Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dumb Moves?

Fortune gives its list of the Dumbest Moments in Business 2009 - midyear edition.

A Study in Surrender

In Bawer’s telling, the white flag first waved in 1989. That year, Salman Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, earned him a fatwa from Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini. In his decree, Khomeini called on Muslims across the world to hunt down and kill Rushdie and anyone involved in the book’s publication “so that no one will dare to insult Islamic sanctities again.” The fatwa forced Rushdie into hiding and led to the murder of his Japanese translator. But while many writers rallied to Rushdie’s defense, some perversely blamed the novelist for provoking his own death sentence. Oxford historian Hugh Trevor-Roper sneered that he “would not shed a tear if some British Muslims, deploring Mr. Rushdie’s manners, were to waylay him in a dark street and seek to improve them.” At the time, he writes, Bawer dismissed the Trevor-Roper view as an anomaly. Surely, he reasoned, most civilized people would defend free speech against its Islamist despisers. He was wrong.

Read all of Jacob Laksin's review of Bruce Bawer's new book.

Well, He Could Have Gotten Life!

Here is Business Week on the Madoff sentence of 150 years. An excerpt:

Ira Lee Sorkin, Madoff's attorney, acknowledged his client as a "deeply flawed individual" but said he is nonetheless human and asked the judge for a 12-year sentence. Sorkin cited Madoff's health and decision to step forward to disclose the fraud seven months ago as reasons that argued for a shorter sentence.

Twelve years? Sorkin must have practiced saying that in front of the mirror.

Quote of the Day

There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

- Albert Einstein

Monday, June 29, 2009


Another top-notch essay from Mary Jo Asmus on whether kindness is a leadership competency.

I know an outstanding executive who stresses the importance of "benevolence."

Remember the Phoenix Fire Department's mission statement:

Prevent Harm - Survive - Be Nice.

Title VII and Firefighter Promotions

Speaking as a former EEO Administrator of a large city, I believe the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Ricci v. DeStefano is to be commended. Of course, you'll be able to find plenty of folks on the other side and we'll be hearing much more about this case in the future.

Here's the opinion . . .

and here are various takes:

I Can See Your House

Cultural Offering points to an amazing service.

Ambition and Effectiveness

Can you do certain jobs well while harboring dreams of promotion?

In a word, no.

There are some jobs - such as ombudsman positions - that require a level of detachment from the organization that would be diluted or filtered by any desire to preserve promotion chances.

Can the same be said of certain responsibilities? Are there not assignments that are career-killers if they are to be done well?

Quote of the Day

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

- Charles Darwin

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Miscellaneous and Fast


Check out Managing Leadership on "echolalia." An excerpt:

Every morning over coffee we would have our daily good-natured political debate. He was always very focused, and thus often set the direction and tone of the discussion. I began to notice, though, that later each day the news covering the agenda of the party he supported reported the same points, from the same perspectives, and sometimes even with the same language. He was on the party’s “theme of the day” fax/email list, used to keep everyone on the same page, and the party’s agenda on track.

Legislative Malpractice Update: Cap and Trade

The legislation itself is enormous. It’s more than a thousand pages long, filled with obscure provisions that will keep an army of lobbyists employed for years. It’s been resoundingly panned both by groups on the left, such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, who see it as an enormous corporate giveaway, and by Republicans, who accuse it of being a massive tax that will hobble the U.S. economy. It even was attacked by the powerful farm lobby, despite a cornucopia of goodies added in the last few days to get their champion, House Agriculture Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.), on board.

Read the rest of Business Week on the rush to pass a cap and trade bill.

Is it too much to expect legislators to take enough time to read and debate bills that could have a major impact on the economy?

Quote of the Day

The power to command frequently causes failure to think.

- Barbara Tuchman

Friday, June 26, 2009

The White Tiger

For a hard-to-put-down, darkly humorous novel about an Indian chauffeur who, amid India's growing prosperity, hatches a murderous scheme, read The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

Although written from the perspective of a madman, it provides a healthy contrast to the Silicon Valley-type puff stories about India's boom.

Jackson's Plans

Writing in Fortune, Richard Siklos on Michael Jackson and what might have been:

When tickets for Jackson's 50-date comeback concert series went on sale in March, some 750,000 tickets sold out in five hours. The shows had been arranged by AEG Live Entertainment, an arm of former telecom billionaire Phil Anschultz's private empire, which also owns 02, the large London arena where the shows were scheduled to take place over several months.

Marriage, Children, and Faith

Daniel P. Goldman writing in First Things:

“Why do men chase women?” asks Rose Castorini in Moonstruck. “Because they want to live forever.” The data suggest that we marry and have children for just that reason. When we cease to hope in eternal life, we no longer marry and no longer have children. That is the terrible lesson that the triumph of secularism has taught us. In industrial countries where atheism triumphed in the form of communism, fertility rates have fallen to levels barely half of replacement. The fertility of Eastern Europe in 2005 was only 1.25 children per woman, according to the United Nations Population Prospects. Japan stood at 1.3. In secular Western Europe it was 1.6. In industrial countries where most people profess some form of religious faith, however, fertility remains at replacement levels or above. America’s fertility in 2005 stood at 2.1, and Israel’s at 2.9.

