Thursday, July 31, 2008
- War. The mega-excuse because it gives entire groups the excuse to refocus elsewhere. The priority that trumps all others. People won't quibble about your lawn not being mown when things are blowing up and buildings are falling.
- Severe illness. This may even trump War but it can't be faked and it must be severe. Being out with the flu for four days is a mere temporary excuse. Having a serious illness, however, merits the cutting of a lot of slack. Anyone who hassles you when you're severely ill is a troll.
- Severe illness of a loved one. Right up there with #2. Many of us would be more disoriented by this than by our own illness.
- Car problems. Are you kidding? You're distracted by a radiator? Get out of here!
- Computer problems? These may disrupt work but they shouldn't shut down thought. A mere temporary excuse. Emulate Hannibal and find a way or make a way.
- Interruptions. This is no excuse unless you're training apprentices. Shut the door and don't answer the phone. Suspend the open door policy. It can be done.
- Disruptive boss. This can be a big excuse, but why haven't you found a hiding place?
- Romantic entanglements. You are experiencing ennui because your boyfriend or girlfriend found someone else? We'll be gentle, but this is all the more reason for you to focus on a priority that won't go away.
- Creativity. We know you're brilliant and can come up with twelve other great ideas. Just get this job done first.
- Procrastination. Ten points for honest self-analysis. Take a break, but come back to work - and focus - in an hour.
The New York Times is determined to show that women are discriminated against in the sciences; too bad the facts say otherwise. A new study has “found that girls perform as well as boys on standardized math tests,” claims a July 25 article by Tamar Lewin—thus, the underrepresentation of women on science faculties must result from bias. Actually, the study, summarized in the July 25 issue of Science, shows something quite different: while boys’ and girls’ average scores are similar, boys outnumber girls among students in both the highest and the lowest score ranges. Either the Times is deliberately concealing the results of the study or its reporter cannot understand the most basic science reporting.
One way to know our entelechy is to look at those someday dreams we all have but somehow never get around to, or that just seem too unattainable to begin. It may appear counterintuitive, but we have found that as people express their entelechy, even though it may not seem directly related to the goal they have been trying to achieve, they start to see extraordinary results in other areas of their lives.
Virtually every group in the population is less angry in 2008 than in 1996 -- those making more and those making less than the average income; college-educated and noncollege-educated folks; men and women.
Only one major group in the population has gotten angrier: people who call themselves "very liberal." While conservatives, moderates and nonextreme liberals all have seen their average levels of outrage fall over the past 12 years, the number of angry days among our leftiest neighbors has risen 56% (to 2.28 from 1.46), and the percentage with no angry days in the past week has fallen to 31% from 37%. Today, very liberal people spend more than twice as much time feeling angry as do political moderates. One in seven is outraged seven days a week.
Read the rest of Arthur C. Brooks on levels of anger.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
One of the best executives I've ever known - Alan Brunacini - who was chief of the Phoenix Fire Department for years, created a fictitious customer named Mrs. Smith. Much of the customer service talk was about "What would Mrs. Smith think?"
Many management books are like that. They provide good information about everything but the hardest part. There can be an irritating smugness in the authors' willingness to gloss over the very section that most readers will find challenging.
You tell me to focus on the most important things? How do I know what's truly important?
You urge that I get close to employees and then four pages later emphasize the importance of detachment. Where's the boundary?
A reason for the vagueness, of course, is that any management advice in a book is written in an isolation chamber. The authors don't know the background or specific circumstances of the readers and one seemingly small item can make a big difference.
Great chefs follow recipes, but they also sense when to make modifications. Those alterations may provide a special flair. Through experience, they know 50 different ways to "catch a rabbit."
It would be nice if some management writers mentioned one or two.
Read the rest of Mark Yost on the art and business of tree climbing.
- Pablo Picasso
[HT: Josh Kaufman ]
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
The Onion reports that young people are not interested in office politics.
Cool Tools looks at Strap-A-Handle.
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg tells what he'd like for his last breakfast.
Nanny Town? Los Angeles is considering a moratorium on the building of fast food restaurants.
Condescension Alert: A heartland-scorning spokesman for what he calls "brainland America."
