Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Zen and Witness Prep

Attorney Michael P. Maslanka was reading some zen when he discovered an important lesson on the preparation of witnesses.

The lesson goes far beyond the law.

A Life Well Lived

Cultural Offering: In Praise of Jack.


The Creative Life: Fathead Director

2Blowhards: You're a real film director now. How has becoming a film director affected your life?

Tom Naughton:
I don't think having a credit as a director has changed my life much. Well, I did grow a beard. And I wear a safari jacket. And after reviewing the video footage I shot at Christmas, I shouted "This isn't right!" and made everyone go through Christmas morning again so I could use more creative angles. It was tough re-wrapping all the presents. Plus I fired my daughter from the role of "daughter" and hired another girl whose head is larger in proportion to her body. But other than that, no, life is pretty much the same.

Read the rest of the interview of the "Fathead" director by Michael@2Blowhards.

Bock: The Planning Fairy

Wally Bock gives us some ways to determine if we believe in the Planning Fairy.

Great stuff!
My favorite:

You may believe in the Planning Fairy if you believe that planning should take as long as necessary to get all the facts. In reality, you never get all the facts.

G20 Reading List

Rowena Mason has a reading list for the G20 leaders.
I'd quickly add:
  • The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope. Speculative finance and moral bankruptcy. [I've just started it. The novel, that is.]
  • The Road by Cormac MacCarthy. Post-disaster journey. Father. Son. Cannibals.
  • A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe. A great intro to Epictetus. Go Stoic!
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. A hard slog with wooden characters, but its sales have shot up and people talk of "going John Galt."

The Auto Bail-Out

Plainly, whatever company emerges from this turmoil will have fewer employees working for more sensible wages and fewer Cadillac-style benefits. Right now the argument has been that no one will buy cars from a company that files for bankruptcy. But if you had to bet, which offers the best chance for a brighter upside: a company that restructured under Chapter 11 or one restructured with the help of Congress and the White House?

Read the rest of William McGurn's article on the reason for Chapter 11.

In the Wake of a Bug

Recently, my computer was zapped by the creative product of some sociopath.

In the wake, of course, I've been trying to figure out how the bug slipped past my ultra-cautious practice of staying away from bizarre sites and not clicking on strange messages.

I can't identify how it got through. That mystery does, however, cause me to wonder about clicking on anything sent by a friend and especially raises the wariness level for those invitations to join linked-in networks.

Just one more way that the crazies of the world can affect our daily lives.

Big Mouths

Let's pretend that all of the lawyers and judges are in a box in the corner and there is no danger of winding up in court.

Can anyone seriously believe that telling racial or ethnic jokes is a positive step in team-building?
That putting down women - or men for that matter - is a healthy practice?

Granted, there are people who are thin-skinned and there are those who like to play "gotcha." Their overreactions harm efforts to prevent discrimination because they provide fodder for those who assert that management is only trying to placate a bunch of politically correct wimps.

At the same time, however, a review of harassment cases does not turn up minor or arcane infractions; ones that would cause a reasonable person to wonder how they could possibly be offensive. The cases involve clearly offensive and usually vile comments; the sort that makes you wonder if the speaker has been in a time capsule for the past thirty or forty years.

Setting aside the question of whether the person is prejudiced, doesn't the behavior raise serious questions about the individual's judgment?

Quote of the Day

To know what is right and not to do it is the worst cowardice.

- Confucius

Monday, March 30, 2009

Perhaps Not "Inherently"

Political Calculations looks at inflation, deflation, and why the baby boomers are inherently evil.

Theroux's Radio

What's the single most crucial thing to take on a trip? A very small shortwave radio, to alert you to world events, the possible horrors of the place you're in, and to give you something to listen to in the hours of the night, when you're alone in the dark.

Read the rest of the National Geographic Traveler interview with Paul Theroux.

Big Win

Churchill's breakfast menu: This is the way to fly.

Odd Guidance

They may be different now. I pray that they are. But when I went to high school, the guidance counselors were notoriously bad. I hope that my school was an exception and that most students got solid and practical advice from their guidance departments.

When I mentioned my plans to go to law school, I was told to study Latin because the law has many Latin phrases. I ignored that and studied French which was about as handy. I suspect that classmates who studied German or Spanish got along just fine.

I was also advised to major in political science as an undergraduate. I found that to be another myth; in fact, an English major may be one of the best choices for future law students due to its emphasis on the ability to write. I knew students with degrees in agriculture and drama, however, who experienced no extra burden in studying the law.

All of which makes me wonder how many of the common career tips are completely off the mark.

Ripple Effects

I've seen an estimate that a person may take as much as 20 minutes to get back up to speed after a single interruption. That brings to mind the other subtle ways in which certain events may erode effectiveness.

For example, if the post-interruption time is going to be considered, how about the pre-interruption time? Jill knows that Jack often interrupts her after his 3:00 meeting. As a result, Jill works less effectively after 3:00 - not starting important work and focusing instead on minor items - because of her anticipation of the interruption.

There is a similar effect with memos. Mickey sends a generally-worded memo to his staff that is designed to correct a specific problem caused by Harold. All of the recipients - possibly including Harold - waste time trying to decipher just who and what triggered the memo.

Tally up the effect of both of these practices over the course of a year and the amount of time lost is sizable. So too, of course, is the amount of time gained if the practices are eliminated.

Quote of the Day

...[F]rom ages six to eighteen Americans live mostly in what I call Soft America - the parts of our country where there is little competition and accountability. But from ages eighteen to thirty Americans live mostly in Hard America - the parts of American life subject to competition and accountability. Soft America coddles: our schools, seeking to instill self-esteem, ban tag and dodgeball, and promote just about anyone who shows up. Hard America plays for keeps: the private sector fires people when profits fall, and the military trains under live fire.

