Saturday, May 31, 2008

Miscellaneous and Fast

Ned Flanders and religion on "The Simpsons."

Wally Bock on a story of wine and ambition.

The trailer for Nicholas Nickleby.

44 mpg: The discontinued Geo Metro is making a comeback.

You go to learn about the Middle Ages and encounter "Waste Studies."

Theodore Dalrumple on assimilating immigrants in Britain.

Bouncing Back

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld discusses his work on the lessons of failure. An excerpt:

First, fight, not flight. You have to face up to battle. Second, recruit others in battle. Use networks effectively. Third, rebuild your reputation.

Crichton's Prediction: Media Dinosaurs

Writing in Slate, Jack Shafer talks to Michael Crichton about the author's prediction of the demise of major media. Some excerpts:

"[T]he American media produce a product of very poor quality," he lectured. "Its information is not reliable, it has too much chrome and glitz, its doors rattle, it breaks down almost immediately, and it's sold without warranty. It's flashy but it's basically junk."


As we pass his prediction's 15-year anniversary, I've got to declare advantage Crichton. Rot afflicts the newspaper industry, which is shedding staff, circulation, and revenues. It's gotten so bad in newspaperville that some people want Google to buy the Times and run it as a charity! Evening news viewership continues to evaporate, and while the mass media aren't going extinct tomorrow, Crichton's original observations about the media future now ring more true than false. Ask any journalist.

When Planners and Improvisers Meet

It can be a rough day when planners and improvisers meet.

The planner has thought ahead and has carefully allotted specific amounts of time for various tasks and, of course, all has been prioritized. Lists have been made. If a chart is not nearby rest assured one is in the planner's mind.

The improviser, governed by a general idea of what needs to be done, barely nods to the plan and moves about like a gnat, working on this and then flying to that for just a while, and then over to something near the end of the planner's construct.

It drives the planner nuts in much the same way that the improviser would be frustrated if forced to adopt a methodical approach.

If progress is to be made and bloodshed avoided, both need to recognize their styles and acknowledge the advantages and downsides of each. Focusing on dulling the points of greatest irritation is crucial. For example, improvisers should be more sensitive to the disruption caused by their freeflow approach and planners should accept that addressing certain items out of sequence can have benefits. It won't be easy, but such accommodation is workable.

By the way, planners and improvisers often marry one another. It's a rule of life.

Five on the Film Biz

Whit Stillman, director of the marvelous Barcelona and other films, gives a list of five books about Hollywood. All of them look fascinating.

Quote of the Day

Very sorry, can't come. Lie follows by post.

- RSVP telegraph sent by Lord Charles Beresford

Friday, May 30, 2008

Role Model

I'll bet my hometown's founder is more interesting than your hometown's founder.

Regressing from Clockwork Orange?

Eurociao looks at a 1972 interview with Malcolm McDowell and Anthony Burgess about Clockwork Orange and raises some thought-provoking questions regarding beauty and today's youth culture.

[Clockwork Orange is one of those books/movies you never forget.]


When managers have a fear of confrontation, they often turn to manipulation for the solution.

The manipulation, in turn, can cause a loss of trust. Employees eventually catch on to the game and those who may of been in the know in the first place will wisely wonder, "If the boss plays games with my colleague, what is being done with me?"

The loss of trust, of course, is far worse than an unpleasant meeting.

Manipulators don't admit to their practices. They justify them by asserting that it is less disruptive to avoid confrontation, the employee would be unreasonable or there is no time to sort out the roots of the problem. What's worse is that sometimes the strategy works. There are moments when the clever deflection or avoidance of an issue does defuse a situation or matters resolve themselves. Occasionally, problems walk away.

The core danger of manipulation, however, is what it does to the manipulator. Bobbing and weaving can easily become a habit. Granted, managers who are as slippery as an eel may be otherwise competent.

You just won't want to turn your back on them.

Quote of the Day

Youth would be an ideal state if it came a little later in life.

- Herbert Asquith

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Deep. Very.

What happens when you burn a candle at both ends.

Stays in the Room

Rob Long, one of the funniest writers in Hollywood, recounts the dangers of taking humor out of context; mad, unfit for civilized society, context:

Every writer – well, every comedy writer – has made this mistake. You're at work, and you're laughing with your colleagues, about something – usually what we call a "room run" – a joke that originates entirely in the writers' room, one that's usually so objectionable, so foul, so indefensibly cruel and wrong and ugly, that the entire room is paralyzed by laughter.

Evil, dirty laughter.

But it's funny. Hilarious, actually, to you. So when you get home to your wife or husband or boyfriend or girlfriend, you know, you want to share your day. Share the little moments of joy you experienced.

Overhead Bias

As a small business person, I have to confess to a certain reaction whenever I visit large corporate offices and law firms that are extravagantly decorated and located in expensive highrises.

I immediately start wondering about their overhead.

How much does it take to keep this place going on a monthly basis? That sculpture alone could pay my rent for the next ten years! Look at the size of that staircase! No wonder they charge so much!

I count the number of empty conference rooms while walking back to the individual's office, note whenever fresh cookies and exotic beverages are offered, and envy, truly envy, the views.

And all the time, a little calculator in my brain is click, click, clicking.

Say what you will about Wal-Mart but ole Sam kept the headquarters crew in spartan offices. Did he sense that if they went upscale, something would happen to their culture?

Now I know there are plenty of companies and firms with very nice surroundings and great people that are decent places to work. Those photos of Google's cafeteria are more enticing than our break room. It is one thing, however, to have an nice environment that is functional and contributes to employee morale. It is another to flaunt wealth. Many of these places seem to be designed solely to impress.

I may be wrong on this. What do you think?

Loving New Yorkers

Joan Acocella considers a question of cosmic importance:

Why do New Yorkers seem rude?

