Sunday, November 30, 2008

Carnival of HR

The ever-creative Rowan Manahan, assisted by some able cooks, provides a feast at the Carnival of HR.


I understand that many people nowadays do not wear wrist watches but instead get the time from their cell phones.

Since I sometimes hide from my cell phone, I doubt if I'll adopt that practice.

I once knew an executive who never wore a watch and did not, in those days, have a cell phone. She relied upon her staff and wall clocks to keep her on schedule. They did a poor job of it since she was often late to meetings. That habit tended to detract from the loose attraction of her renegade practice. Being a rebel is one thing; making others wait is another.

The one compromise that I've made in her direction is to avoid digital watches. I don't want the exact time. A rough approximation will do; one that can be obtained at a quick glance. Since I coach executives and managers, my office has clocks tucked in odd places so I can get a sense of when a session needs to be wrapped up. They are placed so the client cannot see them because I don't want clients to worry about the time. That's my job.

I recall that Napoleon claimed the Austrians lost a battle because they didn't know the power of five minutes. It is jarring to meet people who seem to have no sense of time; who can speak for 15 minutes and swear they thought it was only five.

They might need to go digital.

Gift Guide

I found this Office Gift Guide from Fortune to have a certain Marie Antoinette quality.

$700 for a cocktail shaker?

Not the Cold War

Mark Steyn on the enemy:

It’s missing the point to get into debates about whether this is the “Deccan Mujahideen” or the ISI or al-Qaeda or Lashkar-e-Taiba. That’s a reductive argument. It could be all or none of them. The ideology has been so successfully seeded around the world that nobody needs a memo from corporate HQ to act: There are so many of these subgroups and individuals that they intersect across the planet in a million different ways. It’s not the Cold War, with a small network of deep sleepers being directly controlled by Moscow. There are no membership cards, only an ideology. That’s what has radicalized hitherto moderate Muslim communities from Indonesia to the Central Asian stans to Yorkshire, and coopted what started out as more or less conventional nationalist struggles in the Caucasus and the Balkans into mere tentacles of the global jihad.

Quote of the Day

Cleverness is not wisdom.

- Euripides

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Jim Stroup at Managing Leadership has some good thoughts for this Thanksgiving weekend and far, far beyond.

Sorting Out the Mumbai Attacks

Foreign Policy blog notes the contradictory accounts of the Mumbai attacks. An excerpt:

To give you an idea of how disparate the accounts can be, the Times names the skipper of this purloined vessel as Amarjit Singh, while The Hindu says his name was Balwant Tandel. Rediff says there were two fishing boats. The Times says the terrorists left from "an isolated creek near Karachi," while Rediff reports that "Intelligence Bureau officials are trying to verify if the terrorists came in through the Persian Gulf." Rediff also mentions that its information comes from the interrogation of "Abu Ismail," while according to the Times a terrorist named "Ismail" was killed at Girgaum Chowpaty, a local beach.

Nanny State Update: Flip-Flops for Drunks

This story from Britain does, as Mark Steyn has noted, sound like an article from The Onion:

Drunk women who stagger about in high heels are to be protected - at public expense - from twisting their ankles.

They will be handed flip-flops to wear by police outside nightclubs as they wend their way home.
The scheme is part of a £30,000 drive by police and councillors to prevent 'alcohol-related harm'.

Looking for Blame in All the Wrong Places

When it comes to problems in organizations, there are more detectives than consultants.

Something goes wrong and the search is on for a culprit. The "Who done it?" process begins. Was it someone who is malicious or poorly trained? Who failed to get the word about the such-and-such policy? And out of the ones who screwed up, who is more to blame? Jack or Maria?

In my experience, the real culprit is often the organization. The organization has formally or informally adopted policies and practices that produce dysfunctional results. It is getting the results that, given the situation, one would reasonably expect. Finding that problem, however, is more complicated and less emotionally satisfying than naming a person, inflicting punishment, issuing warnings, and moving on. Fixing it will require more work and certainly much more introspection. It may even require that upper management assume some responsibility.

Second to the organization in the list of overlooked suspects is the relationship. Jack and Maria are fine when taken as individuals but put them together and problems ensue. Trying to hold one more accountable than the other misses the source of the difficulties. Holding them both accountable for the relationship is more to the point. The employer is not simply hiring individual operators but is also hiring relationships. Regardless of individual brilliance or skills, a person who is unable to maintain positive relationships is not productive and indeed may be pulling down the effectiveness of the entire team.

Are there times when one person is to blame? Sure, but employers should also be prepared to examine the organization and the relationships.

The eHarmony Settlement

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Dale Buss looks at the settlement in the eHarmony case. An excerpt:

So over the past three years, eHarmony has spent millions of dollars battling attempts by homosexual litigants to force it to cater to them. A California judge has just classified a lesbian's suit against eHarmony as a class action. And the company feared actions in more than a dozen other states where homosexuals are protected from discrimination.

"It's a very difficult area, and you can never be sure if you can take cases all the way to the Supreme Court," said Ted Olson, former U.S. solicitor general and now eHarmony's chief outside counsel. In addition to expressing uncertainty about any outcome in court, Mr. Olson said: "At some point a company has to decide if its resources can be used all the way to the end of the line."

Quote of the Day

You may not be interested in war but war is interested in you.

- Leon Trotsky

Friday, November 28, 2008

Cybercrime Trends

CSO has an interview on a Symantec report about the rise in cybercrime. An excerpt:

Who are the criminals these days and where are they located?

I think the popular consensus is these are kids in the basement that are bored: a 14-year-old teen hacker. That is not the case. That is really not the case. We looked at differences in Eastern Europe, Russia and North America in terms of the type of criminal we are talking about. In Eastern Europe and Russia it's much more organized, much more tightly knit. In North America, it's a looser association.

