Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Adventure Break: Maneater

A cool breeze blew over the lush Indian forest. Jim Corbett was being hunted. The tigress that stalked him was already credited with at least sixty-four human kills, and Corbett hoped that he was targeted to be next. Jim leaned against the rocky slope of a nearby hill and lit a cigarette. The Chowgrath Tigress had already sneaked up on him once in this grove, and he tried to give her the chance to do so again. As the afternoon waned, however, Corbett decided that she was too canny to try the same trick twice.

He opted to lay one last trap for his adversary before the sunlight failed. He led a buffalo into the grove, and tied it up securely as it grazed. If the tigress took the bait she would be able to kill the animal, but would be unable to drag it off. His intent was to circle behind the nearby hill, climb to the top, and give watch to the grove below. It would be a shot of over two hundred yards, but over the years he had felled many a beast from such distances. Even if his long-range shot only managed to wound the man-eating tigress, he would at least be left with a blood-trail to track, and therefore end his months-long hunt.

Read the rest of the story at Damn Interesting.

What's the Best Advice You Ever Got?

Take a few minutes and check out this excellent Fortune magazine article asking some very accomplished people: What's the best advice you ever got? Some excerpts:

I go back to things my dad said: "Your career is long and the business world is small. Always act with integrity. Never take the last dollar off the table."


About 15 years ago, I saw an Oprah show where she said, "Always be the only person who can sign your checks." At the time, I had no money. I was at Second City in Chicago. I came to New York in 1997 to work on Saturday Night Live. I realized I have no head for business. And it would have been very easy for me to let someone take control of my money - for me to say, "Here, sign my checks...whatever."


Finally, grad school also gives most folks a healthy dose of intellectual humility. That was certainly the case for me, and that's not a bad thing either.


I can't remember who told me this, but I certainly didn't grow up knowing it, so I must have gotten this advice at Salomon Brothers in the 1970s. The advice was, first, always ask for the order, and second, when the customer says yes, stop talking.

Honest Opponents

There is a certain nobility in an honest opponent who tells you in polite but no uncertain terms that he or she will actively oppose your position.

Such individuals may be frustrating or stubborn but they are far better than these characters:

The Questionable Ally. This person joins your project not to support but to transform it. Indeed, you may suspect that this ally is not really an ally at all but a saboteur. One objection after another will be surfaced, ostensibly in the name of helping, and yet there appears to be no real reason for the continued delays, misdirections, and whining other than covert opposition. Never operate with the assumption that the more allies you have, the better. Some allies are giant burdens and you will move more quickly and more effectively if they are on the sidelines.

The Interrogator. This individual does not pretend to be an ally but does pose as an impartial observer. The objectivity is suspect, however, as the questioner seems to take a certain joy in pointing out your project's faults and none of its virtues. This person's creativity is devoted solely to noting how your goal cannot be achieved and never to how it can.

The Alibi Artist. This team member produces excuses instead of objections. Blame is ascribed to others or to the lack of resources or to poor timing and news of poor performance is delivered with a shrug. One characteristic of this type is a distinct lack of commitment to the success of the project. That may be denied, of course, but words of commitment mean far less than actions. Give this person an unimportant assignment far, far, away.

Deal with these types long enough and you may wind up according your honest opponents a strange and new respect.

Quote of the Day

I decline utterly to be impartial as between the fire brigade and the fire.

- Winston Churchill

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Which is Most Dangerous to a Career?

I realize this is a tough choice but which of the following would you say is most dangerous to a young person in the beginning stages of a career?

  1. Abrasiveness.

  2. Transparent ambition.

  3. Occasional incompetence.

  4. Inappropriate joking.

  5. Inappropriate clothing.

  6. Sloth.

  7. Lack of initiative.

  8. Sarcasm.

  9. Negative attitude.

  10. Inadequate training.

Holocaust Remembrance Day is May 2

Robert Rozett lists five books about the Holocaust.

I'd add:

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Into That Darkness by Gita Sereny

Badenheim 1939 by Aharon Appelfeld

Treblinka by Jean-Francois Steiner

Mendelssohn is on the Roof by Jiri Weil

Quote of the Day

Just imagine that in 1940, on pain of death, you had been forced to predict the next three presidents of the United States. You would have to pick an obscure Missouri senator who was so identified with a corrupt machine that his re-election was in doubt, an even more obscure Army lieutenant colonel in the Philippines, and a kid in his second year at Harvard.

- Morris Udall, explaining his dark horse candidacy in 1976

Monday, April 28, 2008

Book Review: The Game-Changer

I've been reading, and enjoying, The Game-Changer by A.G. Lafley and Ram Charan.

Lafley is the chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble, home of Tide detergent, Crest toothpaste, and a host of memorable products. Charan is the noted management consultant who seems to write a book every three weeks. They've written a fascinating and substantive analysis of the approaches and danger zones of innovation. Naturally, there are many P&G stories, but they are good ones because they aren't puffery nor are they wildly unrealistic. Here's an excerpt on the importance of killing some projects:

People hesitate to kill projects for two reasons. First, anxiety. Am I killing something that might be big? There are abundant examples of how someone persisted for years in his quest, and finally succeeded. But persistence alone does not explain the success. In almost all cases, the project was reframed, or there was an external technological breakthrough that facilitated the project, or the timing became propitious. Second, the leader does not want to challenge or say "no" to a person with a great track record, who is passionate about a project.

Lafley and Charan are well-versed in the internal politics of organizations and that knowledge takes their work beyond the confines of innovation. This is an indirect but highly revealing look at how organizations work. Some reviewers may take a cheap shot or two at the glowing chapter about Jeff Immelt at GE - bad timing! - but the central lessons remain.