An excerpt:

It is said that New Yorkers are rude, but I think what people mean by that is that New Yorkers are more familiar. The man who waits on you in the delicatessen is likely to call you sweetheart. (Feminists have gotten used to this.) People on the bus will say, "I have the same handbag as you. How much did you pay?" If they don't like the way you are treating your children, they will tell you. And should you try to cut in front of somebody in the grocery store checkout line, you will be swiftly corrected. My mother, who lives in California, doesn't like to be kept waiting, so when she goes into the bank, she says to the people in the line, "Oh, I have just one little thing to ask the teller. Do you mind?" Then she scoots to the front of the line, takes the next teller and transacts her business, which is typically no briefer than anyone else's. People let her do this because she is an old lady. In New York, she wouldn't get away with it for a second.

While New Yorkers don't mind correcting you, they also want to help you. In the subway or on the sidewalk, when someone asks a passerby for directions, other people, overhearing, may hover nearby, disappointed that they were not the ones asked, and waiting to see if maybe they can get a word in. New Yorkers like to be experts. Actually, all people like to be experts, but most of them satisfy this need with friends and children and employees. New Yorkers, once again, tend to behave with strangers the way they do with people they know.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]

New Blog: Tax Stimulus

One of the joys of blogging is you can find opinions on all topics.

Check out How I Spent my Tax Stimulus.

[How many of you thought going to Detroit would be on the list?]

[HT: Adfreak ]

Quote of the Day

You cannot legislate the human race into heaven.

- C. H. Parkhurst

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Looking at GINA

Noted employment law attorney John Phillips analyzes the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and notes some possible problems. An excerpt:

Here’s another inscrutable provision. “An employer . . . shall not be considered in violation of [GINA] based on the use, acquisition, or disclosure of medical information that is not genetic information about a manifested disease, disorder, or pathological condition of an employee or member, including a manifested disease, disorder, or pathological condition that has or may have a genetic basis.” It’s not genetic information, although it has a genetic basis? I don’t know exactly what this means, but I’m sure a court somewhere will.

Dark Humor Update: Careers

COLLEGE PARK, MD—According to a report published Monday in The Journal Of Gender Studies, many American women are bucking centuries of traditional gender roles by placing stunted, emotionally unfulfilling relationships on hold in order to pursue mind-numbing careers devoid of any upward mobility.

Library Lust

If you are a book lover, prepare to breathe heavily while reading this post at Cultural Offering.

Bias on Campus: The Lingering Sixties

Alan Charles Kors, professor of history, examines what has happened to the universities. An excerpt:

Those often kindly teachers, however, do have a sense of urgent mission. Even if we put them on truth-serum, the academics who dominate the humanities and social sciences on our campuses today would state that K-12 education essentially has been one long celebration of America and the West, as if our students were intimately familiar with the Federalist Papers and had never heard of slavery or empire. Having convinced themselves that the students whom they inherit have been immersed in American and Western traditions without critical perspective—they do believe that—contemporary academics see themselves as having merely four brief years in which to demystify students, and somehow to get them to look up from their Madison and Hamilton long enough to gaze upon the darker side of American and Western life. In their view, our K-12 students know all about Aristotle, John Milton and Adam Smith, have studied for twelve years how America created bounty and integrated score after score of millions of immigrants, but have never heard of the Great Depression or segregation.

Film Festivals and People

While discussing the composition of a film festival, the following resemblance between films and people came to mind:

  • Some films are famous for being good but upon closer examination, they aren't all that good.
  • If a film is dark and brooding, many people will believe it is deep.
  • You can analyze the hidden meaning of films until all joy is removed.
  • A few films repel within seconds while others improve with time.
  • The best films don't tell or show all.
  • Even great films have good and not-so-good parts.
  • A terrible film can bring you down.
  • It is possible to improve your mood by simply recalling certain films.

Quote of the Day

In a free country there is much clamor with little suffering; in a despotic state there is little complaint but much suffering.

- Caruot

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Decade in Books

There's much to enjoy and ponder in this review of a decade in the publishing business by Robert McCrum, the recently retired editor of The Observer. An excerpt:

The story is told of GK Chesterton delivering proofs, late, to his editor. The office was deserted, with just one person, from the accounts department, to take delivery of the great man's work. When Chesterton produced from his bag not only his corrected pages but a bottle of port and a glass, the terrified clerk confessed he was teetotal. 'Good heavens,' Chesterton squeaked in dismay. 'Give me back my proofs!'

[HT: Michael at 2Blowhards ]

Quote of the Day

Great minds have purposes, others have wishes.

- Washington Irving

Monday, May 26, 2008

Indiana Jones/Smith: Selleck and DeVito?

You don't need to be a major Indiana Jones fan to enjoy this great collection of trivia.

[HT: Dark Roasted Blend ]

Phoenix on Mars

Another example of how we routinely receive news of extraordinary accomplishments in an almost "by the way" fashion. An excerpt from the National Geographic article:

At 7:53 p.m. ET Mission Control received the signal that the craft had survived the tricky descent through the red planet's atmosphere dubbed the seven minutes of terror.

During that time the probe had to slow itself from 12,700 miles (20,438 kilometers) an hour to 5 miles (8 kilometers) an hour before gently setting down on Martian permafrost.

Although friction and a parachute helped reduce its speed, Phoenix was designed to separate from the chute at about 0.6 mile (a kilometer) above Mars, relying on pulsing thrusters to smooth its final descent.

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the United States.

There will be the obligatory ceremonies at cemetaries. Flags will be placed on graves. Politicians will speak of the honored dead. Many citizens, of course, will pay little attention to the day except as a 24-hour extension to the weekend. Some will jet-ski over the moment.

Memorial Day, however, is as much about us as it is about those who died for our nation. What sort of people are we? Is this country simply a pleasant place to make a living and otherwise not all that better than ten or twelve other spots on the globe or should it have a special place in our hearts and be worth dying for? Do we justify the sacrifice of people who suffered extreme mental and physical anguish and indeed gave their lives so that this experiment in freedom can survive?