What is interesting is the groups have to work in concert together. Eastern Europeans and Russians are more into producing physical materials, like fake credit cards or ATM cards. But in order to get that they have to work with counterparts in North America to get access to things like North American banks or ATMs. So in that need to work together, we see a sort of a delineation of duties, like in any company. You've got the guy who is the phishing specialist, the guy who is the spam specialist or the malicious code specialist, all working together to have this large distribution network to get threats out there and gather info needed to steal things like credit card numbers.

Volt and More

Business Week examines some cars that may save the automobile industry.

Top 7 American Civil War-Era Novels

Not all of these novels take place during the American Civil War. Some are mainly in the aftermath or in the years preceding the war. All are excellent. Please feel free to add those I've missed.

  1. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.

  2. Soul Catcher by Michael White.

  3. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.

  4. The Year of Jubilo by Howard Bahr.

  5. Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor.

  6. Confederates by Thomas Keneally.

  7. Lincoln by Gore Vidal.

Quote of the Day

Inanimate objects are classified scientifically into three major categories - those that don't work, those that break down and those that get lost.

- Russell Baker

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Jimmy and Monty

How to make an entrance: Jimmy Durante and Monty Woolley in The Man Who Came to Dinner.

"I can feel your hot blood pumping through your varicose veins."

Miscellaneous and Fast

Max Boot is impressed by the Obama national security team.

Thinking cars: Jalopnik lists the ten biggest turkeys.

Researcher discovers
the world's shortest joke.

A 1908 poster for
a play about Edgar Allen Poe.

On this day:
In 1095 Pope Urban II ordered the first Crusade.

When life is a novel: A retirement party.

Daniel Duane on The Great Las Vegas Steak Project.

Eagle Optics
knows binoculars.

William Butler Yeats: When You are Old.

Paul Graham on why to start a startup in a bad economy.


Feast, n. A festival. A religious celebration usually signalized by gluttony and drunkenness, frequently in honor of some holy person distinguished for abstemiousness. In the Roman Catholic Church feasts are "movable" and "immovable," but the celebrants are uniformly immovable until they are full. In their earliest development these entertainments took the form of feasts for the dead; such were held by the Greeks, under the name Nemeseia, by the Aztecs and Peruvians, as in modern times they are popular with the Chinese; though it is believed that the ancient dead, like the modern, were light eaters. Among the many feasts of the Romans was the Novemdiale, which was held, according to Livy, whenever stones fell from heaven.

- Ambrose Bierce


Why do people see faces in nature, interpret window stains as human figures, hear voices in random sounds generated by electronic devices or find conspiracies in the daily news? A proximate cause is the priming effect, in which our brain and senses are prepared to interpret stimuli according to an expected model. UFOlogists see a face on Mars. Religionists see the Virgin Mary on the side of a building. Paranormalists hear dead people speaking to them through a radio receiver. Conspiracy theorists think 9/11 was an inside job by the Bush administration. Is there a deeper ultimate cause for why people believe such weird things? There is. I call it “patternicity,” or the tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise.

Read the rest of Michael Schermer's article.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]

Quote of the Day

Please sir, I want some more.

- Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Thoughts and prayers should go to the people of India and the victims of terrorism.

Miscellaneous and Fast

The story of Ashokan Farewell. [Note: The spelling should be Jay Ungar.]

One town's story: It's a Wonderful Life values.

John Podhoretz loves Slumdog Millionaire.

The Onion: Open tryouts for the Blue Angels.

Lonely New Yorkers: Is urban alienation a myth? [HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]

Concert Break: The Kinks with "Lola."

The Last Option

You have a problem that is not easily resolved. You can:
  1. Pretend it is not a problem.
  2. Say you'll get to it at some point.
  3. Try indirect and/or amateurish solutions.
  4. Tell yourself that it will go away.
  5. Ignore it until it gets worse.
  6. Ask people who know next to nothing about the topic what they think you should do.
  7. Promptly seek professional help.

Notice which one comes last.

[Updated: 11/26/08]

Repeat: Thanksgiving Rules!

Back from last year in time for full distribution so your cherished family get-together can be saved from pointless political arguments, brawls, and gunplay:

10 Rules for Thanksgiving.

One Thing

There is one thing that you need to accomplish today and if you do not do so you will feel guilty and perhaps a little depressed.

Odds are, it's the same thing you didn't do yesterday or the day before. That's one reason why so much stress and shame accompanies the uncompleted task.

Now you may say, "Wait there isn't just one thing! I have a whole list of uncompleted tasks."

Pick one that's important. Complete it today. Do nothing else until that chore is done.

Once it is finished, pick one more high priority and continue the process.

No multitasking. No pretending to make progress on a wide front. Just simple focus on one task until it is over.

Obvious? Sure. But also rare.

Messaging versus Browsing?

Writing in Business Week, Stephen H. Wildstrom looks at the BlackBerry Storm versus the iPhone.

Quote of the Day

I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel.

- Pee-wee Herman

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

China as Creditor

Zachary Karabell sees two winners in the new economy: China and cash. An excerpt:

Then there is China. Yes, the balance of power at the G-20 summit shifted toward Russia, Brazil and its hundreds of billions in reserves, Saudi Arabia, and a rich though still economically stagnant Japan. But China remains in a league of its own.

With $2 trillion in central-bank reserves alone, China is cash-rich and almost debt-free. That is true not just for the government but for many individuals. Because there is no mature bond market and the currency remains unconvertible, individuals in China have a savings rate approaching 50%.

The Unbelievers

A challenge for any executive or manager is being able to identify the unbelievers.

