Thursday, April 30, 2009

Earning Trust

A very nice list from Susan Mazza on 7 ways to earn trust.

[HT: Mike Henry Sr. ]

Avast! Lessons from Pirates

SOX first looks at The Invisible Hook by Peter Leeson. An excerpt:

Pirates were very much into branding. The aim was to strike terror into the hearts of the general public. Again, it was all about maximizing profits and keeping a lid on costs. Piratical costs included crew casualties and damage to the ship. As a result, they came up with the Jolly Roger, the logo that would signal to other ships that they would spare no quarter and slaughter all who resisted. Their targets would peacefully submit, reducing the potential costs. Pirate torture of victims also served the same purpose although as Leeson points out, they didn't make anyone walk the plank. That would be too quick and easy and would not serve the purpose of spreading terror.

The Happiness Project

Check out the tips at The Happiness Project.

Be sure to read The Twelve Commandments on the left side of the page.

[HT: Nicholas Bate ]

Are You an M.O. Snob?

It got to the point where those around me got freaked out on a fairly regular basis…
They were either concerned that I’d frozen under pressure or confused and annoyed by the relatively small volume of content I would generate, compared to them. And, truth be told, it freaked me out, too, walking to the front of the room to turn in my single blue book, while those around me handed in stacks of the same made me question my own process.

Read the rest of Jonathan Fields here.

Gandhi's Way: Finding Time for Silence

I love conversation and brainstorming, grabbing crazy and conventional ideas and wrestling them to the floor, knocking them around the room, and approaching them from all angles.

But silence is also helpful. No music. No talking. No phones ringing. Complete silence. You feel as if you're swimming underwater. Every stroke is noticed. Your energy is tangible.

Mahatma Gandhi would work in silence one day a week. His staff would bring in notes and he would scrawl replies. You can imagine the sense of peace it brought.

We underestimate the impact of fatique in the workplace. Our underestimation of the impact of sound is probably even greater. Not noise. Sound.

Experiment with this. Set aside some time over the next seven days and seek silence.

Quote of the Day

There is no dignity quite so impressive, and no independence quite so important, as living within your means.

- Calvin Coolidge

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Startup Circumstances

In a new essay, Paul Graham asks:

What if startups are both a new economic phase and also a type of business that only flourishes in certain centers?

Products That Sell Themselves

Check out this black 1977 Pontiac Trans Am SE.

You know you want one.

[HT: Instapundit ]

Better Ideas from Unconventional Sources

An interesting story about the formation of the R Team and "R" didn't stand for Research.

This is the Problem

We really think it is the problem and all of us have agreed that if it goes away - somehow - things will be much better.

What? Something new? Well, perhaps what we thought was the problem was only a symptom of another problem.

And what might that problem be?

Something from outside our group no doubt. It certainly couldn't be anything we're doing. All of our problems are external.

Banquo's Ghosts

Idea Anaconda doubts that Banquo's Ghosts will be made into a movie.

An Appropriate Ground Rule on Business

Mark Zandi, in his book Financial Shock: Global Panic and Government Bailouts - How We Got Here and What Must Be Done to Fix It, quotes the CEO of a major financial institution:

"If it's growing like a weed, it's probably a weed."

When Managing to the Dysfunctional is Personal

You can read the personnel policies or handbooks of some organizations and tell they were written with one or two people in mind.

At some point, management became focused on keeping Jack, Maria or Harold from getting away with something. Their energy would have been better spent crafting rules that would not alienate the 98 percent of the employees who are doing a good job.

The experienced manager knows that:
  • People will fool you. [So what if you're fooled on something minor and the job gets done.]
  • People will goof off. [Most of us work in bursts, not in a constant flow, and it can be hard to distinguish goofing off from establishing good working relationships.]
  • People won't memorize the rules. [Too many rules are a danger sign.]
  • People will mock authority. [If this remains within some reasonable limits, it may even be a healthy activity. Excessive deference to authority can produce even worse problems.]

Quote of the Day

When victimhood is your empowerment, recovery is the enemy.

- Tammy Bruce

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

SAT Wars

One Saturday morning this month, a quarter million kids or more will slump their way into the fluorescent tomb of a high school classroom, slide into the seat of a flimsy polypropylene combo chair-desk, and then, with clammy palms dampening the shafts of perfectly sharpened number two pencils, they will take the SAT. They will carefully mark only one answer for each question, as instructed, and they will make sure to fill the entire circle darkly and completely. They will not make any stray marks on their answer sheet. If they erase, they will do so completely, because incomplete erasures may be scored as intended answers. They will not open their test book until the supervisor tells them to do so, and if they finish before time is called, they will not turn to any other section of the test. And over the next three hours they will determine the course of the rest of their lives.

Read the rest of Andrew Ferguson on the SAT and its enemies.

Profitable Tech?

Fortune gives its list of the 20 most profitable tech companies.