There are people who regard any expression of patriotism as embarrassing. These are Patriots But. "I'm a patriot but we have to remember slavery, or the treatment of the Indian tribes, or Watergate, or dictatorships we propped up, or..." the list continues. They hold their nation to a utopian standard that no country could meet and regard patriotism as jingoism; something cheap and rather low-class. They claim to honor the military but would never seriously consider enlisting. Oh, the military, that's for other people.

Well, today we Americans honor a great many of those other people. A large number of them had the same dreams and ambitions we hold and far more talent. They deserve some respectful reflection, not cynicism or indifference, from each of us.

Quote of the Day

Lovely and honorable it is to die for one's country.

- Horace, 65-8 BC

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Great Ads Department

Back by popular demand: The German Coast Guard commercial.

Consumer Warnings for the Cineplex

Lore Sjoberg believes films should have warning labels and gives some great examples. Here's one:

"WARNING: Indiana Jones is a fictional character. His movies are all set decades ago. He is more physically attractive than 98 percent of humanity. These are all reasons you should not attempt to dress like him."

Pushing Passion

Consider this scenario: you've taken a job but don't love it.

Your new employer offers you $1,000 if you resign on the spot. An excerpt from the Portfolio article:

The operating assumption is that anyone willing to take the company up on the offer lacks the commitment to the job and conformity to the culture that are necessary for a successful relationship. By Zappos' calculation, that $1,000 is less than the cost of keeping an uninspired call-center employee on the payroll.

Ended Entitlement or Rising Expectations?

Part of the deceptive sense of falling behind reflects the elastic nature of being middle class. According to Pew, 70 percent of households now have two or more cars, and a similar share has satellite or cable TV; 66 percent have high-speed Internet; 42 percent already have flat-panel TVs. Thirty years ago, no one's parents had this inventory. More students go to college and graduate school, so more have debt. Health care is expensive in part because modern medicine can do so much. Someone has to pay. One in 10 households now has a vacation home.

"Progress" keeps draining our pocketbooks. Pew finds that four-fifths of Americans find it hard to maintain middle-class lifestyles; in 1986, two-thirds did. But today's middle-class anxieties transcend the well-advertised "squeeze" on incomes. The deeper source of disquiet, I think, lies elsewhere. Middle-class families value predictability, order and security, and these reassuring qualities have eroded. People worry about rising living expenses; but what really upsets them is the possibility that their incomes or fringe benefits -- pensions, health and disability insurance -- might vanish.

Read the rest of Robert Samuelson on middle class jitters and the loss of entitlement.

Quote of the Day

What we need is more people who specialize in the impossible.

- Theodore Roethke

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Talent Management Pitfalls

Don't even think of running a talent management program until you've read this excellent post by Wally Bock.

Peters on Leadership

A brief video of Tom Peters talking about 21st century leadership.

Knee Jerks

A complicated proposal is taken to an executive. With barely a glance, he declares, "It will never work. In fact, it will be a disaster."

Granted, there are some proposals in which such a response might be justified. One does not have to eat the entire egg to know that it is rotten. With most matters, however, the executive's reaction is not only unwise on the basis of substance, but also politically inept.

By announcing instant objection to a proposal that holds many pros and cons, he comes across as just as rash as if he'd said, "That's fantastic." By rushing to judgment, he's just devalued the currency of his opinion.

It was Sam Rayburn, the late and great Speaker of the House of Representatives, who observed, "The three most important words in the world are 'Wait a minute.'"

War Poetry

James Winn selects five books of war poetry.

One of my choices would come from Siegfried Sassoon's The General:

'He's a cheery old card,' grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

Quote of the Day

I recommend you to take care of minutes, for hours will take care of themselves.

- Lord Chesterfield

Friday, May 23, 2008

Job Interviews: 7 Don'ts

In a very condensed list, I covered seven things to avoid in a job interview in this week's post at U.S. News & World Report.

No sooner do you list seven than you can think of seven more.

Poetry Break: "No animal is half so vile"

A demo of Vanessa Lee reading the great Roald Dahl's poem, "Crocky Wok the Crocodile."

Giving Measurement a Chance

Scott McArthur has an excellent post on criticisms of the balanced scorecard.

Summer Reading

One of my favorite blogs, Cultural Offering, has assembled a nifty summer reading list for children. He also has a recommendation for adults as well as a list from Thomas Sowell.

Unable to resist, I will [once again, to many heavy sighs] add to the adult list of recommendations the Aubrey-Maturin series of novels by Patrick O'Brian. Don't be put off by the "two friends in the Royal Navy" descriptions. This series is far better than most of the classics you were forced to read in school. The books are not for men only - I know some women who are serious O'Brian fans - and although the first volume (Master and Commander) is probably the slowest because it has to set the stage, all of the books are beautifully written and paced. Marvelous stuff. It will transport you to another time with some great companions.

Get it. You have not a moment to lose.

The Smart Listener

Revealed at last: HR Wench tells why she went into Human Resources.

Even if you never ventured near HR, you'll enjoy her story of school.

Reading Patterns

L. Gordon Crovitz gives us a peek at what might be the future of reading. An excerpt:

The not-so-positive case is that, at least so far, we're not giving up on books for the same words on screens – we're giving up on words. Pick your data point: A recent National Endowment for the Arts report, "To Read or Not to Read," found that 15- to 24-year-olds spend an average of seven minutes reading on weekdays; people between 35 and 44 spend 12 minutes; and people 65 and older spend close to an hour. [Emphasis added]

Much is at stake. As Mr. Gomez concluded, "what's really important is the culture of ideas and innovation" books represent. But "to expect future generations to be satisfied with printed books is like expecting the BlackBerry users of today to start communicating by writing letters, stuffing envelopes and licking stamps."

Office Survival Kit

This post by Lifehacker stirred some thoughts about office survival essentials. Mine include:

  • Aaron Copland CDs

  • Raw almonds

  • Starbucks Komodo Dragon coffee

  • Moleskine tablet

  • Levenger Circa notebook and punch

  • IBM ThinkPad

  • Cross rollerball pen

  • Project boxes

Any other nominees?