The unbelievers are those who, although often eloquent and smooth, do not truly believe in the program. This can be the case even if the person's job is directly tied to the achievement of a certain aim. [I've encountered many equal employment opportunity officers who do not believe in equal employment opportunity and even more human resources professionals who hold enormous contempt for the organization's employees.]

A reason why it is important to know the depth of commitment is that it determines the credibility of the other person's words. There is a huge difference between the person who is simply going through the motions and one who is a passionate believer. Both groups require different strategies.

The most dangerous operators are not the consistent unbelievers but those who are willing to believe - or fake a belief - in anything out of sheer opportunism. They can shock you with their sudden and shameless shifts.

Disagreement and Gin

In between martinis, Dave Barry nails it:

You know what I miss? I miss 1960. Not the part about my face turning overnight into the world's most productive zit farm. What I miss is the way the grown-ups acted about the Kennedy-Nixon race. Like the McCain-Obama race, that was a big historic deal that aroused strong feelings in the voters. This included my parents and their friends, who were fairly evenly divided, and very passionate. They'd have these major honking arguments at their cocktail parties. But unlike today, when people wear out their upper lips sneering at those who disagree with them, the 1960s grown-ups of my memory, whoever they voted for, continued to respect each other and remain good friends.

What was their secret? Gin. On any given Saturday night they consumed enough martinis to fuel an assault helicopter. But also they were capable of understanding a concept that we seem to have lost, which is that people who disagree with you politically are not necessarily evil or stupid. My parents and their friends took it for granted that most people were fundamentally decent and wanted the best for the country. So they argued by sincerely (if loudly) trying to persuade each other. They did not argue by calling each other names, which is pointless and childish, and which constitutes I would estimate 97 percent of what passes for political debate today.

[HT: Instapundit ]

Quote of the Day

There's a hell of a distance between wisecracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply callisthenics with words.

- Dorothy Parker

Monday, November 24, 2008

Executive Failure

Dan McCarthy looks at some new research on the causes of executive failure.

Looking at the positive side, the behavior of high potential leaders includes:

1. Paces himself/herself by building in regular breaks from work.
2. Spends less time using his/her functional skills and more time encouraging team members to use theirs.
3. Manages workload so that he/she has time for unexpected problems or issues.
4. Focuses less on day to day issues and more on taking advantage of strategic opportunities.
5. Regularly takes time to step back and define or redefine what needs to be done.

Holiday Leave and Marital Status Discrimination

One possible pitfall raised by an employer recently involves this scenario: Most employees want to take vacation or paid time off (PTO) around the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. HR can spend a lot of time every year trying to sort out these requests. Single employees may come out holding the short end of the stick when there’s sort of an unwritten policy that married employees, particularly those with children, are given preference on these holiday-related vacation or PTO requests.

Read all of the essay by employment attorney John Phillips here.

Apres Moi

Fortune has an interesting review of what happened when some star CEOs departed.

Who Knoweth?

William Kristol on the importance of admitting we don't know. An excerpt:

So I hope the best and the brightest who will be joining the new president will at least entertain the possibility that a lot of what they think they know is wrong. I trust they’ll remember that successful economic policies in the past have pulled together elements from unlikely sources, and that they’re as likely to find wisdom from reading political economists like Friedrich Hayek or Joseph Schumpeter, or Keynes himself, as from poring over the latest academic paper in a peer-refereed economics journal.

[HT: Real Clear Politics ]

Good News from Ford

"Frankly, I think we've gotten so concerned with adding frills like GPS navigational systems, seat belts, and exhaust pipes that we've forgotten what really matters: open-air bench seating," Mulally said. "We promise that each Model T that comes off the line will last much, much longer than today's cars. Face it, we just don't make them like we used to."

Read the rest from The Onion.

Avast, Ye Writers!

I once holed up in Yuma to finish writing a book.

It worked.

Rob Long, being more creative, has grabbed a spot on the Hanjin Miami, a container ship going from Seattle to Shanghai.

In the event of piracy, he's practicing The Patty Hearst Flip.

Bravo Nordstrom!

Let's hear it for Nordstrom.

A much-needed touch of class.

Creating Bites

A great part of project completion is the avoidance of large tasks. The key is creating small bites that can be swallowed without huge effort and which eventually result in the completion of the entire project.

This is easier said than done because we tend to see the large portions and impatiently regard smaller ones as barely worth our time. We are looking at the horizon when the immediate territory deserves greater attention.

Smaller and slower usually beats large and fast.

Hanson: Random Observations

Four years of high-school Latin would dramatically arrest the decline in American education. In particular, such instruction would do more for minority youths than all the 'role model' diversity sermons on Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Montezuma, and Caesar Chavez put together. Nothing so enriches the vocabulary, so instructs about English grammar and syntax, so creates a discipline of the mind, an elegance of expression, and serves as a gateway to the thinking and values of Western civilization as mastery of a page of Virgil or Livy (except perhaps Sophocles's Antigone in Greek or Thucydides' dialogue at Melos). After some 20 years of teaching mostly minority youth Greek, Latin, and ancient history and literature in translation (1984-2004), I came to the unfortunate conclusion that ethnic studies, women studies--indeed, anything "studies"-- were perhaps the fruits of some evil plot dreamed up by illiberal white separatists to ensure that poor minority students in the public schools and universities were offered only a third-rate education.

Read the rest of historian Victor Davis Hanson's ten random, politically incorrect, thoughts.

Quote of the Day

A man gazing at the stars is proverbially at the mercy of the puddles in the road.

- Alexander Smith

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Why They Re-Enact

Michael at 2Blowhards has the story of a Civil War re-enactor. An excerpt:

The guns we re-enactors used are historic replications of Civil War muzzle-loaders. To fire, you tear off -- with your teeth if you're a mensch -- a gunpowder packet half the size of a cigarette and pour it directly down your barrel. You then half-cock the trigger and insert a cap that will spark the gunpowder upon shooting.