- Michael Barone

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Any home remedies for relieving the common cold will be appreciated.

I'm on DayQuil and about to shift to NyQuil.

Much sleep will take place tomorrow.

Why They Twitter

Seth Godin explains why people visit social online sites.

Committee Games

My post on exploitation by committee is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Calculated Outrage

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. on the congressional reaction to the AIG bonuses:

Barney Frank, who doesn't have the excuse of being stupid, was last seen bullying Mr. Liddy to do what on any other day Mr. Frank would flay Mr. Liddy for doing -- violating the privacy rights of his employees. Charles Grassley? His early bloviating about the duty of AIG executives to kill themselves almost begins to look like a grace note, since it alerted the public to the hyperbolic playacting about to come.

We're Always Right

Years ago, a union leader asked for my opinion about labor's chances of winning a political election on a particular issue. He was shocked when I replied that the chances were slim because most voters distrusted the labor unions as much as they did the corporations.

In his eyes, the unions were always the good guys. He'd grown up with stories of the early labor struggles. Although we'd gone far past those days, the old stereotypes still existed for him. On one side were the "working people" and on the other side were plutocrats resembling the little rich man on the Monopoly cards. He regarded rigid solidarity as the unity of the workers ("Never cross a picket line!") and not a slogan for mindless obedience.

You can find, of course, similar attitudes on management's side where eyebrows automatically move upward at various labor proposals. Due to a lack of trust, each side operates with a "Give them an inch and they'll take a mile" skepticism.

What has always perplexed me is the utter inability to engage in self-critique. The most effective labor and management representatives are capable of appreciating the other side's virtues and their own vices when it comes to any particular issue. The least effective are reluctant even to entertain the notion that their counterparts across the bargaining table just might have a point.

This attitude might be excused if it were some bargaining ploy - often it is - but the automatic demonization or dismissal of the other side ultimately warps objectivity and good judgment.

Quote of the Day

Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run.

- Mark Twain

Friday, March 27, 2009

Poor Casting Decisions

Think of the terrible casting decisions that you've seen in various films.

[My all-time favorite nominee for the Worst Casting Decision of All Time is Glen Campbell as a Texas Ranger in True Grit. They had John Wayne and Robert Duvall and then some loon decided to throw in Campbell?]

What can we learn from bad casting decisions? Here are a few lessons that could be applied to the workplace:

  1. Don't play to a particular demographic. Go with raw talent.

  2. Be certain that the individual will fit in with the rest of the cast.

  3. Beware of scene-hoggers.

  4. Consider whether people will have a difficult time accepting the person in the role and whether that barrier can be overcome.

  5. Recognize that there is no small role. One "minor" casting decision that rings false can throw off an entire scene.

  6. Watch films such as "The Third Man" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" to see how it is done right. Think of how those movies could have been easily destroyed with one misplaced actor.

  7. Remember that there is a certain amount of poetry that goes into building a cast.

Motives and Inquiries

From the stand, Todd Gleason, the dean of Arts and Sciences, noted that no academic inquiry originates from strictly neutral ground: "It's only common sense to expect that the source of most complaints against a faculty member is going to be someone who nine times out of 10 has a personal or professional disagreement with the author." Pure motives can be in short supply, even in the supposedly collegial world of higher education. And which is worse: To check out some footnotes after an inflammatory essay brings shame on your profession, or to submit a complaint about a colleague's work after he snubs you in the faculty lounge?

Read the rest of The Wall Street Journal article on Ward Churchill's wrongful termination case.

Old Shoe

I once knew a man whose main talent was his ability to put others at ease.

He was intelligent, but he never made you feel stupid. He was witty, but his wit did not keep you from speaking. He was charming in a quiet way.

He was sort of a comfortable old shoe.

You enjoyed being around him. In some mysterious manner, he would encourage you to be yourself and to open up. Naturally, he was a good listener and yet that skill was ancillary.

What was his secret? I believe it was his ability to communicate that he truly wished others well and that his friendship lacked footnotes. Nothing you could say would ever get you in trouble because he wouldn't permit it. Behind his stare was an abundance of benevolence. He focused on learning from - and enjoying - others. He never rushed to prove his own worth.

An extraordinary person.

Quote of the Day

I cry all the way to the bank.

- Liberace, regarding bad reviews

Thursday, March 26, 2009

No More Rushdies

The Rushdie affair, Kureishi believes, transformed not just his own work, but also “the very notion of writing.” The fatwa “created a climate of terror and fear. Writers had to think about what they were writing in a way they never had to before. Free speech became an issue as it had not been before. Liberals had to take a stand, to defend an ideology they had not really had to think about before.” How have they borne up to the task? “The attacks on Rushdie showed that words can be dangerous. They also showed why critical thought is more important than ever, why blasphemy and immorality and insult need protection. But most people, most writers, want to keep their heads down, live a quiet life. They don’t want a bomb in the letterbox. They have succumbed to the fear.”

Read the rest of Kenan Malik's article here.

And You Thought Star Trek Conventions Were Strange

Charlotte Simonsen, the company's spokeswoman, says more than 400 million people will play with Lego this year. After 50-odd years of production, there are apparently 62 Lego bricks for every man, woman and child on the planet. And most of us, I'd imagine, would say we felt pretty warmly towards these little chunks of injection-moulded acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. Some would go considerably further. Lego reckons it has maybe 250,000 Afols, or Adult Fans of Lego, around the globe. They gather for mammoth week-long conventions with names such as BrickFest, and vie with each other to build the World's Largest Lego Boat (14ft 7in long; 300,000 bricks), construct the Biggest Lego Train Layout Ever (3,343ft, and it ran through an entire Lego cityscape) or beat the Fastest Time to Build the Lego Imperial Star Destroyer (3,104 pieces; five builders maximum and no pre-sorting allowed; record: 1 hour 42 minutes 43 seconds).