Sowell on Men, Women, and Income Disparity

Peter Robinson interviews economist Thomas Sowell on male - female differences in income.

Quote of the Day

Nothing is so commonplace as to wish to be remarkable.

- Oliver Wendell Holmes

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Miscellaneous and Fast has a new poster.

Hmmm. Are these really the ten brainiest places to retire?

Stanley Bing wants us to shop local.

Jim Stroup both informs and prepares us for the sequel in
this tale of leadership.

Debt Free gives 10 steps to avoid becoming a millionaire. [HT: Political Calculations ]

Marvelous film and an even better book: The trailer for Nobody's Fool.

Tim Berry gives a real life example of why presenters should always have a fall-back plan.

Fat City: An end to bodysnarking?

Eurociao wonders if film critics know the real Che.

Real leadership: Wally Bock on Herb Kelleher.

Guy Kawasaki interviews creativity consultant Roger von Oech.

The Powerful Intangibles

You can crunch all of the numbers, get the arrows pointing upward on the charts, and still not persuade your audience.

There are always The Powerful Intangibles that can mean more to others than all of your logic. Focusing solely on the hard items and not the soft invites disaster. Fortunately, those soft items that cry out for attention usually fall into one category: Status.

Propose a change that is perceived to diminish the status of a person and you should count on a reaction akin a wounded wolverine's response to a poke with a sharp stick. This will occur despite your ability to show all sorts of marvelous reasons why the person should be supportive. Attack my status and you attack me, personally and deeply.

An example can be found in the flare-ups that occur when job titles and reporting relationships are altered. The change agent may think such matters are trivial but they aren't to the person who boasts of a direct line to the boss or who doesn't want to tell the folks at home that his or her title has shifted from "director" to "coordinator." Pointing out the extra pay and the fact that authority has not changed will not score any points. A Great Intangible has been touched.

That's why any proposed changes, both in substance and procedure, should be scrutinized for status issues. It is important to be logical, but not coldly so.


Joseph Epstein finds the prestige of honorary degrees has fallen to new lows. An excerpt:

Northwestern, I know, has given honorary doctorates to Robert Redford and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Yale gave one some years back to Meryl Streep. The motive here, at least in part, is to get a commencement address on the cheap, and to give the graduating students the right to say that at their commencement someone wildly famous spoke. Yet one wonders if the graduates of Long Island's Southampton College, allowed to reflect upon the matter in tranquility, were entirely pleased when their school gave an honorary degree to Kermit the Frog.

Are Pension Funds Creating High Oil Prices?

If you're wondering why driving to work has gotten so expensive, you might want to peruse your pension fund's investments. That's because speculation by institutional investors pouring money into the commodities market may be largely to blame for spiking oil prices, according to testimony on May 20 before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs. Crude oil, a so-called hard asset, is viewed as a buffer against inflation—a foe of longer-term investment returns. At the hearing, "Financial Speculation in Commodity Markets: Are Institutional Investors and Hedge Funds Contributing to Food and Energy Price Inflation?," senators heard from those defending the role of speculators in oil and commodities markets as well as those who argue that excessive speculation is the root of global price surges.

Read the rest of the Business Week article.

Quote of the Day

Leadership is character and competence. If you can only have one, opt for character.

- H. Norman Schwarzkopf

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Entertainment Break: Albert Brooks

Back by popular demand: Albert Brooks on The Tonight Show.

Creative Biz Cards

How creative is your business card?

Odds are, not very. Check out these .

[HT: Liz Wolgemuth ]


This post from Tim "4 Hour Work Week" Ferriss on the virtues of Results Only Work Environments has sparked a lot of enthusiasm.

I have some questions:

  1. If you are not measuring efforts and are solely focused on results, then how do you achieve consistency in the quality of the results?

  2. Are the results defined tightly or loosely? If the latter, then quality can really fly out the window.

The overall appeal of a system that gets rid of mindless meetings and pointless procedures is hard to deny. It may be that my questions are fully answered in the execution strategy. Knowing the gaps between promise and performance, however, I get a little nervous when a bold new approach is described and it sounds a great deal like what has been tried, with mixed results, in the past.

Kindle Leanings

Confession: After reading this review I am seriously considering getting a Kindle.

With the number of books and magazines that I plow through in the course of a year, I could wind up saving money. [Sober voice: Nice rationalization, book worm!]

If you've been using one, give me your own review.

[HT: Dr. Helen ]

Rushing to Respond

The other day, amid a mass of e-mail, I saw a message and a response that illustrate one of the dangers of communication.

The message contained a variety of items, starting with a major issue and then moving on to some seemingly minor ones in its wake.

The response dealt solely with the major point and glossed over the others. Given the urgency of the primary topic, that was understandable. Unlike the person who sent the response, however, I had the advantage of time and could see, tucked within the initial sender's list of "minor" items, the announcement of a setback that must have been jarring. It wasn't a death in the family or a matter of similar magnitude and yet it was pretty significant. Although the writer had chosen to mention it in passing, the news was far from trivial. The unwritten message in the single line was, "I'm wounded."

I have no doubt that although the sender buried his sad news in the forest of the message, he sought some consolation. None was given. A moment was lost. And I hate to think of how often, in my rush to send a reply, I've shot past similar expressions of pain from colleagues and friends.

Two Ceremonies

Benedictine held its annual commencement ceremonies this past weekend, and I happened to be there because I was the speaker. After all the degrees had been handed out, two young men in dress blue were called back on stage. Before their families, their classmates, and their teachers, these men raised their right hands and swore to "support and defend" our Constitution. And then Lt. Jeff Fetters and Lt. Michael Mundie were presented to their class as "the newest officers in the United States Army."

What a striking moment this was. Here were two young men who had stepped forward to wear the uniform in a time of war – and who had their service publicly acknowledged by their peers and institution. One retired general who graduated from this same campus in 1966 put it this way. "These young men will need every bit of encouragement in the world they have now entered," said Tom Wessels. "And by golly, it was great to see them get it."