The blast of smoke and flame extends 12 to 15 feet. So when the troops get very close, squaring off against each other -- as we did -- they are instructed by their captains to shoot up to keep the show going for the spectators but not take anyone’s face off with the flash.

[The definitive - and highly amusing - account of re-enactors is Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War.]

Books for a Sick Bed

In between writing e-mail messages to clients and napping, my snail-like recovery has involved a lot of reading. Among the books are:

Instant MBA by Nicholas Bate [More on this later. I think it's his best book.]

Montcalm and Wolfe by Francis Parkman. A fascinating account of the strategies and brutality that produced the French and Indian War.

The Tao of Warren Buffett by Mary Buffett. A quick and easy read of the wizard's investment strategies.

11 Month 11th Day 11th Hour by Joseph E. Persico. What happened on the last day of the First World War when attacks were ordered even after the precise hour of the armistice was known.

Gunman's Rhapsody by Robert B. Parker. The novelist's take on the Earp brothers and the gunfight at the OK Corral.

The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey. An excellent study of the key ingredient for team success. [More on this later.]

Quote of the Day

A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.

- Benjamin Franklin

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Private Jets and the Detroit CEOs

Argument A: Are those guys crazy? Do they know how that appears? They're asking for a bail-out and they fly in on corporate jets! What's wrong with flying coach or even first class? Where are their PR advisors?

Argument B: Are the critics crazy? Wouldn't they have been the first to blast these execs for their condescension and hypocrisy if, for the first time in years, they suddenly flew commercial? When an organization is in trouble, does it make sense for the execs to squander time at the airport? Why not focus on what's truly important?

Buckley, Moynihan, and Company

The late and missed Tim Russert talking about the caliber of political discourse in a speech at Notre Dame.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Creep and Leap

My post on mission creep is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Elevator Statement

Jean: “We are stuck in the elevator.”

Voice: “Where are you?”

Jean: “In the elevator behind home plate.”

(Pause). Voice: “Where?”

Jean: “In the elevator behind home plate, the one that goes up to the box suites.”

(Pause). Voice: “Where are you exactly?”

Jean (a little irritated): “We’re in an elevator behind home plate at the stadium.”

Voice: “Where?”

Jean (a little more irritated): “The baseball stadium. In Phoenix.”

Voice: “Uh, where?”

Jean: (sharply): “The stadium. In Phoenix, Arizona.”

(Pause).Voice: “Hmmm”

Jean (exasperated): “Excuse me, where are you?”

Voice: “I am in India, madam, and if you give me more specifics, I will be glad to assist you. Where are you?”

Read the rest of Oren Harari on unusual outsourcing.

Quote of the Day

I've always had a weakness for foreign affairs.

- Mae West

Friday, November 21, 2008

Who's a Guru?

Wally Bock looks at the business guru lists and notes some omissions.

I understand his point. Invariably there are some "How did that person get on there?" reactions along with "Why isn't so-and-so on there?" Such is the nature of lists.

Exploiting Success

Jim Stroup at Managing Leadership gives solid advice on exploiting success. An excerpt:

A common practice in a military campaign is to hold some forces in reserve. The very wise rule of thumb is that they are to be used to reinforce success – to exploit a breakthrough or provide the decisive momentum at a point where your side is on the verge of victory.

Unfortunately, the instinct is to send them where your lines appear about to collapse. As natural as that would appear, it almost always works to your advantage to throw the weight of your resources behind a promising assault to seize the early victory, forcing your opponent to abandon his advantage and to reinforce his own failures.

And the same applies in business. We should be pouring our best resources into our most promising opportunities. But we often find ourselves instead propping up initiatives that have lost their luster, or supporting legacy programs due to misplaced affection or tradition.

Old Wine, New Bottles


Check out Cultural Offering's advice on what to teach your children.

Blogs on Leadership

How nice!

This blog made the Delaware Employment Law Blog's list of 100 blogs about leadership.

The Need to Reaffirm

You may believe that certain bedrock principles are so well-established that they do not need to be revisited.

Big mistake.

Principles, however major, need to be reaffirmed. If they are neglected, time can erode the perception of their importance. People may conclude that, well yes, they were crucial once but circumstances have changed and a modification or two or three may be appropriate. Those changes may be quietly made without drawing your atttention because, after all, you believe those principles are unchangeable.

I've been amazed at how often such changes are made simply because of poor memories. Some people will forget - perhaps because they never truly understood - the basis for certain principles and begin to drift. That's why you can attend board or committee meetings and encounter proposals that go completely against major decisions that were reached only a few meetings earlier. What you may have regarded as a key turning point shot past while the other person was distracted by a personal issue or was busily fantasizing about a trip to Tahiti.

All roads lead to basics. Those roads need to be maintained.

Quote of the Day

He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas, of any man I ever met.

- Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Catching Slick

Martha Lagace talks to Todd Rogers about being able to spot artful dodges. An excerpt:

"More troublingly, listeners preferred speakers who answered the wrong question well over those who answered the right question poorly," the authors note.

"In this research we find that, at least in part, people value style over substance because the style blinds us to the lack of substance," says Rogers.

A New B.A.

This is funny stuff. A sample:

"Another first for Poppleton." Those were the triumphant words used by our Director of Curriculum Development, Janet Fluellen, as she announced the introduction from this September of a brand-new BA degree in Unemployment.

Speaking at a specially convened press conference in the atrium of the new Management Centre, Ms Fluellen explained that the move was a direct response to recent ministerial demands that university degrees should be made relevant to the current state of the British economy.

