Commentary by Michael Wade on Leadership, Ethics, Management, and Life
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Only 9 Slides?
Twitter from James Lileks:
Urgh - just learned I have to do computer training @ work. Two hours. Topic: email. I expect a 9-slide powerpoint demo on the "send" button.
Wired reports that Honda is building a hybrid motorcycle.
Being a Jerk is Unethical
Partisanship and Leadership
Golda Meir once remarked of the Palestinians that when it comes to peace, they never lose an opportunity to lose an opportunity.
A variation of that observation can be made with regard to partisanship in this recent financial crisis. Many of the same individuals who were instrumental in getting us into this mess are now, due to their positions, charged with getting us out of it. One would hope that they would be able to refrain from simple jabs. Their poisonous barbs can be easily saved for that marvelous and inevitable period when the storm has cleared, the sun emerges, and the spears are sharpened.
But, to quote the philosopher John Belushi, "Noooooo." There appears to be an almost irresistible desire to mix abuse with cries for compromise. That is shabby behavior, the people know it is shabby, and it will be remembered. Furthermore, such cheap shots are an abdication of leadership. The leader is supposed to elicit our better natures and not cater to our lower ones. It is no accident that the politicians who are most prone to this nonsense come from the sort of safe districts or states where they would have to be found guilty of clubbing seals in order to risk electoral defeat. Even then it might be close.
Which reminds me of the most cogent argument in favor of term limits: Their purpose is not to get rid of your member of Congress but someone else's.
Quote of the Day
They ruined their vassels to support the extravagance by which they ruined themselves.
- Francis Parkman, on the French aristocracy, in Montcalm and Wolfe
Monday, September 29, 2008
Miscellaneous and Fast
What Would Dad Say? has some memorable ads.
Invasion! I have a feeling that pod cars will be going nowhere.Music Break: Groucho Marx in "Horsefeathers" ("I'm Against It!")
Before It Hits the Fan
Oren Harari has written a "must read" post on the danger of ignoring the little indicators. An excerpt:
As Congress debates the trillion dollar bailout for Wall Street, I want to revisit the question I posed last week: How in the world did we not see this collapse coming? Especially, since as I wrote: “The clues were there for anyone to see. You didn’t need a Ph.D in accounting or economics”. (see http://www.harari.com/blog/index.php?/archives/196-Leveraged-Rubbish.html)
Willie Brown, the former mayor of San Francisco, writes a weekly column in the San Francisco Chronicle. In the September 21 issue, he shared a revealing story:
You know, it’s funny how sometimes you get wind of something happening without even realizing it.
About a year and a half ago, a friend of mine who owns a car dealership down in Salinas was telling me about this father of three who came in one day to buy a Hyundai. No matter how hard my friend tried, he couldn’t qualify the guy for a car loan. The man just didn’t have the money. Three weeks later, the same guy comes back to the car lot and tells my dealer friend about how he just bought a home. People who couldn’t even get credit for a $13,000 car were qualifying for mortgages on $300,000 homes.
That should have been the tipoff that something was wrong, if ever there was one.
The One Bounce Executive
I once knew knew an executive who was great for one bounce but not for two.
By that I mean his arguments and points on behalf of a particular proposal sounded fine on the first bounce, but upon an additional moment of reflection, they began to ring hollow. He would say things such as:
"I've always supported that project." Sounds good, but then you'd realize he'd never done so and had in fact vigorously opposed all aspects of the project.
"We've had 16 witnesses testify that this took place." That's pretty impressive when there was a total of seven witnesses.
I wish I could say that he was unsuccessful with this technique, but he wasn't. He was so good at saying outrageous things with a straight face that many listeners began to question their own memories and information. Even more were unaware of any gaps between what the executive said and what he truly supported. If he were called on his "exaggerations" and mistakes, he'd flatly deny any discrepancy and would claim it was all a matter of interpretation.
The fact that he was extremely amiable helped. You wanted to believe what he'd said because he was such a nice fellow.
He later moved on to another organization. I assume he's charming them there, at least for one bounce.
Divorce Law: 86 Wives = 86 Lawyers
The man with 86 wives wants 86 lawyers:
Authorities say that is 82 more than Islam allows, but Masaba challenges that interpretation, claiming that the Koran does not set forth any punishment for having more than four wives. He believes that, so long as a man can care for all of his wives, he can have as many as he wants. He does not recommend that other men follow his example, however, because he concedes that -- especially at the age of 84 -- only supernatural help enables him to deal with all 86 wives (and "at least" 170 children).
"A man with [only] 10 wives would [normally] collapse and die," he told the BBC, "but my own power is given by Allah. That is why I have been able to control 86 of them."
[HT: Overlawyered ]
Haiti started receiving shipments in the early 1960s. With the benefit of cheap items came the cost of serving as a dumping ground. Shell has described the city of Miragoane, which receives new pepe nearly every day, as “blanketed, literally, by a downy coat of secondhand clothing. It grows out of the ground and into the street, onto every surface, a sartorial network—buildings, barrows, man and machine-made structures, everywhere.”
Read the rest of the Reason article on the global trade in used clothing.
[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]
Quote of the Day
My message to you is: Be courageous! I have lived a long time. I have seen history repeat itself again and again. I have seen many depressions in business. Always America has come out stronger and more prosperous. Be brave as your fathers before you. Have faith! Go forward.
- Thomas Edison's last public message
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Not That We Don't Trust You
Easterbrook on Attitudes
Four generations ago, the poor were as lean as fence posts, their arms bony and faces gaunt. To our recent ancestors, the idea that today even the poor eat too much might be harder to fathom than a jetliner rising from the runway.
