Oceana had enough. "We don't want that kind of Germanic behavior," Christopher Wells joked to his mostly British passengers about the squabbling over deck chairs on his cruise ship. In today's politically über-correct days, such staples of British humor are verboten. Mr. Wells now stands accused of racism.

The two-week Caribbean cruise almost ended in a brawl last month. Some holidaymakers infuriated other guests by using towels to reserve deck chairs, otherwise empty, for hours. Such behavior is, in the British holiday imagination, firmly associated with Germans, who are reputed (fairly or not) to have pioneered this use of the towel to hog prime suntanning spots.

Read the rest of the story of deck chairs and stereotypes.

Quote of the Day

The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.

- Edward John Phelps

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Scandal Trivia

Writing in The New Yorker, Paul Slansky takes us down memory lane with a scandal quiz.

Fall of Bear Stearns

New York magazine has a quickie guide to the fall of Bear Stearns.

Larry Kudlow weighs in on whether it was avoidable.

More from Business Week on why its stock is rising.

Training Leaders

Wally Bock has some brutally frank answers to the question: "Can anyone learn to be a great leader?"

Bear with Me

Seth Godin points us to a clever ad that tests our awareness.

Popular Hiring Checklist

  • Inflated job description.

  • Cryptically worded ad.

  • Ridiculously short recruitment window.

  • Illogical evaluation of applications.

  • Unqualified interviewers.

  • Illegal interview questions.

  • Rushed decision.

  • Botched orientation.

  • Inadequate training.

  • Soul-draining management.

  • Exit interview.

  • Start over.

Quote of the Day

As the light changed from red to green to yellow and back to red again, I sat there thinking about life. Was it nothing more than a bunch of honking and yelling? Sometimes it seemed that way.

- Jack Handey

Monday, March 17, 2008

When Everyone is Irish

It's St. Patrick's Day and Mark Hemingway writes of his favorite Irish things.

7 Ways to Let Others Down

  1. Overpromise.

  2. Change previously agreed-upon plans and don't tell the others.

  3. Disregard deadlines.

  4. Wait to start your portion of any project until it is impossible to do a decent job.

  5. Pretend that you're capable of handling work that is out of your league.

  6. Consistently seize upon any convenient alibi [ill, tired, stressed out, etc.) to justify your nonperformance.

  7. Dedicate neither enthusiasm nor energy to any project.

"HR" Should Go

"Human Resources" is such a warm title. It has a Stalinist Five Year Plan sort of ring to it that must comfort every walking, sitting, or cringing resource in the organization.

It was supposedly an improvement over "Personnel" although for the life of me I could never understand why. At least you could visit Personnel without the sense that you were about to see an excavation project.

The term also has a yearning aspect, much like the towel boy who boasts about being on the men's varsity team. "We're just as tough as Operations," the term seems to say, "and since we deal with resources, we aren't easily ignored or outsourced." (Dream on.)

For the umpteenth time I'll propose dropping HR and simply going with Recruitment and Development. You can pack a lot under that umbrella and yet it focuses on what HR/Personnel/Whatever folks really do.

And it doesn't evoke the slightest memory of metallurgy.

Quote of the Day

He is well paid that is well satisfied.

- William Shakespeare

Sunday, March 16, 2008

First, Do No Harm

When the components of a manager's record are tallied and assessed, it may be that success was obtained not so much from taking positive actions but from refraining from doing negative ones.

Every day, the ledger of our lives has two columns: behavior that builds is on one side and that which is self-destructive is on the other. The latter may be barely discernable and yet, in time, lethal. Just as dieters will carefully consider the number of calories or carbs or sugars, so too should anyone ask, "Is this behavior positive or self-destructive?"

Too often, we are so absorbed with the positive actions that we overlook the poisonous ones that are taken, sometimes at the same time.

Stopping that consumption is a major factor in assuring success. As the medical maxim goes, "First, do no harm."

Quote of the Day

A man should keep his little brain attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it.

- Arthur Conan Doyle

Saturday, March 15, 2008

10 Tips for Novice Bloggers

  1. Recognize that any deep thoughts that might wander into your posts won't draw as many visitors as blogs featuring cute kittens.

  2. Ruthlessly manage your time.

  3. Write well but don't imagine that you're competing with Tolstoy.

  4. Seek a distinctive voice.

  5. Be kind. It wears well.

  6. Be sure to give credit where it is due.

  7. Get to the point.

  8. Treat your blog as if it were a magazine that you'd like to read.

  9. Never turn the content of your posts into commercials.

  10. Don't expect to make a lot of money.

Miscellaneous and Fast

In the wake of scandal, a room disappears.