Quote of the Day

When we were young, the countercultural people had long hair, no socks, and didn't trust anyone over 30. Now, we are the countercultural people.

- John Buck

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Words Fail Me Dept: Making an Impression

When Derek Johnson was interviewing candidates for a marketing job at his tech company, one applicant arrived in a business suit. "It put us on edge," says Mr. Johnson, founder and CEO of Mr. Johnson believed the job candidate was presenting a false image of himself. The suit, he felt, was tantamount to a lie.

If wearing a suit is a lie, is combing the hair a fib?

Would an ironed shirt represent repressive middle-class values?

Read the rest of Christina Binkley's article on employers who expect you to dress down.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Quality Update: Trillin on BBQ

Writing in The New Yorker, Calvin Trillin looks at the complexities of naming the best Texas BBQ place in the world. An excerpt:

I had never heard of Snow’s. That surprised me. Although I grew up in Kansas City, which has a completely different style of barbecue, I have always kept more or less au courant of Texas barbecue, like a sports fan who is almost monomaniacally obsessed with basketball but glances over at the N.H.L. standings now and then just to see how things are going. Reading that the best barbecue in Texas was at Snow’s, in Lexington, I felt like a People subscriber who had picked up the “Sexiest Man Alive” issue and discovered that the sexiest man alive was Sheldon Ludnick, an insurance adjuster from Terre Haute, Indiana, with Clooney as the runner-up.

Modern Pirates

This Wall Street Journal editorial on the importance of confronting piracy almost seems like a voice from the past.

Writing in The Atlantic Monthly in 2003, William Langewieshe described the sophisticated operations of modern buccaneers:

The new pirates have emerged on a postmodern ocean where identities have been mixed and blurred, and the rules of nationality have been subverted. Scornful of boundaries, they are organized into multi-ethnic gangs that communicate by satellite and cell phone, and are capable of cynically appraising competing jurisdictions and laws. They choose their targets patiently, and then assemble, strike, and dissipate. They have been known to carry heavy weapons, including shoulder-launched missiles, but they are not determined aggressors, and will back off from stiff resistance, regroup, and find another way. Usually they succeed with only guns and knives. Box cutters would probably serve them just as well. Their goal in general is to hijack entire ships: they kill or maroon the crews, sell the cargoes, and in the most elaborate schemes turn the hijacked vessels into 'phantoms,' which pose as legitimate ships, pick up new cargoes, and disappear.

The Bright Boys

They're very bright boys and they went to the right schools and they can haul out the decision trees and the research and their buddies in think tanks but when you peel away the veneer it is not unusual to find that their opinions on overall strategy are not as wise as the quick take of the cashier at the grocery store or the character in the barber chair and indeed are often far worse.

Many of them know clever and eloquent ways to fail. Their best trick, however, is falling forward so they somehow emerge with their careers intact. They can do this despite the promiscuous fathering of disasters and scandals that would condemn the average person to exile and repentance.

This resilience shouldn't surprise us, of course. After all, they're very bright boys.

Quote of the Day

[Modern man] struggles with the paradox that total immersion in matter unfits him how to deal with the problems of matter.

- Richard Weaver

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Knight But No Gentleman

V.S. Naipaul is not a very nice man. Of course, if you've read his novels you may have suspected that, but this recent authorized biography shows that he wants us to know it.

His one-time friend and now-enemy Paul Theroux believes he may have been too kind to the old monster when he wrote about their feud:

Now French’s biography amply demonstrates everything I said and more. It is not a pretty story; it will probably destroy Naipaul’s reputation for ever, this chronicle of his pretensions, his whoremongering, his treatment of a sad, sick wife and disposable mistress, his evasions, his meanness, his cruelty amounting to sadism, his race baiting. Then there is the “gruesome sex”, the blame shifting, the paranoia, the disloyalty, the nasty cracks and the whining, the ingratitude, the mood swings, the unloving and destructive personality.

Reptilian Marketing

Agree with him or not, Clotaire Rapaille is one of the most interesting thinkers out there.

Darwinist Dating

Earlier this year, I published an article in City Journal called “Child-Man in the Promised Land.” The piece elicited a roaring flood of mailed and blogged responses, mostly from young men who didn’t much care for its title (a reference to Claude Brown’s 1965 novel Manchild in the Promised Land) or its thesis: that too many single young males (SYMs) were lingering in a hormonal limbo between adolescence and adulthood, shunning marriage and children, and whiling away their leisure hours with South Park reruns, marathon sessions of World of Warcraft, and Maxim lists of the ten best movie fart scenes.

Read the rest of Kay S. Hymowitz on love and Darwinism.

Airflow Style

Donald at 2Blowhards looks at the Airflow automobile styles of the thirties and forties.

Nice stuff. There's not a car featured that I wouldn't want to own.

Boring Myself into Productivity

How often have you found yourself using this technique?

There is one project that needs to be completed but since it does not interest me at the moment, I will turn my attention to a variety of boredom-inducing activities that will eventually make the important project seem much more attractive.

A home remedy that works every time.

The Subtle Touch

I've seen several community projects over the past year that were seriously damaged by a lack of style.

The essential components were there. The timing was fine. But there was a need for some poetry or, at the least, the removal of some elements that deadened the appeal.

This is one of those highly subjective areas, similar to the old line about knowing obscenity when you see it, where you either notice the problem or you don't. George Orwell wrote about cafe owners who didn't grasp that having dead flies in the window sill was hardly a way to attract customers. The problem, however, is rarely that obvious.

Part of the challenge is an utter inability to consider the perspective of others. In some of the community projects, the plans were drafted by bright and dedicated people who believe that their narrow, academic passions are shared by the average citizen. This failure to understand the customer was combined with a desire to scoot past the seemingly superficial and focus solely on substance. All efforts are providing a proper presentation were slighted.