Many other aspects of contemporary life, taken for granted by those of us who live it, would dazzle our recent ancestors. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the average American lifespan was forty-one years; now it is seventy-seven years, equating to almost twice as much time on earth for the typical person.
From Gregg Easterbrook's The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse.
Girls Behaving Badly
As a reserved evangelical from Colorado Springs, Colo., I was shocked by a lot of things at Tufts when I entered in the fall of 2003. What shocked me more than anything, however, was the way women treated other women. I regularly heard young women refer to each other using the most obscene and degrading insults. I observed females encouraging others to binge drink and then berating those who couldn't hold their liquor. At breakfast on the weekends, I often overheard young women discussing their shame after feeling pressured by their girlfriends to participate in a degrading activity, such as a lingerie-themed or "secretaries and bosses" party. One year, a sorority actually commanded its pledges to strip to their underwear and allow fraternity brothers to mark the physical flaws on their bodies with permanent ink.
Read the rest of Ashley Samelson on the lipstick jungle.
Must Read on Sales
Fortune provides eight must-read books on making sales.
Blogs You Should Visit: Fortify Your Oasis
I've long enjoyed Rowan Manahan's blog on career advancement and job search. Rowan calls himself an "insultant" because he levels with his clients and tells the hard truths that must be faced in order to move forward.
Through the use of humor and practical advice that can be put to immediate use, Rowan has created a site that is a must read for the ambitious. Always good stuff.
Blogs You Should Visit: Nicholas Bate
Consultant, professor, and author Nicholas Bate writes a book a month and so the rest of us only pretend to like him.
We're not taken in by his kindness and the fact that his blog has concise and practical guidelines for improving our careers and lives. That only makes him all the more irritating.
Check out his site for more of his dangerous humor and wisdom.
Quote of the Day
It is the hardest thing in the world to be a good thinker without being a good self-examiner.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Clive James, recalling his early days in London, noted how he often wore ridiculous shoes. The suit, shirt and tie might be fine, but his shoes were bizarre.
That story recently came to mind when my younger brother was teasing me about a pair of black walking shoes that I own. They have Velcro straps, which he assures me are major signs of geezerdom. I like them because they are comfortable. That too may be a sign of age.
Now I take his criticism with some skepticism. Throughout his life he's worn shoes that appear to have been stolen from - and this will date me - Gladstone Gander; in fact, my older brother and I used to tease him about his Gladstones. This recent criticism may be a form of revenge on his part.
Nonetheless, I am circumspect in my footwear whenever meeting with clients or conducting training. Long experience has taught me that shoes are noticed, particularly by women. Men may only be vaguely aware that another person is on the room, but women will instantly appraise the cost, style, and wisdom of your shoe selection.
Shoes with laces are more serious than those without. Black is more professional than brown. Leather soles beat out all of the more comfortable and cushioned alternatives when it comes to seriousness if not for practicality. Men should wear white shoes, of course, only if they are wearing a white suit or are in some sort of uniform. Black and white shoes may be worn if you are Mel Brooks.
Shoes, like ties, are a subtle indicator of personality and that may be why they evoke emotional responses. I had to smile when a photo of Churchill meeting with his chiefs of staff came my way. The Prime Minister was wearing black shoes with a large zipper up the front.
My kind of guy.
A Bank with a Future
Jack Paar once quipped that the caliber of entertainment has fallen so much that one day we'll go to a theater to watch a man rake leaves.
Ed Driscoll has a video of a bank commercial that might well be in our future.
Getting in Guinness
Dan Ackman on the story behind the Guinness World Records book. An excerpt:
The Guinness book got its start as a volume designed to help settle bar bets. The beer company, which sold the rights to the book in 1992, delivered it to pubs as a promotion for its primary product. A generation ago, the book had the look of an almanac. But in recent years, the book (now owned by Vancouver billionaire Jim Pattison) has contained a lot more color photography -- the 2009 edition has a 3-D spread -- and has become a commercial juggernaut in its own right, selling 3.5 million copies annually, Mr. Glenday says. The book's current look and feel and the persistent repackaging are because "we want people to buy it every year, not every 10 years, like a dictionary."
10 to Avoid
My post on ten phrases you should never say in business is up at U.S. News & World Report.
Friday, September 26, 2008
The ability to think beyond the needs of one's self is a characteristic of the truly civilized person.
Our celebrity culture and many of its enablers in the political punditocracy, however, suggest that the first and last focus should be on Me.
This new mindset declares, "Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what the country can do for you." If a leader is not addressing every problem I encounter from the time I awaken until the time sleep beckons as well as the hours in-between, then that person must not care enough and we all know that caring trumps competence.
What is the single measurement for how much they care? Me!
And that is how government becomes a vending machine.
Don't Debate. Think.
All of the hubbub about the possible postponement of today's presidential debate misses a simple point that the candidates are reluctant to admit.
Senator McCain can say that the debate should be postponed so he and Senator Obama can help work out a solution in Congress. Senator Obama can say that he's on call and that the debate should go on because it is important that the people should see them debate foreign policy.
I take a different tack: The debate should be postponed in order to give these two guys time to think.
"My God! How can that be?" cry the skeptics. "Can't they walk and chew gum at the same time?" The answer, of course, is "Sure, but they can't campaign and adequately sort through the ramifications of this incredibly complicated bail-out package at the same time. If I were advising a client who was facing a similar decision and yet had a packed schedule, my advice would be to carve out a sizable chunk of time to think things through. Yes, they have advisors, but those experts are probably divided and if they aren't then the circle of opinions needs to be widened. Furthermore, in a scenario like this one, few things are as informative as being there.
