Sunday, August 31, 2008


At another Webcast, Pelgrin launches into an hour-long slide presentation, which includes accounts of 227 million records containing personal information that were involved in a security breach; a city whose tram system was hacked by a schoolboy; and the astonishing stupidity of human beings. Exhibit A: More than 400 people actually clicked on a link asking, "Is your PC virus-free? Get it infected here!" during a six-month advertising campaign on Google.

Read the rest of Ellen Perlman's article on the efforts to fend off cyber-attacks on the State of New York.

Office Decor Update

Now this is an office.

Political Buttons and Bumper Stickers

For many years, I collected campaign buttons from all parties. In the course of that process, bumper stickers and slogans would cross my desk. Among them:

  • Gay Whales Against Racism
  • AuH2O in '64 [Goldwater]
  • Vote Buddhist
  • Better a Third Termer Than a Third Rater [FDR's third term]
  • Vote for the Crook [Edwin Edwards versus David Duke]
  • No Dukes [Another anti-Duke slogan]

Any other memorable ones?

Fame Through Defeat

AH: If Custer had somehow won the battle of the Little Bighorn, would he be as famous as he is today?

JD: Absolutely not. With a success at the Little Bighorn, he might have gone on to a stellar Army career such as Nelson Miles enjoyed, and achieved that level of fame. But that would have occurred only if he received a promotion to General; otherwise, he might have been as well-known as Col. Eugene A. Carr, who defeated the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers at Summit Springs, Colorado, in 1869. I don't think either name is familiar to the general public.

If George Armstrong Custer had won the battle of the Little Bighorn, most people wouldn’t even know his name today.

Read the rest of the American Heritage interview with historian James Donovan.

What Was Forgotten At The Meeting

  1. A simple agenda.
  2. An extra pen.
  3. Additional copies of key documents.
  4. A fall-back approach if the PowerPoint failed.
  5. A clear explanation of the source and amount of financing.
  6. A description of what the situation will be once the project is completed.
  7. An assurance that adequate resources are available.
  8. An evaluation of the risks.
  9. All of the relevant players.
  10. A candid statement of the downside.

Quote of the Day

Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'

- Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Funny Books

Firoozeh Dumas provides a top five list of funny books.

Sales Conversation


We're going to close in fifteen minutes.

Do you have any. . .?

Jack's out. He's our main sales rep.

Could I possibly. . .?

Our stock is really low due to last week's sale.

What about. . ?

If you're looking for the slacks, I just sold the last pair.

I guess I'm out of luck, right?

Come back next week. I'm sure things will be better.

[Inspired by Great Customer Connections by Richard S. Gallagher.]

The Informal Interview

My post on the informal stage of the job interview is up at US News & World Report on-line.

Quote of the Day

You must regulate your life by the standards you admire when you are at your best.

- John H. Thomas

Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday Afternoon Music Break

Have You Ever Seen The Rain?

The Virginian

Several weeks ago, in a flash of nostalgia, I purchased a copy of Owen Wister's The Virginian.

"The Virginian" was assigned reading when I went to high school back in the Jurassic period. It was tucked into a packet along with "Animal Farm," "Kon-Tiki," "A Tale of Two Cities," "Julius Caesar," and several other works I can't recall. Even back in those days, it was an odd choice ("Kon-Tiki" was another) and I regarded the eclectic nature of the stack as a sign that some school administrator had a sense of humor. "What are you reading?" someone would ask and the reply would be "Oh, Dickens, Shakespeare, Orwell, and Wister."


Still, as a high school student I had enjoyed the book. Although I couldn't remember its ending, I recalled that it had a easy gait, reminiscent of a gentle horse, and that its hero, who is always simply called The Virginian, is quietly heroic.

Anyway, I wanted to see if the book is as good as I recalled. "The Virginian" is not in the same league as "A Tale of Two Cities" but it is quite good. There is one cringe-inducing section where the hero sings a song in what appears to be black dialect, but the overall message of the book is noble. The hero is courageous, the villain (Trampas - great name for a villain) is devoid of virtue, and the love affair between The Virginian and the local "school marm" raises interesting questions about class differences. A large part of the book grapples with the question of whether he is good enough for her and near the end moves to the question of whether she is good enough for him.

The reason why I mention this strange choice of a long-ago literature class is my suspicion that the book was assigned not as an example of great writing, but to encourage good character.

I wonder if any high school literature books are selected on that basis today.

Examining the Structure

A common mistake when analyzing performance problems is to zero in on the people and overlook the policies and practices that shape the behavior of the people.

For example, restrain your front desk employees with a mass of rules discouraging initiative and piling one procedure on top of another and you'll get all of the characteristics of an unresponsive bureaucracy. You can send them to workshops and deliver inspirational speeches, but they'll carry those guidelines back to the same stifling environment.

The key question is less "What do the people do?" and more "What does the organization encourage?"

Quote of the Day

Reward excellent failures. Punish mediocre successes.

- Phil Daniels

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Best Places to Live

Any list can be controversial and this one is no exception.

Are these really the best places to live in the world?

Your Epitaph

Rowan Manahan asks us to consider what we'd like to see on our gravestone.

Be sure to check out the bench.

Faces and Heels

Who says this blog isn't eclectic?

Dylan Hale on how big business destroyed regional professional wrestling. An excerpt:

In this era, pro wrestling was often one of the few weekly sources for small town family entertainment. Back then, wrestling was strictly a morality play in which the good guys -- "faces," in wrestling jargon -- were pitted against the bad guys, or "heels." In places like Tennessee and Texas, pro wrestling became an established part of life, with arenas regularly packed to capacity with fathers and sons cheering for decency to triumph over decadence, which it always did. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the industry as a whole.

Toast and Communication

In his book on the Spanish Civil War. George Orwell recalls how the opposing forces would often shout slogans at one another from the misery of their trenches. One day, however, one side trumped the other by announcing (and I quote from memory), "We've got toast! Hot, buttered toast!"