Dignified Apologies

Dorothy Rabinowitz on what Governor Sanford should have said. An excerpt:

"I have no intention of babbling about mistakes, or about problems of exhaustion and stress that could have led to my affair -- and no intention of standing here, like so many dolts before me, looking vacant and miserable, as though I'd just come through some kind of punishment camp that left me brainwashed."

Quote of the Day

At certain times we carry out forced marches. We leave for the south. Everyone must keep up. The man who remains in the rear risks death by starvation or being taken by Arab dissidents. After these marches, the number of stragglers is considerable. One must be strong to endure. This is the Darwinist survival of the fittest applied to the troops.

- Captain Morin de La Haye of the French Foreign Legion, 1886

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fame, Price of

Some interesting clips from Clive James's "Fame in the 20th Century":


and here.

Music Break

Billy Joel: A Matter of Trust.

Iran and the Left

With the 1979 Iranian revolution so close in the rearview mirror, the mistakes of Western observers then bear remembering today, as the seeds of something momentous may be again at hand. In the late seventies, some intellectuals, enamored with the idea of revolution in general and the anti-Western outlook of the Iranian revolutionaries in particular, projected their political values on the shah’s deposers. When, instead of embracing the ideology of Harvard Square or Telegraph Avenue, the revolutionaries exported terror, exhibited a toxic anti-Semitism, persecuted homosexuals, and pursued nuclear weapons, many of these intellectuals emerged with egg on their faces. As Mother Jones editor Adam Hochschild candidly admitted after Iranian reality had dashed Western dreams: “The Left is always better at seeing what leads to revolutions than at seeing what may follow them.” Though criticisms of the shah of Iran for human-rights abuses and other crimes seemed on the mark, Hochschild conceded in 1980 that his magazine had been “embarrassingly nearsighted about [the shah’s] successors.”

Read the rest of Daniel J. Flynn's essay here.

Adultery and the Workplace

Recent news stories are raising the old question of whether or not a person's marital infidelity has any impact on his or her ability to perform a job.

The answer, of course, is it might. Or it might not.

Some argue that it always does. I recall one executive whose position is: "If a man will lie to his wife, he'll lie to me." I can understand the suspicion, but have known people who might well deceive a spouse but would never deceive an employer. They take their job much more seriously than they take their marriage.

President Kennedy was hardly an emblem of fidelity but there is no evidence that his affairs affected his performance as president. [One counter-argument is that the dalliances could have made him vulnerable to blackmail. That, of course, would depend upon his willingness to be blackmailed.]

There are times when the conduct of the affair raises serious questions about the person's judgment. What could have been a private matter between Governor Sanford and his wife has been exacerbated by the Governor's weird and amateurish behavior shortly before and during his ill-advised press conference. The fact that he is clearly under enormous stress may say good things about him as a person but it does not signal that he can function effectively at this time.

In the days of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, observers tried to determine whether the conduct was personal or professional. There are times when an affair is both. The question then becomes the extent of its impact. The ideal scenario is when the sad sorting out process can be left solely to the marital partners.

MBA By Jack

The Jack Welch Management Institute will officially launch this week, with the first classes starting in the fall. The MBA will be offered almost entirely online. Compared to the $100,000-plus price tag for most brick-and-mortar MBA programs, the $600 per credit hour tuition means students can get an MBA for just over $20,000. "We think it will make the MBA more accessible to those who are hungry to play," Welch says. "And they can keep their job while doing it."

Read the rest of the Business Week article here.

Quote of the Day

Management excellence cannot come from fragmented contributions by various functional staffs; that is, if quality assurance has exclusive jurisdiction over a quality program, if production control has an inventory program, and so on. Each staff seeks to impose another set of techniques, each set demanding adjustments and attention from an already choked line organization. Only so much can be assimilated at a time, and it should be cohesive....Japanese are good integrators....Americans are accustomed to thinking that integration of a company is only in one place - at the top, where strategy is made.

- Robert Hall, Attaining Manufacturing Excellence

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Architecture and Style

Definitely worth a look: Donald at 2Blowhards asks, "How can modernism possibly compete with this?"

Essential and Almost-Essential Products

  • Moleskine notebook
  • Starbucks Double-Shot Espresso
  • Cross Rollerball Pen
  • Google
  • Aaron Copland CDs
  • IBM ThinkPad
  • Chocolate

Almost Essential:

  • Kindle
  • Circa Notebook
  • Frank Sinatra CDs

Boomer Rant

How bad can the legacy of the baby boomers really be? Let's see: We're the generation that spawned Microsoft, Intel, Apple, Google, ATMs and Gatorade. We defeated the evils of communism and delivered the world from the brink of global thermonuclear war. Now youngsters are telling pollsters that they think socialism may be better than capitalism after all. Do they expect us to apologize for winning the Cold War next?