Old and interesting: An interview with novelist Doris Lessing.

Say what? Songs about cannibalism.

A clip from Al Pacino's marvelous documentary: Looking for Richard III.

Job Seeker Musts

If you are spending an inordinate amount of time jabbing needles into a voodoo doll representing employers, check out Rowan Manahan's Self-Promotion 101.

Quote of the Day

Mathematics has given economics rigor, but alas, also mortis.

- Robert Heilbroner

Friday, March 14, 2008

Good Mavericks and Bad Mavericks

The good maverick dissents clearly and with substance. The bad maverick is vague and superficial.

The good maverick is candid but does not seek to embarrass the organization. The bad maverick takes glee in causing embarrassment.

The good maverick brings insights that are realistic and attainable. The bad maverick's proposals are utopian and unattainable.

The good maverick regards office politics as frustrating but a natural part of the bureaucratic process. The bad maverick regards office politics as oppressive and suspicious.

The good maverick understands that good people can intelligently disagree. The bad maverick sees opponents as either ignorant or evil.

The good maverick is above board. The bad maverick operates in subterranean realms.

The good maverick may dissent strongly before a decision is made but - unless the decision is unethical - supports the decision once it is made. The bad maverick dissents both before and after the decision.

Trios of Advice

Good advice often comes in threes. You've probably heard of at least some of these.



Tell them what you're not saying.
Tell them what you're saying.
Review what you've said.

Tell them what you want.
Tell them what you don't want.
Review what you've said.

Decide how much and how good.
Decide precisely who will do it.
Decide exactly when it will be done.

Tell them what you're going to tell them.
Tell them.
Tell them what you've told them.

Bodacious Lyle

Via Cultural Offering, Lyle Lovett sings "If I Had a Boat."

Hairy Power Ploy?

Stanley Bing on an unusual fashion statement. An excerpt:

“Lefkowitz?” he says. “That’s his New York look. Haven’t you noticed? A bunch of the LA guys don’t shave when they’re in New York.”

Now that he mentioned it, I had seen it before. They come here. They’re awesome. They don’t shave. At our lunch places, I’ve seen movie moguls who make billions walking around like my uncle Al after he spent a night at the track. All that’s missing is the Pendleton bathrobe hanging open.

How the French Fight Terrorism

Counterterrorism, like espionage and covert action, isn’t a spectator sport. The more a country practices, the better it gets. France has become the most accomplished counterterrorist practitioner in Europe. Whereas September 11, 2001, was a shock to the American counterterrorist establishment, it wasn’t a révolution des mentalités in Paris. Two waves of terrorist attacks, the first in the mid-1980s and the second in the mid-1990s, have made France acutely aware of both state-supported Middle Eastern terrorism and freelancing but organized Islamic extremists.

Read the rest of the article by Reuel Marc Gerecht and Gary J. Schmitt .

A Road Warrior's Index

Number of cities in 12 months: 100.
Project: Conducting management workshops.
Number of bags: Three.
Routine: One city a day, four days a week.
Impact on sleeping habits: Hellish.
Best seat: Window (because it's easier to sleep)
Most flight delays: Chicago O'Hare Airport.
Number of bags lost: Zero.
Best rental car: The single occasion when, due to a fluke, I was given a Cadillac.
Flights cancelled: Once in Atlanta due to a storm and once in Pittsburgh due to engine trouble.
Scariest flight: From Spokane to Helena in a small plane during hazardous weather.
Craziest traffic: Northern New Jersey.
Most charming small airport: Santa Barbara, California.
Worst airport: It may not be the worst, but Detroit needs some work.
Most interesting airport: Las Vegas.
Most comfortable large airport: Phoenix Sky Harbor.
Smallest street signs: Massachusetts and New Jersey.
Largest street signs: Arizona and California.
Most enjoyable drive: From Massachusetts to Maine when the leaves were changing.
Most unexpected sight: An influx of turkey vultures in Miami Beach.
Most dangerous part of any trip: The cab/shuttle ride to and from the airport.
Best shuttle driver: The one in Texas who had iced Perrier in his van.
Worst shuttle driver: The one in Chicago whose erratic driving caused the passengers to revolt.
Most polite audiences: San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Liveliest audiences: New York City and Los Angeles.
Toughest audiences: Seattle and Portland.
Most consistently excellent service from a hotel: Marriott.
Worst conference room: A tie between one in New Jersey that had a partially-collapsed wall and another in Mississippi that had pillars obstructing the audience's view.
Worst hotel: A nightmare in North Carolina that resembled a scene from The Shining.
Most confused traveler: The guy on the flight to Honolulu who thought he was going to Cincinnati.