That was communication at its finest.

The best speakers can cut to the soul. They can eloquently state the great unexpressed thoughts of others. By doing so, they speak not only to their audience but for it. Orwell's speaker was addressing a hostile audience and knew just where it was most vulnerable.

This ability to stir is not easy because it requires precision. The difference between a great speech and a mediocre one can be extremely small. That is why the best speakers devote much time and attention to preparation. The ability to appear at ease requires a lot of work and an eloquently framed argument seldom comes automatically.

In short, "Hot, buttered toast" requires thought.

Quote of the Day

It is less important to redistribute wealth than it is to redistribute opportunity.

- Arthur H. Vandenburg

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Miscellaneous and Fast

Cultivating Trust

Wally Bock, always an essential read, on how to grow trust as a boss. He notes the difference between that and personal trust. An excerpt:

His people wonder if he is willing to do the uncomfortable work of protecting them. They wonder if he will stand up to his boss when necessary. They worry more that he will be so nice that he'll let poor performers slide by and stay around to poison the team's morale.

Nostalgia Break: Hitchcock

Gentler times: Check out this great trailer for North by Northwest.

Automobility: The Secrets of Their Success

Quick: What is the best selling car of all time?*

What is the second? What is the third?

Ralph Kinney Bennett looks at automobility.

[*Toyota Corolla. I got second and third wrong too.]

Letters of Resignation

All rules have exceptions. There are times when a letter of resignation should be frank. There are even more occasions when writing a candid letter seems extremely tempting.

In most cases, however, the wisest move is to resign gracefully and without recrimination. Doing so makes it harder for those remaining to claim that an intemperate attitude was behind your departure. A restrained resignation also doesn't burn bridges and, oddly enough, you may need to recross a bridge or two some day.

A letter of resignation is one of those social gestures with an expected script. Just as the usual query of "How are you doing?" does not anticipate a full medical and financial report, so too is a letter of resignation not expected to reveal all grievances and criticisms.

As a result, a letter of resignation should be gracious, brief, and above all, discreet.

Discretion can be the greatest form of style and style leaves a lasting impression.

Quote of the Day

Genius begins great works; labor alone finishes them.

- Joubert

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Put Down That Moon Pie

The state of Alabama has given its 37,527 employees until 2010 to start getting fit -- or they'll pay $25 a month for insurance that otherwise is free.

Alabama will be the first state to charge its overweight workers who don't try to slim down, while a handful of other states reward employees who adopt healthful behaviors.

Read the rest of the story here .

London's Lessons from the Olympics

London has studied the Olympics in China and is opting for a different style: "quirkier and more intimate."

And, I might add, less Orwellian. Scratch the drummers.

"Socialize liberally. Drink conservatively."

Jack Daniel's has released its political posters.

Some More Lessons of Life

  1. Most experts are theorizing. Few of them really know.
  2. The genius on one subject can be an idiot on another.
  3. If they promise big things later instead of paying you now, odds are you'll never see the big things later.
  4. Your power in negotiations is directly linked to your willingness to walk away from the bargaining table.
  5. Your greatest adversary in your quest for advancement is yourself.
  6. Some of the most vicious people you'll ever encounter make a great noise about their humane nature.
  7. The worst regimes in history never had a lack of job applicants.
  8. You should wonder both about what a job will do for you and what a job will do to you.
  9. Ethical flaws are not easily kept in an isolation chamber.
  10. If you're going to fail, fail quickly.

Counting to Ten

You've received an e-mail that angers you. Don't respond immediately.

You think that someone slighted you. Think of a plausible scenario in which the slight was unintentional.

You've emerged from a terrible encounter. Don't share your unhappiness with others.

The filter that we develop is not simply a device to spare those around us. It also forces us to reprocess our information.

Delay, deliberation, and silence have saved many a career.

One other ground rule: Not every comment deserves a response.

Quote of the Day

Don't mistake pleasure for happiness. They are a different breed of dogs.

- Josh Billings

Monday, August 25, 2008

Respecting Turf

As one supervisor, with tongue in cheek, put it, "Don't yell at my staff. That's my job."

Fail to respect turf and you can, regardless of the merit of your message, lose allies and power. Boundaries exist for a reason and people expect, at the very least, to be consulted before those lines are crossed. Some common turf transgressions are:
  • Passing on important information to someone other than the top official.
  • Sending action items to a lower ranking person in that person's group.
  • Excluding people from meetings that clearly relate to their area of responsibility.
  • Inviting their employees to events or meetings without first obtaining their permission.

Any action that may convey a message of disrespect or indifference should be avoided. You may think this is no big deal or that you are saving time and not messing with formalities. Ignore turf, however, and you'll quickly see time and efficiency gobbled by needless conflict.

Olympics Addicts

Now you can get ready for London.

Quote of the Day

He who considers too much will perform little.

- Schiller

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Movies and the Economy

Do hard economic times make you want to see King Kong?

Panhandling as a Business

Barbara Bradley, an editor with the Memphis Commercial Appeal, moved into the River City’s reviving downtown about a year and a half ago, loving its “energy and enthusiasm.” But a horde of invading panhandlers has cooled her enjoyment of city life. Earlier this year, she recalled in a recent column, as she showed some visitors around the neighborhood, “a big panhandler blocked the entrance to our parking area and demanded his toll.” Now a nervous Bradley avoids certain downtown areas, locks her car when fueling up at local gas stations, and parks strategically, so that she can see beggars coming before getting out of her car. “When I hear someone call out ‘ma’am, ma’am’ anywhere in downtown or midtown, I run.”

Read the rest of Steven Malanga on professional panhandling .