College students gripe about the price of tuition, and it does cost way too much. But who do these 22-year-old scholars think has been footing the bill for their courses in transgender studies and Che Guevara? The echo boomers complain, rightly, that we have left them holding the federal government's $8 trillion national IOU. But try to cut government aid to colleges or raise tuitions and they act as if they have been forced to actually work for a living.

Read the
rest of Stephen Moore, who may now be in the Witness Protection Program, here.

Training Gig

The class started at 6 a.m. on the other side of town. Most of the attendees were at the end of a shift. A bright bunch. We talked about communication issues and the discussion drifted into territory that was a mixture of sophisticated and basic.

The "sophisticated" is the sugar that makes the program more interesting while providing a cover for those who know they need the basics but don't want to admit it. [We've all been there!]

Basic knowledge is not inherent knowledge. It can be forgotten or discounted as easily, if not more easily, than the complex if only because we assume it to be ingrained.

That's why it deserves a periodic review, with or without a cloak.

Quote of the Day

I used to think that anyone doing anything weird was weird. I suddenly realized that anyone doing anything weird wasn't weird at all and that it was the people saying they were weird that were weird.

- Paul McCartney

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Biz Week Beach Books

Business Week gives its list of books for the beach.

EEO and HR

There is a major reason why Equal Employment Opportunity should never be placed in the Human Resources Department:

An effective EEO office will have to investigate the Human Resources Department.

It's a simple fact. HR handles the selection process and also puts its prints on terminations and many personnel actions in-between. Those areas are prime generators of discrimination complaints. The CEO should have an independent voice that can provide objective investigations. Human Resources cannot credibly investigate itself.

Some may say, "Well, both EEO and HR work for the same employer so how can any of them be objective?" That's a good question but it assumes that economic ties are stronger than professionalism or commitment. I've worked as an internal EEO officer and frequently sided with charging parties in discrimination cases. It made no sense to rubber-stamp management decisions that were discriminatory. Doing so would destroy the credibility of the internal complaint process and open the organization to even worse problems.

If an organization cannot afford to have a separate internal EEO officer, then it should contract out that responsibility. Leaving the role to HR is a huge mistake.

It is also a common one.

Best Advice

Fortune provides an interesting collection of "the best advice I ever got" from a diverse pool of achievers.

From Jim Rogers:

The best advice I ever got was on an airplane. It was in my early days on Wall Street. I was flying to Chicago, and I sat next to an older guy. Anyway, I remember him as being an old guy, which means he may have been 40. He told me to read everything. If you get interested in a company and you read the annual report, he said, you will have done more than 98% of the people on Wall Street. And if you read the footnotes in the annual report you will have done more than 100% of the people on Wall Street.

Roots of the Health Care Crisis: Friedman's Analysis

Peter Robinson examines the views of Milton Friedman on the issue of health care. An excerpt:

Friedman wrote: "Third-party payment has required the bureaucratization of medical care. ... A medical transaction is not simply between a caregiver and a patient; it has to be approved as 'covered' by a bureaucrat. ... The patient has little ... incentive to be concerned about the cost since it's somebody else's money. The caregiver has become, in effect, an employee of the insurance company or, in the case of Medicare and Medicaid, of the government. ... An inescapable result is that the interest of the patient is often in direct conflict with the interest of the caregiver's ultimate employer."

Quote of the Day

Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long.

- Ogden Nash

Monday, June 22, 2009

Influence Tips

Robert Cialdini on how to influence others.

When Out of Order is In Order

The chronological approach is drilled into us in elementary and high school. We start the story at the beginning and work on through, box to box, to the end.

A is always followed by B.

Later on in the workplace, we learn that A is sometimes followed by D or R and that going out of order - and thus creating a new sequence - can be beneficial.

Thus we don't wait until a draft is perfect before circulating it to others; we let a copy make the rounds early and benefit from the wisdom of colleagues. We don't expect to have all of the information before surfacing a proposal, but instead hold an informal brainstorming session with the recipient in order to ferret out possible concerns.

This doesn't mean that we've abandoned a linear approach. Our willingness to meander simply recognizes that there is a time to get off the trail and a time to return to it. Sometimes, the side trips are highly educational. They may even turn into shortcuts.

Making It So

Consultant, professor, and prolific author Nicholas Bate on the small steps that can lead to great achievement. A favorite:

Inspiration still lacking? Try reading the book you have always avoided despite everyone telling you it will help. Yes, that’s the one: Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way.