100 Attributes

A classic from What Would Dad Say:

100 Attributes of People Who Start Companies. An excerpt:

8. Love your prospects. This is a different and more specific than the axiom of “Be Passionate.” This was really brought home to me several years ago, when I attended a new company investor presentation. After the very professional presentation, the co-founder was asked in a small, friendly group of people, if he had always believed in this approach. (The company was in the self-help space.) He said, ‘No, I don’t believe in it, but it looks like a wide open market.’ If you are approaching the business from a purely economic standpoint, you might be able to make it work. All I am saying is it makes it all more fun and believable if you love the prospects and customers. Warren Buffet owns Dairy Queen and I ‘d bet you a marshmellow Blizzard that Warren loves DQ ice cream. One thing he would not say is ” Americans should not eat ice cream.”

Miscellaneous and Fast

Quote of the Day

Don't let Krusty's death get you down, boy. People die all the time, just like that. Why you could wake up dead tomorrow. Well, good night.

- Homer Simpson

Monday, April 27, 2009

Quiz: Drop Just One

Which of the following do you believe you could do without for a year and, as a result, would be a better person?
  1. Cell phone
  2. Fax
  3. Email
  4. Television
  5. Radio
  6. iPod
  7. Internet

The Next New Thing

From Foreign Policy magazine: 13 new things the recession may produce.

The Next 30 Minutes

This can vary, of course, from person to person but for many of us, these two rules are helpful:
  1. Before taking an action, consider how you will feel 30 minutes after doing it. If the answer is a negative one, look for an alternative.
  2. Take your eyes off of the horizon and think of where your focus should be for the next 30 minutes. Keep doing this in 30 minute increments. We tend to succeed or fail incrementally and 30 minutes constitute a meaningful block of time.

Learning about Management from Television

You can learn a great deal about the nature of management by watching the careers of various television personalities.

A late-night television program needs a host. Management considers a few alternatives and makes what it thinks is a safe and workable choice. There is no pretense that the person selected is the best choice. Best is seen as an elusive quality not sought by practical people. Reasonably good is the criterion.

The person goes to work and, in some notable cases, doesn't exactly set the airways on fire. But is the star replaced? No way. To do so would be to admit a mistake. The person is kept on in a job that pays millions of dollars a year because management tells itself the host is"good enough" and that is acceptable. The execs also believe that replacing the person would be too disruptive - perhaps even to their own careers - and the successor might not be that big an improvement.

Since such jobs once were held by true talents, one can wonder how and why the vetting process was readjusted to reward mediocrity. Was it one sloppy decision maker or was the problem systemic?

Jack London's Take on Life

The ultimate word is I LIKE. It lies beneath philosophy, and is twined about the heart of life. When philosophy has maundered ponderously for a month, telling the individual what he must do, the individual says, in an instant, "I LIKE," and does something else, and philosophy goes glimmering.

- From The Cruise of the Snark

Quote of the Day

My inability to adjust to the new trends had an adverse effect upon my professional expectations. While my fellow students were already establishing themselves in various esoteric specialties, most of which they invented for themselves on the theory that if you are the only specialist in a given field you need fear no competition, I was still unable to deflect my interests from the general to the particular. As graduation approached I found that the majority of my contemporaries were assured of excellent research jobs while I seemed to have nothing particular to offer in the biological marketplace. It was, therefore, inevitable that I should end up working for the Government.

- Farley Mowat

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Compassion Update

The Onion News audio report: Passed-out guy on front lawn better not be dead.

Revisiting the Zone of Indifference

One technique that I've used to increase efficiency and preserve sanity is to maintain a zone of indifference.

I've written about it before, but lately have concluded that its borders need to be frequently tended or else they'll become blurred. Once that happens, you may find yourself awake at two in the morning, wrestling with a topic that deserves temporary or permanent residence in the zone.

Candidates for the zone are items that:
  1. Cannot be changed;
  2. Sap too much energy;
  3. Produce depression; and
  4. Poison one's perspective.

Diligent use of the zone can be liberating. You do not have to have an opinion on every topic some journalism grad decides is worthy of news coverage. In time, you notice that a morning's story of breathless importance often disappears in a few days, only to be replaced by a new Worry du Jour. Your focus shifts to more important matters.

But you have to get out the bricks and mortar because we are beset by worry merchants and the zone must be maintained.

Homage to Hitchcock

Back by popular demand: Scorsese's The Key to Reserva.

The Fog of Job Ads

A recruitment ad asks applicants to describe their experience in the following:

Applied knowledge of office management practices to coordinating administrative support processes for an organization.

Just think: Someone was paid to write that sentence.

When Good Deeds Require a Boost

You're about to have company or leave town, so various chores that have been postponed for days are quickly addressed. Why weren't they tackled before?

Because they lacked the appeal of a larger purpose.

I'm typing this in a home office that resembles a jungle. If I decide to go through the necessary preliminaries of painting the room, one of the ancillary benefits of that project will be a frenzy of organization and prioritization.

A similar scenario can be found in the restructuring that has arisen in the wake of the current economic crunch. Organizations are now taking many actions that should have been completed when times were flush. Their larger purpose was externally imposed, but the willingness to select our own larger purpose before a crisis hits can help to break the log jam of daily routines. Drift aids accumulation and accumulation inhibits action.

E-Reading's Obstacles

Thessaly La Force explains why no one asks for my phone number at Starbucks.

Quote of the Day

Listen to the whispers and you won't have to hear the screams.

- Cherokee saying

Friday, April 24, 2009

David Brent: King of Cringe

Ah, the brilliance of management consultants! The Microsoft UK video of Gervais and Merchant.