Read the rest of William McGurn on
the contrast between Benedictine and Harvard.

Quote of the Day

The best way out is always through.

- Robert Frost

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

PJ in China

Mr. Chen sent us on in his car to Nanjing, where Tom took me to a steel mill he used to run. The company that Tom used to work for bought the mill from the Chinese government for $1 on the understanding that it would be kept in operation. The mill was eventually sold, for considerably more than $1 to Mr. Liu and Mrs. Sung.

The mill’s 150-pound ex-PLA guard dog, Shasha (“Killer”), was extremely glad to see Tom. So were the employees. Although there were some steel mill employees who presumably wouldn’t have been so glad, such as the two or three hundred “ghost workers” who didn’t exist at all and were on the mill’s payroll when Tom took over. Plus the thousands of workers he’d fired because they didn’t do anything. Tom also needed to get rid of the local family that had the “theft rights” to the factory. They once stole an entire railroad train from the mill and would have gotten away with it if the train didn’t have a track that led directly to them.

“Here’s where one guy threw a wrench at me,” Tom said as we climbed the tower to the blast furnace.

“What’d you do?”

“I tossed him down the stairs,” Tom said. “Rule of law is the cornerstone of capitalism.”

Read the rest of P. J. O'Rourke in China.

Pain and Proximity

A thought-provoker from Seth Godin: the closer to pain, the higher the charges. An excerpt:

Pizza at the airport costs five times more than pizza on the way to the airport.

Tax audit services in the middle of an SEC investigation cost triple what they cost before one.

Structured Procrastination

At some point today, when you do not want to work on what you should be working on, read this essay on structured procrastination. An excerpt:

The most perfect situation for structured procrastination that I ever had was when my wife and I served as Resident Fellows in Soto House, a Stanford dormitory. In the evening, faced with papers to grade, lectures to prepare, committee work to be done, I would leave our cottage next to the dorm and go over to the lounge and play ping-pong with the residents, or talk over things with them in their rooms, or just sit there and read the paper. I got a reputation for being a terrific Resident Fellow, and one of the rare profs on campus who spent time with undergraduates and got to know them. What a set up: play ping pong as a way of not doing more important things, and get a reputation as Mr. Chips.

[HT: Andrew Sullivan ]

Advice with Scars on It

  1. If something doesn't feel right, don't pretend that it is right.

  2. Be wary of wit at the expense of others. It has a habit of turning sour.

  3. There are times when one of the smartest things you can do is to lose an argument.

  4. One of the most dangerous moments in a meeting is when everyone agrees.

  5. There are no little slights.

  6. Don't set higher standards for your secretary than you do for your chief executive officer.

  7. There are people who are wrong at the top of their voice.

  8. Predators may be beautiful but they are still predators.

  9. It can be easier to take a group from the bottom to the top than to keep a group at the top.

  10. If you have no competition you'd be wise to invent some.

  11. Whenever you are being given too much detail, rest assured that it is being used as a cloak.

  12. Look, and keep looking, for new ways of looking.

Quote of the Day

Democracy means government by the uneducated, while aristocracy means government by the badly educated.

- G. K. Chesterton

Monday, May 19, 2008

Miscellaneous and Fast

Twisted but effective: Bob Ross, without the happy trees.

How's this for an unusual business slogan? The Smell Good Plumber.

Business Week has a slide show of the world's most competitive countries.

When Hollywood had style: a 1932 film of the ceremonies for the premiere of Grand Hotel.

The usual library:
Check out books, rod, reel, tackle box.

Book Review: Beat The 2008 Recession

Consultant, professor, author, and my compadre in management blogging Nicholas Bate takes the good advice he gives.

What that means is the man is extremely productive. He completes books in the time it takes the rest of us to finish our second drafts. Adding to our guilt, he does so with a demanding travel schedule that takes him far from his native Britain. [I have visions of him writing them in airports or while sipping gin as the sun sets in some exotic clime. Aargh.]

His latest, Beat The 2008 Recession: A Blueprint for Business Survival, is a brief, creative, and to the point collection of 176 potential ways to spur your business. [The book is currently available at Amazon UK.]

The book abounds with key messages used to sum up certain sections; handy reminders such as "Simply discounting is not selling nor is it negotiation" and "A complex decision is not a decision until you have created a plan and know the critical path." His advice to keep strategic, tactical, and weekly plans nearby for frequent review so they can thwart the temptation to get off track during a crisis is especially timely.

In short, this is a workshop in a book. It is a direct way to jar and refresh your thinking. You will have heard a number of the points before but the space Bate provides for your action plan declares that knowledge without action is not all that effective.

I kept muttering, "I know that. Why haven't I been doing that?"

The Next Ten Minutes

Forget about your list for the day.

Don't even look at the chart on the wall setting forth your goals for the month.

What are you doing for the next ten minutes?

Are your actions deliberate or are you drifting? By simply considering the next ten minutes you may be able to find either a clearer focus on a single project or that there are two, perhaps three, small things that can be quickly done.

The Next Ten Minutes Approach cuts out all of the Horizon Pondering and forces you to do something of consequence, something positive, in the very near future.

Even if it's a nap.

The beauty is you are knowingly devoting your time instead of permitting that irreplaceable resource to be quietly taken away.


What do you get with hyper-inflation?

Try a half billion dollar bank note.

The Quick Decision

Their decision was made by the time he walked to the chair in the interview room.

All else was simply show; a performance for the human resources and law department second-guessers so later it could be said that a full interview was given and all of the prescribed questions were asked.

The fact is he didn't fit their picture of a successful candidate. He was either too fat or too thin, too educated or not educated enough, too old or not quite old enough, or there was just something in his background or appearance that irked them. The reason's substance really didn't matter because they thought it had substance, the decision was theirs to make, and they'd never tell him the real reason because they weren't entirely sure themselves.