Is Cuil really cool? There are doubts.
A review of achievement: NASA's 50 years.
Too clever? Twitter fortune cookies.
The real spirit of the laws in France is that bureaucracy of which the late Monsieur de Gournay used to complain so greatly; here the offices, clerks, secretaries, inspectors and intendants are not appointed to benefit the public interest, indeed the public interest appears to have been established so that offices might exist.
- The putative ally who wishes to join your cause in order to hinder it.
- The critics who conveniently forget (or rapidly revise) their criticism once you have succeeded.
- The opponent who disdains negotiating anything but your destruction.
- Those interesting souls who will give you "everything" to achieve an objective; i.e. everything but resources and assistance.
- The predators who regard friendliness as weakness and who operate with a completely different set of rules.
- The opportunist (think Alcibiades) who can switch "deeply-held" positions on a dime in order to further his ambition.
- The naive negotiator who believes everyone is as decent and open as herself.
- The leaders who wait until a disaster strikes before acknowledging the presence of a threat.
- The impatient observers who believe that amazingly complex projects can be resolved within a short period of time without a single major mistake.
- The leaders who ignore all evidence and cling to a strategy that is not working.
- The hubris of very bright people who have been given a great deal of power.
- The zealots whose passion for one issue causes them to be blind to all other considerations.
"How can you make TV in China and NOT mention the oppression of the Tibetan people?!" - Goes one argument. And it's a pretty compelling one. But once committed to shooting in a country, one becomes very aware of those one will leave behind. The people who open their homes to our cameras, who guide us, drive us, feed us -- they LIVE in the places I'm talking blithely about on camera. If I start asking them questions like "So ...How was that re-education camp?" It could put all involved with us in a very tough spot long after me and the crew have gone and are comfortably back in New York.
It's a fine line we have to walk sometimes. But what you should know about the leader whose biquitous and unsmiling portrait hangs on the walls of every home and business in Country X will always be mentioned -- and the fact that it's on every wall should tell you plenty.
Monday, July 28, 2008
In a health food café on London's Farringdon Road, he is in a confessional mood over his role in our celebrity culture. "We are creating a generation of future morons and I think I have a certain responsibility for that, which I'm not proud of."
He has detected a shift in values from "genuine talent to frivolous talent" which is "dangerous" for society, he says, citing the example of Abi Titmuss, former girlfriend of fallen TV presenter John Leslie. "She becomes famous overnight. She has good people around her, publicists and managers, and they manipulate that fame. After getting her clothes off in lads' mags and being a party animal, she gives up her job as a nurse. What does that say to people who want to join the caring professions?"
Jack said that only the highest ranking and highest paid executives should be recruited because their pay and status are indicative of their ability.
Larry said that is ridiculous, noted his experiences with many a highly paid dolt, and said that pay level isn't inherently indicative of experience.
Mary added that an economic test would exclude a cross-section of the community and could wind up providing only one perspective.
Jack answered that he has no problem if others want to participate as volunteers but that the key leaders should have high-level executive experience.
Larry countered by citing examples of police sergeants and teachers who'd done very well in similar projects.
Jack acknowledged that one of his ulterior motives was to tap into the personal and professional resources that high ranking and wealthy folks would bring to the table.
Mary said it sounded as if they were talking about two different teams for two different needs.
How to get the biggest bang for the buck for 10 billion dollars.
I believe the stated financial damage from a catastrophic terrorist attack is grossly underestimated.
- Dave Ulrich
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Here's a link to its latest On the Moneyed Midways with selections from a variety of blog carnivals. Good stuff and a public service to blogdom but the site has much more than that. If you aren't familiar with Political Calculations, check it out.
I wondered what planet he'd come from.
What if, I diplomatically responded, the manager or supervisor is uncomfortable surfacing a question with HR?
He assured that that they were quite comfortable doing so. That opinion was not shared by the people I'd met with in his organization's other departments.
Now you can say that a management consultant has a vested interest in promoting external consultation and that an HR professional has one in restricting the sources of management advice. That doesn't mean that one side or the other isn't correct.