Coaching Tips

Cultural Offering provides the sort of advice every Little League coach should heed.

Reading it took me back to my own illustrious Little League career.

Fortunately, I had coaches ranging from Very Good to Great. Always supportive. Always teaching.

I didn't run into abusive coaches until high school, where I fell into the hands of professionals.

Every Problem is a Nail

I'm on Twitter and am tinkering with Twitterfeed to get blog post notices transformed into tweets. All will be well once I locate the hammer.

Dissecting Surprising Failures

What do you find when extraordinary performers produce work that is mediocre? If you examine the examples closely enough, you may discover the following:
  • They were outside of their usual territory. The film director with an established reputation for thrillers decides to make a comedy on the mistaken assumption that story telling skills are easily transferable from one genre to another. The great sales representative, following a promotion, proves to be a terrible sales manager.
  • They were ambushed by extraordinary circumstances. Changes in personnel, rules, and resources unduly hampered their ability to succeed. Their current environment is far less positive than the one in which they succeeded.
  • They have experienced burn-out. The team that won the championship one year might lack the "fire in the belly" to be a contender the next.
  • They have taken on too much. Nothing attracts additional opportunities like success. Enhanced self-confidence and fatigue can cloud the wisdom to say no.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Lowered Expectations and Preferences

John McWhorter on the fire department discrimination case. An excerpt:

This will not do: People like Du Bois did not dedicate their lives to paving the way for black people to be exempt from tests. Sure, the tests may not correlate perfectly with firefighters' duties. But which falls more into the spirit of black uplift that you could explain to a foreigner in less than three minutes: teaching black candidates how to show what they are made of despite obstacles, or banning a test of mental agility as inappropriate to impose on black candidates?

[HT: Althouse ]

Side Projects and Success

In 1921, a 22-year-old engineering school dropout named Richard Drew applied for a job at 3M’s research lab in St. Paul, Minnesota. William McKnight, then 3M’s vice president, was impressed with Drew’s raw eagerness and hired and assigned him to an auto body paint shop to test 3M’s new sandpaper. But it was not the sandpaper chore that grabbed Drew’s attention: while at the shop he noticed that the painters were having problems painting two-tone colors. Plaster tape was supposed to act as a straight-line guide but it either kept ripping off paint or the tape adhesive stuck on the car’s surface permanently. Drew vowed to solve the problem.

Read the rest of Ben Casnocha on success on the side.

Learning from the Bad

My post on good lessons from bad jobs is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Communication Pros and Cons

Pro: The ability to send and read messages at your convenience!
Con: The ability to rapidly offend others or embarrass yourself combined with something you've always wanted: Another in-box.

Pro: Now you can reach others no matter where you are.
Con: Now others can reach you no matter where you are.

Face to Face
Pro: You can see and interpret the other person's body language!
Con: Was that a yawn?

Pro: A brief exposition of carefully considered thought.
Con: An alibi posing as a message.

Quote of the Day

It is a characteristic mistake of the enlightened to demand too much of humans and then to loathe them for falling short.

- Michael Novak

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy Birthday to Old Will!

They're celebrating his birthday at National Review and citing which play is their favorite.

I'm with Joe Queenan on his pick.

Finding Oz

If L. Frank Baum had been listed on the stock exchange in 1900, his shares would have been trading near historic lows. The soon-to-be famous author of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" had at that point failed at a long series of energetic attempts to find a career. At 44, Baum had already been a chicken farmer, an actor, a seller of machinery lubricants, a purveyor of novelty goods and a newspaper publisher. All his life he'd written lively prose -- plays, ads, columns -- but most of it seemed to go nowhere.

Then, suddenly, it did.

Read the rest of Meghan Cox Gurdon's review of Finding Oz.


Words reveal how we regard confidence.

Confidence can be:

Built, shattered, eroded, fed, inspired or diminished.

You seldom hear of it being crafted, fashioned or designed.

Nor does it suddenly appear.

Quote of the Day

It would perhaps be poetic justice if planners were paid in Susan B. Anthony dollars.

- Norman R. Augustine

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Arrogance Creep

Some signs of Arrogance Creep, an affliction that starts small but can rapidly grow:

  • An increasing tendency to think the rest of the organization is out of touch and that change needs to be hammered past the mossbacks.
  • Derisive remarks directed at the intelligence and motives of colleagues who express dissent.
  • A strong belief that the inner circle is so savvy it can easily solve problems that frustrated its predecessors.
  • Shameless acceptance of awards from community groups although the awards were generated by donating money to those groups.
  • A passion for obtaining and keeping perks and privileges.
  • A weaker application of rules and standards to the upper levels of the organization.
  • Paternalistic and tight control of information, no matter how trivial.

The Red X

Back by popular demand: Jerry Seinfeld's productivity tip.

Quote of the Day

Patience is an essential quality for business; many a man would rather you heard his story than grant his request.

- Lord Chesterfield

Monday, April 20, 2009

Round Up the Usual Suspects

Blogger has slowed my usual posting process while it decides whether or not this is a spam blog.

I responded to them earlier to head this off but apparently that did not do the trick.