The leadership of General Electric introduced the management concept of "stretch" in the 1990s. The idea was not just to create extraordinary goals higher than those thought achievable for the coming year. It was to set outlandish, almost unthinkable goals that business groups might achieve in the longer-run. For example, instead of striving for an inventory turnover (sales to inventory) ratio of 4.5 instead of 4 in the coming year, a stretch goal would be a turnover of 10 in five years, with improvements toward that goal recognized and rewarded on a year-to-year basis. One goal of this philosophy was to eliminate the time-wasting annual budgeting game in which middle managers would argue for 4, top management would argue for 5, and they would both know in advance that they were going to end up with a goal of 4.5.

Click here for the rest of the Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge article.

Science Break: Underground Lake

In the early 1990s, a Russian drilling rig encountered something peculiar two miles beneath the coldest and most desolate place on Earth. For decades, the workers at Vostok Research Station in Antarctica had been extracting core samples from deep scientific boreholes, and analyzing the lasagna-like layers of ice to study Earth's bygone climate. But after tunneling through 414,000 layers or so– about two miles into the icecap– the layers abruptly ended. The ice below that depth was relatively clear and featureless, a deviation the scientists were at a loss to explain. In search of answers, the men drilled on.

Read the rest of the Damn Interesting article.

Happiness Survey

There's something happy in Denmark, but Zimbabwe is a drag.

Business Week examines a study on levels of happiness in the world.

Let Me Be Clear

I know that some of you have raised questions about how I can speak highly of my esteemed colleague when, just a few months ago, I denounced him as a conniving weasel.

When I used that language, of course, I did not mean a weasel in any derogatory sense. I was thinking more of a cuddly woodland creature living at one with meadow, stream, and forest. I'm a little disappointed that you took it otherwise. Cynicism is one of the banes of modern politics.

As for the "conniving" part, any objective review of the full context shows that to be a reference to high intelligence. Scientists connive to cure deadly diseases, mothers connive to further the education of their children, and my colleague, now that he has brought me onto his team, is a conniver of the highest and most noble order. He knew full well the depth of my praise.

I only hope that my conduct will justify his and your confidence.

Quote of the Day

Let no man be sorry he has done good because others have done evil. If a man has acted right, he has done well, though alone; if wrong, the sanction of all mankind will not justify him.

- Henry Fielding

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Books on Political Power

Let's put together a list of interesting books on political power.

I'll kick it off with these:

  1. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. Some commentators think this was written as a satire. If so, Hitler and Stalin didn't get the joke. A good book to read if you ever start to think that the predators of the world can be soothed through political reforms or negotiations.

  2. The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuscinski. Interviews with Haile Selassie's court. My favorite is with the official whose sole job was to carry the emperor's chair cushion. He describes the intricacies of that responsibility.

  3. Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen. How a group of men developed a constitution both to form a government and to protect the people from that government.

  4. In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink in Mobutu's Congo by Michela Wrong. How the old thug held on for so many years.

  5. The Comedians by Graham Greene. Sure, it's a novel, but the book is a chilling view of Duvalier's Haiti. [The character who was the Vegetarian Party presidential candidate seems to be making the rounds of Sunday political shows.]

  6. The Last Hurrah by Edwin O'Connor. If you ever wondered how old-line municipal political machines operated, you can read this or just spend a few years in Chicago.

  7. Inside the Third Reich by Albert Speer. An invaluable book written by one of the saner members of Hitler's inner circle.

  8. All Stalin's Men by Roy Medvedev. A review of some very powerful men who spent a great deal of their lives being terrified.

  9. I, Claudius by Robert Graves. When you're related to Augustus and Caligula, you learn a thing or two.

  10. The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George. Not really, of course, but a lot of fun.

  11. Lincoln and His Generals by T. Harry Williams. How Lincoln, after many failures, eventually found the right generals.

  12. 1984 by George Orwell. Because Big Brother is always out there.

Look Better Naked

Well, if you are going to advertise a gym, "Look Better Naked" isn't a bad slogan.

It beats:

"Sweat like a pig to burn off one cookie."

"Sign Up. Go Twice. Use the Free Gym Bag for Donuts."

[Adfreak ]

The Green Letter

Eclecticity, with an arched eyebrow, looks at a new call for shame.

[Some of the environmental zealots remind me of Mencken's definition of Puritanism: "The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be having a good time."]

Crisis Management Students

Years back, while teaching crisis management workshops, I often noticed two seemingly odd responses.

The first was that a sizable number of people have difficulty even imagining crisis scenarios. This is perplexing for those of us who easily cough up worst cases. Some folks, however, are so optimistically inclined (or imagination-limited) the idea that something can go terribly wrong is foreign to their very nature. Although I value the ability to spot potential problems, this sunny disposition can give its owners an advantage. They may move more boldly than those of us who see the shadows.

The second response came from students who had difficulty drawing lessons from one scenario and using them in another. To those individuals, each case example stood and remained by itself, with no links, and they justly noted the drawbacks of too quickly seeing parallels. Their inability to see similarities, however, went to the opposite extreme with its own limitations.

I've kept both responses in mind over the years whenever considering a potential crisis and have asked, "What if this is one of those occasions when those students are correct?"

Top Five: Conventions

Jeff Greenfield gives his top five list of books about political conventions.

Lessons from Politicians

My post on 21 management lessons that we can learn from successful politicians is up at the U.S. News & World Report site.

Quote of the Day

Management that wants to change an institution must first show it loves that institution.

- John Tusa

Friday, August 22, 2008

Open It Up

This is not a fad. A couple years ago the New Zealand police force wanted to rewrite national police laws. Police leaders posted the 1958 Police Act online, and shockingly, actually invited citizens (even non-citizens) to write in their edits, additions and changes to the law, Wikipedia-style. The response was overwhelming. Sure, some of the contributions were nutty and ultimately weeded out, but some of them were doggone sensible and were ultimately incorporated into the final document which went to Parliament for approval. And the payoff in citizen espirit d’corps was pretty darn good too.