After the letter arrived announcing the decision, he would talk it over with his wife and friends and attempt to figure out where he'd fallen short. All of them would try to help, much as you might assist a person with the clue to a crossword puzzle. Perhaps it was this answer or maybe they wanted more of that particular knowledge.

The analysis would be sound but for one assumption: that the interviewers were behaving logically.

Quote of the Day

A single conversation across the table with a wise man is worth a month's study of books.

- Chinese proverb

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Feeling and Acting

Enthusiasm is very nice when genuine but if that version isn't available then a reasonable facsimile will do.

People who demand that they must feel a particular way in order to behave in that manner can be huge drains on a team. The best colleagues have a positive demeanor even if they don't feel like it.

Individuals who believe that their feelings are the key criterion mistakenly conclude that their colleagues just have better moods. That is not so. On any given Monday morning, most meeting participants would rather be on a beach in Tahiti but they have the decency and professionalism not to show it.

This operates in all directions. The leader who blubbers about every problem he or she encounters is not doing the team any favors. The team members have their own problems and should not be unduly burdened with the leader's challenges. The reverse is also true.

To some extent, acting a part is a requirement of every job. We may choose to be sensitive cops or tough cops, activist or corporate lawyers, gregarious plumbers or quiet ones, but we have to be able to project the central role.

And that requirement exists regardless of our feelings.

Books on the American West

Alexandra Fuller, author of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight (one of the best autobiographies I've ever read), gives us a list of books on the modern American West.

Quote of the Day

Truth is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economize it.

- Mark Twain

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Cool Tools has an interesting review of Mistake-Proofing: Designing Errors Out and, as is common with most book reviews on that site, provides some marvelous excerpts. My favorite one is a reminder of many a do-it-yourself project:

The best way to ensure the detection of a mistake is to make sure that something in the environment makes it very obvious that one has been made. A good example of an environmental cue is the inevitable "extra" parts that remain after a do-it-yourself repair project. These parts make it very clear that you have not reassembled the item correctly.

First Impressions

For those interested in "behind the scenes" glances, I recently found this film of my entrance to a staff meeting.

Five Minute University

There's a lot to be said for this:

Father Guido Sarducci's Five Minute University.

Heroism and Decency: Irena Sendlerowa

Start the weekend off right: read the story of Irena Sendlerowa. An excerpt from The Wall Street Journal article:

The Talmud says that "whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world." Irena Sendlerowa, who died Monday at the age of 98 in Warsaw, saved some 2,500 worlds.

During the Nazi occupation of her country, this Polish Catholic woman risked her life and endured unspeakable torture to rescue Jewish children from the Holocaust. As a member of "Zegota," the organization set up by the Polish underground to help Jews, she masterminded a daring rescue operation: Posing as a nurse, she and about 20 other Poles smuggled about 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto.

The Three Questions

If you are selling yourself to an employer, addressing the great unasked items can be crucial.

My U.S. News & World Report blog post this week is on the three questions posed in every job interview.

Quote of the Day

The difference between a job and a career is the difference between 40 and 60 hours a week.

- Robert Frost

Friday, May 16, 2008

When to Step Forward, When to Step Back

When to step forward? When to step back?

A very tough pair of questions. Much of our lives is consumed by them. Friendship, flirting, consoling, teaching, guiding, supervising, and supporting can be enormously influenced by our ability to time and execute these properly. Their success can be determined ever so slightly. In the most subtle moments, one party moves a fraction of an inch and the spell is lost, perhaps forever.

It can be devilishly difficult to determine the best approach because if there is a general rule it is that there is no general rule. All depends on the parties and the moment. The word that would have rung grandly five minutes earlier now sounds tinny and forced.

So we watch and hope we've chosen the right moment to engage or disengage. The entire idea behind tough love is that there are times when the deepest affection requires distance and yet we all are familiar with those occasions when a friend or ally didn't come through during a crisis. We know the power, for good or ill, of the slight gesture.

When all elements work, the moment is memorable. When they do not, it is doubly so.

Humor and the Presidency

Down through our history, presidents have provided a cornucopia of chuckles for a hard-pressed electorate. Martin Van Buren was a fop. Andrew Jackson threatened to hang people who got on his nerves. Franklin Pierce took a daily nude swim in the Potomac, and is the only sitting president who ever ran someone over with a horse. Andrew Johnson was a boozehound, Warren Harding a lush, Zachary Taylor bust a gut and died after gorging himself on milk, cherries and pickles on July Fourth. Chester Arthur was a clown, William Taft a porker, and Teddy Roosevelt wore farcical hats. Harry Truman threatened to beat up music critics, Gerald Ford fell down stairs, LBJ liked to dangle beagles by the ears, and Richard ("I'm Not a Crook") Nixon was a laugh a minute. Ronald Reagan would say inappropriate things in inappropriate settings, George H.W. Bush didn't know what a supermarket scanner was, George W. Bush projects the Alfred E. Newman look, and Jimmy Carter got attacked by a killer rabbit. As for Bill Clinton . . . well, we all know about Bill Clinton.

Read the rest of Joe Queenan on what journalists look for in a president.

Quote of the Day

Type-A personalities have a whole subset of diseases that they, and only they, share and the transmission vector for these diseases is the DOOR CLOSE button on elevators that only gets pushed by impatient, Type-A people.

- Douglas Coupland

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Symbols Survey

Which, if any, of the following items do you believe would harm a job applicant's chances if worn to an employment interview?

[Assume that the job has nothing to do with religion or politics. Remember that I'm not asking if it would be right or wrong to consider the symbol, but whether it would have a negative impact.]

(a). A cross.

(b) A Star of David.

(c) A crescent.

(d) A flag pin with the flag of the nation in which the job is located.

(e) A peace symbol.

Carnival Up!

A lengthy and helpful Carnival of Human Resources is up at The Career Encouragement Blog.

Miscellaneous and Fast

WaiterRant watches as his boss deals with a tough customer.

The word is GE is going to put its applicances business on the market.

Michael Overly gives some tips on how to write a statement of work.

Jack Handey has created a personal flag.