The point that I believe tips the scale in favor of opening the doors and permitting managers and supervisors to get advice from a variety of sources is to consider what will happen if they are not permitted to do so. They won't go to HR. They'll rely upon their own analysis and, in many cases, will postpone taking action until the problem becomes much worse. HR will eventually see the problem on its desk but only after months of omitted or poorly crafted action.
A Human Resources department that is top notch doesn't need to discourage employees from seeking outside advice and an HR department that is not top notch doesn't deserve that restriction.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
One disadvantage of living off the revenues of your company is that you have to keep running it. And as anyone who runs their own business can tell you, that requires your complete attention. You can't just start a business and check out once things are going well, or they stop going well surprisingly fast.
The main economic motives of startup founders seem to be freedom and security. They want enough money that (a) they don't have to worry about running out of money and (b) they can spend their time how they want. Running your own business offers neither. You certainly don't have freedom: no boss is so demanding. Nor do you have security, because if you stop paying attention to the company, its revenues go away, and with them your income.
Read all of Paul Graham's essay on the pooled risk company management company.
Lopez is proud of the fact that Del Taco has "raving" fans, some of whom eat at the chain several times a week and know the local store manager by name. But fans don't rave unless they're won over. Offering good food at a good price isn't enough. The key is to turn a transaction into an interaction. "We're facing difficult times and need to be more sensitive. If a person only has $5 to spend this week, they are looking for something extra. They want to make sure that where they go, they will get good food and be treated nicely. Our customers like to go because they like the food, they know the employees, and they like the way they are treated."
All three have suffered serious losses: the Presbyterians down 1.6 percent over the previous year, the Lutherans down 1.09, and the Methodists down 0.79. The other Mainline churches show the same pattern: The Episcopalians, for instance, lost 1.55 percent of their members in 2005. By 2025, runs a bitter joke among conservative Anglicans, the Episcopal Church will have one priest for every congregant. And these recent numbers are actually a slight improvement. The greatest damage was done from 1990 to 2000—a decade in which the United Church of Christ declined 14.8 percent, for example, and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 11.6 percent.
Another way to parse the data is to consider the average age of church membership. The 1998 to 2002 sets of the General Social Survey show that the Mainline Protestant denominations have the oldest average age of any religious group in America, at almost fifty-two years. And they will get older yet. In 2005, the Baylor Religion Survey found that 28.1 percent of believers aged sixty-five and over—but only 17.6 percent of those thirty-one to forty-four—identify themselves as members of the Mainline.
Friday, July 25, 2008
New leaders often move toward the extremes. Some disclose far too much to their teams and overlook the harm that can be done when tales of upper-level disputes and personality conflicts are passed along. In the name of openness, these leaders sometimes use disclosure to deflect the blame for unpopular actions. It wasn't my decision, their stories imply, but instead was imposed on me from the powers that be.
Other leaders are clams. They give little if any description of the reasoning behind various policy decisions and attain an almost machine-like attitude of "Here's the official line. Follow it." Team members sense a rigidity that shuts down further discussion.
Wise leaders understand that there can be discreet disclosure; the type that gives a sense of the rationale behind certain policies without revealing the dirty details of management slugfests that may have prefaced the decision. These leaders disclose reasoning, not personalities. Their attitude is not robotic but conveys a willingness to discuss employee concerns. At the same time, it signals that the leader is going to do what is necessary to make the program work and that blaming the folks upstairs is not in the equation.
The key question is "What should be disclosed in order for the team to be effective over both the short and long term?" A key recognition is that there are four teams: those who report to the leader, the managers at an equal level, those to whom the leader reports, and the ultra-team that is the entire organization.
Gerard Baker on reports of a new messiah . [HT: Drudge Report]
Yoni Brenner, writing in The New Yorker, on 14 passive-aggressive appetizers.
Eccentric Employment has an ad for Monkey Caregiver but it has some conditions.
The Onion has just the right coffee mug for your weekly driving.
One of them seemed to give them far broader rights than what we'd agreed. The word "unlimited" was there on the page.
"Don't worry," they said, "that paragraph on page two is just for the disk duplicators, we have to have those rights or they won't manufacture the disks. And you're covered with the paragraph on page three, that limits our rights to exactly what we've agreed."
- Advertise the job.