Read the rest of "Open It Up" by Oren Harari.

Zoning Out Fat in L.A.

Because the definition of “fast food” is somewhat vague, restaurants like Marie Callender’s (which specializes in pies and hearty fare) can still open, yet mom-and-pop take-out restaurants and other local establishments can still be banned. Exceptions have also been carved out for “healthy” fast-food restaurants like Subway, which does have its six subs under six grams of fat but also serves several 12-inch sandwiches with more than 1,000 calories.

Read the rest of Sara Wexler's article in The American on the decision to limit fast food restaurants in south Los Angeles.

Miscellaneous and Fast

(Corrected Title) Highly Challenging, Highly Supportive

Tom Peters and Robert Waterman found that excellent corporations are highly challenging and highly supportive. Those employers demand a lot, but also develop their employees and back them up.

This contains a related lesson: If your workplace is highly challenging, it had better also be highly supportive or people will leave in droves.

Look at jobs where employees have to deal with extraordinary stress and yet emerge with high morale. Often, you'll find very tight teams that have pulled together because of the certain knowledge that the alternative is to get picked off one by one.

Wise organizations consciously create and cultivate that team spirit. They don't leave it to chance.

Some of the worst workplaces completely miss the highly supportive element and don't even attempt to create team cohesion. In those sad environments, every employee is a free-lancer (at least in attitude) and management is a collection of inspectors-general.

Their resemblance to a team is the same as a street mob's resemblance to an army.

Protecting Executives

Old but still timely: This 2005 CSO article on the six things you should know about executive protection. An excerpt:

Terrified, haggard and frostbitten, Karen McMullan refused to give police the details of her ordeal until she knew her husband Kevin was safe. Twenty-four hours earlier, men dressed as police officers had talked their way into the McMullan's home. Once inside, they held a gun to the head of Kevin McMullan, the assistant bank manager for Northern Bank in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and explained that he would help them carry out a daring robbery. To ensure his cooperation, they kidnapped his wife.

Quote of the Day

America's political system used to be about the pursuit of happiness. Now more and more of us want to stop chasing it and have it delivered.

- Jonah Goldberg

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Great Moments in Multiculturalism

See that guy with a gold bracelet propping up the bar, with a blonde on each arm? That’s Ivan. See the guy at the corner table, puffing clouds of smoke while snapping instructions into his mobile phone? That’s Ivan’s mate, Nikolai. See the guy with bulging biceps squiring the blowsy redhead in the see-through shirt? That’s Ivan’s mate Nikolai’s minder, Boris. And, yes, that is a gun in his armpit, just above the tiger tattoo.

Read the rest here.

The Jewel of Capitulation

Andrew Klavan on Random House and The Jewel of Medina. An excerpt:

Publishers — whether of books, newspapers, blogs, or anything else — are among the chief protectors and exercisers of our free discourse. When they bow to bullying gangsters — whether those gangsters have some sort of religious motivation or not — they are ceding intellectual ground made sacred by the blood of patriots.

The Remark

The employee made a tasteless remark in a break room. The other people in the room groaned and the subject was changed. Management learned of the comment and immediately investigated. There was no denial. The person admitted that the remark was made. There was also no indication that the person had intended to offend anyone and there was no evidence of previous misconduct. The other people who were present said the comment was tasteless but that they were not offended and that it would not affect their ability to work with the person. It is unlikely that any group other than the hypersensitive would be upset by the remark.

The comment was not racist or sexist. It was a lapse in good manners. It was unprofessional.

Now in a sane world, the manager might call in the offender and say, "Clean up your act in the break room. Use some discretion. Be professional. Don't let this happen again or I'll really start to question your judgment. Do you have any questions? Good. Now, let's go get some coffee and talk about tomorrow's meeting."

In some organizations, however, this incident would be blown up. Lawyers would be consulted. A reprimand would be drafted. Perhaps a suspension without pay would occur.

And the employee's offense would be transformed from Unprofessional Behavior to a very different sin: Rendering the Organization Vulnerable to Embarrassment and/or Litigation. The organization would be more interested in protecting itself than in dispensing any sort of measured justice.

All of the indignation over the remark would ring hollow because the real motive for the escalation would be one of crass self-interest. This does not please employees. It feeds their cynicism.

Quote of the Day

If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.

- Vince Lombardi

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Culture Break: Faux Faulkner

Back by popular demand: The classic "As I Lay Kvetching" winner of the Faux Faulkner Contest.

An excerpt:

She (the old woman, Mrs. Compson) had spent the better part of the morning waiting for them (the workmen) to arrive, yet they had not come; and when at length they drew the wagon into the yard and tied the mules beneath the scattershot shade of the water oak and climbed down amid the dust and moiling dogs to survey the house, she perceived to her dismay that they were stooges....

History's Back

Robert Kagan looks at the world's new power blocs. An excerpt:

If American predominance is unlikely to fade any time soon, moreover, it is partly because much of the world does not really want it to. Despite the opinion polls, America's relations with both old and new allies have actually strengthened in recent years. Despite predictions that other powers would begin to join together in an effort to balance against the rogue superpower, especially after the Iraq war, the trend has gone in the opposite direction. The rise of the great power autocracies has been gradually pushing the great power democracies back in the direction of the United States. Russia's invasion of Georgia will accelerate this trend, but it was already underway, even if masked by the international uproar over the Iraq war.

7 Management Lessons from the Olympics

  1. Preparation is crucial, but it's not everything.

  2. An initial miscalculation in timing can seriously alter the rest of your efforts.

  3. The person who tries the hardest doesn't always win.

  4. Your coach can only take you so far.

  5. Don't mock your opponents. Beat them.

  6. You should never glide to the finish line.

  7. There's always someone new coming up.

What Are You Doing?

What are you doing?