Is Germany getting closer to Iran?

Instant bossophobia: David Brent's first scene.

Jonathan Winters recalls
why he was so often invited to be a guest on various television programs.

Michael J. Totten reports on the surge and Fallujah.

Arthur C. Brooks examines that old line about money buying happiness and finds some larger issues.

Quote of the Day

Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get.

- George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

When It's Crunch Time

Every now and then, in spite of everything you do, you get to a period of time where if you don’t work like a slave, you’re toast. Suddenly, everything is on the line. There are important presentations to investors, say… or an annual meeting… or a gathering of all the senior management in the company at which you must present… or a Board meeting at which the future will be mapped out… or all of these at once.

You don’t have to be told it’s crunch time. You know. You go home at night, your head swimming with all the things you have to do. You sleep a couple of hours, maybe, and then it’s suddenly 3 AM and you’re up to stay, exhausted, stressed out, heart pounding in your chest.

Read the rest of Stanley Bing on when it's time to suck it up and work.

Who Feels Successful?

A person once asked me what it feels like to be successful.

I didn't know how to respond because I don't regard myself as a success. A scrambler, yes. A striver, certainly. A success? I'm not so sure about that.

The more I learn about various subjects, the more I'm humbled by the vast amount of material I haven't even studied, much less mastered. Others may see what has been done while I see all that remains undone.

There is another aspect to this feeling: the sense that to declare oneself a success is a bit smug. Smugness can be the prelude to decline. Many a dunce is a self-proclaimed genius.

This doesn't mean that the achievement of various goals cannot be appreciated. That is not only wise but necessary if the demoralization of the treadmill is to be squelched. Watching the clouds, having a good cup of coffee, and quietly reviewing how something was achieved can be as good as it gets.

There is another crucial point and I draw it from the Army's three elements of leadership:

Be - Know - Do.

Too often, society defines success in the realm of "Do" instead of "Be." In assessing our own progress, we need to avoid that trap and recognize that making progress both in Being and Doing is important. Our internal advances may well outweigh any external ones.

There is much wisdom in the old line that "He who conquers himself is greater than he who takes a city."

No Other Explanation?

"They have it in for me. There's no other explanation."

That's correct. That's the only possible reason unless:

  • They have other priorities;

  • They have to shift resources elsewhere;

  • You failed to make your case;

  • They didn't trust you;

  • They have a different grasp of the situation;

  • The timing isn't right;

  • They see a major downside;

  • They want to address it later;

  • They want more time to think it over;

  • They see a crisis on the horizon;

  • They like parts of it but not all of it;

  • They want to explore other options;

  • They want to see what you will do after the proposal is rejected;

  • They believe they'll get more out of a different approach;

  • They believe your proposal is a quagmire;

  • This is new territory for them and their fears have not been put to rest;

  • This is familiar territory and they see problems you don't;

  • They like your proposal but know their boss won't approve; or

  • You've asked them to take too much on faith.

Quote of the Day

The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is insincerity.

- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Feeling While Reading Shelby Foote's "The Civil War"

This guy is really good.

[Update: An interview with the author.]

Miscellaneous and Fast

Not bad: An interesting list of commencement speakers at law school graduations.

Eileen P. Gunn talks with Marshall Goldsmith and John Eldred on the power of schmoozing.

I like Toby Getsch's note to the person(s) who broke into his truck on Tuesday.

They didn't mention flames: What the color of your car may say about you.

An understated and powerful film: The trailer for Claude Lanzmann's masterpiece, Shoah.

Best biz books? A distinguished panel gives their choices of the best business books and some of the choices aren't even business books. [Good for them!]

The Word Unspoken

Consider the times when you should have said something. Some examples:

  • When a colleague was the target of unfair attacks;

  • After a sarcastic remark was made at a staff meeting;

  • When you began to notice that a team member was being ostracized;

  • When you didn't really understand the assignment;

  • When you first sensed that a project was about to unravel; and

  • Right after you said yes when you wanted to say no.

When a Film Spreads Happiness

Eurociao has the trailer for Amelie and he is correct: watching the film or listening to the soundtrack will cheer you up. A clever and sweet movie.

Bellow's Insight

Fear was a New Yorker’s constant companion in the 1970s and ’80s. We lived behind doors with triple locks, some like engines of medieval ironmongery. We barred our ground-floor and fire-escape windows with steel grates that made us feel imprisoned. I was thankful for mine, though, when a hatchet turned up on my fire escape, origin unknown. Nearing our building entrances, we held our keys at the ready and looked over our shoulders, as police and street-smart lore advised; our hearts pounded as we tried to shove the heavy doors open and slam them shut before some mugger could push in behind us, standard mugging procedure. Only once was I too slow and lost my money. A neighbor, who worked at a midtown bank, lost his life.

Read the rest of Myron Magnet's reflections on Saul Bellow's Mr. Sammler's Planet.

Not Getting Vista

Business Week reports on companies that are bypassing Vista and waiting for Windows 7.

Vista taxes all but the most modern PCs with hefty processing and memory requirements. Many of GM's PCs can't even run the system. "By the time we'd replace them, Windows 7 might be ready anyway," Killeen says. Then there are compatibility problems with all the software that needs to run on Windows. GM's software vendors still haven't ensured all their programs will run on Vista trouble-free. So the company is sticking with Windows XP for now. Killeen figures GM could install Windows 7 in three or four years.

Quote of the Day

People say I don't take criticism very well, but I say what the hell do they know?

- Groucho Marx

Monday, May 12, 2008

Culture Break: "To This Day"

Commentary magazine has performed a literary service by publishing the first seven chapters of S.Y. Agnon's novel To This Day. The entire novel will be published for the first time in English later this month by Toby Press.