Quote of the Day

I know that's a secret, for it's whispered everywhere.

- William Congreve

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What's That Gurgling Sound?

Political Calculations adds some "snarky" comments to a CareerBuilder list of ten things you shouldn't do in a job interview.

The Limits of Poetic Justice

And that’s why the prosecutor was smirking. His high-profile bête noire, having made a seemingly inexcusable error that would get a rookie fired, now had no choice but to beg the indulgence of the very judge whose admonitions he’d serially flouted. It was delicious. Deep down, whispering beneath the heat of battle, the prosecutor knew the defendant shouldn’t be penalized for the lawyer’s dereliction. But to hell with that: The law didn’t require it and this was now about comeuppance. The prosecutor insisted that default was default, case closed.

Fortunately, the judge was far wiser than the prosecutor. I know because I was the prosecutor.

Read the rest of Andrew C. McCarthy on prosaic justice.

Oddest Paradoxes

In between his international consulting gigs, author, consultant, and professor Nicholas Bate has given us a marvelous list of life's oddest paradoxes.

Playing the Role

Charles De Gaulle once said, "There are many things I would have liked to do but could not, because they would not have been fitting for General De Gaulle."

De Gaulle knew the importance of playing the role. Many people do not. Infected by the idea that their feelings are more important than their responsibilities, they fail to - as the phrase goes - "rise to" the latter.

Roles matter. Parents, supervisors, presidents, athletes, mechanics, spouses, and others are expected to fulfill certain roles. Those who fail to do so are not living up to the implied conditions of their job descriptions. The other sides of their personalities can be saved for private moments, but when they are supposed to be "on," the role must be respected because roles reassure. They signal that this person is a reliable performer who cares enough to present the usual manner of a reliable performer.

Watch a clip of the latest celebrity news and you'll long for the days when the movie studios controlled the public images of stars. We weren't subjected to this actor's adulteries or that one's drinking problem and, I would submit, we were the better for it. Today, it can be difficult to see some stars on the screen without thinking of this scandal or that rehab instead of the character they are paid to portray.

Can people be unconventional and still have substance? Absolutely. But they are the exception. Odds are the attorney, consultant, or business executive who shows up for a client meeting dressed like a member of a motorcycle gang is not a free-spirited genius.

A role is being played but not the one the client desires.


Mr. Morgenthau, now 88, was old school. Eliot Spitzer is, or was, new school. He may be in disgrace this morning, but Eliot Spitzer is a totem for our age. He is of a piece with a culture that elevates and publicizes individuals who "push the edge of the envelope," who do what they gotta do to win and attract adulation. Eliot Spitzer -- the man and his methods -- were admired, even lionized, in some media precincts.

Somewhere along the line in our culture, we all became complicit in elevating and celebrating that which is outsized, not normal -- disproportionate. Eliot Spitzer was a prosecutor on steroids. His audience cheered, until he got caught. Then, quite naturally, it leered.

In a more restricted, even straitlaced age, people had internal monitors. One was discretion. It had its uses. Still does. Now we live in a less hinged age. We have unrestrained personalities with unrestrained behavior. Want to see one? Turn on your TV. Check the prose on the Web. No surprise that some people, like Client 9, hit the wall. Judgment is always the first thing to go.

Read the rest of Daniel Henninger's excellent
essay on the fall of Eliot Spitzer.

Quote of the Day

Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of witnesses.

- Margaret Millar

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Miscellaneous and Fast

Design wars: Do high priced items beat out their low priced counterparts?

Porcupine: The weaponized flashlight. [HT: Instapundit ]

Ida Wells and her war against lynching.

Party animals: This ad may be a hoax or Fred and Sharon may be on their way to stardom.

Put down the donut: Lifehacker reveals how to burn 600 calories a day while typing.

The Assumption of Progress

Say that things aren't as good as they used to be and you'll immediately be dismissed as a nostalgic geezer.

There is an assumption that, with occasional blips, matters improve, people get wiser, and the world moves forward. In one of Paul Mann's novels about India, he surfaces the thought that people consider the Third World as our past when it may be our future.