Is it possible that a president might confront more than one crisis at a time? Certainly, but that doesn't mean that he or she shouldn't devote as much time as possible to one when only one is on the table.
When a supporter of William Jennings Bryan boasted that his candidate made 100 speeches a day, a listener asked, "When does he think?"
This is a time when the candidates would be well advised to follow the mantra of "Fast is slow, slow is fast." This is a mega-decision. It deserves focus.
Lately, I've been battling spammers in the comments section. Since I post frequently, the issue of space is always critical and getting masses of spam comments creates space problems. It is also unfair to readers who wish to post real comments.
I just want you to know that corrective actions are being taken. The entire comments spam biz baffles me. Who would possibly want to click on one of those links?
A few unusual but worthy books you might want to check out:
Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance - and Why They Fall by Amy Chua. A fascinating overview of how various empires rose due to their tolerance, then fell prey to a lack of tolerance which in turn triggered a backlash and a decline.
The Praetorians by Jean Larteguy. This insightful novel about French paratroopers in the Algerian war may be hard to find, but it's worth your time.
One Man's America: The Pleasures and Provocations of Our Singular Nation by George F. Will. You may not embrace all of his opinions - I often think George F. Will needs to be critiqued by George F. Will - but when he is clicking there is no one who can touch him.
Hitler & Churchill: Secrets of Leadership by Andrew Roberts. Open this book at any page and you'll find something of interest. Well-written and yes, it can be applied to the workplace.
The Nice versus The Good
As someone who has spent a fair amount of time on campuses over the past 20 years, I am happy to report that today's gifted students are, for the most part, nice. They are not racist, sexist or homophobic. They want to be generous to those who are less fortunate. They say please and thank you.
But being nice is not being good. Living a nice life is not living a good life. One of the special tasks in the education of the gifted is to steep them in the study of what good means--good as it applies to virtue, and as a way of thinking about how to live a human life.
Read the rest of Charles Murray's article here.
Quote of the Day
Be really reserved with everybody, and seemingly reserved with nobody; for it is disagreeable to seem reserved, and dangerous not to be.
- Lord Chesterfield
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Crisis. Not Disaster.
Bravo to Geoff Colvin for his article in Fortune on the current financial crisis.
An excerpt from Colvin's article:
The most troubling element of what we're reading and hearing is the constant references to the Great Depression. The error is in forgetting that all real-world situations are dynamic. The Depression itself was a dynamic sequence. It wouldn't have happened if the Fed hadn't insanely tightened credit in response to the stock market crash, rather than the correct policy of easing interest rates. And it wouldn't have happened if Congress hadn't clamped down on trade through the Smoot-Hawley bill.
Those things aren't happening this time. Instead, Congress is apparently on the road to unfreezing the credit markets. More important, America is a nation of 300 million resourceful people who will find opportunities in the current situation that you and I cannot imagine.
Nitwittery Update: Civilized is Uncivil
Eclecticity, after dispensing with My Little Pony, points to an article from the Telegraph about the efforts of the British Sociological Association - and I bet their meetings are a lot of laughs - to ban such terms as brainstorm, Old Masters, immigrants, the elderly, and civilized.
How these people get dressed in the morning is beyond me.
When Wellness Goes Too Far
An HR manager recently told me that her organization no longer provides donuts during the breaks at its training sessions. Fruit, juice, and granola bars are now the fare. She also mentioned hearing about some firms that no longer serve coffee because caffeine is addictive.
I'm not so sure if many granola bars are all that different from candy bars, but if this shift toward leaner and healthier goodies comes to a vote, put me down as a "No!"
It's not that I go for the donuts at conferences or meetings, but many people do and shouldn't they have the choice? This "let me decide what's is healthiest for you" attitude has whiffs of a nanny state. Aside from being puritanically obnoxious, it also may not be all that healthy. Some studies conclude that coffee has health benefits and ever since Atkins many of us think twice about the merits of some grains. We don't even need to get into the issue of fruit and sugar.
There would be no offense if the donuts had been stopped because they were too expensive, too much of a hassle, or no one was eating them. Removing them because people are not trusted to make the proper food choices is mildly insulting.
Do You Want Fries with That Take-Over?
Many of our newest Team members on the griddle station, or at the Fry-O-Lator, have come to us from senior positions in the old-line Wall Street firm of Lehman Brothers, which recently experienced its own financial crisis. For those of our employees who are confused about the turbulence in the financial markets, we suggest you reach out to these new Team members for a full explanation. During your break.
Read the rest of Rob Long on the federal take-over of McDonald's.
Quote of the Day
Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.