A great and truly profound question. Often, an honest answer would be:
  • I'm doing this instead of another higher priority task that is difficult or unpleasant.
  • I'm working on the glitzy components of the project because they're neat.
  • I'm attempting to appear busy because the boss is around.
  • I'm destroying my career.
  • I'm undermining my team.
  • I'm killing time while waiting for information or resources that will permit me to move to the next stage.
  • I'm goofing off.
  • I'm engaged in an informal effort to fend off depression.
  • I'm working on the nearest project because I have no idea of this job's priorities.
  • I'm pouring water on the highest flame.
  • I'm trying to clear my mind.
  • I'm taking a superficial action that will accomplish nothing other than to provide me with a response for whenever someone asks, "What are you doing?"

Minding the Store

I hope we see more books like Minding the Store.

Some of the best lessons in business can be found in fiction.

[And some of the best fiction can be found in annual reports!]

Quote of the Day

I look for three things in hiring people. The first is personal integrity, the second is intelligence, and the third is a high energy level. But, if you don't have the first, the other two will kill you.

- Warren Buffett

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Real Fly-Over Country

NFL Films goes behind the scenes of pre-game fly-overs.

[HT: Lou Rodarte and Rick Rodarte]

Office Olympic Event

Writing in The New Yorker, John Kenney on going for gold in the Office Olympics:

AL TRAUTWIG: Twenty-two minutes now until we see John Kenney try to medal in the elusive sport of bi-monthly-status-meeting commenting. First time for this event, and one that’s unfamiliar to some of our viewers. Mary Carillo, you competed briefly in this event. What should we look for?

MARY CARILLO: Al, this is an event dominated by the Dutch, the Swiss, and, to a great extent, the North Koreans. These are active participants in bi-monthly status meetings, people who really prepare, whereas Americans— new to the sport—tend to be far more lethargic, taking it more as a pastime than as something to really prepare for.

Bad Writing Contest

The results of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest are in.

And the winner is:

Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped "Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J."

Garrison Spik
Washington, D.C.

[HT: Bob Fitch]

Some Lessons from Teaching

It has been a long time since I've touched on this subject but it's worth a review. In addition to my consulting practice, I've taught an on-line class in business law at a local college for several years. My students can be from anywhere in the world, many are already out in the business world, and it is not unusual to have military personnel who are stationed overseas.

There are several things that I've noticed as an instructor that I wish I'd known or fully appreciated as a student. Among them are:
  1. Ask questions. This is standard advice and yet most students don't do it. I've offered to provide feedback to students on drafts of their papers prior to submission of the one to be scored and only a small fraction will ever take me up on that. Far from resenting questions, most instructors are glad to see someone who's interested.
  2. Read the instructions. Detailed information on frequently asked questions can be posted and yet emails will arrive demonstrating that the student didn't go near the announcements. It's also surprising to see how many students fail to read test instructions.
  3. Put the concepts into plain language. I tell students that if they can't explain a concept in basic terms to a friend then they probably don't understand the concept. It is easy to spot the person who understands one aspect of a subject while missing the big picture. In many topics, you can quickly lose sight of the trails and get lost in the jungle.
  4. Get a quick read on the style of the instructor. I'm very lax on granting extensions, merciful to a fault on grading essays, but won't budge on a final score. I also hate any test questions that are more into trivia than substance. Other instructors go far in the opposite direction.
  5. Learn how to take tests. If the essay question seems too easy, you have probably missed something.
  6. Write well. There is a natural bias in favor of a well-written essay.
  7. Remember that the instructor was once a student. We notice wide margins, rambling, failure to give direct answers, and padding.

Now consider how many of the above points can be applied to the workplace.

Is Telling Training?

Recently, I saw an announcement for a presentation that declared, "Telling isn't training."

Permit me to submit a mild dissent.

I've attended many workshops and speeches where the audience longs for the speaker to get to the point. No, we don't want to do any role-playing. No, we don't need another group exercise. And if you bring out a game, we're going to start throwing chairs.

Tell us.

We're tough. We can take direct communication. We don't have to discover it on our own. We aren't asking for a Eureka! moment. We want practical information that is clearly and interestingly stated within a reasonable amount of time. Give us some case examples. Use visual aids.

But tell us.

Now we do want to be able to ask questions. We'd prefer to surface those while they're hot and not in some structured, near-the-end-of-the-session segment. We expect you to be dynamic enough to juggle a variety of unexpected points and then get back to the main theme.

But don't waste our time with a bunch of fluff.

We want to be told.

Quote of the Day

Stay relevant. That's the name of the game, no matter what industry you're in.

- Ed Zore

Monday, August 18, 2008

Upper Management May Think You're an Idiot

Upper management may think you're an idiot if:
  • They conclude that years of morale and team problems can be solved by having a prominent motivational speaker deliver a one-hour speech to your group.
  • They believe that most employee relations problems are promptly reported to Human Resources.
  • They think that people didn't notice how quickly the chief executive officer exited after declaring the mandatory training is "extremely important for all of us."
  • They cite having a "Mexican Platter Day" in the company cafeteria as a sign of the organization's diversity program.
  • They permit a level of incompetence in human resources issues that would never be accepted in other disciplines.
  • They require greater scrutiny for the hiring of a secretary than for the recruitment of an executive.
  • They speak eloquently of how employees are the most important asset, but tolerate abusive managers whose numbers are good.

Generational Communication

Business Week looks at how to communicate with Gen X and Gen Y.

We get these articles on a regular basis. There are twists that can facilitate communication and yet I always get the feeling that the real problems occur when the basics - such as courtesy, respect, and caring - are ignored.

If your supervisors and employees are exhibiting those values and they know how to listen, things will work out fine.

Convention Guide

Karlyn Bowman provides a guide to the political conventions.

Key dates:

Democratic Convention: August 25 to 28 in Denver.