The Game-Changer is well worth your time for its insights into innovation and management.

No More "Cool"

Eurociao has adopted a practice that, if widely adopted, will make us better people.

Doing and Being

It is hardly profound to observe that what you do on a regular basis will determine what sort of person you are and yet so many of us discount the effects of our daily activities.

Amid all of the doing rests the serious question of being. To what extent are our actions facilitating the maintenance and growth of a good person? I once asked an executive to explain the difference between two types of professionals in his organization. He replied, "We recruit from the same pool and there is no initial difference but come back in five years and you'll find a big gap in their personalities. They are transformed by their jobs."

Some of the saddest examples are those individuals who, like the fictional character Sammy Glick, are so busy running that they forget why and where. They lose themselves in the doing and forget about the being. They forget who they are.

Survey many of the routine management techniques and you may reasonably conclude that we are embracing daily routines that are designed to turn us into more efficient machines.[Indeed, the metaphor of machinery is frequently applied to people in the workplace. According to one department, you are not a person, you are a resource.]

Apply those techniques long enough and there may be little mystery as to what you will become.

Memorable Customer Service Responses

"You're the one who was given the wrong package. Well, go ahead and pick out the right stuff and all will be fine."

In response to being told that some equipment in a hotel room didn't work: "Sure."

When customer from across town appeared for appointment and the employee who was supposed to meet with the customer was absent: "We tried calling you an hour ago. We aren't sure when she'll be back in so we can't reschedule."

When a customer called in on April 25 to set an appointment: "Our computers have a problem so you'll have to call back on May 1."

Quote of the Day

It isn't that they can't see the solution. It is that they can't see the problem.

- G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Miscellaneous and Fast

Culinary Update: Drew Carey looks at the bacon dog controversy in Los Angeles.

Homer Simpson angers Argentina: The part about Madonna was too much.

American Heritage on the history of Central Park.

ABBA: Super Trouper.

Why limit it to women? This chocolate-eating job should be an easy to fill.

Daniel Akst speaks up for competition.

Grading the Incrementals

The success of many a day is determined by looking at the overall picture.

That's how we get into trouble.

The overall appearance of a house may be fine but there is a real problem if termites are at work. Some problems can quickly trump others and many of the ones that do are not dramatic events; they are small nibblers.

Measuring the incremental gains or losses in key categories takes time, insight, and discipline and yet it is a far more accurate measure of progress than a snapshot that hides more than it reveals.

It was C.S. Lewis who observed that the road to hell is a slight, comfortable, and grassy slope.

Quote of the Day

I went to America to convert the Indians; but oh, who shall convert me?

- John Wesley

Saturday, April 26, 2008

High Tech in 1930

It's easy to mock this film from the Thirties on how to use a telephone but it hits all of the essentials. . .and haven't you see instruction videos that didn't?

Lie and Smoke

Employment attorney John Phillips comments on the case of the workers in Indiana who falsely stated that they are non-smokers in order to get a $500 health insurance discount.

Here's hoping the union doesn't pursue the matter. That is said with the union's true interest in mind. I used to deal with union representatives who would fight like lions if they felt there had been a genuine wrong but would refuse to challenge management if there was no case to be made for the employee. Their credibility was high and if they said there was something wrong you listened carefully to their side.

The knee-jerk advocates, however, who would just as strongly defend the indefensible soon found that they had no credibility.

The same rule, of course, applies to management. Credibility [i.e. trust] is the coin of the realm.

Wanting It Thursday

Recalling the movie studios in his days of making B-movies, Ronald Reagan said, "They didn't want it good. They wanted it Thursday."

Although the studios made a lot of stinkers in those days - unlike today when every film is well-crafted, intellectually deep, and uplifting to the spirit - they made a lot of good and even great ones. The sad truth is if they'd taken more time and had more money, there is no guarantee that the films would have improved.

I served on a committee once where a very wise executive summed up one of the group's advantages. "We don't have a lot of money," he observed, "and that's good. If we had a big budget, we push funds here and there and would wander off into things that might be nice but aren't really needed. We'd also be less creative."

As it turned out, he was absolutely correct. The restricted funds and the tight schedule, to steal a line from Samuel Johnson, concentrated our minds wonderfully.

Improving the Schools

Such "civilian" leadership has brought about two profound shifts that the professionals, left to their own devices, would never have allowed. Today, instead of judging schools by their services, resources or fairness, we track their progress against preset academic standards – and hold them to account for those results.

We're also far more open to charter schools, vouchers, virtual schools, home schooling. And we no longer suppose kids must attend the campus nearest home. A majority of U.S. students now study either in bona fide "schools of choice," or in neighborhood schools their parents chose with a realtor's help.

Those are historic changes indeed – most of today's education debates deal with the complexities of carrying them out. Yet our school results haven't appreciably improved, whether one looks at test scores or graduation rates. Sure, there are up and down blips in the data, but no big and lasting changes in performance, even though we're also spending tons more money. (In constant dollars, per-pupil spending in 1983 was 56% of today's.)

Read the rest of Chester E. Finn, Jr. on what has been learned from education reform.

Quote of the Day

There is no art which one government sooner learns of another than that of draining money from the pockets of the people.

- Adam Smith

Friday, April 25, 2008

Miscellaneous and Fast

2Blowhards: More classic fighter jets.

Jared Diamond on the anthropology of revenge.

Chilling: A Nazi propaganda film from 1936 Berlin.

New York magazine on upcoming superhero movies.

Not your standard car: The Blastolene B702.

New York City gets a high-tech defense perimeter.

What's Wrong?