Work as Therapy

Peter D. Kramer on the therapy often found in work:

When I see patients who have been injured in their private lives, by past abuse, say, or a recent trauma, such as divorce, often I suggest that they invest new energy in their careers. The workplace may not overlook anxiety or depression, but often it is more neutrally instructive than the sphere of intimacy. When it functions well, the office teaches all of us when to stand our ground and when to be strategic. We learn that decisions don’t always go our way. The workplace says, “Aw, get over yourself.” Since on the job we’re focused on performance, we are likely to do just that, to absorb advice and move on.

Quote of the Day

Sometimes I get the feeling that the whole world is against me, but deep down I know that's not true. Some of the smaller countries are neutral.

- Robert Orben

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Remote Island Books

Five books for a long stay on a remote island:
  1. The Bible

  2. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

  3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

  4. The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor

  5. Modern Times by Paul Johnson

Going Over The Edge

A little over a decade ago, a 50- or 60-foot waterfall was thought to be the biggest drop a kayaker could survive. But sturdier boats and new techniques have allowed daredevils and explorers like Mr. Stookesberry to push the outer limits of the sport. By mastering big waterfalls, the most extreme kayakers are venturing into unexplored river gorges and uncharted rapids that were previously deemed out of reach, sealed off by fortress-like waterfalls where portaging is impossible. Like 19th-century explorers and alpine climbers seeking to conquer untamed peaks, these adventurers risk their lives to claim a “first descent” of a waterfall or a long, treacherous stretch of river.

Read more about this new trend in kayaking.

Sensing Success

Peter Drucker once said that well-run organizations are boring because they have anticipated problems and acted accordingly. The poorly-run places are exciting and chaotic. Their inefficiency makes them too busy for any system.

I believe that, with rare exception, a person of reasonable perception can walk through an organization and within an hour have an accurate sense of the place's performance. What you see is usually what you get. That's one reason why the so-called minor items aren't that minor. They are signals to insiders and outsiders alike of what the organization emphasizes and what it neglects. You can almost hear a well-run place purr and you can sense the silent screams of the bad organizations.

This does not mean that a baroque appearance is a sign of superior performance. That ornate emphasis is a warning sign of misplaced priorities. A group that tries too hard to be impressive will only succeed in conveying the impression that it believes appearing impressive is important. It will not be impressive.

Knowing the difference is vital.

Quote of the Day

There is one reason why the classical styles acquired such stability: they enshrined an idea of legitimacy. Gradually their forms and details came to have a permanent meaning and could therefore be relied upon to convey their messages without the benefit of words, and in a serene and genial idiom that mitigated the urgencies of city business. A classical doorway does not need the sign marked ENTRANCE; the classicial steps need no supplement of words to attract the attention and the movement of those who walk on them. The use and meaning of a building were laid before the public in a series of visual cues that both expressed and endorsed the common understanding of the purposes of civic life.

- Roger Scruton, "Why Lampposts and Phone Booths Matter"

Friday, June 19, 2009

Legal Update: Buyer's Remorse

Is it possible to fall asleep while being tattooed?

56 stars = lawsuit?

On the other hand, I'm certain the defendant will impress the jury.

The Hospital

A glance, with some inserted rock music, at the classic film, The Hospital.

Marvelous film and very Seventies.

Stories on Iran

Some perspectives on the crisis in Iran:

The Urbane Traitors

Until he retired in 2007, Myers was an official at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), a group within the State Department that scrapbooks intelligence supplied by the 18 federal and military agencies that actually do legwork and plops it on the desk of the secretary of state. Myers is also one of some 130 "professorial lecturers" at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, a title he has held since 1979. Although Myers is a Ph.D.--his 1972 Hopkins dissertation defending -Neville Chamberlain was titled "A Rationale for Appeasement"--his SAIS rank is really nonacademic, shared by a floating crew of 130-odd part-time lecturers, mostly State Department employees and other diplomatic professionals who give classes from time to time. Mrs. Myers was an executive in the computer department of Riggs Bank--a bank often said to have cooperated with the CIA. And since 1979, the government believes that the Myerses have been passing classified information to the Cuban authorities. The couple told FBI agents that they are passionate and committed supporters of Fidel Castro and the transformation he has wrought upon Cuba.

Read the rest of Sam Schulman's article here.

Medical Update

The operation, although complicated, was a great success.

My wife is still in the hospital and is on the mend. I continue in the role of Chief Morale Officer but can get to a computer more frequently.

Our deep appreciation and thanks for all of the prayers and kind thoughts. They meant more than we can express.

Quote of the Day

The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage is to manage self; one's own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, temperment, words, and acts.

- Dee Hock

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Back on Friday

Will be out of the loop for a few days.

My wife is going into the hospital and I'm going to be Chief Morale Officer.

I hope to be back on Friday.

Great HR and Leadership Blogs

I'm way behind in acknowledging these extensive listings:

Evan Carmichael's The Top 50 HR Blogs to Watch in 2009

Best Universities list of The Top 100 Leadership Blogs.