- Interview some of the people who express interest.
- Listen to them talk about their individual attributes.
- Pick a person.
- Put the individual through an orientation process that gives a mind-numbing amount of information about the organization.
- Put the person in with a bunch of other individuals who were selected in roughly the same manner.
- Now grapple not with the individual per se nor the organizational policies but with the quality of the relationships the individual has with the rest of the group and with the immediate supervisor.
The benefit of using an integrative approach, when feasible, in dealing with conflict is obvious. Domination suppresses conflict, and compromise temporarily removes it. Integration, however, uses conflict to provide the traction that enables organizations to move beyond the conflict to a greater understanding of the organization’s nature and needs, and an optimal means of realizing them.
As we have seen, however, Follett knew that there are occasions when such a solution is not practical (because of, for example, the “undue influence of leaders”), or not feasible. But she also knew that it might not even be optimal. It might simply produce an additional way to perceive and deal with the conflict. Nevertheless, even that has value (if only in strengthening interparty relationships and interactions), and ought not to be missed merely because we are predisposed or driven to adversarial solutions.
[Execupundit note: Think of how often you've seen knee-jerk adversarialism in the workplace or the idea that an adversarial process possesses an inherent superiority to other methods. Think also about how often strident adversarialism is regarded as natural.]
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Read the rest of Marc Epstein on New York's state-wide exams.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Read the rest of Shankar Vedantam's article on well-intentioned interventions.
[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]
The point about violations being discovered via tipsters instead of audits reminds me of a section in The Crime Fighter by Jack Maple, the late NYPD Deputy Commissioner:
Common detectivespeak: "We solved this case using information developed through investigation."
Usual translation: "Somebody called our tips hotline and told us exactly who did the crime and where we could find him at that very moment."
They will say no.
Many businesses in other disciplines, however, rush for the ingredients. Their view is, "If the customer requests a product or service and it is roughly in our area of expertise, we will customize and alter in order to please the customer."
Sometimes that works. On most occasions, however, it is a time-killer, a money-waster, and a diversion from the main mission. You've heard of mission-creep with regard to the military? There is also mission-creep in business. An alteration here and there and you can wake up with a bunch of new products that were designed for a small fraction of your customers.
Now if you charge a hefty fee for customization, you may come out ahead in the short run. The larger question, however, is whether the distraction from the larger picture has strengthened or weakened your efforts.
It can be difficult to say "That's not what we do" and watch business stroll out the door but it can be one of the wisest decisions you make.
On the ground, employers were really beginning to feel the pinch as senior management attempted to cover the void left by their missing HR departments for yet another week. ‘We just have no idea which of the first-aid kits are fully stocked,’ confided a director of one major corporation. ‘And we are already more than a month late on our annual office chair audit. If things continue like this, who knows, I could lose half of my staff to repetitive strain injury. Or whatever it is they monitor.’
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Well, there’s nothing wrong with concentrating on the “uses” of something. The difficulty comes when we operate with too narrow a definition of “use.” At some point, we have to consider the ultimate goals toward which our life’s actions are directed. What makes for a genuinely meaningful human life? Of what “use” are things that fail to promote that end? If you’re so rich, we must ask, why aren’t you wise—or happy?
And that brings me to a characteristically humanistic way to relate a truth: by telling a story. The tale begins with a tourist on holiday, wandering through the back alleys of San Francisco’s Chinatown, where he comes upon a little antique shop, filled with curious pieces of bric-a-brac and art objects. What especially catches his eye is a beautifully wrought, life-size bronze statue of a rat. He asks the elderly shopkeeper the price. “The rat costs $12,” says the shopkeeper, “and it will be $1,000 more for the story behind it.” “Well, you can keep your story, old man,” responds the tourist, “But I’ll take the statue.”
Read the rest of the story in Wilfred M. McClay's essay in The Wilson Quarterly on the burden of the humanities.
If you've been in the workplace long enough you've probably seen these two personality types:
- Rough Bark
- Smooth Bark.
I've found that the Rough Barks are often old softies who hide a caring nature beneath a gruff exterior and that there are plenty of Smooth Barks out there who are, to alter an old expression, as fine a person as ever slit a throat or scuttled a ship.