The executive held an annual retreat in which he and his staff went over one question:

"What are we doing wrong?"

It was always the most productive meeting of the year. People would enter the conference room, grab a pastry and coffee, and expect to hear the problems they'd been grinding their teeth over but invariably they would be surprised by new demons. In many cases, when multiple problems were discussed, a problem created by their combination would emerge. They had "just in time" problems that could be quickly and inadvertently assembled from a variety of sources and others that were disguised by other, more obvious, problems.

Far from being demoralized, the staff was invigorated by such revelations and especially by the action plans that ensued. The retreat ended with an acknowledgement of what was being done right - no use ignoring that - and yet as people walked away you could hear the relief, and in many cases, excitement, that accompanies improvement.

Quote of Day

The first human being who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization.

- Sigmund Freud

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Teaching Tip: Case Examples

I have a simple tip for those of you who have to teach a subject: Use lots of case examples.

Audiences like mysteries and case examples that are centered around a "What is wrong with this picture?" scenario naturally draw interest. They're fun, they can be turned around to illustrate different perspectives, and they are far more memorable than someone droning on about PowerPoint Slide #39. [Hmm. Wade uses straw man example. Sneaky.]

In order to avoid chaos, however, you have to connect the examples with generalizations. This is where what you hope is insightful guidance comes in. The generalizations show the common links and pinpoint what the examples mean. Pump in a lot of examples without generalizations and your presentation will resemble the amiable relative at your family gatherings who sips sherry and observes that it's a crazy old world after all. Nice but not exactly the go-to person for serious advice.

The key to case examples is make them relevant and keep them moving. The value of relevance is obvious but many speakers miss the importance of speed. People can absorb information at an amazing rate and it is far easier for the audience to slow you down with questions than to speed you up if things are staring to drag. This means that you should never, ever, have people sit on their questions until your presentation is over. Invite them to interrupt and argue. Learn to weave your answers into the main theme so you aren't thrown off by questions that are out of order.

Engage the audience and you will be engaging.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Oops: Sign from a Tibet rally.

Adfreak wonders if there was an Abercrombie & Fitch PR plot at an Obama rally.

Damn Interesting looks at
the strange case of the Nazi spies who landed in New York.

Eurociao analyzes a Spiegel report on a Muslim reformation.

Lizard King: The Doors in 1967 on The Jonathan Winters Show.

The Cruzbike Freerider looks like fun but I doubt if it will catch on in Sun City.

Overlawyered: Is there an overtime problem
if employees use employer-issued BlackBerrys after work hours?

Quote of the Day

All about me may be silence and darkness, yet within me, in the spirit, is music and brightness, and color flashes through all my thoughts.

- Helen Keller

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Rude and Sensitive

Have you ever noticed that the rudest people are often the most touchy about any slight to THEM?

This is an executive trait, of course. People who feel particularly comfortable yelling at others, but whose feelings are incredibly sensitive to any kind of slight. I once knew a guy who routinely screamed his head off at the slightest provocation. The entire corporation tiptoed around his temper. One day one of his lieutenants flew into Chicago from Denver for a meeting and was greeted with a faceful of noise from the big cheese.

Read the rest of Stanley Bing's column here.

Culture Break: Shakespeare's Birthday

Some appropriate links:

My Lord Hamlet: Richard Burton recalls performing "Hamlet" . . . with Churchill in the front row.

Band of brothers: Kenneth Branagh in Henry V.

The trailer for Looking for Richard.

Lend me your ears: Brando as Marc Antony.

Birds of a Feather

Most teams are mixtures of good and not-so-good. They usually don't have an abundance of geniuses but neither do they have villains.

There are teams, however, at the two extremes. The fortunate ones have acquired a sizable number of star performers. Taken as individuals, their members might not be stars but they work so well together they turn the team itself into a star. Such teams are joys to work with and to watch. You can see its members rising above their own individual level to boost the the others and the group as a whole.

The other extreme, however, is anything but inspirational. These teams aren't simply dysfunctional, they're composed of bad people. They might not be the type to rob a corner market but they don't blink at other ethical transgressions. Pettiness and back-stabbing are among their daily habits.

Now here's a question: In most cases, were these two extremes consciously assembled, did they naturally gravitate toward one another, or are they examples of how those who make hiring decisions often choose clones of themselves?

Quote of the Day

The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read,

With loads of learned lumber in his head.

- Alexander Pope

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Being There

Recently, I taught a workshop for a municipal government. It was just one of several sessions that I'm conducting for the city and yet this one had a subtle advantage: both the mayor and the police chief were present.

They didn't play the standard executive game of putting in an appearance at the start, talking about how important the subject is, and then heading for the door.

They stayed for the entire session.

Judging from the evaluations, the program went very well and yet one of the most important messages was given by the presence of those two people.

"Do you care enough to be there?" is a question that all leaders must answer. I recall talking to a police officer in another city who'd walked through a pretty rough neighborhood during a race riot. He mentioned how much it meant to the officers that the mayor, without a bunch of reporters in tow, had shown up and walked with them for part of the night as they sought to talk to citizens and calm things down.

What the mayor said that night was probably far less memorable than the fact that he showed up.

To paraphrase a chief executive officer, you can pretend to care but you can't pretend to be there.

Disaster Gap

Economist Michael Mandel sees a missing piece in many disaster scenarios:

Why is this chart so important? It says that increases in knowledge--technology and new ways of doing things--represent roughly half of productivity gains since 1987. In fact, this pattern reaches back far longer...when I get some time later, I will splice together the numbers since World War II. This is one of the great regularities of economics...the fact that roughly half of productivity growth is driven by intangible improvements in knowledge, rather than tangible investments in physical and human capital.