- Samuel Butler
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Management Free Form
We messed up that last project but let's not talk about it with the boss because Lord knows how he/she/it will react so the wise guys say to just move on and hope that nothing was noticed and that the blame will drift off to some other department which is probably hoping that the blame for their blunders comes our way, the weasels, so if anything sticks to them it serves them right for not being team players and if the question is raised why didn't we do anything we can reply that we sent out a memo or held a staff meeting or sent someone off to be trained and that should quiet them down although we all know that those actions will do nothing other than quiet them down, at least for a while, and when we recruit let's act normal during the interview and then when the new fish has been here for three days we can start to let the word out about how Ed is crazier than a loon and Maria is a back-stabber and how we all hate the boss even though we didn't act that way while on the oral board because we needed someone else in here to help do the work as the boss likes teams so we form a lot of them and give them special names like Tigers and Bears and make sure they are diverse and they are diverse alright except the main diversity is between the two people who do most of the work and the rest who can barely show up for meetings and the one psycho who actively tries to sabotage the effort so you might think that we'd want to fire anyone who is not pitching in and that would be true unless we like the person or the lawyers tell us we'll have to document and document - they don't have to work with the jerk - until the person is three hours short of retirement and then why would you want to fire someone with that much seniority and besides it might trigger an age discrimination case, besides the oaf probably won't stay that long anyway because everyone's looking around and if you dress more than casual you can bet the jokers in the elevator will ask if you've got an interview today, which is no surprise because people talk about how much better things are elsewhere and the company is always talking up its quality program but we've caught on that the people who work the hardest just get more work and are paid about the same as the slugs and so we figure that all that quality talk must be another flavor of the month and that in no time the CEO will be into some other best-seller he read on the way to Hawaii - ha! - we're not buying any of that smoke because if you haven't noticed we're pretty street savvy and know all the moves or think we do and that's good enough.
Real Box Office
John Podhoretz notes that box office winners are not always what they appear. An excerpt:
Mamma Mia! has earned $140 million in the United States, and will probably finish its run in the theaters with an overall gross of $160-$175 million. Even more impressive, its worldwide gross is $300 million. So, by the time it hits DVD, it will have made somewhere around $550 million, or 10 times its production cost of $52 million. By contrast, The Dark Knight will earn $1 billion worldwide, dwarfing Mamma Mia! Except that The Dark Knight cost just shy of $200 million, which means that it will have earned five times its production cost. Strictly as a matter of return on investment, Mamma Mia! will prove to be one of the most profitable movies ever made.
Best of Seth Godin
Seth Godin has listed his best blog posts of the past two years.
Thermometer: Ten Degrees of Illness
Your organization is ill to the extent to which it honors and rewards:
- Turf warriors.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Book Review: The New Gold Standard
Over the past few months, I've been reading a lot of books on customer service.
Joseph A. Michelli's The New Gold Standard, which describes how The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company has created a culture of extraordinary customer service, is an enjoyable reminder of a basic truth.
That truth is simple: Many organizations have passed out cards with slogans or messages urging staff members to attend to customer concerns. Michelli examines, however, how The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company goes far beyond a few simple gestures and quick fixes to create daily reminders of their commitment. With the motto, "Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen," The Ritz-Carlton folks have daily line-ups to discuss and inspire customer service. Although such meetings are common in the food and beverage industry where the chef may let the wait staff sample the evening's special, Ritz-Carlton expanded the practice to other departments. Do all of them work? No, but they serve as a continuing reminder of the significance of customer service and they score enough to make a difference.
That's just one of their steps. The main reason for the success of their program rests in the company's attention to its employees. Unhappy and poorly trained employees do not provide excellent customer service. Michelli explores how Ritz-Carlton recruits, develops, and retains effective people. The overall goal is the creation of trust and that, in turn, lends meaning to all of the talk about the importance of the customer. If that trust were absent, the Ritz-Carlton's gold standard would be tarnished and hollow.
That's why The New Gold Standard is more of a management book than a customer service guide. Manage effectively first and the other actions will be credible if you have the will to make such service a centerpiece of your organization.
Cool Tools has the word on Heelys, just the right footwear for your big entrance at the board meeting.
This is the sort of blunder that can happen to any candidate, but I have a feeling it would have received a tad more press attention if Sarah Palin had made it.
The New Establishment
Thanks to their criticism, the plan will be pinned back. Oversight will be put in place. But the plan will probably not be stopped. The markets would tank. There is a hunger for stability, which only the Treasury and the Fed can provide.
So we have arrived at one of those moments. The global financial turmoil has pulled nearly everybody out of their normal ideological categories. The pressure of reality has compelled new thinking about the relationship between government and the economy. And lo and behold, a new center and a new establishment is emerging.
Read the rest of David Brooks on the financial fix.
Super Mario Skit
These college students obviously had a lot of time on their hands.
[HT: Hilary Wade]
Prejudices for a powerful presentation:
- Authentic is better than smooth.
- Movement is better than standing still.
- No humor is better than weak humor.
- Variety is better than monotone.
- Fast is better than slow.
- Interruptions are better than delayed questions.
- Case discussion is better than straight lecture.
- Many short breaks are better than a few longer ones.
- No visual aids are better than poor visual aids.
- Bright light is better than dimmed lighting.
- Old fashioned transparencies are better than glitzy PowerPoint.
- Leaving them a little hungry for information is better than leaving them stuffed.
Quote of the Day
Consider your origins: you were not made to live as brutes but to follow virtue and knowledge.
- Dante Alighieri
Monday, September 22, 2008
The Journal of Wisdom
I once knew a very wise woman who, being of advanced age, chose to pass on some advice.
She said that once a year, she would write in a journal what she'd learned about life. The lessons were not confined to what had happened in the past twelve months. Sometimes, she would discover an insight into a matter that she'd pondered for years.
Since I was quite young and very busy, I muttered some cautious response about the idea being interesting and then went on with my life.
As I grew older, her advice kept returning. I recall her noting that she would review her previous entries to see how her views had changed. That too is a treasure I failed to preserve although I'm certain that such a review would be humbling indeed.
Much of life is rediscovering lessons that we once thought would be unforgettable. Another portion is revising ones we regarded as solidly grounded. We so often tackle those tasks in a haphazard manner. For a very long life, she was addressing them systematically.