Bear with me. I'm confident that I'll soon be back on the streets.

The Travel Chapter

One of my business partners and I once worked on a management book that never got published. The agent liked it and the editor liked it but the marketing people thought its scope was too broad so the manuscript was taken into a back room and strangled.

[The project was a graduate course in dealing with book publishers. Forget the editors. Marketing is the only vote that counts.]

Anyway, one of the chapters dealt with business travel and consumed an inordinate amount of time. Later, after our wounds had healed, we began to use the expression, "the travel chapter," to refer to a project that is being over-refined and which should just be ended.

The best can indeed be the enemy of the good.

Have you ever found yourself in a project that seems never-ending and needs to be cut short?

Pink's Take

Daniel H. Pink has a sign of the times and an interesting example of magazine customization.

Real Wealth

Author, consultant, and professor Nicholas Bate on what it takes to be really really wealthy.

Quote of the Day

Boys, if they want to trap Big Jim with a beautiful blonde and a bottle of fine whiskey, why, they're going to catch him every time!

- Big Jim Folsum, Governor of Alabama during the fifties

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dying Brands

Check out SOX First on 12 brands that will die.

Esquire magazine has been a dead man walking for years.

Pity. It had some great writing when Clay Felker was there.

Moneyed Midways Time

Always worth checking out: On the Moneyed Midways at Political Calculations.

Time-Wasting, Mind-Numbing, Entertainment

For those who enjoyed the Falling Sand game, here is a new version:

Hell of Sand.

Highly Recommended: The Way We Live Now

David Brooks in an introduction to Anthony Trollope's classic Victorian novel:

Everybody loves this guy in public and hates him in private. He's got a big head and a booming voice and his conversation, such as it is, never strays too far from himself and his own epic accomplishments. Nobody's even quite sure where all the money came from. Some gossip that he made his dough in Internet porn or that he sells weapons or, worst of all, trades tobacco. But still everybody comes. The religious leaders are in a tizzy to know what religion he is, imagining all the bounty he could cast down on their worthy causes. The rich old folks who sit on the museum boards come pay homage to him, and they never leave his office empty-handed. He must love culture because he's willing to throw twenty-five-thousand-dollar checks at Matisse shows or Mozart festivals or Postmodern performance art. So when he walks into a room he sees a smile on every face, and after he leaves it there's nasty gossip on every tongue.

If you take this situation and move it back a century or so, you've got the essential setting for The Way We Live Now.

Interests, Not Personalities

Josef Joffe, editor of the German weekly Die Zeit, gives some reminders of Diplomacy 101.

Hans Morgenthau would have been proud. An excerpt:

George W. Bush was heartily disliked in Europe west of Warsaw, and Mr. Obama is universally loved. But how well does that popularity translate into power? How far could President Obama push his agenda with, say, German Chancellor Angela Merkel or French President Nicolas Sarkozy? About as far as you can throw a piano.

Quote of the Day

We sit by and watch the Barbarian, we tolerate him; in the long stretches of peace we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence, his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond; and on those faces there is no smile.

- Hilaire Belloc

Friday, April 17, 2009

Miscellaneous and Fast

Boo! Details and Bureaucracy!

My post on micromanagement and systems is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Scareware Spreads

While surfing the Web in December, Keren Brophy got a message on her computer screen telling her to update her antivirus software. The pop-up message looked similar to Windows security warnings she'd routinely received. She paid $49.99 for a program called Antivirus 2009 from a company calling itself Meyrocorp and thought she was safe.

A few days after she installed the software, Ms. Brophy's computer wouldn't boot up properly and soon was unusable; she noticed the desktop icon for the software she'd bought had disappeared. She had to wipe her hard drive clean to get the computer working again. Hoping for a refund, she sent email to Meyrocorp but got only automated replies.

Read the rest of this fascinating and frustrating Wall Street Journal article.

A life sentence to prison should be the standard penalty for scareware, malware, and the other extreme computer crimes. The amount of disruption and harm that they do is difficult to calculate.

Have You Ever Noticed That?

  1. Those who emphasize the importance of a particular credential usually already possess it?
  2. More great ideas surface during a shower than during a library visit?
  3. Some people announce their insecurities at the top of their lungs?
  4. If you don't take time off it takes you off?
  5. As you get older you don't necessarily know more but you can detect more?
  6. Grave mistakes occur when you either overlook or subconsciously accept another's reality?
  7. A shared experience can be one of the most powerful bonds on earth?

Quote of the Day

Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.

- Mel Brooks

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Real Multitasking

Employment attorney John Phillips warns against multitasking and offers a video as evidence.


Bret Stephens on Hiroshima, 2.0. An excerpt:

To get a better sense of what all this is about, type the words "Cyber attack" and "generator" into YouTube. The first result should be a short clip from the Department of Homeland Security, leaked to CNN a couple of years ago, showing an electric generator under a simulated cyberattack at the Idaho National Laboratory. Within seconds the generator begins to shake violently. Within a minute, it's up in smoke.

Now imagine the attack being conducted against 60 large generators, simultaneously. Imagine, too, similar attacks against chemical plants, causing Bhopal-style toxic leaks. Imagine malicious software codes planted in U.S. weapons systems, which could lie undetected until triggered by a set of conditions similar to mobilization.