The flip side: Reverend Malthus and the forces of dismalness always win, in the absence of technological change and improvements in knowledge. Without technological advances, the walls always close in, the disasters never stop. We get a meek and meager existence which we cannot outrun.

Little Boxes

There's a new book out on the clustering of America. An excerpt from Alan Ehrenhalt's review:

Certainly it is a case that the two major parties have come to accept. Soon after the 2000 election, Bush pollster Matthew Dowd reported to Karl Rove that there wasn't much point in focusing any campaign on independents or moderate voters anymore. The country was too polarized, essentially along the cultural lines that Mr. Bishop lays out. "If you drive a Volvo and do yoga, you are pretty much a Democrat," Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman said in 2004. "If you drive a Lincoln or a BMW and you own a gun, you're voting for Bush." Mr. Bishop would agree. He would simply add that the yoga people have clustered in one set of culturally segregated enclaves and the gun owners in another.

But what if you drive a Volvo and own a gun?

Too Clever by Half

I want this person to know how I feel and will do everything to communicate my feelings.

My strategy will include body language - I've a great raised brow - and the clever placement of articles that advocate my position. It will feature occasional side-comments praising those who favor my side and scorning for those who don't. I'll point out flaws in other options and gently steer the conversation to the many benefits of my way of thinking. My casual remarks will express frustration with the barriers raised by those small minds who do not share my perspective. I'll write memos, prepare slides and charts, assemble research, tell jokes, and coin slogans. Each will signal the way I feel.

My approach will employ every possible avenue of expression save one:

Directly telling the person.

After all, haven't I made myself clear?

Quote of the Day

Better to slip with the foot than with the tongue.

- English proverb

Monday, April 21, 2008

Adding to the Burden

Have you ever caught yourself making a job harder than it need be?

Some of us employ that technique on a regular basis. Among our misdirected efforts are:

  • Reinventing the wheel. Most of our projects have been done by before. Why do we resist the guidance of precedent?

  • The Ph.D. Syndrome. The swamp of research stretches out forever because more information always appears on the horizon.

  • Devoting far too much time to details. There is a huge difference between attending to important details and squandering time on minor ones.

  • Rushing past planning and prioritizing. That time saved early will be lost in chunks later.

  • Analyzing the execution but not the mission. As the saying goes, it does no good to run if you're on the wrong road.

  • Imposing ridiculous deadlines. Why create extra stress?

  • Underestimating the amount of time required. Estimate the time you think will be needed, then multiply by three.

  • Permitting interruptions. Hide out and get it done.

From the Tech Wars

If you can read this post, thank a techie.

It means there has been some teensy-weensy [tech term] progress on the Blogger problem.

Quote of the Day

Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits.

- Mark Twain

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Gnome in the Machine

I'm still battling the evil gnome that is making it difficult to post.

If I recite The Lord's Prayer backwards and do the hokey-pokey, it seems to work (don't ask how I discovered that) but such a process can be time-consuming.

Rest assured, plans for solution are in motion.

Madness in the Workplace: Company

I first heard of Max Barry's novel, Company, when it was published in hardback. It's the bizarre, amusing, and all-too-accurate tale of a newly-hired young sales assistant. An excerpt:

Elizabeth puts her hands on her hips. Elizabeth has shoulder-length brown hair that looks as if it has been cut with a straight razor and a mouth that could have done the cutting. Elizabeth is smart, ruthless, and emotionally damaged; that is, she is a sales representative. If Elizabeth's brain was a person, it would have scars, tattoos, and be missing one eye. If you saw it coming, you would cross the street.


IT does know what went wrong, down to the line number of the offending piece of code. It begins to explain several possible solutions. But these involve confusing phrases like "automatic fail-over switching," and Senior Management gets irritable. It skips ahead to the logical conclusion: Information Technology is a bunch of idiots who locked the stairwells. They put the wheels in motion: IT will be outsourced by the end of the week.

Good stuff. Check it out.

Quote of the Day

All philosophy lies in two words, sustain and abstain.

- Epictetus

Saturday, April 19, 2008

What Must Be So

Let's reveal the popular truths in some organizations:

If an expression of thought is hard to understand, it must be deep.

If others reject a proposal, they must not thoroughly understand it.

If a disgruntled employee brings forth a complaint, it must be meritless.

If people resist change, they must be afraid of leaving their comfort zones.

The Introduction

I'm introducing a speaker at a community event this morning.

When given such a task, I always follow these ground rules:

  • Remember they came to hear the speaker, not the person introducing the speaker.
  • Omit anything that might be remotely embarrassing to the speaker or to anyone in the audience.
  • Mention the topic but don't go further into the subject. That is the speaker's realm and you don't want to infringe on any turf. [I once saw an introduction that included an amusing story. Unfortunately, that same story was a key part of the speaker's presentation.]
  • Don't set the bar too high in your description of the speaker's knowledge or eloquence. Doing so makes it all the harder to please the audience.
  • Keep it short and then fade away. The speaker is the star.

Quote of the Day

I drag my myth around with me.

- Orson Welles

Friday, April 18, 2008

Tech Wars

I'm battling a Blogger problem. Stay tuned.

History Lesson

John Leo reviews Mary Lefkowitz's book about her challenge of questionable but fashionable claims. An excerpt:

Outraged by the nonscholarly approach of Afrocentric writers, she somewhat naïvely imagined that facts would put their extreme theories to rest. She noted, for instance, that Socrates couldn't have been black, as alleged, because his parents were Athenian citizens and blacks, in classical Athens, were not eligible for citizenship. She noted, as well, that Aristotle would have had a tough time stealing his philosophy from the library at Alexandria, since he died before the library was built. Such arguments went nowhere, Ms. Lefkowitz writes, with those who saw Greek philosophy "as yet another case of a colonialist European plundering of Africa."