Republican Convention: September 1 to 4 in St. Paul.

24 Hour Service

I swim late at night at a gym that never closes. The ability to exercise at odd hours takes away one of the major excuses for not exercising at all.

The 24 hour option recognizes the bizarre nature of our work weeks. It also spreads out the crowd since, so they tell me, most of their customers exercise from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

And that raises this question: which other services should consider a 24 hour schedule?

[My nominees would include car repair and dry cleaning.]

Quote of the Day

You grow up the day you have your first real laugh - at yourself.

- Ethel Barrymore

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Signs of Power

When you're not dealing with a person who occupies a job that has inherent and well-known power [e.g. president of the United States], which of the following choices would be the single, most reliable signal that a person has a lot of power?

  1. The location of the person's office?
  2. The size of the person's office?
  3. The opulence of the person's office?
  4. How difficult it is to meet with the person?
  5. The number of personal assistants?
  6. The titles of the person's direct reports?
  7. The type and size of the person's desk?
  8. The person's title?
  9. The person's reputation?
  10. The person's intelligence?
  11. The person's accessibility to the top person?
  12. The person's dress and demeanor.
  13. The person's salary.
  14. The person's vocabulary.
  15. The person's briefcase.

Message to Workplace Martyrs

You do not need to prove yourself worthier than your co-workers by permitting them to abuse or take advantage of you.

At some point, such seemingly noble behavior leaves the realm of innocent victimhood and moves into the neighborhood of excessive pride.

Quote of the Day

Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.

- William James

Saturday, August 16, 2008

No Excess

When you strip away what most employers tell employees, you'll find a desire for balance. Some examples:

  1. We want you to be friendly, but not unduly familiar.
  2. We want you to be analytical, but not indecisive.
  3. We want you to be bold, but not rash.
  4. We want you to consult us, but not bother us.
  5. We want you to complete projects, but not neglect new and higher priorities.
  6. We want you to be passionate, but not fanatical.
  7. We want you to be a thinker and a doer.

Describing where the balance needs to be struck is one of the major responsibilities of leaders. That's why "balance" should be a frequent topic at staff meetings.

Loom du Soleil

No, this is not Cirque du Soleil. It's Fruit of the Loom.

[HT: Adfreak ]

Top Five on Conquest

David Day gives his top five list of books about historical conquest.

Update: On a humorous note, I'd add The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody by Will Cuppy. Very funny stuff. Be sure to read his footnotes.

The Employees Who Never Complain

There are employees who never complain.

They show up on time and follow the rules.

They don't get special privileges; those goodies go to their louder co-workers.

If they can't do something, they'll tell you, but they never whine. They are very nice people.

How are they rewarded?

They get more than their fair share of work. ["Did you finish that? Here's some more."]

They also get less than their share of recognition. ["She doesn't seem to need it as much as the others."]

Their skills and demeanor are routinely taken for granted.

That is one of the greatest sins in the workplace.

Being a Smart Maverick

Attention mavericks!

My post on how much of your personality you should bring to the office is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Quote of the Day

People are much more alike inside than they are on the surface.

- Verne Burnett

Friday, August 15, 2008

Replacing College with Certification

Imagine that America had no system of post-secondary education, and you were a member of a task force assigned to create one from scratch. One of your colleagues submits this proposal:

First, we will set up a single goal to represent educational success, which will take four years to achieve no matter what is being taught. We will attach an economic reward to it that seldom has anything to do with what has been learned. We will urge large numbers of people who do not possess adequate ability to try to achieve the goal, wait until they have spent a lot of time and money, and then deny it to them. We will stigmatize everyone who doesn't meet the goal. We will call the goal a "BA."

You would conclude that your colleague was cruel, not to say insane. But that's the system we have in place.

Read the rest of Charles Murray's article.

[HT: Stefan Beck in The New Criterion ]


One of my favorite insights is attributed to Vice President Alben Barkley who, after being informed that a particular person was an avowed enemy, replied, "What did I ever do for him?"

Barkley knew one of the oddities of life: some individuals are shockingly ungrateful. I suspect many of these sad souls construct scenarios that conveniently edit out the assistance they received. The reason for such omissions is unclear - there are others who are similarly situated and yet remain grateful - but it happens frequently enough to be a matter of comment.

You might think that the ingratitude is sparked by some heavy-handed behavior on the part of the favor bearer and that after repeated references to the good deed that was done, the recipent of the favor simply explodes. No doubt that happens and yet I've never found it to be the case.

In my life, I can recall individuals who took the time to help me at certain key points. They didn't have to do any of those acts of kindness, but they did and their intervention made a difference. Should I have resented their actions? Did their good intentions in any way diminish me? I think not.

Ingratitude may be beyond explanation. In one case, when asked by a person to write a job recommendation, I gladly did so. I never heard from the man again.

Blogs You Should Visit: Cultural Offering

Cultural Offering is a marvelous blog.

You can find posts on philosophy tucked in-between ones on music, management, and politics. The overall tone is that of an extremely interesting conversationalist. Good stuff always.

Check it out.

Quote of the Day

Reason often makes mistakes, but conscience never does.

- Josh Billings

Thursday, August 14, 2008

21 Warning Signs of a Dysfunctional Workplace

  1. Vague and frequently changing job descriptions.
  2. No job descriptions.
  3. Overlapping areas of authority.
  4. Redundant delegation of work.
  5. Managers and supervisors who shout at or belittle employees and/or one another.
  6. Grossly inadequate resources.
  7. Impossible workloads.
  8. Superficial or nonexistent training.
  9. Extreme multi-tasking.
  10. High turn-over.
  11. Lack of clear-cut procedures.
  12. High emphasis on not making mistakes combined with a near absence of guidance on how to perform the job correctly.
  13. Indifferent upper-management.
  14. Stressed-out middle management.
  15. Frequent crises.
  16. Rigid enforcement of minor rules.
  17. Turf wars.
  18. An absence of laughter.
  19. Omnipresent fear.
  20. Favoritism.
  21. Factions.