I have no doubt that she gained far more than those of us who use a less disciplined approach.
As you've noticed, I'm having bizarre Blogger problems that are hindering posting.
We've also had a problem with spammers leaving comments that are designed to consume space.Bear with me. We're working on it.
If this post shows up, that's a good sign.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
A soundtrack to make you smile.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Management as Alchemy
Recently, I was reading about a management writer who regarded the bulk of management theories as the modern equivalent of alchemy. He felt that few, if any, of the widely-praised concepts were solidly grounded in research.
I confess to having a sizable amount of sympathy with his position.
Which raises this question: Which management and/or leadership books would you regard as hocus-pocus?
Miscellaneous and Fast
Quote of the Day
If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the sea.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Thursday, September 18, 2008
The trailer for a marvelous film that deserved and still deserves much greater exposure: Barcelona.
Rewards between the Lines
The newspapers often carry vivid reminders of the management rule: "That which is rewarded gets done."
- Measure success by the number of mortgages created and you'll get a lot of questionable loans.
- Measure success by how much the stock rises and you see an emphasis on short-term efforts to drive up the stock.
- Measure nondiscrimination by hiring results instead of genuine opportunity and you'll get numbers and discrimination.
- Stress the bottom line and you'll inadvertently reward "the end justifies the means" reasoning.
- Reward pre-crisis denial and you'll get crisis.
The Iron Duke
Back by popular demand:
MESSAGE FROM THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON TO THE BRITISH FOREIGN OFFICE IN LONDON--written from Central Spain, August 1812
Whilst marching from Portugal to a position which commands the approach to Madrid and the French forces, my officers have been diligently complying with your requests which have been sent by H.M. ship from London to Lisbon and thence by dispatch to our headquarters. We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles, and all manner of sundry items for which His Majesty's Government holds me accountable. I have dispatched reports on the character, wit, and spleen of every officer. Each item and every farthing has been accounted for, with two regrettable exceptions for which I beg your indulgence. Unfortunately the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains unaccounted for in one infantry battalion's petty cash and there has been a hideous confusion as to the number of jars of raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm in western Spain. This reprehensible carelessness may be related to the pressure of circumstance, since we are war with France, a fact which may come as a bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in Whitehall. This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty's Government so that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over these barren plains. I construe that perforce it must be one of two alternative duties, as given below. I shall pursue either one with the best of my ability, but I cannot do both:
1. To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London or perchance,
2. To see to it that the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain.
Your most obedient servant,
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Sowell on Identity
During decades of researching racial and ethnic groups in countries around the world — with special attention to those who began in poverty and then rose to prosperity — I have yet to find one so preoccupied with tribalistic identity as to want to maintain solidarity with all members of their group, regardless of what they do or how they do it.
Any group that rises has to have norms, and that means repudiating those who violate those norms, if you are serious. Blind tribalism means letting the lowest common denominator determine the norms and the fate of the whole group.
Read the rest of Thomas Sowell here.
We Shook Hands On It
I can think of two times over the past few years in which I've shaken hands with someone over an agreement and then the person has broken the deal. Nothing was in writing and there was no major harm done by their failure to come through, but it is something I'll place on the minus side of their ledger.
One of my business partners, Lou Rodarte, recalls his father purchasing a car with a promise and a handshake. I had lunch recently with a man who recounted how in rural Arizona, where a cattleman was as good as his word, sizable numbers of cattle were sold over the phone without a single piece of paper being exchanged. Not even a handshake was required.
The idea behind the handshake was that it sealed the deal. It was symbolic of an agreement between people of honor and not to be taken lightly.
I can understand the necessity for written contracts and this is not a plea to return to the world of buggy whips. We've lost something, however, with the diminishment of the less formal. An implicit lack of trust often accompanies the necessity to get everything in writing.
Quote of the Day
All men and women are born, live, suffer, and die; what distinguishes us one from another is our dreams, whether they be dreams about worldly or unworldly things, and what we do to make them come about. . . . We do not choose to be born. We do not choose our parents. We do not choose our historical epoch, the country of our birth, or the immediate circumstances of our upbringing. We do not, most of us, choose to die; nor do we choose the time and conditions of our death. But within this realm of choicelessness, we do choose how we live.
- Joseph Epstein
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Fannie Mae Memories
A 2002 Business Week interview with Fannie Mae's Jamie Gorelick.
When Free Doesn't Work
I once served as the liaison for a couple of mayors to a committee promoting the employment of people with disabilities. The committee decided to sponsor a workshop with a group of distinguished speakers. We scheduled a lawyer to discuss the anti-discrimination laws, an architect to describe how to make workplaces accessible, and a rehabilitation engineer to reveal creative ways to accommodate disabled workers.
And in order to draw a crowd, we didn't charge a dime.
The result? A very small turn-out.
Two months later, we held the same workshop with the same speakers only that time there was an attendance fee. We packed the room.
Now it is possible that the second notice finally nudged people into attending, but I don't think that was the deciding factor. It was the price. When people saw the "Free to the public" label, many of them thought, "It must not be that good." When we tacked on an admission fee, they began to take us seriously.
As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said about the law, it's based on experience more than on logic. There are times when one of our worst enemies is an excessive application of logic. We had our logic, but the audience had its own.
Early Adopters, Porn, and Bob Crane
Rob Long looks at the impact of porn on the video business and then leaps to an analysis of what's going on in Hollywood. An excerpt:
What’s down are production costs, a consequence of the fragmented, tighter margin business. In other words, what’s going on in the pornography business is what’s going to be going on in the rest of the entertainment industry in two years: costs pushed down; online distribution; individual brands eclipsing studio brands, the slow collapse of the big players as the smaller, more nimble players rise. Pornography has always been a niche business, if you’ll forgive the pun. Now, Hollywood is following suit.