The sad thing is they often came so close to success before being foiled by the subtle.

Quote of the Day

What is your aim in philosophy? To show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.

- Ludwig Wittgenstein

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ambushed By Minor Items

We shun micromanagement and then are tripped up by minor problems that remind us why such attention to detail must be addressed.

"I thought you were going to do that" is the refrain of detail's victims.

What surprises me is how often otherwise savvy individuals get to a certain point in planning and then suspend all scrutiny, relying instead upon a combination of hope, fate, and pixie dust. Things do not magically come together, but they don't just trust on that convergence, they rely upon it.

Indeed, there is frequently a fear that all planning is overplanning and that by calculating how long this will take and by designating precisely who will be handling exactly what, we are robbing life of creativity and joy.

This problem can be exacerbated by specialists who worry solely about their own areas and not whether the parts will make a productive whole. On many teams, it is possible to find a wealth of experts and a poverty of coordinators. The coordinators, of course, are those bothersome folks who worry about the details; especially the ones that fall between the cracks.

Helpful Biographies and Autobiographies

It is not unusual to find top executives who enjoy reading biographies of extraordinary people. Much can be gleaned from them if the author isn't a sycophant. Decent autobiographies are equally helpful.

Some (auto)biographies that I believe have hidden gems for execs are:

The LBJ biographies by Robert Caro. I'm partial to the first volume. An extraordinary story of a young man on the make who became a professional "son" in order to advance. LBJ was at once repugnant and compelling.

Chronicles of Wasted Time by Malcolm Muggeridge. Muggeridge's career as a journalist in the thirties and forties brought him into contact with some of the ugliest regimes and most fascinating people on earth. Very witty stuff.

Churchill by Piers Brendon. This can be hard to find. A quick and insightful look at the greatest leader of the 20th century.

Six Crises by Richard Nixon. Nixon wrote beautifully and never better than in this review of his experiences in the years before he became president.

The Kennedy Promise by Henry Fairlie. A British journalist looks at the magic - and limitations - of JFK's charisma.

These are just a few and I'm sure that major ones are missing. Submit others and I'll post a master list.

New Pattern

Work. Sleep. Exercise a bit. Talk with people.

I've got the same pattern as before the operation except there's a lot more sleep. Getting better.

Quote of the Day

We're all of us just guinea pigs in the laboratory of God. Humanity is just a work in progress.

- Tennessee Williams

Sunday, November 16, 2008

California's Sundown?

Once an optimist, Joel Kotkin takes a rather negative view of California's future. An excerpt:

Out-migration is a key factor, along with a weak economy, for the collapse of the housing market. Simply put, the population growth expected for many areas has not materialized, nor the new jobs that might attract newcomers. In the past year, four of the top six housing markets in terms of price decline have been in California, including Sacramento, San Diego, Riverside, and Los Angeles. The Central Valley towns of Stockton, Merced, and Modesto have all been awarded the dubious honors of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation during the past year.

Birds Without Wings

If you would like to read fiction by a master, the sort of prose that makes you savor individual sentences, check out Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres.

Unusual and intriguing. You'll find yourself engrossed by the inhabitants of a small Anatolian village during the collapse of the Ottoman empire.

Crisis Prevention by Introspection

Some not-so-obvious questions to avoid disaster:

  1. Which of our assumptions are likely to do the most serious harm if they prove to be false?

  2. Are all of the key responsibilities clearly delineated and assigned?

  3. What can be jettisoned and what must remain?

  4. Do we all have the same goal?

  5. How much of our time is devoted to work that will produce little over the short term and is of even questionable long-term value?

Quote of the Day

I don't trust anyone who wants to save the world, unless they're the people who want to save the world from the people who want to save the world.

- James Lileks

Saturday, November 15, 2008


My post on the need for courtesy in the workplace is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Shocked by Office Politics

I recently finished Police Chief William Bratton's account of his extraordinary work in turning around the crime rate in New York City. It is a fascinating tale containing a lot of worthy tips for managers. Bratton's practical approach to placing resources on needs and his adoption of the "broken windows" theory's technique of going after small offenders in order to establish order and catch larger offenders are reminders of the power of thorough analysis. [It's also a reminder of common sense, as in not letting your narcotics squads take weekends off.]

Anyway, one of the subtopics of the book is the conflict between Bratton and then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Bratton paints a portrait of a noble police department beset by a politically-driven Mayor's office. What is missing is the other side. Time after time, I'd read of Bratton's being shocked that Giuliani or his people would interpret a certain action as a politically inappropriate move by the police chief and my reaction was to side with the mayor, not out of any instinctive feeling for Giuliani but because of how city governments operate.

For example, if you are a police chief and Time magazine wants to place you on the cover of an issue on how crime was turned around in New York City, do you (a) agree and go pose for the photo?; (b) tell them that both you and the Mayor should be on the cover?; or (c) tell them just to put the Mayor on the cover? [The correct answer is b and maybe even c but Bratton went with a and then was surprised when the Giuliani people were upset.]

Now it may be that Bratton's surprise was less than genuine and that the savvy Chief knew exactly what he was doing. That was undoubtedly the suspicion in the Giuliani camp. If there was a huge amount of innocence about the impact of such publicity, its presence would indicate a colossal lack of political smarts in a job that requires high dosages of such talent. One lesson in Office Politics 101 is to make the boss look good. Chief's Bratton's book inadvertently teaches what can happen when a top decision maker does not. We could describe him as naive, but my guess is he was playing the "taking credit" game as ruthlessly as the mayor.

Pick One: Doctors or Trial Lawyers?

Forced to choose, Gerry Spence thinks we'd be better off without any doctors than without any trial lawyers.

[Occupational Self-Importance Syndrome?]