I'm not that pessimistic and yet it does little good to smile past some of the real problems that face us nor does it help if we gloss over how hard it can be to maintain progress. We face macro-challenges that could dramatically damage civilization overnight. There are well-financed groups of fanatics that would love nothing better than to explode a nuclear or dirty bomb in places such as New York, London, or Washington, DC and then watch the aftermath. The human toll would be devastating. So too would be the impact on civil liberties and the economy.

[One of the odd aspects of today's world is that fantastic technological progress is unfolding at the same time forces that would destroy such progress are rising. We have globalization in one corner and tribalism in another. Terrorists who would love the 13th century use cell phones to detonate their bombs.]

When considering the micro-level, however, most of the threats to progress come from within. We see this in companies. A key leader or two departs and, through a lack of integrity, courage, and competence, the level of management slowly erodes. People who would barely be considered for managerial jobs ten years ago wind up as vice presidents. Standards are quietly abandoned. Matters become politicized. Factions are placated. Pragmatism trumps principle. The organization's outside appearance may still be the same but strip away the gloss and you'll find a very different interior.

We gauge progress far better than we measure decline. [If you want to know why, just imagine how proposing the latter might affect your career.] Having a grasp of where we are not propelling forward and indeed may be sliding back is crucial if we are to avoid sudden disaster or gradual erosion.

Crucial, but not popular.

Quote of the Day

Consider the daffodil. And while you're doing that, I'll be over here, looking through your stuff.

- Jack Handey

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Fashion Update

Extremely close to the customer: How business responds to the front page.

[HT: Wonkette ]

Too True

Back by popular demand: Mitchell and Webb on write this...or that...or maybe.


Yesterday, I taught a leadership workshop for a group of seasoned supervisors and managers.

Bright folks and they were equipped with years of experience. Several probably could have taught the class. The program, however, was a hit because, although there were some new approaches for them to consider, for the most part the workshop reminded them of things they already knew or suspected but had set aside.

That is a common characteristic of training. The teacher doesn't instruct so much as remind and the class members sit there thinking, "I knew that. Why haven't I been doing that?"

And that, of course, is an additional feature: Asking ourselves why we haven't put our knowledge into practice. Examining the hidden ways in which a lower caliber of leadership or management is inadvertently rewarded or even desired.

If you knew it and haven't been doing it, there is a reason why. The answer, like a surgeon's scalpel, may go to the heart of your leadership/management problems.

Quote of the Day

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

- William Morris

Monday, March 10, 2008

Political Advice

Can there be a bipartisan consensus that politicians involved in sex scandals shouldn't subject their spouses to the added humiliation of having to stand next to them at the post-scandal press conferences?

No class.

Apparel Update

ThinkGeek has the ultimate t-shirt for non-geeks and many others.

Clear as Mud

One of my pet peeves in management books is when the author describes a scenario in a manner that would indicate the conclusion was obvious when you know it was anything but.

For example:

Ralph's Fried Roadkill Restaurant collapsed almost as soon as it opened. Although a dose of common sense would have told a more sober decision maker that the restaurant's name was lethal, Ralph was determined to forge ahead with his dream. In business, names can reassure or shock and Ralph picked the latter. The dreamer learned the value of choosing well-trod paths.

But, with a little imagination, you can just as easily think of this paragraph:

Ralph's Fried Roadkill Restaurant was a success from the day it opened. Although a dose of common sense would have told a more sober decision maker that the restaurant's name was lethal, Ralph knew that in today's highly competitive fast food business, being conventional is risky. "That name was worth a million dollars of free publicity," Ralph declares. "If I'd followed everyone else, we'd have had to close within two weeks. People were laughing when they arrived and laughing when they left. You've probably seen our t-shirts."

Note to business writers: You can always hit a bullseye if you draw the dart board after the darts have been thrown.

The Source of Pressure

That upcoming meeting that is clawing at your throat? In the majority of cases it can be rescheduled without severe repercussions.

The pile of material that you have to read? You don't. Most of it is worthless. Focus on the essentials.

The rules that seem to be foiling your project? They're probably more rigid in your mind than in reality. Get some expert opinions and find a new way.

The person who is bullying you? Don't feed that intimidating behavior with your fear. Instead, identify the offender's fear. There is a vulnerability behind the bluster.

The stress that is crushing you? It is heightened by excessive caring. Seek a balance between caring and not caring.

The pressure comes from within.