Organizations often worry about their Rough Bark managers and executives. They are concerned that the bluntness and lack of refinement might trigger a harassment case. Those thoughts are not without merit. I've seen far fewer organizations, however, that worry about the Smooth Barks.
That omission is a major blunder. It can be akin to worrying about the flu when a far more serious illness is moving down the corridors. Smooth Barks, of course, are far more formidable adversaries. They possess the people skills and eloquence to dart between the rain drops and their appetite for revenge is unquenchable.
It is as if many companies make a deal with the devil. They ignore the predations of the Smooth Bark because that slickster always gives them an explanation with just enough plausibility to permit them to pretend that nothing bad really took place. They discipline the Rough Barks because those renegades might embarrass them and provide no decent defense for doing so.
What will they do, however, if the day comes when the Smooth Bark turns on them?
Monday, July 21, 2008
Reacting to the suit, Stephen J. Dubner wonders:
Shall I sue the New York Yankees if I take my family to a game and the team underperforms? I can certainly think of a restaurant or two that deserves my legal attention. And what about all the schools I’ve ever attended, none of which managed to teach me everything I wanted to know?
HT: Overlawyered ]
Now, I have to admit that when I brought this outrage up with my sister, expecting equal amounts of ire, her response surprised me. Social justice-minded 23-year-old who she is, she went in six seconds from, “That’s an, um, conservative tack for you take,” to, “Why isn’t it okay to say, ‘anyone who thinks coastal oil drilling is a good idea is an idiot’ at work?!”
Maybe she’s right to feel that, in the face of problems we have today, your comfort or mine shouldn’t be her primary concern. But here’s the trouble: When you take that fight to a coworker, you’re assuming that they agree with you, and if they don’t, you’re forcing them to pretend they do, or admit they don’t, opening the door to a potentially volatile situation.
[Execupundit note: I work with a pretty politically diverse bunch. Great people. Very bright. We occasionally argue about politics but have managed to soften the remarks before duels are scheduled. And no one has ever sent emails around presuming that everyone agrees with a particular candidate. Perhaps we've been saved by an office culture that stresses courtesy.]
If this develops into a common and viable defense, you can imagine a not-so-distant future where GPS is used as the primary evidence of speeding.
Read the rest of the Wired story on Julia Allison here.
Other professions, such as academia and politics, lean in the exact opposite direction. A decision is made and the second-guessers descend to pronounce why this or that was wrong. The critics have the advantage of time and more information, of course, but that doesn't inhibit them from grilling what Theodore Roosevelt called "the man in the arena" and announcing that the decision maker was grossly deficient. I routinely see political criticisms of decisions that are so shallow that they say far more about the ineptitude of the critic than of the person who had to decide.
Emphasizing reasoning will ultimately produce a consistently higher level of performance. Emphasizing the results without analyzing the reasoning behind them will produce an inconsistent record and will discourage initiative by those who have to make hard decisions.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Presumably, the vast ranges of undeserved inequalities found everywhere are the fault of "society" and so the redressing of those inequalities is called social justice, going beyond the traditional justice of presenting each individual with the same rules and standards. However, even those who argue this way often recognize that some undeserved inequalities may arise from cultural differences, family genes, or from historical confluences of events not controlled by anybody or by any given society at any given time. For example, there was no way that Pee Wee Reese was going to hit as many home runs as Mark McGwire, or Shirley Temple run as fast as Jesse Owens. There was no way that Scandinavians or Polynesians were going to know as much about camels as the Bedouins of the Sahara-- and no way that these Bedouins were going to know as much about fishing as the Scandinavians or Polynesians.
In a sense, proponents of "social justice" are unduly modest. What they are seeking to correct are not merely the deficiencies of society, but of the cosmos. What they call social justice encompasses far more than any given society is causally responsible for. Crusaders for social justice seek to correct not merely the sins of man but the oversights of God or the accidents of history. What they are really seeking is a universe tailor-made to their vision of equality. They are seeking cosmic justice.