Watching the Flow

Recently, I recalled Mo Udall's quip about congressional committee hearings: "Everything has been said but not everyone has said it."

The recollection was triggered by watching how different perspectives can surface during meetings. Often the smartest thing you can do is to sit back and let others make your point. More frequently than we might admit, they make it better than we would. You also avoid a problem: No one likes a meeting in which only one person makes all of the good points.

And when it comes to disagreements, clarify, clarify, clarify. Listen carefully for meaning and the other person's reality. You may find that the disagreement is minor or major but in either case you'll be better prepared to deal with it because the intensity of your listening may result in your understanding the speaker's position even better than the speaker.

Quote of the Day

You do not want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.

- Jerry Garcia

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Under-Rated Skills

Certain skills receive far too little recognition in the workplace. These are my favorites:

The discipline to keep a straight-face. Although this is particularly helpful during negotiations, audits, and investigations, it can also be of immediate benefit while listening to the boss's inspirational speeches at staff meetings and to analysts when they give budget projections.

The sixth sense that signals when it is time to leave. "Leave where?" you ask. It doesn't matter. The skill's wide applicability is the beautiful part. People with this uncanny sense know when to duck out of office parties, conferences, and water cooler discussions before something embarrassing occurs. Some with even more refined feelers know which get-togethers to avoid entirely.

The ability to keep a secret. One of the rarest skills of all and consequently one of the most appreciated. If you ever thank this person for not revealing your blunder with the HR director's spouse at the company picnic, he or she will reply, "I have no idea what you're talking about." People have achieved sainthood for less.

The strength to say no. This skill has brought more happiness to more people than all of the others combined. It has saved many an employee from half-baked projects, wasted weekends, and senior executives who have fallen in love with some guru's latest lunacy.

This is, of course, a partial listing and yet it illustrates the importance of the little intangibles.

Watch for them the next time you make a personnel selection.

Quote of the Day

In essence, the leadership challenge is to provide the 'glue' to cohere independent units in a world characterized by entropy and fragmentation. Only one element has been identified as powerful enough to overcome the centrifugal forces, and that is trust.

- James O'Toole

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Miscellaneous and Fast

Asylum? An odd warning to the Royal Navy concerning pirates.

A very clever ad for a Belgian optician.

India's Supreme Court rules on affirmative action.

Cultural Offering: Dude travels.

Start, Stop, Do, Don't

I've written here before about the accelerator/brake habit of those who seek a particular goal but then, as they near it, let self-doubt cause them to abandon or sabotage their endeavor.
There is a similar practice that can be equally frustrating and I'll bet many of you have seen it: Those who urge a particular course of action while simultaneously opposing the very conduct that would be required to succeed in that course.

"Why isn't this task being accomplished more quickly?" they moan, but then, if the resources are requested to do precisely that, these same folks will rapidly will line up in opposition.

It's the old game of claiming to favor Four but opposing the numbers that make Four. There's a popular reverse version in which people solemnly denounce Four but then strongly advocate combining 1 + 1 + 1 + 1.


Quote of the Day

The man who wins may have been counted out several times, but he didn't hear the referee.

- H.E. Jansen

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fool-Proof Tax Prep Advice

Today's the day but don't despair! Dave Barry gives some helpful tax preparation tips:

Step one is to gather together your tax forms, your financial records, and, if you plan to itemize your deductions, at least two liters of vodka.

Step two is to go through all of your receipts, separate the ones that are for tax-deductible expenses, and mail them to me, because I need some. The way my accounting system works is, when I get home at night, I take off my pants. (Usually inside the house.) If I find what might be tax-related documents in my pockets, I put them into a two-ply grocery bag labeled TAXES.
At tax time, I go through this bag, hoping to find receipts that say things like, ''BUSINESS SUPPLIES TO BE USED FOR BUSINESS -- $417.23.'' Instead, I find some ticket stubs for Shrek the Third and several hundred wadded-up snippets of paper on which the only legible printing says ''Thank You.'' Now, because I am mentioning Shrek the Third in this column, I can legally deduct the $10 cost of my ticket, plus a large popcorn, which I estimate cost $53, for a total of $63, or, rounding off, $250. But that still leaves me a little short of what I need, deductionwise.

This is where the vodka comes in.

[HT: Andrew Sullivan ]

Why They Leave

"The CEO's office was on the floor directly above ours and never once did he set foot in our department."

"It became evident that they were looking for a particular personality type and I would never fit their mode."

"They don't recover their wounded."

"They don't think I should have a personal life."

"Their personnel rules are the equivalent of pamphlets dropped into a jungle."

"The CEO is a great guy but is near retirement and all of his likely successors are, well, not so nice."

"They lie. Frequently."

Team Vibrations

Before your team members go into that client meeting, be sure to have them read this post from Cultural Offering. An excerpt:

I often look at people other than the presenter during sales pitches. I'm amazed at how often they will give away a potential problem with their looks as their presenter touches on some topic.

Once a member of our team was having a problem with something being said by our presenter in response to a question. She made a sound, starting to interrupt and it was picked up by one of the people we were presenting too. He pointed at her and said "do you have a problem with that answer?" It wasn't a huge deal, but it added a wrinkle to the presentation and is one of the reasons that I usually limit the number of people participating in sales presentations to those necessary and sufficient to lay out the information, make the organizational commitments and close the deal.

Management Quiz: True or False?