Read the rest of The Guardian article here.

Bate on Being Outrageous

This is why so many of us read the thoughtful and thought-provoking Nicholas Bate.

What to Say

You are sitting across from a young, freshly-minted, supervisor who has asked you for one piece of advice.

What would you say?

My quick answer: Ask, study, and observe constantly what works and what does not.

Your quick answer?

Quote of the Day

Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you're scared to death.

- Harold Wilson

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thinking Out Loud: Hiring a Positive Work Environment

I've written earlier about the mistake of addressing a team problem with an individual solution.

The more I see of various employee problems - and I've seen plenty - the more evident it is that one of the major flaws in the workplace revolves around just what a hiring decision contains.

Is an employer simply hiring a person? No. In most cases, the employer is hiring the person and a series of relationships. If the individual performance is fine but the individual is unable to establish and maintain positive working relationships with other employees, then, just as we do with "no fault" divorce, we should consider that no judgment need be made about the parties in order to conclude that the relationship doesn't work.

Rather than adopting that approach, employers (and employees) seek to ascribe individual blame. This effort consumes a sizable amount of time and effort and often exacerbates an already bad relationship.

Attorneys may rightly say that the law protects individuals against harassment and other wrongs. Employers, however, may prevent such problems early on by creating a version of the concept of a hostile work environment. In other words, it would be made clear to employees and to new hires that their ability to foster and maintain a positive work environment will be evaluated. Rather than falling into a blame game where each side may argue that it is less guilty than the other, management will provide an incentive for all parties to work things out, for if it concludes that the relationship is negative, then the relationship must change. That may involve transfer or termination.

This does not mean that a person who has been harassed would be treated the same as the harasser. There are "single situation" harassment cases, but harassment often involves a pattern of smaller actions. An alert employer would act before the behavior reaches the level of harassment and either conclude that one party is at fault or the relationship is faulty and needs correction.

And that may be the most vulnerable point in implementing a positive work environment. Far too many supervisors and managers do not know what is going on in their workplace.

Quote of the Day

Necessity never made a good bargain.

- Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What Are You Assuming?

You are selling Rocky Road and they want vanilla.

You stress substance and they want flash.

You disdain the superficial, but they think it's sort of neat.

You use logic and they embrace emotion.

You expect detached objectivity while they expect the bias of friends.

You see rules where they see rough guidelines.

You like order, but they enjoy chaos.

You like to win, but they like ties.

Lobster Madoff

Two weeks ago, Abe Moscowitz dropped dead of a heart attack and was reincarnated as a lobster. Trapped off the coast of Maine, he was shipped to Manhattan and dumped into a tank at a posh Upper East Side seafood restaurant. In the tank there were several other lobsters, one of whom recognized him. “Abe, is that you?” the creature asked, his antennae perking up.

Read the rest of Woody Allen's short story here.


The community organization had bogged down. Its membership was stagnant and there were few programs that would attract members.

One faction wanted to launch a series of programs that would bring in members and raise the organization's profile. Another faction claimed to want the same thing, but continually found ways to hobble the outreach efforts. It quickly gained a reputation of negativity with the first group.

What the first group finally realized was that the second really didn't want new members, but instead preferred a low-key organization which would focus on smaller projects and not have to grow.

The lack of candor on the part of the "low-profile" group had avoided direct conflict while wasting sizable amounts of time of resources. Their passive-aggressive approach was not adopted with any ill intent. Its practitioners thought that once the outreach programs failed, then a less energetic approach would be more appealing.

What they didn't count on was that the outreach efforts worked. The programs did appeal to members and generated an excitement the organization had not experienced in years. All of that was regarded with silent horror by members of the second group since it did not fit their definition of success.

The ultimate conflict could have been prevented if, from the beginning, the second group had simply been candid.

The workplace contains frequent reminders of the relationship between basic virtues and decent performance.

Quote of the Day

If you want to know what a man is, place him in authority.

- Yugoslav proverb

Monday, March 23, 2009

Everything's Going Blank

Still sorting out some computer issues.

I'll be posting more when there's less danger of a sudden blank screen.


President Obama's teleprompter has a blog?

[I sense the writing style of Rob Long.]

[HT: 2Blowhards]

Dogs and Unconditional Love

Rob Long gives an interesting perspective on a subject all dog owners ponder.

The Outrage Biz

Cultural Offering has an excellent post on "Outrage Fatigue."

Being an Ally or a Neutral

Rough economic times are often used to justify an "Every man for himself" attitude in the workplace.

Unfortunately, the people and organizations that so eagerly seize upon that approach are just as ready to embrace it when business is good.

A decision is made in all relationships: Are you going to be an ally, a neutral or an adversary? The role of adversary is the default mode for many even though it usually brings no advantage. I've found no reason for the tendency other than insecurity. The most secure people I've known have been the most generous with time, guidance, and kindness.

This does not mean that all workplace alliances are healthy, even if the allies are fine people. Some positions carry responsibilities that demand a certain detachment and objectivity. Those jobs demand the role of neutral even though the individuals might prefer the role of ally. These titles may even shift depending upon the exercise of specific responsibilities.

That shift may be awkward, but it is better than being locked into automatic adversarial relationships.

Quote of the Day

Running this business is like pushing a safe across the sand.

- Philip B. Crosby

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Two Games

Why won't Carl and Maria do their job?

In many cases, it is because they don't know what the job is. They are busy working on what they think the job is or should be and management may have neglected to clarify the priorities and expectations.