The Ole Hootie Owl Symptom

Joseph Epstein has a cold:

A sure sign of my being sick is that I find myself humming some of the worst popular songs ever written: "Cement Mixer, Putty, Putty," "Linda," and the always freshly banal "Tammy." At times of emotional turmoil, I am able to work through what is bothering me, setting it aside as I tap away on whatever I happen to be writing at the moment. But during a cold of any intensity, my mind clicks off: The ole hootie owl, hootie-hoo's to the dove, / Tammy, Tammy, Tammy's in love.

Umberto, Matthew, and the Anti-Library

I like this: Matthew Cornell on the anti-library.

[HT: Nicholas Bate]

Geeks and Easy Formulas

The lesson seems clear. Don't allow a whole system to become hostage to the workings of some geek's formula. Keep in mind the possibility that the real world might not behave as the formula indicates.

But, astonishingly, our society seems about to forget that lesson, just as it should have been learned. Congress is poised, at least if the Obama administration gets its way, to pass major new laws on carbon emissions and on health care whose success depends on geeks bearing formulas.

Read the rest of Michael Barone here.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Quote of the Day

God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take what you please - you can never have both.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I heard this morning that Bob died several days ago.

A heart attack. He passed away in his sleep. As is often said, there are worse ways to go, but since he was only 60 we thought he'd be around longer.

I last saw him months ago. He looked good. Tanned. Thin. Was playing a lot of golf. Still in the real estate biz in California. He had several stories and a series of one-liners. When you were with Bob, it was like being on The Tonight Show and he was the host. He was witty and bright and always left you in a good mood.

We react differently to various deaths. This one is strange. It's as if several of us want to say, "What the hell are you doing? Get back here!"

His family plans to scatter some of his ashes near one of his favorite golf courses. Bob would have found that both touching and amusing.

And then he would have told a joke.


Stanley Bing has a quiz on the national mood. An excerpt:

1. I am sick of…
a. Rotten bankers

b. Stinking pirates
c. Posturing bureaucrats
d. Winter

Great Moments in Literature: Harlequin Romance Readings

If you have ever wanted to hear George Will and some other unlikelies reading from a romance novel, here is your chance.

[HT: Andrew Sullivan]

Unnaturally Good Management

A basic question: Is poor management the natural state and good management the exception?

If so, what is the significance of that?

One may be that there is a natural pull toward the slipshod and the chaotic. Left unattended, matters don't coast, but descend. Achievements must be monitored and reinforced or they will be lost. Neglect may be as harmful as focused actions that are intended to injure.

This does not mean that management must have a heavy hand. It means that management ("Manage" comes from the Latin for "to handle") must be attentive.

A Little Tax-Paying Music

Harrison and Clapton play "Taxman."

Tea Parties and the Grass Roots

Tax Day: Instapundit Glenn Harlan Reynolds looks at the Tea Party protests being held around the United States.

Quote of the Day

A bank is a kind of demographic shorthand by which old people with capital lend to young people with ambition and ideas.

- Mark Steyn

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Leadership Tips

Check out Wally Bock's advice to a young man about leadership.

He's right. There is far more to be learned about leadership in the biographies of leaders than in books about leadership. There's even more to be learned by the practice of leading.

Leadership is not so much a role as it is a responsibility. And it certainly is not a caste.

Unpleasant Task Day

Let us designate one day a month as Unpleasant Task Day.

On that day, we will do nothing but address the Unpleasant Tasks we have been ducking for the previous 30 days. When all of those tasks are done, we will celebrate with a fine meal or some other pleasurable event, but evasive games and feeble excuses will not be tolerated.

The Unpleasant Tasks must be done.

Just one day a month. And think of how much stress you'll be spared by getting those irksome chores off of your shoulders.

You can begin the end of this month. Start making your list.

Hitchens of Lebanon

Well, call me old-fashioned if you will, but I have always taken the view that swastika symbols exist for one purpose only—to be defaced. Telling my two companions to hold on for a second, I flourish my trusty felt-tip and begin to write some offensive words on the offending poster. I say “begin” because I have barely gotten to the letter k in a well-known transitive verb when I am grabbed by my shirt collar by a venomous little thug, his face glittering with hysterical malice. With his other hand, he is speed-dialing for backup on his cell phone. As always with episodes of violence, things seem to slow down and quicken up at the same time: the eruption of mayhem in broad daylight happening with the speed of lightning yet somehow held in freeze-frame. It becomes evident, as the backup arrives, that this gang wants to take me away.

Read the rest of Christopher Hitchens here.

Twitter Investigation

There's an investigation of a recent worm strike on Twitter.


Although success books often tout the value of a break-through strategy that permits rapid advances, most of us find that our progress, and our set-backs, are achieved incrementally.

In other words, we plod along.

Sometimes, we plod forward and other times, we plod backwards. We are more likely to notice the forward motion, of course, because that is the frustrating result of our efforts to achieve much greater results.

We need not abandon our search for a great leap forward - to borrow a line from a campaign that was neither a leap nor forward - but our main efforts should be devoted to facilitating forward plodding on the items that matter most.

How do we better arrange our daily efforts so, although major progress does not occur, important progress does?