Answer True or False to each of the following:

  1. Managers should abstain from micromanagement.

  2. As a leader, you don't need to talk about ethical standards if your conduct exemplifies them.

  3. None of us is as smart as all of us.

  4. An intense focus on results will consistently lead to their achievement.

  5. People leave organizations, not managers.

  6. Work units naturally gravitate toward their own best interests.

  7. Anti-discrimination programs that emphasize hiring and promotional results are more effective than those which emphasize opportunities.

[Answers: All of the statements are false.]

Quote of the Day

Never do business with people you don't trust. Life's too short.

- Harry Quadracci

Monday, April 14, 2008

Miscellaneous and Fast

A hidden Leonardo? An engineer wants to know if there is something behind a wall.

Spoiler alert: Only watch this if you've already seen Cinema Paradiso, one of the best films ever made.

Burning bright: Caroline Alexander looks for tigers in the mangrove forests of Bengal.

Max Boot on a curious omission from a NY Times report on Iraq.

Wharton: Using YouTube to advertise.

The Venti Effect

Are you one of the many Americans who believe that the Starbucks Corporation has had a ruinous effect on locally owned coffeehouses? If so, think again. In his new book, Starbucked, Taylor Clark writes, “For most locally owned coffeehouses, a new Starbucks nearby is actually cause for celebration.”

How is that? “Starbucks doesn’t enjoy the same competitive advantages as other megaretailers,” Clark explains. Wal-Mart “has lower prices than any of its rivals, its hours are generally longer, and its range of products is larger. None of this is true of Starbucks.” A new neighborhood Starbucks tends to boost interest in specialty coffees, thus creating an opportunity for independent coffeehouses that stay open later and offer better or less costly products. “The Omaha World-Herald reported that after Starbucks blitzed Omaha with six stores in 2002, business at locally owned cafés was up as much as 25 percent, with many new mom and pops opening up.”

Read more about the Venti Effect and other topics.

A Serious Assessment

First, draw a line down the center of a sheet of paper.

On one side, make a list of the things you are doing to achieve a certain goal. Make sure to note only the actions you are actually taking and not ones you've simply considered.

Then on the other side, list what a person would do if that individual were deadly serious about achieving that goal; e.g., had to accomplish the mission to save a life or win a fortune.

Ponder the differences between the two lists and ask yourself, "Why aren't I acting more seriously?

Quote of the Day

Why should I let the toad work

Squat on my life?

Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork

And drive the brute off?

- Philip Larkin

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Culture Break

Good stuff: Mischa Maisky plays Bach.

Travel Scandal

The strange story of the Lonely Planet author who admits he plagiarized and made up sections and that he once wrote a travel guide without visiting the country:

"They didn't pay me enough to go Colombia,'' he said.

"I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating - an intern in the Colombian Consulate.

"They don't pay enough for what they expect the authors to do.''

Oh, I see, so it's their fault.

[HT: Drudge Report]

The Limits of Assumptions

I once interviewed three historians who'd written biographies. My purpose was to learn about the management styles of their subjects, all of whom had been dictators or had exercised power akin to that level.

The first historian was marvelously informative. He tackled the subject from different angles and seemed to enjoy the less orthodox approach to his subject. He thought out loud about the ramifications of the person's style. I learned a great deal from him.

The second historian seemed surprised by the subject. He did not consider it irrelevant but it was clear that he had not delved into the details that heavily. He could discuss the general system in which the dictator had operated but not the specific approach of the leader.

The third historian was, in a way, the most memorable. He flatly rejected the suggestion that dictators had management styles because, at least in the case of his particular subject, he believed that all the man had to do was to issue orders and his associates would scurry to comply. I had ample evidence that such instant obedience was not quite the way that matters operated and that subordinates have their ways of working the boss, but he shut down any further exploration. He'd made up his mind.

His analysis has stayed with me as a warning of how our approaches can limit our perspective. Was I the captive of my approach and he the captive of his? In my defense, I can say that I reassessed my theories on the outside chance that the man might be right. He, on the other hand, refused to entertain the possibility that, amid all of the information he had acquired on his subject, he had not examined one aspect.

As the saying goes, we make our decisions and then they make us. In my life, some of the greatest advances have come when a long cherished assumption has been challenged and subsequently reinforced or replaced.

Quote of the Day

Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action.

- Disraeli

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Power Signals

Who gets to sit? Who gets to stand?

Who is called by the first name? Who is given a title plus the last name?

Who carries a briefcase? Who has others to carry the paperwork?

Who orders the drafting of the document? Who has to write it?

Who visits? Who awaits?

Who has the corner office? Who has the cubicle?

Who has a wooden desk? Who has a metal one?

Who has a real plant? Who has a plastic one?

Who has a reserved parking place near the main entrance? Who walks in from the company lot?

Who gets the coffee? Who orders it?

Who is in short sleeves? Who is in long?

Who has a nameplate on the office door? Who has one on the shirt? Who needs neither?

Who has to shout to be heard? Who can murmur?

Technical Difficulties

Blogger has some problems today. I'm having difficulty posting and some of the comments have not been shown.

If this message gets posted at all then that's a good sign!


In the good deeds department - at least I hope it will be - I'm involved with the organization of a minor film festival. Although the primary focus will be on films made in Arizona, we may be tackling the general subject of western movies.

It has been a great excuse to jot down favorite films and an opportunity to learn of some great ones that I've never seen. One book that has been extremely helpful is
Cinema Southwest by John A. Murray.

As for the films, one odd favorite of mine is The Ballad of Cable Hogue.

Any other nominees that you'd like to see in a western film festival?

Say Yes?

If this Fortune article on motivational speaker James Arthur Ray is accurate, I'm rather underwhelmed.