The blame, of course, is not solely on management's back. Carl or Maria may lack the initiative or the desire to define the job in any manner other than that which is most pleasing to them. This attitude eagerly shoos away any hints that the job entails other responsibilities.

That game may work for a while; perhaps for a long period. Their practice, however, is vulnerable to a form of poor management that may have been adopted by their manager; namely, neglect followed by termination. Many managers hate to confront and love to be read. They want Carl and Maria almost intuitvely to understand their expectations. When that does not happen, these managers suddenly and harshly lower the boom. They would rather fire a person than go through the messy process of counseling and goal-setting. Like the duke in Browning's "My Last Duchess," they choose never to stoop to mere correction.

Carl and Maria will correctly believe this to be quite unjust. What they miss, of course, is that while they were playing one game, their manager was playing another.

Quote of the Day

The silver trump of freedom had roused my soul to eternal wakefulness. Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever. It was heard in every sound, and seen in every thing. It was ever present to torment me with a sense of my wretched condition. I saw nothing without seeing it, I heard nothing without hearing it, and felt nothing without feeling it. It looked from every star, it smiled in every calm, breathed in every wind, and moved in every storm.

- Frederick Douglass

Friday, March 20, 2009

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Geithner and Gladstone

This post by John Phillips on the woes of the Secretary of the Treasury was before the most recent stories on the AIG bonuses.

I doubt if Secretary Geithner is going to be retained. He fails to inspire confidence. That is an essential quality in the Treasury post, especially in this economy.

Gladstone said a leader must be a good butcher. Leaders who hang on to staff members long after the person has become ineffective do themselves and their organizations little good. [While the President is at it, he should also consider replacing his press secretary, who is becoming a daily embarrassment.]

I recall one historian's account of how Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who sacked generals without hesitation, was otherwise inclined to delay taking similar action with cabinet members. Clement Attlee, on the other hand, would call in the head of a ministry and say - and I'm relying on memory here - "You're not up to the job."

It sounds brutal, but many an organization would benefit if more of its leaders followed Attlee's approach.

An Inspirational Yogi

Yogi was, Mr. Barra claims, the greatest winner in American professional sports and the greatest catcher in the history of baseball. The first point is inarguable -- Yogi was the backstop, and backbone, of 10 World Series championships and 14 American League pennant winners between 1947 and 1963. The second point is open to debate, especially from anyone who remembers Johnny Bench in the 1970s, playing for the Cincinnati Reds. In an appendix, Mr. Barra compares a handful of star catchers, examining their batting and fielding performances and applying advanced statistical methods to level their records across differing eras, leagues and ballparks. He doesn't quite succeed in making an incontrovertible case for Yogi's pre-eminence, but he does manage to eliminate even such notable figures as Bill Dickey, Roy Campanella and Mickey Cochrane and to narrow the all-time winner to Berra or Bench.

Read the rest about this new biography here.

Quote of the Day

If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

- William Morris

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Feeble Excuse Update

Stanley Bing on excuses that no longer work:

The contemporary business climate in which we now suffer presents us with many complexities, many indignities. One of them is, unfortunately, the ubiquity of digital communications. This has many benefits, and an equal number of personal liabilities. One of them is the demise of certain excuses that used to make life more tolerable. Included are such now out-of-date chestnuts as “I’ll read that when I receive it tomorrow morning and get you an answer on it by noontime,” which was killed by the fax machine, and “I can’t get there until Tuesday so let’s postpone the meeting until then,” which was laid low by teleconference technology. And now, I’m afraid, spokespeople of executives who wish to hide from the media, the government or their estranged spouses must now come up with a replacement for “He’s traveling right now and cannot be reached.”

A Commitment to the Audience

Here's an interesting interview of Jackie Gleason by Johnny Carson in which Gleason tells of a terrible television show he once made and what he did the week after that program.

It is difficult to imagine that being permitted today.

Learning by Osmosis

Well, I'm glad to see all of you here this morning. For those who are new to the organization, I'm a member of the executive team. Tom there in the back row just smiled. He remembers when I was just starting out so please don't believe a word he says.

Anyway, I'm here to kick off this session because the topic is so important. The CEO meant to be here but some things came up and so he grabbed me as I walked by his door and said, "Get on down there and tell them this is darned important training." Only he didn't say "darned."

Now I understand that this program is going to get into a number of problems that we hope to avoid at our company. Look around and you'll see a mixture of managers and supervisors. You all are the backbone of our team. You know that this group really runs the company. Those of us in the executive suites are just sort of along for the ride but don't let that word get out.

I'm going to have to leave but before I head upstairs I'd like you to feel free to hit me with any questions. Oh, there's one over near the coffee. Okay, I'll repeat the question. His question was, "If this training is so important, why aren't any of the executives here?"

That's a good one. I guess the answer is that we - the executives, that is - have such ridiculous schedules that we have to rely upon you all covering for us when it comes to this topic. It's not that we don't regard it as important. It's just that we have to balance our priorities. Next question?

Did you all hear that one? Yes, I believe you also have priorities to balance and it may be that you're right, the execs should be here. Perhaps you can teach old dogs new tricks. So I'll be sure to pass that along to the CEO.

And now, without further comment, I'll hand this over to your speaker.

Have a great class!

Quote of the Day

Almost any man worthy of his salt would fight to defend his home, but no one ever heard of a man going to war for his boarding house.

- Mark Twain

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Entertainment Break: Best Game Show

From Japan: the best game show ever.

I think it should be a required component of the New Hampshire primary.

When Reform Harms

The client says, "We want to make this process better. We think we'll do this and that."

Although the attitude is commendable, it is jarring how often the so-called reform would actually make matters worse. The dangers are hidden, of course, in the unintended consequences but the analysis assumes there is only one significant consequence and that it is so beneficial that any negatives are left in the dust.