The Looming Meeting

The meeting that you do not want to attend snickers and snorts on your calendar and conveys a vague sense of dread.

The unease is not produced by any fear of confrontation. This is not an occasion when you have to deal with an unpleasant person and where the best thing to do is to get the darned thing over with.

This is a mandatory meeting that will be a boring, time-waster. You can easily think of twelve things you'd rather be doing and that includes looking at clouds.

But you have to be there. Your presence is important because you are representing others and your rank, such as it is, demands that you fill a chair. All possible ways of delegating your role to others have been exhausted. You are trapped.

All that remains is to adjust your attitude. Here are several approaches that have worked for me:
  1. Be in but not of the meeting. Attend with the idea that you'll be pleasant and cooperative, but you'll have an invisible shield of indifference that will prevent an overreaction to any nonsense. Regard the session as the near-equivalent of a cocktail party rather than a business meeting. This will lower your expectations and frustration.
  2. Attend with the goal of getting to know one or two of the attendees better than your schedule has previously permitted. This puts you into more of a journalist role as you seek to find out what is happening in their areas. You'll leave with a better relationship with some people.
  3. Pretend that you are an anthropologist of meetings. Carefully note what disturbs you about the meeting and what is done well. Go with the assumption that everyone else has the same reservations as your own and yet all of you have somehow gotten snared by an unproductive process. Try to pinpoint just what you would change to improve the meeting.

In my experience, you are not the only person who is shy, bored, and irritated by the process; in fact, the majority of the meeting participants probably share your feelings. That raises the questions of How and When to surface your concerns. You can't do it if you're the new kid on the block. At least three meetings may be required before you'll have the credentials to propose some changes.

By checking with others outside of the meeting, you may discover a surprising number of allies.

Censorship in China

The strategy seems clear: Give China's professional journalists a longer leash to cover breaking news even if it's not positive -- since the news will come out anyway and unlike bloggers, the journalists are still on a leash. At the same time, clamp down on blogs, chat rooms and video-sharing sites that might allow too much unfettered discussion of the news. A similar thing happened in July after large riots took place in Weng'an, a town in Guizhou province, after a young girl died under suspicious circumstances. Many large Chinese Web portals deleted or prevented publication of any blog and chat room posts mentioning Weng'an. Instead the Web portals ran extensive coverage of events in Weng'an reported by China's professional media.

Read the rest of Rebecca MacKinnon's Wall Street Journal article.

Quote of the Day

Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without Hell.

- Frank Borman

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fleeing Ourselves

I am not religious, at least in the sense of believing that I have the answers, but I am religious in the sense of knowing the questions. I know that there are things we can’t know, things even more important than making partner before the age of thirty. Doubtless most of us know this. Yet the tenor of life is not easily escaped. We try. People rush to Europe in search of the old, the quiet, and the pretty. Peddlers of real estate understand the urge, and hawk tranquil rural life while building the malls that will make it impossible. And so hurry comes to Arcadia. People then think of escape to the next small town. We spend a remarkable amount of time fleeing ourselves. Maybe instead we should build a place we like.

Take some time out today and read the rest of this.

[HT: Eclecticity ]

High School Reading and Beyond

Cultural Offering has performed a noble act by assembling a great list of books that should be optional reading in high school English classes.

Two that I'd add:

Treblinka by Jean-Francois Steiner. [A memorable novel about an uprising in a Nazi concentration camp.]

The Warden by Anthony Trollope. [A good man is accused of being unethical.]

Neck Tie Translation Guide

Loud colors: Used-car sales rep or talk radio host.

Tie-dyed: Former hippie, head of the Sociology Department, or both.

Harvard crests: Didn't go to Harvard.

Regimental stripes: Probably not a member of the regiment.

Large picture of trout with hook in its mouth: The only tie in the wearer's closet.

Red tie, 1970: The Power Tie.

Red tie, 1980: The Wish I Had Power Tie.

Pink tie: Donald Trump.

Yellow tie: The wearer's profession has something to do with serious money.

Tie with plastic pull-down protector to prevent stains: The wearer's profession has nothing to do with serious money.

Black tie with black shirt: Comedian.

White tie with black shirt: Sopranos wannabe.

Bow tie: George F. Will.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Smile: Cartoon of the Day.

Josef Joffe sees dark clouds in Europe.

Outside magazine gives 52 ways to wander better.

Nissan's electric car: Test-driving the Cube.

Prediction: It will be a cold day in Hell before G.L. Hoffman writes another marketing article with Ron Paul in the headline.

Fortune on whether Chrysler can survive. [Be sure to click for the subsequent pages.]

Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge interviews Robert S. Kaplan on strategy execution.

Quote of the Day

Eternity is very long, especially toward the end.

- Woody Allen

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Where is Bob?

Where is Bob? Tales of an Absentee Manager may be a spoof, but it is well-written and amusing. A sample:

Last week, Bob’s absenteeism morphed from all-day getaways due to illness, family issues, or the classic “waiting for the UPS man,” into half days of alarm malfunctions and train delays. Bob would show up for work at around 12:30pm, bleary eyed and scruffy, dark circles under his eyes. He would mumble something incomprehensible about how he needs to purchase a new alarm clock. He would then proceed to lock himself in his office with a liter of Mountain Dew. His wardrobe also changed. Crisp designer suits (his not-so-subtle way of crushing our relaxed and groovy university vibe) were replaced by torn jeans and faded Rod Stewart t-shirts, which offended even our low standards for professional attire. Morbid fascination soon turned to genuine concern (we are not terrible people, after all) and frequent speculation about Bob’s late night whereabouts.