I'm honored to be in the company of the other bloggers.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Periods of Failure

Baseball is a game of nuance where three successful hits out of 10 makes you an expert. Two hits out of 10, on the other hand, makes you a real-estate broker or a shoe salesman or, in May, significantly better than Mr. Ortiz whose average for the month was .143. But the painful beauty of Mr. Ortiz’s slump, is that it does feel true to the essence of a game where all the best stories, as in fiction and life, are about adversity.

Read the rest of Nicholas Dawidoff's article on when brilliance hits a slump.

Lessons on Happiness and Success

Via David C. Maister's blog, here are some observations that are well worth your time even if you are not an attorney:

The commencement address by Stephen C. Ellis on how to be a happy (and successful) lawyer. An excerpt:

Trust yourself. You are a very bright person or you wouldn’t be here today. I think among the most important conclusions I came to as a young lawyer was that if I didn’t understand something, it was because the thing in fact didn’t make sense, not because I was stupid. Most of the times I’ve found myself in hot water it’s because I let a conversation continue past the point where I understood what was being said. And virtually every time I would say “stop, I’m not following this,” someone would come up to me after the meeting and say “Boy I’m glad you said that. I had no idea what we were talking about.”

Quote of the Day

Nobody makes a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.

- Edmund Burke

Monday, June 15, 2009

Vacation Movies

Cultural Offering has assembled an impressive list of "vacation" movies. I'd add:

Enchanted April. In the 1920s, an eclectic collection of English women rent a villa in Italy. A beautiful film.

Sotomayor's Judicial Opinions

Noted employment attorney John Phillips has been posting on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's District Court decisions on a variety of workplace-related topics. Here are his posts regarding her judicial opinions on:

Humor Break: Cake Wrecks

Talk about a niche!

Check out one of the more unusual and humorous sites out there: Cake Wrecks.

[HT: Lou Rodarte]

Thinking on the Run

In ideal circumstances, we can sip coffee and slowly peruse options and ideas while sitting in a garden. I like that. It's civilized.

Unfortunately, many of our decisions are made on the run. The information is incomplete, facts have question marks attached, deadlines are nipping, and as soon as we finish with one project there are six others begging for attention.

This is not always bad. We can learn a great deal by plunging into a subject and many of us work better from drafts than from collections of facts. And so we go through draft after draft - a sort of faux action - until we can get to the point that most closely resembles the chair in the garden.

That stage is where we must be especially cautious. Rather than letting fatigue and impatience push us into a quick decision, we need to listen to any lingering concerns and, if possible, resolve them one-by-one. If something doesn't feel right at this stage, the feeling won't improve later.

When you are closest to the conclusion, slow down and take time to think.

Getting Real

Victor Davis Hanson relates a story from the farm to illustrate the difference between academia and the real world:

And then after about 3 months of sizing me up (at 26, I confess looking back I was not 1/8th the man my grandfather was at 86) he began stealing water in insidious ways: taking an extra day on his turn, cutting in a day early on mine, siphoning off water at night, destroying my pressure settings, watering his vineyards on days that were on my allotment. Stealing no less! And in 1980!

[HT: Eclecticity]

Where is Beauty?

Roger Scruton explores the glorification of ugliness in the arts. An excerpt:

It is not merely that artists, directors, musicians, and others connected with the arts are in flight from beauty. Wherever beauty lies in wait for us, there arises a desire to preempt its appeal, to smother it with scenes of destruction. Hence the many works of contemporary art that rely on shocks administered to our failing faith in human nature—such as the crucifix pickled in urine by Andres Serrano. Hence the scenes of cannibalism, dismemberment, and meaningless pain with which contemporary cinema abounds, with directors like Quentin Tarantino having little else in their emotional repertories. Hence the invasion of pop music by rap, whose words and rhythms speak of unremitting violence, and which rejects melody, harmony, and every other device that might make a bridge to the old world of song. And hence the music video, which has become an art form in itself and is often devoted to concentrating into the time span of a pop song some startling new account of moral chaos.

Children and Careers

In its school programs on entrepreneurship, Junior Achievement encourages students to notice unmet needs around them and imagine ways to fulfill them. Encourage children to ask themselves, for example, what could be done to help consumers use less water or energy? To help people drive to work more easily? Junior Achievement cites Motorola cofounder Paul Galvin, who began mass-producing car radios in 1930 after noticing people trying to custom-fit home radios into their cars. That kind of resourcefulness, experts say, will never go out of style.

Read the rest of Sue Shellenbarger's column here.

Well Deserved

Idea Anaconda has a report on one of the newest knights in Britain.

Quote of the Day

No single thing abides, but all things flow.
Fragment to fragment clings; all things thus grow
Until we know and name them. By degrees
They melt and are no more the things we know
Globed from the atoms, falling slow or swift
I see the suns, I see the systems lift
Their forms; and even the systems and their suns
Shall go back slowly to the eternal drift.