I'm still reading and enjoying Transmission by Hari Kunzru, a humorous novel about an Indian computer programmer who comes to the United States and, in an odd ploy to regain a job, releases a computer virus. Light, fun, and filled with darts such as:
"I am aware of your visa situation, Mr. Mehta, but as I understand it you're still technically employed by Databodies. In reality, Virugenix has no obligations to you. It is only because we believe that all our employees, even those on freelance consultancy contracts, should benefit from harmonious termination experiences that my presence here was mandated at all, Mr. Mehta. I hold a diploma in severance scenario planning. I assure you that this encounter has been designed to be as painless for you as possible."
Quote of the Day
Conservatives are always looking for converts, whereas liberals are always looking for heretics.
- Michael Kinsley
Monday, September 15, 2008
I once gave a lengthy deposition in a law case about an investigation that I'd worked on years earlier. Although the case was settled, the experience was an interesting illustration of the limits of memory.
The most jarring part was how much I recalled after the deposition. Various details would come to mind and I would wonder, "Why didn't you recall those before or during the deposition?"
My unspoken answer was my mind needed some time to draw things out of memory's attic and hall closet. The bad news, of course, is that had the case gone to trial, my sudden keen recollection would have been viewed as a suspicious and convenient revision. I can honestly affirm, however, that the new version involved no attempt to mislead.
That's one reason why I've encouraged clients to hold two exit interviews: one shortly before the employee leaves in order to catch anything that's hot and another a few months later, after the person has had a chance to reflect on matters.
Some events - like some people - become clearer as we move away from them.
Old joke: The masochist says, "Beat me! Beat me!" and the sadist replies, "Later."
I recalled that while reviewing the case of a work team that was befuddled by - and this is a strictly non-professional opinion - a masochist.
The individual would complain. In response, the supervisor and others would rush about to make matters right and then, just when all seemed to be well, the individual would do something that would destroy all progress. The team was busily bailing water out of the boat while the masochist was drilling holes.
It finally struck them that their colleague, despite all claims to the contrary, enjoyed the problem. Any attempts at resolution would be insufficient because the problem they were tackling was the wrong one.
All of which leads to a question to consider early on in any problem-solving exercise: Do all of the participants truly want a solution?
Starting the Week: Laughton
They don't make them like this any more:
Charles Laughton knows how to make an entrance in Hobson's Choice.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Rob Long tells about a friend in the television biz who made a terrible mistake.
No Earth-Destroying Black Hole Today. Come Back Tomorrow.
Michio Kaku on supercolliders and media hype. An excerpt:
Today, the leading (and only) candidate for this fabled theory of everything is called "string theory," which is what I do for for a living. Our visible universe, according to this theory, represents only the lowest vibration of tiny vibrating strings. The LHC might find something called "sparticles," or super particles, which represent higher vibrations of the string. If so, the LHC might even verify the existence of higher dimensions of space-time, which would truly be an earth-shaking discovery.
Wink Wink Quotas?
Heather MacDonald believes that UCLA is using a covert quota system in its college admissions. An excerpt:
Abrams had assured the black community that UCLA would increase its black admissions rate, and sure enough, holistic review did just that. For 2006-07, the last year under the old system, UCLA admitted 250 black students; the next year, it admitted 407.
The average combined SAT score for black admits dropped 45 points to a level about 300 points lower than the average among white and Asian admissions, according to a report by Groseclose. Blacks' chances of admission rose from 11.5% to 16.5%, while that of Vietnamese students, who tend to come from poorer households, dropped from 28.6% to 21.4%.
ABC's Creative Editing
Saturday, September 13, 2008
New Comedy Team: Gates and Seinfeld.
Church of the Customer blog discusses the new ad campaign with Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld.
Watch the video and decide if it's clever, so-so, or condescending.
I'm ashamed to admit that I've completely missed the work of Stephen Potter as well as this article where Joseph Epstein gives a look . An excerpt:
Stephen Potter's own description of his career before writing his -manship books runs: "Failed academic lecturer, failed novelist, failed literary biographer, reasonable compiler [of anthologies], reasonable educational pamphleteer, failed editor, failed book critic, failed rowing blue . . ." He also wrote a play, which, he reports, "got as far as a read-through by a Sunday Society and is perhaps the only play which died on the first rehearsal."
A Villa for a Euro
Psst! Want Sicilian villas with a spectacular view of the Mediterranean? They’re yours for just one euro - as long as you restore the homes, which were abandoned after an earthquake 40 years ago....
Read the rest of the Neatorama story here.
It sounds like Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House meets The Secret of Santa Vittoria.
My post on "The Leader" is up at U.S. News & World Report.
Pie in the Mail
What civilization has needed: a mail-order pie company.
Quote of the Day
Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.
- William James
Friday, September 12, 2008
As hurricane Ike rolls across the Gulf of Mexico, check out this informative site.
[HT: Lou Rodarte ]
Miscellaneous and Fast
- Leezza! Leezza! Costa Tsiokos is dreaming of a tender moment in Tripoli.
- Law Professor Ann Althouse looks at politicians and charity.
- Noted employment attorney John Phillips looks at genes and sexual harassment.
- Wally Bock reminds us that someone has to walk the point.
- Scott McArthur, while working in Brussels, found the parking space near the exits were reserved for women.