Quote of the Day

Democratic civilization is the first in history to blame itself because another power is trying to destroy it.

- Jean-Francois Revel

Friday, April 11, 2008

Micro-Ethics at the Pump

"The trouble started about 9 a.m. [Thursday] when an attendant at the BP station punched in 35 cents instead of $3.35 for premium-grade gasoline," the Star-News reports. "The mistake wasn’t noticed until about 6 p.m., when crowds jammed the pumps and caused traffic jams on nearby roads."

Driving Force

Four entrepreneurs discuss what motivates them. It's not just the money.*

*In my own case, it's the Nobel Peace Prize.

Good Enough

An inspirational line from a noted entrepreneur:

"Good enough never is."

I liked that sentiment until, after some brief reflection, I concluded that it's not true. There are plenty of occasions in which good enough is fine and you are better advised to turn your attention elsewhere.

We assume that things can always be improved, but can they? Are there not some levels of performance that are perfect and where efforts to improve them could wind up doing harm? If we concede that there are moments when less is more, does that not acknowledge that good enough is sometimes as good as it gets and as good as it should get?

The components of overall excellence include a lot of "good enoughs."

Reinventing Starbucks

You've expanded everywhere. Give us a sense of where the growth is. Is there anywhere you are not right now?

We're still not in Italy, though we'll get there at some point. But the headline is that we've opened almost 5,000 stores in 44 countries since 1996, and I think what's most exciting for us, whether we're talking about China or the rest of Asia or Western Europe, or most recently Prague, is the relevancy and the acceptance of the Starbucks experience across the board. I think people underestimate how large the opportunity is internationally. In 2009, for the first time we'll open more stores internationally than we will open in the U.S.

Read the rest of the Business Week interview with Howard Schultz here.

[My favorite question/answer? The last one.]

Quote of the Day

If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss bank.

- Woody Allen

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Miscellaneous and Fast

Tim Ferriss: Can using a bigger monitor save 2.5 hours a day?

Fish story: National Geographic has pictures of a 646 pound catfish.

The Telegraph looks at the Thatcher years.

Hobbyists who created new careers on-line.

No climate consensus? Lawrence Solomon's book challenges the view that only kooks question the climate change movement.

Donald at 2Blowhards: Classic combat aircraft.

Didn't this get an Oscar? The lowdown on Django.

Webby: The 12th Annual Webby blog nominees are out.

David Brooks on the network of truces in Iraq.

Must Reading for All HR Folks: What's Your Mindset?

Employment attorney John Phillips provides some excellent guidance on how HR people should regard their jobs. An excerpt:

I don’t want to oversimply something that can indeed be complicated at times, but sometimes, I think we make it too complicated. If your employer wants you to be nothing more than its mouthpiece, you need to find another job if you view yourself as an HR professional. The employer is asking you to do something that’s not in the employer’s best interest. So, it seems to me that your job becomes pointless.

We Hire the Best Qualified Person

We are committed to hiring the best qualified person. . . except when:

  • It's inconvenient;

  • We've already decided on our selection and are simply going through the motions;

  • We are pressured to meet a diversity quota and so might bend standards a bit;

  • We haven't made any serious effort to learn what the job requires;

  • We don't know what "best qualified" means;

  • We are afraid of someone with too many qualifications;

  • We've so narrowly defined the concept that no one will qualify;

  • We are responding to political pressure;

  • We'd be embarrassed to have such a person see our operation;

  • Our screening mechanisms weed out the best qualified.

Music Challenge

An amusing challenge from Cultural Offering regarding what's on my iPod.

An eye-what? I don't have one of those new-fangled things. But here are the CDs that are closest to my player at the moment:

Aaron Copland's Danzon cubano and his El salon Mexico;
Carlos Chavez's sinfonia india;
Maria Callas La Divina;
the soundtrack to Amelie; and
Dave Brubeck's Time Out.

[Thank God that Slim Whitman CD disappeared.]

Workplace Playgrounds

An amazing number of workplace problems stem from adults failing to act like, well, adults.

I've seen workplaces that have high schoolish cliques and others where grade schoolish crudity is flaunted. People who would not tolerate unprofessional behavior for a second in technical matters can have a surprising willingness to stand by as their employees are subjected to playground pranks or bullying.

The stuff that is simply silly is not the problem. The behavior that is cruel is. Back-bitting, malicious gossip, flat-out harassment, cruel teasing, withholding information, shunning, and mean nicknames are just some of the childish conduct that rips apart teams, creates stress, and skews the moral compasses of the perpetrators. The conduct is meant to exclude and it is lethal.
I've mentioned it here before but there's much to be said for the Colorado hotel whose slogan is "Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen."

That is not too much to ask.

Quote of the Day

Some praise at morning what they blame at night;

But always think the last opinion right.

- Alexander Pope

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Boola Moola

When he transferred from Columbia to Yale last spring and joined Morse College’s class of 2008, he seemed like many other Yale students: His admissions application boasted a rigorous course load, straight A’s and a glowing letter of recommendation.

There was only one problem: None of it appears to have been true, according to charges filed against him in Connecticut court.

Read the rest of the story about the student who allegedly defrauded Yale.

[HT: New York magazine ]

Buzz Vocab

How well versed are you with buzz terms? Wired has a quiz.

With Very Large Subtitles

Hollywood is looking at movies geared for aging boomers.

How Snakes Operate

The practices of snakes in the workplace can be quickly listed. Betrayal, flattery, deceit, and disloyalty are just a few of their slippery ways.

There is one, however, that is overlooked: encouragement.