- Lucretius

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Taking on Too Much: 7 Causes

I've written earlier about the dangers of assuming the job of Master of the Universe.

What produces this mistake?
  1. Assuming that you have to do everything yourself. A classic blunder. You miss the chance to reduce your workload while benefiting from the expertise of others. The quality of your work also declines.
  2. Assuming that you can do everything yourself. You can't. Stop pretending.
  3. Striving for martyrdom. Not a pleasant fate when the stakes are so small. And it can be very irritating.
  4. Caring more than is healthy. Caring too much can cause you to lose power to those who care less. It can also produce an ultra-sensitivity that may result in a distorted view of reality.
  5. Craving power. If you really want power, taking on more than you can handle is not the way to achieve it; indeed, you will diminish your influence.
  6. Getting trapped in a cycle. You take on too much, things became worse, and to fix things you take on even more. Very bad move.
  7. Not trusting others. Unless warning signs are flashing, assuming that others are trustworthy until there is evidence to the contrary is the best practice. Consider the message that your lack of trust can send and the negative reaction it sparks. What you expect is often what you get.

Fun in the Sun

Fortune has a sad tale of the real estate market in Phoenix.

The numbers change dramatically, of course, depending upon the location.

Spy Novels

Spy novelist Alan Furst gives his top 5 list.

And if you have not read Mr. Furst's works, you are in for a treat.

Quote of the Day

For prosperity doth best discover vice, and adversity doth best discover virtue.

- Sir Francis Bacon

Friday, June 12, 2009

Career Experts

What Would Dad Say has a list of the top 150 career experts on Twitter.

Wellness Pays

Articles such as this Forbes piece on wellness programs always remind me of a "scandal" I witnessed in the early 1980s. A municipal government allocated self-development money for middle managers and executives. Each person had a set amount that could be spent for management seminars, classes, subscriptions and, horror of horrors, gym memberships.

The reasoning behind the latter was that it is cheaper to prevent a heart attack than to pay for one and, in general, fit employees perform better than ones who are below par. Once the news media learned that city bureaucrats could use city money for membership at the YMCA, however, all hell broke loose. There were huffy declarations that taxpayer money was being squandered. City management quickly retreated and the membership reimbursement option was dropped.

The criticism was not without merit and yet the program also had its logic. Many components of wellness programs can be dismissed as matters that should be handled by the individual, but an employer that is trying to reduce health care costs - and stress, I might add - may regard ways to encourage fitness as far from irresponsible.

Scary Stuff

My post on scary items in the workplace is up at U.S. News & World Report.


Seth Godin has a plan for unemployed college grads. An excerpt:

Teach yourself Java, HTML, Flash, PHP and SQL. Not a little, but mastery. [Clarification: I know you can't become a master programmer of all these in a year. I used the word mastery to distinguish it from 'familiarity' which is what you get from one of those Dummies type books. I would hope you could write code that solves problems, works and is reasonably clear, not that you can program well enough to work for Joel Spolsky. Sorry if I ruffled feathers.]

Style Anyone?

I was at the gym early this morning.

The bank of TV screens in front of the treadmills contained an array of programs, many of them presented by vulgarians. I began to look forward to the commercials and eventually turned my attention to a screen featuring the inside story of traffic meters.

All of which brings us to the subject of style. Is there one actor out there who even approaches the style of Cary Grant? Is there an actress who resembles Audrey Hepburn?

The latest hubbub about David Letterman's tacky comments about Sarah Palin and her daughter only serves as a reminder of how, in some quarters, low standards have become standard. It is unthinkable that Johnny Carson would have ever joked about a major politician's young daughter getting knocked up. Letterman's studio audience, of course, responded like trained seals.

A telling sign of a society's health is what it regards as entertainment. Ancient Rome had its grandeur but a society that cheered as people were ripped apart by wild animals was far from grand. We have not descended to that level - thank God - but are we moving upward or downward?

Best School Film?

The joy of lists! Is Dead Poets Society the best school film ever?

I'd consider some other nominees:

Animal House
Napoleon Dynamite
Goodbye Mr. Chips

Quote of the Day

Making good judgments when one has complete data, facts, and knowledge is not leadership - it's bookkeeping.

- Dee Hock

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Croc Rock

If you make handbags and you want to ensure high quality, this is one solution.

Idiot Update

Well, if you had a leaf-blowing dispute with a neighbor two years ago, which flag would you fly?

Leadership under Duress

Here, in an American Heritage article adapted from a new book, is an extraordinary story of Major Robert Rogers and his Rangers during the French and Indian War. [An expurgated version of the tale is in the Spencer Tracy film "Northwest Passage."] An excerpt:

The small command moved directly east and away from ile aux Noix out into the gently undulating hardwood forest of what is now southern Quebec. While it still comprised a few more than 150 men, the force had already lost much of the Indian ranger complement and two of its three regular officers. Amherst had required Rogers to pick his men from the entire army, not just the rangers. As was often the case over the course of his military career, Rogers was struggling to build coherent working order among a disparate group. Time and again he strove to mold frontier individualists into effective battle formations by communicating effectively with unlettered pioneer Scots-Irish, praying Indians, British regulars, and flat-footed coast provincials. He trained his men rigorously and taught them extraordinary practical skills. Above all, he treated them in a challengingly respectful and equal spirit, taught them to overcome dread, and created a collective mystique. In doing so, Rogers innovated and codified a particularly modern—and American—brand of warfare still taught to special forces today and used in critical situations the world over.