Quote of the Day

Often the arrogant are difficult to recognize at first because they do not exhibit this behavior to those who are important to them.

- Philip B. Crosby

Monday, April 13, 2009

Writing Advice

I believe the best advice on writing comes from an introduction that John D. MacDonald wrote for a collection of Stephen King stories:

If you want to write, you write.

The only way to learn to write is by writing. And that would not be a useful approach to brain surgery.

Stephen King always wanted to write and he writes.

So he wrote Carrie and Salem's Lot and The Shining, and the good short stories you can read in this book and a stupendous number of other stories and books and fragments and poems and essays and other unclassifiable things, most of them too wretched to ever publish.

Because that is the way it is done.

Because there is no other way to do it. Not one other way.

[HT: Bill Peschel]

Customer Service Update: The Waiting Room

Characteristics of the typical medical facility waiting room:
  • Uncomfortable chairs [To break you in for even less comfort later.]
  • Old magazines [Imagine the results of a germ test on that Sports Illustrated!]
  • Limited space [Because sick, hacking, sneezing, people like to sit close to one another.]
  • Carpeting that cries out for a thorough cleaning [Guess what caused that stain.]
  • Boring artwork [Better than charts of the internal organs.]
  • A television screen with special medical programming [Because we know you want to hear more about illnesses.]

If these rooms are the result of careful study, it is time for the architects to consider some revisions.


Maurice Jarre died recently.

Having composed such memorable film soundtracks as "Lawrence of Arabia" and Dr. Zhivago," Jarre was unsurpassed in his field.

A less-known sample of his work: The "Building the Barn" segment in the film "Witness."

Chesterton on Kindle

Another advantage of Kindle: An extensive collection of the works by G. K. Chesterton for $4.79.

Delivered in seconds.

The "New" Diplomacy

George F. Will on the community of nations and the new diplomacy. An excerpt:

President William Howard Taft understood how political cant can bewitch the speaker's mind. Listening to an aide natter on about "the machinery of government," Taft murmured, "The young man really thinks it's a machine." The current president's U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, was on Sunday television recently explaining why she thinks Iran, now several decades into its pursuit of nuclear weapons and close to consummation, might succumb to the siren song of sweet reason and retreat from success. Doing so, she said, would enable Iran "to be a responsible member of the international community"—perhaps not the highest priority for a regime that denies the Holocaust happened, and vows to complete it—and "enter the community of nations." Otherwise Iran will face "the full force of the international community."

Quote of the Day

A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.

- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Human Beast

Back by popular demand: Tom Wolfe's Jefferson Lecture, "The Human Beast."

An excerpt:

The same phenomenon, championism, I believe, solves the mystery of something I had been unable to figure out for a very long time, namely, what is it that accounts for the extraordinary emotion of sports fans? What earthly connection do the citizens of New York City think they have to, say, the New York Yankees, whose team includes not one person from the city of New York, which is, in fact, 40 percent Latin American, and an assortment of mercenaries who will play anywhere for the top dollar? How can such a team get such a strong grip on local emotions? Here we see championism in its most elemental form. As far back as the story of David and Goliath in the Bible, the human beast has become excited by those who represent them in what at that stage of history was known as single combat. Before a battle was fought each side would send forth its fighting champion. Goliath, a giant, protected by the most elaborate armor, was so awesome, that at first no one among the Israelites dared confront him. Finally, a young unknown named David volunteered. He turned down King Saul's offer of his own armor as protection and said he preferred to travel light and fast. He proceeded to slay Goliath with a slingshot. At this point, The Philistine army panicked. The defeat of its great champion was seen as a sign from the gods. They fled, the Israelites pursued and slaughtered them. This notion of a surrogate, a champion, who can represent an entire people and give them the exultation of victory when it triumphs and plunge them into depression of defeat when he loses, has persisted for millennia.

The Veteran

This story about a university training video did not surprise me.

In my own experience, discrimination against veterans is one of the few overt biases out there.

[HT: Instapundit]

Quote of the Day

I started to emphasize years ago—job hunting is becoming a member of a symphony orchestra. If you're a piccolo player, you'd better learn what notes to play during the symphony—that's self-inventory. If you don't know all the other parts, you get the idea that it's a piccolo concerto.

- Richard Bolles

Friday, April 10, 2009

Conference Call Plus

Seth Godin has some creative advice on how to reinvent the conference call.

Addiction Update

A special mouthpiece that gives the taste of pure chocolate wth zero calories.

Le Whif will be out on April 29.


My post on dropping the "overqualified" objection is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Music Break

If this doesn't make you smile, I don't know what will:

Lyle Lovett and his Large Band sing Church.

Sort of Gives Dying a Bad Name

Kris Dunn at Fistful of Talent relates the strange tale of an employee who took time off for a suspicious number of funerals.

Ten points for creativity.

Sage Advice for 18 Year-Olds

Here's a provocative post:

50 Things Every 18 Year-Old Should Know.

[HT: Dr. Helen]

Movies to Watch Over and Over

Cultural Offering has a great list of movies to watch over and over again.