This is where experience comes in. The experienced person knows what can quickly go wrong. That battle-tested soul is aware of what to say and what to omit and possesses a refined taste for restraint.

This restraint does not rule out boldness. It simply recognizes that many of the greatest blunders are made by those who are trying to make things better.

A friend of mine recently mentioned that he asked a surgeon just what the medical maxim of "First, do no harm" means. The surgeon replied, "It means you have a respect for tissue."

A Spam Blog?

Throw some spam on the griddle. Bring me an RC Cola and a Moon pie.

I received a notice from Blogger saying that its automatic blog screening process identified Execupundit.com as a spam blog.

They gave a process through which I can request a review so a real live person can check out the blog and make a determination. If I don't respond in 20 days, they delete the blog.

I suppose their theory is that a spam blog won't respond and the 20 day limit gives them the chance to drop a bunch of fake blogs.

Of course, I checked around before responding. [Law prof Ann Althouse received a similar notice over a year ago.]

The real spam-related blogging danger that I see is in the comments. I reject spam comments almost daily, mainly from gold bugs. In the days when I didn't screen comments, it was not unusual for 25, 30 or more spam messages to pop up overnight. None had any relation to the initial post. If Blogger made it easier to delete those comments, I'd go back to letting readers post comments without any screening.

It is a weird world out there.

Duck Herder

There are all sorts of jobs out there and this may be one of the better ones.

Get That Biz!

Consultant, professor, and prolific author Nicholas Bate gives 5 ways to get extra business by 12 noon.

He's right on target. So far, we've done number 4.

Two Words for a Good Startup Founder

A couple days ago I finally got being a good startup founder down to two words: relentlessly resourceful.

Till then the best I'd managed was to get the opposite quality down to one: hapless. Most dictionaries say hapless means unlucky. But the dictionaries are not doing a very good job. A team that outplays its opponents but loses because of a bad decision by the referee could be called unlucky, but not hapless. Hapless implies passivity. To be hapless is to be battered by circumstances—to let the world have its way with you, instead of having your way with the world. [1]

Read the rest of Paul Graham here.

Quote of the Day

Expressive individualism is thus the ideal context in which the mode of life as appearing can take hold. Here what matters about the products we buy is not their use value but their sign value. We do not buy a car simply for the purpose of getting from one place to another. Rather, we buy a particular make or style of car so that in driving it we will project a desired image. I don't actually have to be an outdoorsman or a Hollywood starlet to participate in the look by driving a four-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle or a convertible roadster. What has happened here is the elevation of the sign, image, or style above reality or substance. Given suitable attire and props (and funds!), we can share in the look of any identity without participating in the discipline of relationships that would make it real. We live in what the French theorist Guy Debord called the "society of the spectacle."

- Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pulp Art

Donald at 2Blowhards analyzes the covers of pulp fiction magazines and notes:

Perhaps the main reason why pulp cover art wasn't especially refined was because pulp editors and art directors (if there were any -- often the editor dealt with art as well as with words) didn't want refinement. What they wanted was eyeballs, and the way to attract the attention of people scanning magazine shelves of news stands was dramatic scenes and bright colors. As a matter of fact, cover artists were often ordered to include areas of bright red because it was thought to be a good attention-getter. Another important factor had to do with the low pay; artists couldn't afford to spend much time on refinement if they expected to make any kind of living painting pulp covers.

Great Moments in Reasoning

  • "As soon as I lose some weight, I'll get to the gym."
  • "If they promote me, I'll show them what I'm really capable of."
  • "I don't want to go near the water until I learn how to swim."
  • "If she ever gets seriously ill, I'll tell her how much she's meant to me."
  • Others?

Whitman to California's Rescue?

Fortune magazine explores the question of whether Meg Whitman can save California:

Whitman's living room - for now her campaign office - is the starting block of what is certain to be one (no, make that two!) of the most dramatic reinvention efforts in a long while. One reinvention is California, which is more critical to the recovery of the U.S. economy than any other state. Twelve percent of Americans live here. Ten percent of Fortune 500 companies have headquarters here. California's GDP, at $1.8 trillion, makes it the eighth-largest economy in the world. In the past year more people have lost jobs here than in any other state. More homes have gone into foreclosure. More banks have failed. And as Whitman notes, businesses are moving out at an alarming rate, most often citing excessive regulation and intolerable taxes. For top earners, California's taxes are the highest in the U.S. And to what end? California's credit rating is the lowest in the nation.

Culture Break: Yo-Yo Ma

Playing a composition by Mark O'Connor.

Hating Facebook

Manjoo cited all the statistics: Facebook had just added its 150-millionth member and since last August is signing up 374,000 people each day. It has achieved absolute critical mass, thus compounding its utility and effectiveness. Not joining now is an affectation in itself, like refusing to own a cellphone or rejecting the social lubricant of antiperspirant. "Facebook is now at the same point," he wrote. "Whether or not you intend it, you're saying something by staying away."

How right you are, Mr. Manjoo. I am indeed saying something, and it is this: I hate Facebook and everyone on it, including my friends, who I like. My wife just joined it, and I dearly love her. But scratch that. I hate her too. After all, right is right. Sometimes, we courageous few must make a stand.

Read all of the Matt Labash article here.

The Silence

The scoundrels are understandable. We know they're weasels. But why don't otherwise good people protest an injustice in the workplace? Some reasons:
  1. They don't believe it is an injustice.
  2. The act has been done before and so they see neither reason for protest nor hope for reform.
  3. They are afraid any protest will harm their career.
  4. They are worried that if they speak up they may have to do something even bolder.
  5. They believe it was an injustice but that it did little harm.
  6. Their influential friends have remained silent.
  7. They associate complaints with cranks.
  8. The system that produced the injustice favors them financially.
  9. The injustice is cloaked in a noble reason and they seize upon that rationalization.
  10. They are waiting for someone else to speak up.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Quote of the Day

My program is simple: I want to govern.