[HT: Neatorama ]

Believing the Worst

Tom Traina examines a study on how we judge people. An excerpt:

Research subjects were then asked questions about the Chairman’s intent in carrying out the program. The results were startling. Only 60% of research subjects given “the help scenario” believed the Chairman knew the program would help the environment. By contrast, 90% of subjects given “the harm scenario” believed the Chairman knew the program would harm the environment. Furthermore, while only one in three of the “help scenario” subjects indicated that their answer had a maximum degree of certainty, two out of three of the “harm scenario” subjects were certain to the maximum extent.

Culture Break: Stirred, Not Shaken

If you are a James Bond fan, this is the page for you.

The Biggest E-Mail Sin

What is The Biggest E-Mail Sin?

Let's consider some nominees.

  1. Copying people on e-mails that are of remote or no interest to them.
  2. Keeping the same subject line even though the actual message has significantly changed.
  3. Promising to share part of the fortune that you inherited in the Ivory Coast.
  4. Replying to All when you meant to hit Reply.
  5. Not checking spelling.
  6. Not checking the tone.
  7. Using e-mail for a sensitive topic.
  8. Forwarding an e-mail that was meant only for you.
  9. E-mailing jests of dubious wit.
  10. Using an e-mail address that is unprofessional.

What have I missed?

By Their Offices Shall Ye Know Them

A look at the Senate offices of John McCain and Barack Obama finds the old messy desk versus clean desk contrast.

Quote of the Day

He can run and throw - and we think he can hit.

- Scouting report on Roberto Clemente

Monday, August 11, 2008

Kagan on The Latest Czar

Robert Kagan, author of The Return of History and the End of Dreams - an excellent book - on the ambitions of Mr. Putin:

... This war did not begin because of a miscalculation by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. It is a war that Moscow has been attempting to provoke for some time. The man who once called the collapse of the Soviet Union "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century" has reestablished a virtual czarist rule in Russia and is trying to restore the country to its once-dominant role in Eurasia and the world. Armed with wealth from oil and gas; holding a near-monopoly over the energy supply to Europe; with a million soldiers, thousands of nuclear warheads and the world's third-largest military budget, Vladimir Putin believes that now is the time to make his move.

Networking's Benefits

Business Week's Karen E. Klein interviews San Diego State University marketing professor William Baker on the benefits of networking.

One that might be surprising: A tendency to produce new products.

The Jaguar Look: An Endangered Species?

Donald at 2Blowhards spots the similarity between the new Jaguar and the Lexus and then takes us down Memory Lane to a time when Jaguars had a distinctive look.

What sort of Communists slipped into their design department? Do any of them think that someone is going to look at the new version and shout, "I want one of those?"


Low Mileage and Real Cost

Consumer Reports looks at low-mileage cars and concludes that hybrid isn't always best.

Blogs You Should Visit: Eclecticity

I've been a fan of Eclecticity since first encountering it way back in the mists of my early blogdom.

Aside from featuring comments on unusual topics and sites, its fun-loving and irreverent author provides some of the best music links around (such as this one).

Check it out.

The Importance of Theme

Winston Churchill once sent back a pudding, saying that it had no theme.

The importance of theme should not be dismissed. What is the theme of your presentation? Your report? Your marketing pitch? Your meeting? What central idea do you hope to convey? What goal do you hope to achieve?

Finding a central theme and then attaching the ancillary branches to the trunk forces us to consider what we are truly about. Without a theme, we can appear to be disorganized or opportunistic.

[Old joke: If you ask mathematician "What is 2 + 2?" the response will be 4 whereas an attorney will shut the office door, lower the blinds, turn up the radio, and ask, "What do you want it to be?"]

Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to have a theme to a day, a morning or an afternoon. We are usually restricted to finding themes in a specific project. That can be both tough and fun, but it is crucial if we are to make ourselves clear.

The Battle of the Shape-Shifters

We fight a daily battle between gaining the added perspective of multiple sources of information and being distracted by those same sources from the focus needed to address our priorities.

This is the war between two or more Goods. It is a challenge because these Goods resemble creatures from science fiction or fantasy novels: shape-shifters. The Good that was indeed worthy two hours ago has now turned into a Bad; a destructive, time-destroying creature.

To counter this we have to get beyond regarding items as either/or nor can we label tasks as always Good or Bad.

We instead need to engage in frequent reassessments of their status. What is most important now? Which Good has become a Bad? Which Bad has reverted to Good status?

Some guidelines:

Any Good taken to an extreme becomes a Bad.

Some Bads never become Goods.

Good intentions do not equal a Good.

Two Countries?

Terry Teachout analyzes new twists in identity politics. An excerpt:

A week after Brooks’s latest exercise in cultural demography appeared in the Times, Bill Bishop and Robert G. Cushing published The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart.3 In this book, an expansion of Bishop’s American-Statesman articles, the two authors offer exhaustive documentation of their original thesis that Americans “have clustered in communities of sameness . . . whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible.”

The “communities of sameness” explored by Bishop and Cushing range from the very liberal neighborhoods of South Austin, Texas, to the very Republican county of Okanogan, Washington. In recent years, these communities have grown far more sharply defined in their political and cultural identities—partly because living in a homogeneous community reinforces one’s existing attitudes, partly because such communities tend to attract like-minded emigrants.

Quote of the Day

May I submit Utopian Turtletop? Do not trouble to answer unless you like it.

- Poet Marianne Moore, submitting a name for the new Ford car that became the Edsel.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Definition of a Best Seller

But although the $3 price of Gone with the Wind ($43.50 in today's dollars) was steep by Depression standards, it sold 178,000 copies in three weeks and a million by April 1938, when it ended a twenty-one-month run on the best seller list. By now nearly 30 million have been sold. About 250,000 are still purchased in America every year, and 100,000 elsewhere.

- From George F. Will's column, "The Emblematic Novel of the 1930s (No. It Is Not About the Joads.")