I'd add:

Northwest Passage. "I'll see you at sundown, Harvard."
Barcelona. A dab of Norman Vincent Peale amid wacko Spanish anti-Americanism.
Cinema Paradiso. The original version. Movies and love. Marvelous.
High Noon. A lone sheriff asks his NATO allies for help against a band of killers.
Nobody's Fool. Beautifully written. Beautifully acted.
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World. One cameo after another. Great lines.
Topsy Turvy. Creativity and The Mikado. Brilliant.
Sense and Sensibility. Very nicely done.
Radio Days. Woody Allen at his best.
The Harry Potter movies. Who wouldn't want to go to that school?

The Blimp Biz

Here's hoping that Airship Ventures, a San Francisco zeppelin company and the only one of its nature operating in the U.S., catches on in other parts of the country.

You know you want to take a ride over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Job Spots

Some more of G.L. Hoffman on spots for frustrated job-seekers.

Quote of the Day

We all declare for liberty, but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others, the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men's labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name - liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names - liberty and tyranny.

- Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Miscellaneous and Fast

The Water Park of Doom

Designed by the award-winning Austrian architecture firm of Coop Himmelb(l)au, this public high school is alongside the Hollywood Freeway. It's right across from the Roman Catholic LA Cathedral that was erected a decade ago by an award-winning Spanish architect in the style of a secret police headquarters.

Read the rest of Steven Sailer here.

[HT: 2Blowhards]

Cutting the Gordian Knot

A marvelous story, that of Alexander the Great and the Gordian Knot, and one that we need to remember.

Odds are, you've recently had to tackle a Gordian Knot of your own. You probably didn't use Alexander's technique, but your action may have been equally bold.

[One secret: Change the rules.]

Quote of the Day

My problem lies in reconciling my gross habits with my net income.

- Erroll Flynn

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Darwin at Work

A photo says it all: Verging on Pertinence looks at some deep thinkers.

Voo Doo Predictions?

The economists I know are generally, as individuals, sober and cautious, the most respectable of all professors and in their honesty and reliability representing the best in bourgeois virtue. But when they get together as economists, they give way to boyish irrational exuberance over the accomplishments and prospects of economics as a science.

What has happened in the last few months should give them pause. It should make them consider the necessity of looking at economics from the outside, at how it looks and behaves as a whole. There's no way to do this from within economics--no way to formulate an equation that will correctly predict the failure of equations to predict. The idea of prediction itself has to come into question. Prediction is designed to reduce the role of chance in our lives, eliminating unpleasant surprise and replacing it with gratitude and satisfaction. But somehow it doesn't have this effect.

Read the rest of
the article by Harvey Mansfield.

Movie Houses Need Glamour

Idea Anaconda has an idea that movie theaters around the country should embrace:

Make the experience uplifting.

Managing Leadership

Jim Stroup's Managing Leadership blog has had connection problems.

You'll probably be able to reach his March posts but he's still sorting out the issue. I'm looking forward to his return.

There are many weird things out there now. Of course, viruses, malware, and hackers are among the traditional and prime challenges.

[Some problems are minor but irritating. Yesterday, I had to reject 175 spam comments from a post.]

Bate Book

Another book just in from the ever prolific Nicholas Bate:

"How to sell and market your way out of this recession
and get your business buzzing like never before
[even though your customers don't want to know]"

More on this later. In the meantime, a quick quote:

Anything which is measurable tends to get remembered. In a recession, you must make all of your special selling points measurable, i.e. quantitative. Thus, if you feel your service is extraordinary, your creativity wonderful, you must make these facts measurable with facts and case studies.

Books! Glorious Books!

Cultural Offering has a photograph of a glorious stack.

My current stack includes:

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
His Excellency George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis
Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman
The Anatomy and Physiology of Leadership by Alan V. and Nick Brunacini
If Not Now, When? by Jack Jacobs
Living the Sabbath by Norman Wirzba
The Suicide of Reason by Lee Harris
Black Ice by Dan Verton
The Zen of Fundraising by Ken Burnett
Winning by Jack Welch
Plain Tales from the Hills by Rudyard Kipling
The Age of Gold by H.W. Brands

What is Your Job Making You?

The department director was asked the difference between the young people who started out in his department versus those who started with one of his rivals.

"They're exactly the same," he said. "But if you check them in five years, you'll find that they are very different. For example, the ones who start in [the other department] have eyes that are closer together."

Humor aside, he had a point. Jobs shape us. Although our usual practice is to consider what we are getting out of the job, we should also what the job is getting out of us.

We see others who have jobs that cause them to become cynical, hard, indecisive, or arrogant and know that the most insidious aspect of that transformation is they don't recognize the change.

Why are we immune from such changes?

Quote of the Day

If Columbus had an advisory committee, he would probably still be at the dock.

Arthur J. Goldberg

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Self-Propelled Schedule Destroyer

What is the great schedule destroyer that is not directly tied to other people?

Attention Deficit?

My guess is one is far ahead of the others.

The Stack

Well, there are the newspapers, magazines, and journals, and then, of course, the email and memos and reports; not to mention the correspondence, minutes. updates, newsletters, and phone/text messages. Then come the books on the desk and by the bedside and in the car and on the Kindle and in the CD player.

So much to read and so much to ignore.

Quote of the Day

Notice what you are doing when things are going better, and do more of that.