Read the rest of the First Things interview with Michael Novak on his new book.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Create a Sense of Mystery. One of the time-tested ways to create an aura is for the insiders to use terms that are not grasped by the majority of the customers. Latin is already taken but that's no problem. We can make up our own terms and phrases. One key point: we must train insiders to mutter this arcane lingo in an off-hand manner so customers will be both confused and awed. The more jargon, the better, especially if it is combined with jokes.
Limit Membership. There won't be much mystery if anyone can join our club and so we must have barriers. In an ideal arrangement, we'll want complete control of all screening so we can restrict competition. We'll do all of this in the name of quality. If formal control is not possible, the intricate nature of our workings should fend off amateurs.
Complicate Matters. All our endeavors must show a bias for complexity and a shunning of simplicity. Complexity favors the interpreters and guess who they are?
Introduce Obsolesence. The machinery and the rules must frequently change lest our customers get too confident and assume they can do without us. We must always charge for resolving the problems created by the changes we have engineered.
Punish Renegades. Occasionally, a member might decide to abandon our accepted practices. This deviation must always be punished. It is important that frustrated customers quickly realize that any problem encountered with one of our members will only be duplicated should they visit another.
Discourage Questioning. Free questions are only permitted if the answers are so convoluted that the person who had the temerity to ask will be discouraged to do so ever again. Requiring payment for the lengthy and inconvenient answering of questions, however, is desirable.
Create Specialties. Once the profession is established, specialties must be developed. If a member wishes to continue in general practice, then that too will be a specialty. See the above comments regarding mystery and jargon. Multiply their effects.
Read the rest of Joel Kotkin's essay in The Wall Street Journal.
Friday, July 18, 2008
It was a brilliant choice of topic if only because we all know of products and services that spark the Wow! reaction; ones we can barely wait to tell friends about or show off.
But here's a question: Do we not achieve Wow! because it is difficult to imagine or is it because we get immersed in moving from Point A to Point B and fail to look for the extraordinary at all?
I suspect the latter. You can find teams of very bright people who are busy crunching numbers, preparing a flow chart for this and documenting the justification for that and all the while they are turning out terminally boring products. They are realistic in all matters but one: creating a memorable item.
As with many a marvelous thing, asking for it is the first step. What are we producing that can be described as Wow!? What will cause people to say, "You've got to see this, try this, taste this, experience this?" That should be a standard question for each major brainstorming session.
The Wow! product or service need not be created from scratch. It may only require the retooling or modification of a current item. Combine this with that and it may be a winning recipe.
It may be Wow!
- Raymond Chandler, The High Window
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Using the internet to search for scientific articles is bad for researchers, says University of Chicago sociologist James Evans in an article published today in Science.
His argument is a classic computer-versus-paper library dilemma, updated for science: when researchers search online, they tend to arrive at just a few high-ranking articles. Lost is the breadth of scholarship encountered by old-fashioned, page-turning browsing.
Bravo! I've waited a long time for someone to say this. Read the rest of the Wired article.
- J.K. Rowling, recalling when she was caught in a railway car between Manchester and London in 1980.
[Source: "Eureka," an article by Mathew Honan and Nick Waplington in Wired, April 2008.]
[ Please consider them separately and not as a group.]
- (a) Micromanaging or (b) Heavy Delegation?
- (a) Rapidly Multitasking toward Several Goals or (b) Slow and Methodical toward One Goal at a Time?
- (a) Hiring Too Quickly or (b) Firing Too Slowly?
- (a) Frequent Consultation with Staff on Decisions or (b) No Consultation?
- (a) Too Friendly or Too Detached?
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
He enjoyed "Wall-E" and thus joins a large group of enthusiastic reviewers.
[At the risk of appearing as one who'd cheer on the hunter in "Bambi," I'll simply note that I found "Wall-E" to be a heavy dish of propaganda. As for the wit, it's no "Finding Nemo."]
The drunk driver won't drive through your office, the airliner won't go down, in your neighborhood, that extra slice of steak won't cause a heart attack, and the stray dog across the street isn't rabid.
Your boss isn't thinking of ways to fire you (because he or she isn't thinking about you at all), the neighbors are too busy with their own worries to notice your unwashed car, your team can survive if you take a vacation, and your real friends won't abandon you if you become a success.