- Political Calculations looks at thwarted terror attacks.
- Must reading: Tim Berry's tale of a lawyer and some negotiations.
- Jim Stroup examines exemplars of evil.
- Seth Godin on how to listen to customers.
- Best Wishes: Jenn Barnes, Lance Haun, and Laurie Ruettimann have created a new HR-related blog.
- Diesel Blues: A 65 mpg Ford we won't see in the USA.
Lincoln's Doctor's Dog
Reasoning from the knowledge that books on the American Civil War, doctors, and dogs usually sell well, Bennett Cerf once noted that a guaranteed best-seller would be titled "Lincoln's Doctor's Dog."
Ruling out the pornographic, I wonder what the right blog post title would be to attract massive numbers of hits. One possible contender:
"Indian Bride Cures Cancer in China"
Best Qualified But
You may have been the best qualified applicant, but. . .
- They felt they owed the job to another person.
- They have a long acquaintance with an inside applicant and believe they'll have a better sense of how that person will handle the job.
- Your application simply arrived at the wrong time. If it had been a month earlier or later, your skills would have been far more attractive.
- Your brilliance came through in the interview. Unfortunately, they believe someone that smart might be disruptive.
- There is one team member who is either so much like you or so much unlike you that they are afraid of putting the two of you together.
- They have a rigid and illogical view of what the successful applicant should resemble and you don't fit the mode.
Quote of the Day
Manners are especially the need of the plain. The pretty can get away with anything.
- Evelyn Waugh
Thursday, September 11, 2008
John Renehan joined the military and confused some of his friends. An excerpt from the City Journal article:
No, at the end of the day, the issue was simply that I had joined the military. And that act was just too foreign for some in my old circles to recognize as having arisen from the normal range of motivations—chosen as one might choose to go back to school, or perform charity work, or embark on any other course that might prove rewarding. In their cosmopolitan world—my former and sometime world—wartime stints in the military just aren’t done. Not when one has other options—which everyone in that world always has.
The X & Y Factor
Business Week: When boomers work for Gen X and Gen Y.
Thoughts to Ponder on September 11
No people in history have ever survived who thought they could protect their freedom by making themselves inoffensive to their enemies.
- Dean Acheson and Paul Nitze
We are hated not for what we have done to others, but for what we have done for ourselves. The example of our success is humiliating and bitter to all those who cling to traditions our power reveals as inadequate.
- Ralph Peters
Quote of the Day
Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point.
- C. S. Lewis
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Rescue at Sea
A story to improve your day: To infinity and beyond.
A team of UC Irvine scientists has been awarded a $4 million grant from the U.S. Army Research Office to study the neuroscientific and signal-processing foundations of synthetic telepathy.
The brain-computer interface would use a noninvasive brain imaging technology like electroencephalography (the measurement of electrical activity produced by the brain as recorded from electrodes placed on the scalp) to let people communicate thoughts to each other. For example, a soldier would “think” a message to be transmitted and a computer-based speech recognition system would decode the EEG signals. The decoded thoughts, in essence translated brain waves, are transmitted using a system that points in the direction of the intended target.
Read the rest of Jeff Bardin's post here.
Who Should Go to College?
Charles Murray, who has a recent book out on the subject, asks whether too many people are going to college. An excerpt from The American article:
We should look at the kind of work that goes into acquiring a liberal education at the college level in the same way that we look at the grueling apprenticeship that goes into becoming a master chef: something that understandably attracts only a few people. Most students at today’s colleges choose not to take the courses that go into a liberal education because the capabilities they want to develop lie elsewhere. These students are not lazy, any more than students who don’t want to spend hours learning how to chop carrots into a perfect eighth-inch dice are lazy. A liberal education just doesn’t make sense for them.
10 Reasons Used to Sink Good Ideas
- It's been done before.
- It hasn't been done before and that should be a warning.
- Smarter people than you have decided not to do it.
- It will take too much time.
- It will cost too much.
- You might be embarrassed.
- This sort of thing is probably already in the works elsewhere.
- Nobody will want it.
- It's impossible to do.
- You won't be able to handle success.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Miscellaneous and Fast
- Oxymoron Alert! A collection of entertaining airline safety videos.
- And speaking of air flights, don't miss author, consultant, and professor Nicholas Bate's take on how to think like a long-distance airline pilot.
- One of our first city slickers: Benjamin Franklin.
- Seth Godin's Purple Cow may have entered the presidential campaign. Check out David Brooks on how he would advise the candidates.
- Click and scroll down for one of the more interesting environmental slogans out there.
- At last! A site to find out where in the world your surname is popular. [HT: Neatorama ]
- Business history: Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge gives some links.
Paradox of Diversity
Oren Harari takes on the paradox of diversity in this post and in this one. An excerpt:
By the way, I recognize, like the reader, that I am playing around with a political Pandora’s box, and that’s why I’m moving on to other subjects starting next week! But before I do, consider one last thought: I suspect that a team that has high-talent members with unconventionally diverse styles and mental models and a common commitment to audacious goals would be more likely to succeed than a team that simply fits conventional definitions of "diversity". Steve Jobs, in describing the early Macintosh breakthroughs, said: "I think part of what made Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians, and poets, and artists, and zoologists, and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world."
The Uses of Twitter
Rachael King, writing in Business Week, on how some companies use Twitter to boost their brands and to learn what's being said about them. An excerpt:
Begun in 2006, Twitter is a pioneer of microblogging, a way for users to keep others informed of their current status by way of text messaging, instant messaging, e-mail, or the Web. Other services that have followed suit include Jaiku, Pownce, FriendFeed, and Plurk. At this stage, many brands are sticking to Twitter, which has amassed a larger number of users. While Twitter doesn't release exact numbers, estimates range from 1 million to 3 million users.