- Bill O'Hanlon

Monday, April 06, 2009

EEO Complaints and the Economy

Writing at the Pennsylvania Labor and Employment blog, Michael Moore reminds us that with layoffs comes an increase in discrimination cases.

Learning from Generals

If you want some provocative thoughts about leadership, don't miss this post by Wally Bock. An excerpt:

The Small Wars Journal blog recently carried part of a speech Lt. Col. Yingling gave at the US Command and General Staff College on April 2. It's titled "
Irregular Warfare and Adaptive Leadership." You can click through to a pdf of the full presentation, but here's the money quote from the blog.

"Officers conditioned to conformity in peacetime cannot be expected to behave boldly and flexibly in combat. This phenomenon is not new."

Avoiding Violence

Michael P. Maslanka of Ford & Harrison offers practical and timely advice on how to diffuse a situation with a potentially violent employee.

I'll add a book recommendation: "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin De Becker.

Document Wisely

Employment attorney John Phillips examines a new standard:

The Documentation Expectation.

Hiding from the Boss

A recent conversation reminded me of how often employees hide from bosses.
At some point in your career, you may have been in a workplace where the migratory patterns of the boss are carefully monitored by the employees. This does not mean that the mice play while the cat is away, but the cat's absence usually reduces stress. The amount of stress that is reduced may signal the quality of leadership. If the boss is regarded as more of an ally than an adversary, there should be only a minor reduction.

[It is amusing to see how many top executives fail to notice the minor ripple that precedes their movement through the factory floor or how the atmosphere is changed when they stroll into a crowded conference room.]

As for discouraging hiding, changing the daily routine may help, but building trust works wonders.

Quote of the Day

Many of us can't wait for the weekend to come along as an escape from work. Our craving for the weekend implies an often unspoken condemnation of the workaday week. This is deeply troubling, for it suggests worker lives that are anxious, depressed, dispirited, complacent, or even hostile. Consider in this context the words of Wendell Berry: "To work without pleasure and affection, to make a product that is not both useful and beautiful, is to dishonor God, nature, the thing that is made, and whomever it is made for...."

- Norman Wirzba

Saturday, April 04, 2009

What If

  • All of the organization's personnel rules must be boiled down on two sheets of paper?
  • Major promotions were dependent upon the candidate's being able to show the significant development of subordinates?
  • Annual reports had to be accompanied by annual critiques?
  • Part of an executive's performance appraisal would involve the ability to give an impromptu description, in detail, of the activities and abilities of a randomly selected middle manager with whom the executive occasionally interacts?
  • Performance appraisals were abolished?
  • A skills inventory was mandatory?
  • All of the dysfunctional employees whose names can be easily rattled off by department heads were fired?
  • Any job that did not have a line of progression was outsourced?

Toxic People

Michael P. Maslanka on the cost of toxic colleagues and employees.

It is ridiculous how many organizations permit these characters to poison workplaces.

Books About India

Sudhir Kakar lists his favorite books about India and none of the ones I suspected are on the list.

Quote of the Day

Happiness isn't something you experience; it's something you remember.

- Oscar Levant

Friday, April 03, 2009

World Capital of Chocolate?

Of the meagre offerings in Gordon and Sarah Brown's official gifts to world leaders during the G20 summit last week, only one gift stood out. Not the necktie. Not the Kelly Hoppen scented candle. And certainly not the Irish linen tea towel. It was the box of Rococo chocolates. For years this pioneering London chocolatier has been leading the way, proving that our chocolates can rival the best in the world.

''People used to look down their noses at our food,'' says Chantal Coady, the company's founder. ''But these days London has probably got more top-class chocolatiers than any other city. At last the message is getting through that we understand about quality. And what makes us different is that we add a kind of irreverence and sparkle.''

Read the rest of the Telegraph article.


Employment attorney John Phillips analyzes the U.S. Supreme Court opinion on the use of alternative dispute resolution to resolve discrimination claims.

ADR is a speedy and attractive alternative to the lengthy and often acrimonious complaint/litigation process that can easily destroy any chance of maintaining or restoring an amiable working relationship.

Pretty Please

Rowan Manahan has some tips on asking for a raise during a recession.

Getting Out of the Way

My post on getting out of the way of employees is up at U.S. News & World Report.

The Crucial Day

When I was in college, I found that my favorite day of the week - Friday - was also the most important day when it came to getting things done.
If I chose to stay in on Friday night and study, I reduced the work load for the weekend and avoided the Sunday evening rush to cover the material needed for the coming week. If I goofed off on Friday evening, those problems were blended with guilt and Sunday often added a dash of panic.

Granted, this may be some strange personal quirk, but I suspect many people have a crucial day. I've encountered Monday and Wednesday people. The Mondayers use that day to set the tone for the work week and many Wednesdayers use theirs for reassessment. They report it gives them the sense of having two, albeit shorter, work weeks.

Winston Churchill played a similar trick by dividing every day with a late afternoon bath and nap which permitted him to have a working dinner and late night meetings. Most of us lack his power to dictate the schedules of others - his night owl habits wore out staff members and generals who also had to work regular days and, unlike the Prime Minister, could not sleep in - but gaining special leverage from a particular day is doable.

What are your schedule tricks? Do you have a crucial day?