Quote of the Day

Perfection of planned layout is achieved only by institutions on the point of collapse.

- C. Northcote Parkinson

Friday, November 14, 2008

Favorite Film for Long Hospital Stays

For some reason, I kept recalling scenes from The Madness of King George. Marvelous film.

Back. Moving Slowly, But Back.

My sincere thanks for all of the kind notes.

A quick explanation: Not feeling well on a Thursday morning turned into severe pain by evening and a trip to the emergency ward. Doctors confused. CT scan at 1:30 AM revealed a very rare condition re diverticulm (or the radiator). By last Friday, they thought they'd just keep me around for monitoring - I was already a celebrity in the radiology department - but by Saturday, they decided to operate. That grand event occurred last Sunday. All was successful but the bounce-back has been slow. Prognosis is good, although my speed resembles Walter Brennan on a bad day.

I'll be posting at an equally slow pace for a while but I'm definitely back and, as you may well imagine, very happy to be here.

Thanks again and special thanks to Erica Johnson for getting the updates posted.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Update on Michael Wade’s Blog

To all of Execupundit’s loyal readers,

Michael remains hospitalized for observation and is expecting to be released on Friday. We are anticipating his return to the Blog as soon as possible thereafter. Please check back this weekend for new posts.

Again, thank you so much for all of your well wishes.

Erica Johnson
Website Manager

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Execupundit Update

To all of Execupundit's loyal readers,

Michael is currently in the hospital. His prognosis is good and he will be home within a few days.

He should be back to blogging early next week. I will post an update if there are any delays.

Thanks for all of your well wishes,

Erica Johnson
Website Manager

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Losing the Sale

Every sales rep should read this post from Cultural Offering.

And who isn't a sales rep?

Rove on the Results

Karl Rove analyzes the election. An excerpt:

Messrs. Plouffe and Axelrod understood that over the last 28 years only 11 of 20 eligible Americans on average cast a presidential ballot. They focused on registering and motivating the other nine who don't usually vote. This decision, perhaps more than any other, allowed Mr. Obama to win such previously red states as Virginia, Indiana, Colorado and Nevada. It forced Mr. McCain to spend most of the fall on defense, unable to take once-reliably Republican states for granted.

Do You Ever . . .

Do you ever sense that you may have been born in the wrong century?

There are times when I see virtues discounted that I'd regard as paramount and ones elevated that I think are cheap and superficial. I've talked with people who never have that feeling and yet my suspicion is there are many others who wonder if they are operating with a rule book from another time.

This sense may be intensified with age. [Yeats wrote "Why should not old men be mad?"] Some of us, however, were born old and have always felt a certain disconnect with their generation. This goes, however, beyond generational differences.

It is a difference with the times.

Quote of the Day

A friend of mine spent twenty years looking for the perfect woman; unfortunately, when he found her, he discovered that she was looking for the perfect man.

- Warren Buffett

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Under the Weather

I feel like I have a mild version of the Ebola virus.

Am using cold compresses and swilling vast quantities of water.

No sympathy from the family; they are pondering my possible use as a doorstop.

Back tomorrow.

Michael Crichton, R.I.P.

Some sad news. Novelist Michael Crichton has died.

What was his best book?

I've only read Congo and Jurassic Park.

[HT: Instapundit ]

Onion Humor

Some post-election day humor from The Onion:

Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job

Hillary Clinton Resumes Attacking Obama

McCain Gets Hammered at Local VFW

President-Elect Obama

One of the undeniable benefits of Barack Obama's election is the statement it makes regarding race relations.

I've worked in the area of equal opportunity for years, graduated from what was once called the Defense Race Relations Institute, and have seen the good and the bad associated with efforts to root out discrimination. Nothing, however, has been more powerful than childhood memories of traveling through the South and seeing "Whites Only" and "Colored Only" signs.

We have indeed made enormous progress; in fact, a number of years ago this nation reached the point in which a black man could be elected president. [That is often not acknowledged in some parts of the world where journalists seem to learn American race relations via repeated viewings of "In the Heat of the Night."]

Candidate Barack Obama was, even to reporters who covered him, a mystery. President Obama will fill in the gaps as he proposes legislation, makes appointments, enacts policy, and represents the nation. We will learn his definition of "change."

All best wishes go to him, his family, and his team. His administration deserves a sizable honeymoon period with genuine good will. The nation needs it.

Quote of the Day

Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as you ever can.

- John Wesley

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Escape to the Thirties

This is a good time to examine the 1930s, even in novels.

A good start is the work of Alan Furst. One example of his ability to create an ominous atmosphere is The Foreign Correspondent. Great escape reading.

[BTW: I recently read an economic writer who dismissed concerns about terrorism as foolish. Hmm. Should Daladier have worried more about French unemployment or about Germany?]

A Call for Traditional Architecture

A classic post from Michael at 2Blowhards on the way government buildings used to look versus the architecture of the modern ones.

You could make the same comparisons with schools. Many modern elementary and high schools look like prisons. They lack anything that might lift the spirit.

Related book recommendation: Tom Wolfe's From Bahaus to Our House.

Feed the People!

James Lileks reports that you can get free stuff for voting:

Krispy Kreme is giving out free donuts – not that we’d know, since they fled this market bleeding money. . This story says they’ll give away 200,000 donuts today. I love this spokesman’s quote:

"'It's just another way to give customers a free doughnut,' Hernandez said."

Start thinking of ways to sell them, and the company might be doing better.

[HT: Robinson and Long ]

One of Their Own

The Onion has already called the results: our first non-organic president.