- Benito Mussolini

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Quiz to Consider

Assume you can only have one.

Which quality would you pick in order to succeed in business?

(A) Extraordinary vision
(B) Consistent execution
(C) Persistence

Hitchens on Mortimer

Christopher Hitchens recalls the author John Mortimer. An excerpt:

Surrendering to cliché in the end, he did accept a knighthood and become “Sir John,” and he did become Falstaffian in appearance and indulgence: “so surfeit-swell’d, so old, and so profane.” He declined to care about his weight and health, maintaining that “there is no pleasure worth forgoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward.” Approaching the root of the matter in one courtroom, he congratulated the jury on having sat through perhaps the most boring legal case on record. The judge in his own summing-up began by saying, “It may surprise you to know, members of the jury, that the sole purpose of the criminal law in England is not to entertain Mr. Mortimer.” Quite possibly not, but the attempt to prove otherwise was as good a way as any of keeping those demons at bay.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily]

Data Mining Hits HR

This Business Week article should be read by every HR professional, not necessarily because the process always makes sense, but because it's the sort of program that will cause MBAs in the executive suites to breathe heavily. An excerpt:

The trend, though early, is unmistakable, and it extends far beyond Redwood City. Number crunching, a staple for decades in the quantifiable domains of engineering and finance, has spread in recent years into marketing and sales. Companies can now model and optimize operations, and can calculate the return on investment on everything from corporate jets to Super Bowl ads. These successes have led to the next math project: the worker. "You have to bring the same rigor you bring to operations and finance to the analysis of people," says Rupert Bader, director of workforce planning at Microsoft (MSFT).

Best/Worst States for Biz

CEOs select the best and worst states for job growth and business. An excerpt:

Once again, this year, the same states that took the bottom five spots over the past few years preserved their rankings for the most part. For the fourth year in a row, California and New York were ranked the worst and second worst state to do business in, respectively. Michigan was ranked third from the bottom for the second year in a row. The only difference in the bottom five was a flip in the worst fourth and fifth states, as New Jersey took over Massachusetts as the fourth worst state.

The Brokest Generation

Some points to ponder from Mark Steyn. An excerpt:

This is the biggest generational transfer of wealth in the history of the world. If you're an 18-year-old middle-class hopeychanger, look at the way your parents and grandparents live: It's not going to be like that for you. You're going to have a smaller house, and a smaller car – if not a basement flat and a bus ticket. You didn't get us into this catastrophe. But you're going to be stuck with the tab, just like the Germans got stuck with paying reparations for the catastrophe of the First World War. True, the Germans were actually in the war, whereas in the current crisis you guys were just goofing around at school, dozing through Diversity Studies and hoping to ace Anger Management class. But tough. That's the way it goes.

[HT: Real Clear Politics]

Remembering Ramblers

The only American automaker whose 1958 sales had not declined happened to be the only one featuring homemade smaller cars. American Motors Corporation, a company born out of the desperate 1954 marriage of two failing veteran car makers—Hudson and Nash—doubled its sales, from 91,469 in ’57 to 186,227 in ’58. The cars that did the trick were the Rambler, built on a 108-inch wheelbase, and its newly introduced little brother, the Rambler American, built on a 100-inch wheelbase with the body dies from the original Nash Rambler of 1950. Most American cars at that time were riding on wheelbases of 115- to 130-plus inches and often weighed a half-ton more than the 2500–3000-pound Ramblers.

Read the rest of The American story here.

Taking Chance

The trailer for a very powerful film.

And an observation from The Wall Street Journal.

Quote of the Day

To say that a man is an idealist is merely to say that he is a man.

- G. K. Chesterton

Friday, March 13, 2009

Business Advice from a Mr. Barboni of Miami

Who says you can't find business tips in the movies?

Here's an illustration of negotiation mistakes from the film "Get Shorty."

[A consumer warning for those unfamiliar with that excellent movie: The language is very R-rated.]

Dangerous E-Mail

My post on how e-mail becomes dangerous is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Detroit's Mistakes

Third, GM, Ford, and Chrysler handled failure better than success. When they made money, they tended to squander it on ill-conceived diversification schemes. It was when they were in trouble that they often did their most innovative work—the first minivans at Chrysler, the first Ford Taurus, and more recently the Chevy Volt were ideas born out of crisis.

Read all of Joseph B. White's speech on how the Detroit automakers screwed up. It contains lessons for all businesses.

[HT: Robinson and Long ]

Happiness and a Life Well Lived

My text is drawn from Federalist 62, probably written by James Madison: "A good government implies two things: first, fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained." Note the word: happiness. Not prosperity. Not security. Not equality. Happiness, which the Founders used in its Aristotelian sense of lasting and justified satisfaction with life as a whole.

I have two points to make. First, I will argue that the European model is fundamentally flawed because, despite its material successes, it is not suited to the way that human beings flourish--it does not conduce to Aristotelian happiness. Second, I will argue that twenty-first-century science will prove me right.

Read the rest of Charles Murray's speech here.

One Step Backward is Sometimes Forward

Stanley Bing is going analog:

Aren’t you bored with career strategies? Don’t you feel sometimes, when you’re looking at business magazines or books or listening to drivel from guys who supposedly know everything, that everybody is simply reinventing the same wheel over and over again?

You’re right. The problem is that business people often need to hear the same things over and over again. It’s not because we’re stupid. Probably.