Webby Awards

The winners of the Webby Awards have been announced.

Congratulations to the winners, to those left on the cutting room floor, and - my own favorite category - to those who never made it near the cutting room.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Product Liability and the Chrysler Deal

Chrysler's bankruptcy will leave lots of people empty-handed. Among them are accident claimants who seek compensation when a faulty Chrysler vehicle causes injury or death. Under terms approved on June 1 by U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Arthur J. Gonzalez, the "new" Chrysler emerging from bankruptcy won't be liable for product defect claims involving any cars sold before it came into existence.

Read the rest of the Business Week article here.

Quote of the Day

Be enthusiastic. There's a lot of gloom and doom around in recession. Don't be part of it.

- Nicholas Bate

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Comic books are for kids"

Wired has the top ten ways to provoke a geek argument.

Lessons from Refugees

You can learn many valuable career and life lessons from successful refugees. Some significant ones are:
  1. Preserve the family. While the world, nation, and tribe may let you down, the family should there for you and you should be there for the family. Don't take it for granted.
  2. Protect your resources. Save money and live within your means.
  3. Everybody pitches in. No one is exempt from finding a way to help.
  4. Education is essential. It cannot be taken away from you and it will help each generation get further down the path.
  5. Limit entertainment. This charming friend can quickly become an enemy. Don't permit it to consume too much of your time.
  6. Maintain traditions but strive to assimulate. Separation from the mainstream will ensure failure. Learn the language and the customs.
  7. Be wary of government. Too much assistance can create dependency and dependency can be lethal.
  8. Focus on your business. Don't dissipate your energies with grand schemes. Hone your skills.
  9. Look for bargains and opportunities. Small savings accumulate and opportunities are all around you.
  10. Build a network of allies. Maintain it. Some day you will need those contacts.
  11. Subdue your ego. Avoid money-draining displays of status.
  12. Don't think like a victim. To the greatest extent possible, take control of your life.

Gaining an Edge

Gerdin is old-school. His office has no computer, and he doesn’t use email. He runs the company using reports, handed to him weekly, printed on old-fashioned continuous-feed computer paper, with columns of numbers showing how each truck, each customer, and each load, dispatched from one of 10 terminals across the country, is performing. When he sees something appalling, he lumbers over to the company’s sales desk, or to its dispatchers, and chews someone out. He recently delivered a tirade when he discovered that on repeated trips across Nebraska, trucks failed to detour to a customer in the small town of Crete and had been needlessly running freightless—meaning unpaid—for 121 miles.

Read the rest about recession-busting.

Quote of the Day

The happiest people are those who take other people and other creatures as they find them.

- Philip B. Crosby

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Nostalgia and Music Break

Cultural Offering has a great piece on how the music of George Jones grows on you.

That's true. I tell that to my children and they flee.

But one day they'll know the allure of a voice that combines cigarette smoke, cold beer, and juke box. The first George Jones song I heard was "Big Harlan Taylor," which was written by Roger Miller. One memorable verse:

I wanted revenge and waylaid for Big Harlan
Then I got to wonderin' what good would it do
If a rubber-tired, new shiny car's her ambition
Then she can just have it and Big Harlan too.

The entire thing is like an Erskine Caldwell novel.

Therapy, Instruction, or Sadism?

Creative-writing programs are designed on the theory that students who have never published a poem can teach other students who have never published a poem how to write a publishable poem. The fruit of the theory is the writing workshop, a combination of ritual scarring and twelve-on-one group therapy where aspiring writers offer their views of the efforts of other aspiring writers.

Read the rest of Louis Menand in The New Yorker.

Miss Porter's School

Bass cheated, which was bad enough, but in the eyes of the school community she was guilty of something worse: weakness. From its very start, in 1843, Miss Porter’s has been committed not just to the old-fashioned values of charm, grace, and loyalty but to another, unspoken value as well: the ability to tough it out. Deeply ingrained in the school’s DNA, it makes the school a kind of upper-class, social Outward Bound.

Read the rest of the Vanity Fair article. Charming.

The Micro-Regulatory State

Mark Steyn reviews Paul Anthony Rahe's book on soft despotism. An excerpt:

“It does not tyrannize, it gets in the way.” The all-pervasive micro-regulatory state “enervates,” but nicely, gradually, so after a while you don’t even notice. And in exchange for liberty it offers security: the “right” to health care; the “right” to housing; the “right” to a job—although who needs that once you’ve got all the others? The proposed European Constitution extends the laundry list: the constitutional right to clean water and environmental protection. Every right you could ever want, except the right to be free from undue intrusions by the state.