Like judo experts who use the opponent's force as a weapon, the accomplished workplace snake destroys the adversary by encouraging the innocent person's weaknesses. Unlike those fine people in the world who bring out your best, snakes bring out your worst. Iago saw Othello's jealousy and fed it with poisonous hints.

Lethal encouragement is a brilliant tactic because it causes the victim to self-destruct and the villain retains deniability. I've seen office snakes who encouraged people to write sarcastic memos all the while knowing that the tone would anger upper management and harm the senders' reputations. I've encountered reptiles who urged others to emphasize the least persuasive point in an important presentation.
How can you defend against such tactics? Beware of the empathizer who pushes you into turf wars. When anyone is urging "Let's you and him fight" be sure to move in the other direction. Whenever something feels strange, buy time so you can calmly sort out matters or get other advice. Know your own weaknesses and be wary when someone tells you they are strengths.
The workplace snake is not a mythical being. Some organizations have more than their share. The sooner you can hone your internal warning system, the safer you will be because not all of these creatures have rattles.

Quote of the Day

We do not look in great cities for our best morality.

- Jane Austen

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Miscellaneous and Fast

"Obviously forged": Rob Long has some Onion News Network footage on conspiracy theorists.

The job of finding a job: Some advice on job searches.

Relevant danger: Is stress killing bloggers? [HT: Drudge Report]

TIME wonders:
Affirmative Action for boys? [HT: Real Clear Politics ]

Vulnerability to Boise?

Headwinds at General Motors.

General Petraeus on Iraq.

Peter Harkness sees a silver lining to distressed state governments.

Is It Bad Enough to be a Best Seller?

Perhaps my favorite book review of all time isn’t, properly speaking, a review of a book at all, but a flogging of the whole category of business books. It was called How 51 Gorillas Can Make You Seriously Rich, and it was by The Economist magazine. The most interesting thing about it, though, is that virtually every book cited as an archetype of what is wrong with the genre was a best seller.

Why is that?

Read the rest of Jim Stroup at Managing Leadership on bad books.

Global Welfare Reform

Ken Hagerty examines William Easterly's take on foreign aid and the concept of free cities. An excerpt:

In a recent essay Easterly writes, "The West's efforts to aid the Rest have been even less successful at goals such as promoting rapid economic growth, changes in government economic policy to facilitate markets, or promotion of honest and democratic government. The evidence is stark: $568 billion spent on aid to Africa, and yet the typical African country is no richer today than 40 years ago. The evidence suggests that foreign aid results in less democratic and less honest government, not more."

Book Tag - continued

I was tagged by Political Calculations on the books that are currently on my reading shelf. Having offered my modest list in an earlier post I will now pass on the honors by tagging some serious readers:

Nicholas Bate

Fortify Your Oasis


Cultural Offering

Three Star Leadership

What the hell happened to Europe?

Managing Leadership

[All others not named are still loved and will be linked in some future madness.]

What Leaders Fear

When a Greek tyrant in the days of the city-states was asked his secret of staying in power, he took his cane and neatly whacked off the tops of the cornstalks that rose above the others. Study dictators and you'll be struck by the extent to which their actions are governed by fear. You can persuasively argue that Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini were more interested in staying in power than in efficiency. They often sacrificed it and other organizational necessities for personal security.

One can conclude that if those individuals, who exercised enormous power over their associates, were fearful, then fear may be an inherent part of leadership. A counterpoint, however, would be that the more you are addicted to power, the more you fear losing it, and that dictators are examples of extreme power addicts and are not representative of the average leader. Most leaders know that they can survive a loss of power whereas dictators usually - and accurately - surmise that losing their position probably means losing their life. Wolves tend to surround themselves with wolves.

Dial down several notches and consider what leaders who do not exercise dictatorial power routinely fear:

  • Embarrassment. This is a status blow to many leaders. They'd be wise to learn how to laugh at themselves. Their employees, however, are equally wise to avoid any situations that may embarrass the leader.

  • Surprises. These are rarely good and are therefore unwelcome. Any surprise calls into question how much the leader knows.

  • Disloyalty. Most leaders fear disloyal acts. The truly paranoid also fear disloyal thoughts.

  • Encroachment. Even the best leaders will reserve some responsibilities and territory for themselves. When subordinates jump the chain of command, this fear may be enhanced.

All of these are forms of a loss of control. Leaders are reassured with information, deference, loyalty, and competence. Unfortunately, for many the last item is the lowest priority.

Quote of the Day

When man wanted to make a machine that would walk he created the wheel, which does not resemble a leg.

- Guillaume Apollinnaire

Monday, April 07, 2008

Culture Break

Donald at 2Blowhards looks at the Nero Wolfe novels. [Great books. The genius solves crimes without leaving his penthouse.]

What the hell happened to Europe? [great blog title] gives a trailer from Jean Luc-Godard's Band of Outsiders.

Replacing the Internet?

The Internet could soon be made obsolete. The scientists who pioneered it have now built a lightning-fast replacement capable of downloading entire feature films within seconds.

At speeds about 10,000 times faster than a typical broadband connection, “the grid” will be able to send the entire Rolling Stones back catalogue from Britain to Japan in less than two seconds.

The latest spin-off from Cern, the particle physics centre that created the web, the grid could also provide the kind of power needed to transmit holographic images; allow instant online gaming with hundreds of thousands of players; and offer high-definition video telephony for the price of a local call.

David Britton, professor of physics at Glasgow University and a leading figure in the grid project, believes grid technologies could “revolutionise” society. “With this kind of computing power, future generations will have the ability to collaborate and communicate in ways older people like me cannot even imagine,” he said.

Read the
rest of how the web might be replaced by the grid.