Quote of the Day
It is all right your saying you do not need other people, but there are a lot of people who need you.
- Sherwood Anderson
Monday, September 08, 2008
The crew eventually divided into two camps, Kiley says. Two men in the boat started arguing with and assaulting the others. They were falling apart emotionally and physically.
Then the crew began to die. Two men couldn't take their thirst anymore and drank salt water. They became delusional and started hallucinating. Both of them calmly slid off the dinghy into a sea full of sharks, convinced they were going to the store for cigarettes. They were killed by sharks -- one right underneath Kiley's dinghy, she says.
Read the rest of the CNN report on lessons of miraculous survivors.
Yurth: Where you can have a global conversation and put yourself on the map.
This is only the beginning.
Job Search Danger Zones
Writing in Fortune, Anne Fisher gives some tips on how to avoid sabotaging your job hunt. An excerpt:
Stop worrying about being selected. Easier said than done, of course, especially if you've been out of work for a while and the bills are piling up. But "wanting to be chosen by an employer sometimes makes us talk ourselves into a situation we may not have taken if we were thinking more clearly," Brown-Volkman observes. "This is a recipe for disaster."
Bock: Leadership Reading
Check out Wally Bock's latest collection of leadership posts. Good stuff.
[I immediately went to the Starbucks one. Old habits die hard.]
This Wall Street Journal article on a new book about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance sparked a lot of memories, but one stood out:
I didn't swoon over the original book.
A friend had recommended it. As a cyclist, he enjoyed many of the descriptions of the open road. I could understand those passages. The overall thrust of the book was what I missed. Even back then, I felt the descriptions of the relationship with the son were a tad too personal to put in a book, but that was a side-issue. The main irritation came from being baffled about what made the book such a big seller.
This may, of course, be my fault. You read a book at one point and miss the beauty that is found upon a second reading. I may give it another try although there is the lingering suspicion that "Zen and the Art..." was always the beneficiary of media-generated hype; a more sophisticated version of "Love is never having to say you are sorry."
If you saw something deeper, I sincerely would like to know what it is.
When Receiving an Assignment
Seven questions to ask when receiving an assignment:
- What is the exact mission?
- What are the key deadlines?
- What resources are available?
- Do I have direct access to those resources?
- What are the anticipated downsides?
- With which other parts of the organization do I need to coordinate?
- Where do we hope to be when this assignment is completed?
Quote of the Day
When a man believes that any stick will do, he at once picks up a boomerang.
- G. K. Chesterton
Sunday, September 07, 2008
From Nothing to Everything: Different Takes on Terrorism
Joseph Conrad's "The Secret Agent" (1907), with its dank crew of self-righteous sociopaths, is horribly prescient. Here we find (for example) the observation that merely to erect a building is to create a new vulnerability; here we find a revolutionist observing that the power of life is far, far weaker than the power of death. In his reading of the terrorist psyche, Conrad persistently stresses the qualities of vanity and sloth -- i.e., the desire for maximum distinction with minimum endeavor. In other words, the need to make an impression is overwhelming, and a negative impression is much more easily achieved than a positive. In our era, this translates into a thirst for fame. Probably no one under 30 can fully grasp it, but fame has become a kind of religion -- the opium, and now the angel dust, of the mass individual.
Read the rest of Martin Amis on terrorism.
[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]
The moment that you think the main purpose of your group is so well established and accepted that to emphasize it is to restate the obvious is a dangerous moment indeed.
Your organization's mission must be reviewed frequently. People forget. Turf wars are easily justified. Details overwhelm the central reason for the organization's life. Individuals and teams wander from the main trail and into the jungle.
The mission must be the mantra. All should know and employ it as a benchmark when determining the propriety of actions so time is not squandered on side matters.
To make it memorable, it should be brief and easily recalled. Far too many mission statements are lengthy and arcane. They are quickly posted in the conference room and just as quickly forgotten. Many are mocked by employees who see the difference between what is proclaimed and what is practiced.
That suggests another benefit of frequent reviews of the mission: To root out hypocrisy.
Saturday, September 06, 2008
Siegel's Top Five
Fred Siegel gives his top five list of books about presidential administrations.
I'm not sure about the others but The Kennedy Promise is insightful.
A Traveling Writer
When Color is Less
Writing in City Journal, Stefan Kanfer makes an argument for black-and-white films. An excerpt:
Some two decades ago, Ted Turner came up with one of his most dubious schemes. To entice the young back into the tent, he ordered minions to banish B&W films by colorizing them. “Those fools!” Billy Wilder exploded. “Do they really think that colorization will make The Informer any better? Or Citizen Kane or Casablanca? Or do they hope to palm off some of the old stinkers by dipping them in 31 flavors?” Other directors added their own catcalls. “To change someone’s work without any regard to his wishes shows a total contempt for film, for the director, and for the public,” said Woody Allen. (Allen had deliberately rejected color when he made Stardust Memories and Manhattan “because the city photographs so well in black-and-white. And New York is so familiar to me in black-and-white, probably because of growing up with the tabloids.”) Elliot Silverstein, an officer of the Directors Guild of America, wasted no time with niceties: Turner’s people were “lifting their legs on people’s work.” And when Orson Welles heard that Kane might be colorized, he growled: “Keep Ted Turner and his damned Crayolas off of my picture.”