Consider the first paragraph:

During the Great War, I lived in the west of Berlin, in a room with a balcony in a small boarding house on Fasanenstrasse. The room was small, too, as was the balcony, but for someone like me whose needs were few it was a place to live. Not once during my stay there did I speak to the landlady or the other boarders. Every morning a chambermaid brought me a cup of coffee and two or three slices of bread, and once a week she brought the bill, which grew larger as the slices of bread grew smaller and the coffee lost its taste. I left the rent on the tray with a tip for her. She knew I didn’t like small talk and came and went without a word. Once, however, she forgot herself and stayed to chat a bit about the boarding house. Its landlady, Frau Trotzmüller, was a widow whose husband had been killed in a duel, leaving her with three daughters and a son, her youngest child, who had disappeared at the front. No one knew if he had been killed or taken prisoner. Despite all the family’s efforts to trace him, nothing was known of his fate. Multitudes of soldiers were dead, captured, or missing in action; who could locate a single mother’s son, a speck of dust swept away by the winds of war? Frau Trotzmüller and her daughters didn’t impose their grief on their boarders, and their boarders didn’t inquire about young Trotzmüller. Everyone had his own troubles; no one had time for anyone else’s. It was only because I was a poor sleeper that I heard the grieving mother sobbing for her son at night.

The One Line

Boiling down your reasons for a particular action to one sentence may sound simplistic but it is a very helpful exercise.

Doing so forces you to distinguish between the essential and the marginal. It also causes you to select the point of greatest priority among the essentials. Without such self-constraints, you can easily pour in so many points that your perspective becomes obscure.

As you know, major corporations condense their products to one word. [Disneyland sells Fun. Southwest Airlines sells Freedom. Revlon sells Hope.] Compared to the one word approach, crafting one line is easy.

One clear line makes it easier to communicate your key point to others. The single point presents a much smaller target to potential critics than a multitude of reasons.

Why should you be promoted? Have your supporting analysis but give the reason in one line.

Why should a disciplinary action be taken? Tie together the evidence with one connecting line.

Why should you buy a particular car? Once again, one line.

It's no guarantee that your decision is best but it can help you along the way.

Wiki Planning

The federal government has launched several wikis, which permit staffers to post information and expand on it until a consensus is reached. Intellipedia lets 37,000 officials at the CIA, FBI, NSA and other U.S. intelligence agencies share information and even rate one another for accuracy in password-protected wikis, some "top secret." Users are told, "We want your knowledge, not your agency seal"; indeed, the wiki format may be the best last hope for connecting the dots of intelligence across 16 different agencies. Diplopedia lets State Department staff share information. It's closed to the public, rated "sensitive but unclassified." In the virtual world Second Life, where personal avatars can communicate with one another, the State Department now has an embassy.

Read the rest of The Wall Street Journal article here on the use of wikis in government.

Quote of the Day

Manifest plainness, embrace simplicity.

- Lao-Tzu

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Prices and the World Middle Class

Moises Naim, the editor in chief of Foreign Policy magazine, has written a short and thought-provoking article, "Can the World Afford a Middle Class?" An excerpt:

These protesters are the most vociferous manifestations of a global trend: We are all paying more for bread, milk, and chocolate, to name just a few items. The new consumers of the emerging global middle class are driving up food prices everywhere. The food-price index compiled by The Economist since 1845 is now at an all-time high; it increased 30 percent in 2007 alone. Milk prices were up more than 29 percent last year, while wheat and soybeans increased by almost 80 and 90 percent, respectively. Many other grains, like rice and maize, reached record highs. Prices are soaring not because there is less food (in 2007, the world produced more grains than ever before), but because some grains are now being used as fuel and because more people can afford to eat more. The average consumption of meat in China, for example, has more than doubled since the mid-1980s.

Seven Tips for a College Commencement Speaker

      1. Don't try to be hip. You may have graduated a mere three years ago but to most of the students, you are no longer one of them.

      2. Unless you are a professional comedian, don't tell a lot of jokes.

      3. Keep it short. Your audience is already eyeing the exits.

      4. Keep it nonpolitical. This should be an occasion for unity, not cheap political shots at any party or politician.

      5. Try to say one thing that might be of practical use to the graduates 20 years from now.

      6. Let your unspoken message be your example. Scrap any tasteless, cruel or ignorant remarks.
      7. Translate all foreign phrases and keep jargon to a minimum.

      Quote of the Day

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

      - Alan Bennett

      Saturday, May 10, 2008

      Get Your Red Dress!

      Michael at 2Blowhards brings us "Shotgun" by Jr. Walker and the All Stars as well as a whole lot more.

      Good stuff.

      Growing People

      Jim Stroup at Managing Leadership, a must read blog, looks at why managers should be "master gardeners."

      Jim's point is right on target. One of the most successful executives I've known developed a reputation for grooming future department heads. By doing so, he influenced his entire industry because many of his employees went on to direct similar operations with other organizations. The ones who stayed with him were also extraordinarily good.

      What Will Matter

      Michael Josephson, the ethicist who founded the Josephson Institute of Ethics , has prepared a short video on What Will Matter.

      The Filters

      Two key questions in any workplace: How much do you report up the ladder? How much do you report down?

      Both are determined by the anticipated reaction and by confidentiality obligations. Requirements to protect the well-being of various stakeholders also play a role.

      The argument for honesty, which in some cases is indeed brutal, is that it is preferable to the hiding and cover-ups that occur in its absence. On the other hand, there are times when we'd prefer not to know certain items because the level of our response might not be entirely in our hands and a more intense cure might be worse than the disease. That filtering, however, usually applies to upward communication.

      When it comes to downward communication, the bias should favor disclosure. Organizations that paternalistically withhold information from employees on the basis that they wouldn't understand or not be able to handle it are unlikely to be trusted. In most instances, people would rather hear the truth than be coddled.

      That said, there are times when matters are simply so sensitive that confidentiality is crucial both in the immediate case and to facilitate the reporting and resolution of future ones.

      In short, general "We always disclose or never disclose" rules are not appropriate. The decision to filter often requires a case-by-case determination. That is both a strength and an area of vulnerability. It may be sound decision-making but it also provides a great rationalization for inappropriate filtering when what should be an exception becomes the rule.