Financial Crisis and Political Culpability

John Steele Gordon, writing in Commentary, on what was behind the financial crisis. An excerpt:

Since banks knew they could offload these sub-prime mortgages to Fannie and Freddie, they had no reason to be careful about issuing them. As for the firms that bought the mortgage-based securities issued by Fannie and Freddie, they thought they could rely on the government’s implicit guarantee. AIG, the world’s largest insurance firm, was happy to insure vast quantities of these securities against default; it must have seemed like insuring against the sun rising in the West.

Wall Street, politicians, and the press all acted as though one of the iron laws of economics, as unrepealable as Newton’s law of universal gravity, had been set aside. That law, simply put, is that potential reward always equals potential risk. In the real world, unfortunately, a high-yield, no-risk investment cannot exist.

The Polls

As I read the polls - and they've been all over the place - by the end of the day we could be looking at a Barack Obama landslide, a comfortable Obama win or a history-making upset victory by John McCain.

Whether the winner is named Barack or John, he will have earned some respect and a honeymoon period.

It will be sooo nice to have this election behind us.

Quote of the Day

One of the paradoxes of an increasingly specialized, bureaucratized society is that the qualities required in the rise to eminence are less and less the qualities required once eminence is reached.

- Henry Kissinger

Monday, November 03, 2008

Miscellaneous and Fast

A timely post: Jim Stroup on creative collisions.
The Twinkie option: Around twelve of these should do the trick.
Charles Krauthammer
endorses John McCain.
Leon Wieseltier
endorses Barack Obama.
An issue that won't go away:
The plunge in media credibility. [HT: Real Clear Politics ]
Dan McCarthy examines the power of a written individual development plan.
Stephen Fry attacks "sneering anti-Americanism."
A Canadian strip club is accused of age discrimination.
Bruno Collet reminds us of the importance of finding the mission behind the mission.
Frederick W. Kagan argues that security should be the primary issue.
Wally Bock believes that Starbucks management is drinking Kool-Aid.

Seeking Simplicity

ABA Journal: Was there a trigger to your move to shun excess and pursue a simpler life?

Jack: After years of working 12-hour days, giving up countless weekends and canceling vacations at the last minute, I just had enough. I eventually realized that I was slowly losing my life, one billable hour at a time. In the end, it makes no sense to trade 90 percent of your waking hours for a chance to buy expensive clothes, be seen at fancy restaurants, and indulge in all sorts of excess. More recently, a friend of mine was diagnosed with terminal cancer. There is nothing like being made aware of your own mortality to help you focus on what truly matters: family, love and friendship.

Read the rest of the ABA Journal interview with the Harvard Law grad who burned his diploma.

The Outsider's Advantages

At one board meeting, Ellis writes, “a long presentation was being made that was overloaded with dull, detailed statistics. Number after number was read off. When the droning presenter finally paused for breath, Weinberg jumped up, waving his papers in mock triumph, to call out ‘Bingo!’ ” The immigrant’s best strategy, in the famous adage, is to think Yiddish and dress British. Weinberg thought British and dressed Yiddish.

Why did that strategy work? This is the great mystery of Weinberg’s career, and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Carnegie was on to something: there are times when being an outsider is precisely what makes you a good insider. It’s not difficult to imagine, for example, that the head of Continental Can liked the fact that Weinberg was from nothing, in the same way that New York City employers preferred country boys to city boys. That C.E.O. dwelled in a world with lots of people who went to Yale and then to Wall Street; he knew that some of them were good at what they did and some of them were just well connected, and separating the able from the incompetent wasn’t always easy. Weinberg made it out of Brooklyn; how could he not be good?

Read the rest of Malcolm Gladwell's article from The New Yorker on the uses of adversity.

Old School Communication

All of the emailing, instant messaging, faxing, and teleconferencing does not replace the effectiveness of communicating face to face.

That is easy to forget.

We spend so much time doing what we are doing now - looking at a computer screen - that we lose the personal touch. Computers are an excellent window, but they don't provide the subtle benefits of intonations, raised eyebrows, and small gestures. They also lack the added message of caring that comes with taking the time to be there.

This week, if you have not already planned to do so, meet in person with one of your business or personal contacts. It may be surprising that you are taking the time to do so, but rest assured the surprise will be pleasant.

Quote of the Day

You can't make a good deal with a bad person.

- Warren Buffett

Sunday, November 02, 2008


I once attended a workshop by a campaign consultant who said that telephoning voters in Las Vegas was counterproductive because the local workforce's strange work schedules made it likely that you'd wake up a sizable chunk of voters.

That advice came back to me at 9:15 the other night when one of those irritating campaign robocalls came in. I quickly hung up due to my latent robophobia and so lost the chance to learn which candidate was being touted, although I could tell it was one of our local worthies.

This election seems to have more robocalls than its predecessors. I wonder how effective a technique can be that (1) might disturb someone's sleep; (2) is answered by some people who had to leap over furniture to grab the phone; and (3) contains absolutely nothing of substance.

Most Influential Management Thinker?

Which management scholar/thinker has most influenced your own philosophy of management?

Let's not be too restrictive. For example, if Aristotle or Plato are your pick, that's fine. Close seconds may also be listed.

[I'm pretty sure about my first choice, but will think a little longer.]

Some possible suspects:

Peter Drucker
Frederick Taylor
W. Edwards Deming
David Ulrich
Stephen R. Covey
Michael LeBoeuf
Robert Greenleaf
Mary Parker Follett
Manfred F.R. Kets De Vries
James Collins
Dee Hock
Jeffrey Pfeffer
Warren Bennis
James O'Toole
Joseph Juran
Richard Pascale
Tom Peters
Henry Mintzberg
Theodore Levitt
Elliott Jacques
James Audrey
Ferdinand Fournies
Niccolo Machiavelli
Anthony Jay
James Q. Wilson

UPDATE: How could I have hesitated? Drucker, of course.