Be sure to read it all. We've all been there.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Quote of the Day

Let us dare to read, think, speak and write.

- John Adams

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Smile Break: Chico Marx

Forget about Madoff, the economy, and the glum stories of the world for just a moment and check out just one of the many great scenes from "A Night at the Opera."

Madoff Speaks

Here are some quotes from Bernard Madoff at his hearing.

Do you believe he is "deeply sorry and ashamed?"

I believe he is deeply sorry and perhaps even ashamed that he was caught.

Manahan: Talkative Interviewers

Interview expert Rowan Manahan gives outstanding advice on what to do when the job interviewer talks too much. My favorite part:

If you are being hit with closed questions (the kind of questions that demand ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers) make sure you immediately follow your monosyllabic answer with an explanation as to why this is your approach, how it has worked for you in the past and why this makes you different/special/wonderful. You need to do this without drawing breath!

Rise and Fight Again

For a friend who has been "restructured":

I am hurt, but I am not slain;
I'll lay me down and bleed a while,
And then I'll rise and fight again.

- John Dryden, from his poem "Sir Andrew Barton"

Poor Casting

We've all seen films in which parts were poorly cast. This is no reflection upon the talent of the actors. It is simply a poor match between the person and the part.

What is surprising is how often poor casting is ignored in the workplace. Extraordinary attempts are made to transform an individual who completely lacks the capacity and inclination to perform in a particular role. The person is sent to workshops, given mentors, and coached with the underlying belief that, with sufficient training, all is achievable.

Sometimes, more negative inducements are employed. Disciplinary action and threats are given and yet the result is the same. Management is disappointed by a performance that any objective observer could have predicted from the start. Ed or Mary is not cut out for sales, HR, etc. It is not a good fit.

Why do organizations squander time and energy in these hopeless transformational efforts? Perhaps because the same people ordering those actions were responsible for miscasting the person in the first place. Once the blunder has been made, it can be very tempting to justify the decision by changing the person. If the person fails to respond to these generous gestures, then it is much easier to blame the victim of the poor casting.

After all, he or she was given every chance.

The Piketty-Saez Effect

Daniel Henninger looks at the budget and sees a document shaped by "redistribute the wealth" theorists . An excerpt:

Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, French economists, are rock stars of the intellectual left. Their specialty is "earnings inequality" and "wealth concentration."

Messrs. Piketty and Saez have produced the most politically potent squiggle along an axis since Arthur Laffer drew his famous curve on a napkin in the mid-1970s. Laffer's was an economic argument for lowering tax rates for everyone. Piketty-Saez is a moral argument for raising taxes on the rich.

Booze, Success, and Happiness

Arthur C. Brooks examines the advantages of moderate drinking. An excerpt:

Moderate drinkers are richer than teetotalers, too. In 2001 the University of Michigan's Panel Study of Income Dynamics found that light drinkers (one to two drinks a day) had a mean income of $49,000, versus $36,000 among teetotalers. This is a nuanced statistic; drinking may be associated with other variables (like education) that influence income. So the researchers did their best to strip these other causes out. If two adults were identical with respect to education, age, family status, race and religion, except that the first had one or two drinks each night after work while the second was a teetotaler, the drinker would tend to enjoy a "drinker's bonus" of about 10% higher income.

Quote of the Day

The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.

- Chinese proverb

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Geek Break: HP Firebird PC

HP and its boutique/luxe division Voodoo deserve serious praise for what they've accomplished with the Firebird 803. Taking a mix of laptop and desktop guts, juicing it up with high-end components, cooling it with liquid goo instead of noisy fans, and encasing it inside a gorgeous, curvy shell that would make most industrial designers weep with envy, they've made the Firebird a testament to how the envelope can be pushed in the typically boring PC world.

It's also a veritable bargain, priced at $2,100, fully loaded.

You know you want one. Read the rest of the Wired review here.

Bad Symantec Update: WHO WAS PHONE?

Around 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time, Symantec noticed that its Norton support forums were being flooded with blank messages that had PIFTS.exe in their subject line. Within three hours there were 600 posts about PIFTS.exe. The posts contained no text, only subjects such as "IF PIFTS.EXE WAS HERE, THEN WHO WAS PHONE?" and "OH GOD YOU GOT CHOCOLATE IN MY PIFTS."

Symantec began deleting the messages, assuming they were from spammers.

Read the rest of the CSO story here.

Two Perspectives

Biz Deans Talk on the recent interview with Warren Buffett.

Saturday Night Live takes on the Secretary of the Treasury.

"New" Twain Story

When he died in 1910, Mark Twain left behind a mass of papers. (”The largest collection of personal papers created by any 19-century American author,” says publisher HarperStudio.) Now some of those papers will be seeing the light of day.

Among them was an unpublished story that will appear in next week’s issue of the mystery quarterly The Strand. “The Undertaker’s Tale” is a never-before-published humorous piece by Twain. “Twain uses his razor sharp wit to pen a tongue-in-cheek tale about the funeral industry which could easily have been written today,” says Strand editor Andrew Gulli.

Read the rest of The Christian Science Monitor article here.

Overqualified Plus

We know that some people are turned down for positions because they are "overqualified."

But what about the adverse actions that occur because of other positive qualities? Let's be frank. There are people whose careers are harmed because they are:

  • Nice.
  • Creative.
  • Honest.
  • Fair.
  • Polite.
  • Analytical.
  • Far-sighted.
  • Courageous.

We can easily cite examples of when a virtue becomes a vice. The analytical person may be indecisive. The courageous person may be rash. But that criticism may be too easy. Groups may benefit from an examination of when virtues become drawbacks.

That discussion may also assist in dissecting the roots of "Here comes someone who is bright, attentive, and helpful. Obviously, he must be destroyed."