That can of soda won't kill you nor will an occasional cigar and you can probably bicycle around the block without a helmet and not seriously risk a lifetime injury. The lake isn't packed with toxic waste nor is it likely that someone released a giant alligator into the shallows.
That small town is not inhabited by Satanists and the camp ground attendant isn't Charles Manson. Your civil rights have not disappeared, a depression is not coming next month, and most of us have faced a lot worse in life than expensive gasoline.
Your childhood was probably standard on the weirdness scale, your career is much healthier than you think, there are more people who respect you than you can ever imagine, and you opened this post without getting a virus.
Relax. It's life. Messy. Illogical. Unfair. Even cruel.
And if you look carefully enough: fun, noble, decent, generous.
How often do you see the following group loyalties in the workplace?
- Women or men automatically backing a candidate for a promotion simply because that person is of the same sex and not because the person is the best individual for the job?
- The same manner of backing as above but because of racial or ethnic solidarity?
Can we pause briefly and acknowledge the unethical nature of that behavior without parsing the definition of "best individual?"
Stipulate that the qualifications are "DNA evidence caliber" clear; that the candidate from another group is indeed the best qualified, hands down. How can it make sense to continue to voice support for anything other than selecting the best person without inviting the erosion of the entire concept of merit?
I mention this because, sadly, such solidarity is alive and well out there.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
The debate never took place and Nixon pulled out a squeaker of a win, although it probably would have been much larger had Wallace not been on the ballot. My friend's words, however, have stayed with me.
The best candidate, be it in politics, business or life in general, does not always have the best lines. It is worth considering why some opponents are so effective while their (perhaps) wiser opponents are grappling for a better way to express complex points. I've concluded that the snakes have an advantage because:
- They are not hindered by an allegiance to accuracy. Broadbrush statements are boldly made and the opponent who attempts to dissect the comment to reveal the inaccuracy then comes across as a green eyeshade accountant.
- Their willingness to make strong statements makes them appear to be forceful, especially in contrast to a more restrained opponent who is fumbling through an "On the one hand and on the other hand" routine.
- They shamelessly evoke emotion. Remember the old sales line about people buying on emotion and justifying with logic? These characters don't hesitate to employ the most brazen appeals to emotion. (May an alarm bell go off every time a politician talks about doing something "for the children.")
- They play intimidation games, such as interrupting or ignoring common ground rules, and they know that audiences often favor an unfair blow if it is wrapped in sufficient wit.
How do we counter the snakes? Several strategies:
- Identify their tactics as soon as they are employed. Let their methods become an issue. Doing so raises legitimate questions about their credibility.
- Make sure that you can summarize your good points as deftly as the snake does dubious ones.
- Don't assume that the snake's positions are completely without merit. They would not resonate with the audience if there were no merit. See if you can adopt the worthy points while avoiding the poor ones.
Finally, consider the possibility that the other person might not be a snake. Perhaps you are regarding eloquence as deceit.
Monday, July 14, 2008
A sort of guilt by association often lurks behind that fear. We've seen and have been repelled by the manipulative gladhanders who, in J.R. Ewing's phrase, have learned how to fake sincerity. We reason that the easiest way to avoid becoming a manipulator is to avoid settings and jobs where empty words are the rule and not the exception.
Cocktail parties and networking events are especially repugnant for those who are uncomfortable with "small talk."
Unfortunately, this reclusiveness abandons the field to the enemy. [As one wag said, "Fools rush in...and get the best seats."] Furthermore, many people who are genuinely - and sincerely - friendly may be unfairly stuck with the gladhander label.
If you read a lot of sales books, however, you can see where the broadbrush was created. Many of the volumes could be required reading in Manipulation 101. How do you get past the gatekeeper? Deceive. Act as if you know the boss. But never, they somberly declare, lie.
As Richard Nixon would intone, "That would be wrong."
Should anyone wonder why so many of us decide to be sincerely detached instead of insincerely engaged?
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Read the rest of James Piereson's post here.
- It is much easier to get into something than to get out of it.
- The biggest problems come from a failure to attend to the basics.
- It always takes longer than expected.
- Complication breeds difficulties.
- When large numbers of people are involved, pinpoint timing and accuracy are only found in spy movies.