Quote of the Day

If justice is a neutral process - with no effort by judges to rein in extreme claims or dubious defenses - then people know they can't rely on their instincts of what's reasonable. They become self-conscious and defensive in daily dealings. For them to feel free in daily interactions, legal boundaries must correspond with their reasonable sense of right and wrong.

- Philip K. Howard

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Miscellaneous and Fast

FedEx Wisdom

Wally Bock points us to management wisdom from Fred Smith.

Design a Workplace

I've seen workplaces with fancy cafeterias, jogging paths, gyms, and even stress-reduction rooms where you can go to scream and punch bags.

Nice, but this is what I would really like to see in the workplace:

The monastery: A section in which silence is the rule and where rooms and gardens are designed solely for contemplation.

Idea rooms: These sound-proof pods would be more informal and comfortable than the average conference room. They would be filled with white boards and flip charts and any other item conducive to brainstorming.

The history room: This room would have charts on which various projects can be easily updated and followed. It would also contain volumes with summaries of decisions as well as "lessons learned" accounts by top performers who have left the organization.

What would you want?

Some Decision Makers

Rex likes lots of discussion with everyone in the same room and little in writing. He wants to hear arguments between opposing points of view and picks the debaters. His goal is the fastest and most workable course of action rather than the best course of action. Rex is often both excited and exhausted by his decision making process.

Elena likes to have decisions fully staffed so all interested parties get a chance to attach their comments to a single decision paper. She likes clear recommendations and more than three options. She does not like verbal reports. She may decide on the basis of the paper alone or may call in staff members so they can discuss their concerns. Her goal is the best possible course of action. She occasionally jumps down the chain of command in order to see if facts are being filtered.

Carlos has faith in his intuition. He likes to make up his own mind and then see how his recommended course of action is regarded by the staff. If he feels strongly about a particular course, he will push it through but he sometimes reverses his decision if the staff makes solid points. He brags that he is collegial, but his associates regard him as a faux collegial.

Samantha likes to see staff members battle over turf and prestige. She sometimes gives two people the same assignment just to see which one comes up with the best ideas. She dislikes filtering and places herself at the hub of her area. She is wary of any associate who seems to be getting too powerful. She both charms and manipulates.

Frank is very charismatic. His associates routinely defer to his judgment because he is usually right. Frank has enormous self-confidence. Most of his staff members are highly dependent upon him. He has not groomed a successor. If Frank weren't around, his team would deteriorate into a mob.

Preston does not trust his staff. He piles rule upon rule to close loopholes and he quickly terminates any dissenter. His staff members push both important and minor decisions up the ladder to Preston. This creates enormous inefficiency but Preston does not mind so long as his own position is secure. He regards the upward delegation as proof that his associates are inept.

Quote of the Day

A statesman is an easy man,
He tells his lies by rote;
A journalist makes up his lies
And takes you by the throat;
So stay at home and drink your beer
And let the neighbors vote.

- William Butler Yeats

Monday, March 09, 2009

Humor Break: Brooks Sings Sinatra

Because you've earned it:

Mel Brooks as Frank Sinatra singing America The Beautiful.

Time to Go to the Movies?

Hollywood is going to undergo a radical simplification during the next few years, and so will the independent film market. The number of films released will decline by at least a third, and probably more, this year, and will be down by 50 percent in 2010.

The economic logic is inescapable. Hollywood no longer has hedge-fund capital to burn. The kinds of tricky European tax shelters that allowed studios to make movies for almost nothing (detailed brilliantly in Edward Jay Epstein's The Big Picture) are going to be closed. Even Steven Spielberg was forced to go shopping for new backers in India, and when those backers went broke, he came back to the United States and found that his old friends at Universal had lost their stomach for doing business with him.

Read the rest of John Podhoretz here.

Being Your Own Boss

Writing in City Journal, Laura Vanderkam examines the pros and cons of being self-employed.

Car Wars: The Buy

Manufacturers are flooding the marketplace with multiple incentives - 14 different brands were offering low financing, cash back, and lengthened payment terms in the first quarter (most come-ons are released on a quarterly basis). Chrysler led the bargain charge, but others weren't far behind; Mazda is letting buyers drive off without making a payment for three months, and Hyundai is allowing new owners to return a car if they lose their job within a year of purchase - and will even kick in a couple of payments.

Read the rest of Fortune on how to get the most car for your money in a buyer's market.

Philip K. Howard Interview

Here's an excerpt of a Book TV interview with Philip K. Howard, author of Life Without Lawyers.

I highly recommend Howard's book, which analyzes how fear of unwarranted lawsuits has damaged our society.

What's Your Label?

It may be grossly unfair that people in organizations place labels on individuals but it happens. Think of how often you've seen the following labels dispensed in the workplace:

  • Complainer
  • Rising Star
  • Incompetent
  • Big Talker
  • Slob
  • Harasser
  • Flirt
  • Geek
  • Recluse
  • Maverick
  • Manipulator
  • Genius

Those are just a few and they need not have any strong connection to reality in order to stick. [I've run across some workers with the Incompetent label who were quite able.] All that is required is for someone with influence to ascribe the label and then the sealing process begins.

This not only limits the victim; it also narrows the perception of those who deal with the person. The Complainer may have some valid points about a particular problem, but once the label has been applied, many listeners will be too quick to dismiss those points.

The standard warnings about gossiping should also include cautions against the use of labels. A person who has earned an especially negative label should be turned around or turned out. Keeping the person on board with the equivalent of The Scarlet Letter does no one any good.

There are some labels for organizations that permit this. They aren't very complimentary.

Quote of the Day

And always keep ahold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse.

- Hilaire Belloc

Saturday, March 07, 2009