- Some key person will have misread the priorities. Count on it.
- One rehearsal is better than none and three are better than one but the number doesn't erase the fact that rehearsals are only rehearsals.
- There are two dangerous types of critics: those you listen to and those you ignore.
- The lengthier the explanation, the more likely it is that beneath the words is a lack of knowledge.
- A surprising number of people believe in pixie dust more than in logic.
Read the rest of Vivek Wadhwa's article from The American on America's other immigration crisis.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Gonzo was genius, but it was a kind of sellout, too. Rolling Stone and a number of publishers successfully packaged Hunter’s Dr. Gonzo image for a few decades. Douglas Brinkley became his literary executor. And while pulling no punches about Thompson’s ultimate place in writing—“You’re no Mark Twain but you’re a kind of Ambrose Bierce”—he began shepherding collections of his early prose and letters into what he called “The Gonzo Papers,” issued regularly, so that Thompson realized a hefty six-figure annual income from his work during the eighties and nineties, augmented by impressive fees from appearances before fascinated and stoned frat boys at colleges all over the country.
Lombardi suggests replacing this system with an apprenticeship program. Rather than requiring teaching degrees (which don't seem to improve value-added all that much), new recruits would have a couple of years of in-school training. There would then come a day of reckoning, when teachers-to-be would face a serious evaluation before securing union membership and a job for life.
Q: But I’m worried that if I make time for personal things, like my health or relationships, that I’ll lose chances to be promoted in the workplace.
A: I suggest the opposite will happen. Reaching a level of life balance where you are learning to say “no” to the urgent and unimportant gives you time for things such as professional development activities. You are enabled to go the second mile in your efforts to help solve problems; you carve out time to mentor and be mentored, to look for other opportunities; you are able to anticipate needs long before they come up because you are not so urgency-addicted. Therefore, you are really promoting your promotability and increasing your options by choosing to spend time working on things that are most important. Of course, there will be some employers that won’t see things this way. They will look at you as a workhorse that should be given as much work as possible until your back breaks. My question to you would be, if this is the case, and you can’t focus on what is truly important to you, then why are you working there? You are worth more than that.
Read the rest of Stephen R. Covey on achieving a work/life balance.
Friday, July 11, 2008
"Mom and Dad won't you hear my plea? Don't say that dirty word to me."
Q: As you note in your book, there is much that we still do not know—and may never know—about Enron's failure. Having studied the company intensively for years, what would you most like to know?
A: There is still much that we do not know about the perceptions, intentions, thought processes, and apparent failings of Enron's leaders and its board of directors. For example, why didn't Skilling and Lay see more clearly the risks and increasingly adverse effects of the extreme, performance-oriented management system that they had created? How could Skilling—a very public proponent of earning more money with less assets (the so-called asset light strategy)—rationalize Enron spending so heavily, and so beyond established capital budgets, on capital projects with highly speculative returns?
WSJ: Who is the Gap's core customer now, and how has that changed, if at all?
Ms. Hansen: Our stake in the ground is ages 25 to 35, and that's the customer we want. Twenty-five to 35 covers you from kind of postcollege to getting married to maybe having the first child. This puts you from the Gap itself into the babyGap and GapMaternity, but it's not trying to be everything to everyone.
When I got here, I think the team was more focused on 18 to 24 and really going after that kind of younger demographic that is where American Eagle and Abercrombie & Fitch play. I don't think that is right for us.
Read the rest of the interview with Marka Hansen, president of Gap North America. [I'm waiting for GapCodger.]
This may be a brilliant appeal to the hidden but sizable masochist market.
Same course work, just compressed; a change that sounds like a formula for increased stress. [And somewhere a plaintiff attorney, sniffing litigation, just moved closer to the computer.]
Northwestern deserves two cheers for trying something new. Some modest suggestions:
- Keep the three year program but alter the length of the courses so they fit the needs of the subject instead of an arbitrary schedule. That might reduce the formal coursework to two years.
- Reduce the theory and zoom instead to the material they'll really need.
- Devote the third year to an apprenticeship program with practicing attorneys.
Perhaps their compression program is a first step in that direction and they have more up their sleeves. This will be an interesting experiment to watch.