The Positive Negatives

Just as many of our virtues cloak our vices, it may be that behavior we routinely shun as negative is beneficial.

What we regard as plodding may be the proper level of focus. "Rashness" may break the paralysis of perfectionism. Schmoozing may provide the right amount of sales contacts.

Our internal list of positive and negative behaviors could well be a Rosetta Stone with which we can sort out the path to achievement.

Translating it could show us where we have created our own barriers and where our attention could be put to better use. We may, in time, be able to create a more accurate distinction between what is harmful and what is beneficial.

The New Model

Daniel Henninger on the new economic approach. An excerpt:

Many of Mr. Obama's supporters surely thought this young, dynamic generation of public leaders would elevate the hip, cutting edge of the U.S. economy -- nanotechnology, genomics, robotics, even health and medicine technology. Instead, we've gotten the Old Economy on dialysis. General Motors has been commanded to restart aging UAW factories to output product on behalf of the administration's hybrid-car obsession. Where's the New Economy in any of this?

Quote of the Day

All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.

- George Orwell, Animal Farm

Monday, June 08, 2009

Choosing to Ignore

Consciously choosing to ignore certain behavior is an important element in management success.

You can't fix it all. Some problems would demand too much time. In some cases, the solution would create even worse problems. There are times when the problem, as bad as it is, is the solution to much larger problems.

As a wise manager once put it, "This is not an ordered world."

The inability to address all problems, however, is not understood by many employees. These critics may be frustrated and demoralized by management's willingness to let matters drift. They usually do not know the reasons for the inaction. Rather than trying to guess what rational beliefs could cause the behavior, they ascribe weakness, incompetence, corruption or favoritism as the reason.

If a group is behaving strangely, first assume competence and exhaust the rational and more benign reasons before concluding the conduct is governed by something negative.

Car Break

You know you want one:

1962 Rambler American 400 convertible.

[HT: Instapundit ]

Flying High

Fast Company gives a peek inside a Saudi prince's $485 million plane.

I sort of like the Wellbeing Room.

Dog Rules

What you need on a Monday and possibly beyond: The Rules of Dogness.

Good stuff.

The Next Top Reality Show

Stanley Bing is floating ideas for reality shows:

Second, and possibly even more interesting, is a show I’m calling So You’re Too Fat To Dance? A mix of several genres, this one puts it all together for pure, guilty pleasure. Contestants join the show when still very adipose, pleasant people who really can’t dance very well at all. They try, but they for the most part fail to accomplish the complicated choreography outlined for them by the show’s panel of showbiz sadists. Over the 16 weeks, contestants are put through a grueling regime of diet and exercise in which they lose tons of weight very quickly, putting their health at risk while at the same time making themselves far more flexible, pliant and capable of graceful dives, sweeps and fancy footwork. By the end of the series, we have a few people who punished themselves enough to make the grade and dance off with the prize, and probably a lot more who fell by the wayside, panting. Part make-over, part weight loss, part exercise in pure humiliation, I think this show will have it all.

Victims of Procrastination

Carmine Coyote at Slow Leadership has an excellent article on procrastination. An excerpt:

A great deal of procrastination by subordinates is caused by indecision on the part of their leaders. As a result, team members lack guidance, are given confused and confusing instructions, are set tasks without first checking whether they have the necessary skills to achieve them, or are left waiting for a key decision from the boss—then blamed for the subsequent late running of the project.

Identity Politics

From Shelby Steele's article on Sotomayor and the politics of race:

The White House acknowledges that this now famous statement -- both racist and dim-witted -- was turned up in the vetting process. So we can only assume that the president was aware of it, as well as Judge Sotomayor's career-long claim that ethnicity and gender are virtual determinisms in judging: We need diversity because, as she said in her Berkeley lecture, "inherent physiological or cultural differences . . . make a difference in our judging." The nine white male justices who decided the Brown school-desegregation case in 1954 might have felt otherwise, as would a president seeking to lead us toward a new, post-racial society.

Quote of the Day

Now, of course you're not going to get a visit from the Gestapo if you see the world differently; if you don't think the good kind of diversity is skin deep or that the only legitimate community is one where "we're all in it together," you won't be dragged off to a reeducation camp. But you very well may be sent off to counseling or sensitivity training.

- Jonah Goldberg

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Male Gap

In Friedan's day, women were clearly the second sex. Not so today. Yes, many women are struggling with the challenge of combining family and work. But men do not have it easy either. They are increasingly less educated than women. They are bearing the brunt of the recession. The New York Times recently reported that "a full 82 percent of the job losses have befallen men." Reuters referred to the surging male unemployment rate as a "blood bath." Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "FastStats" show that men are less likely than women to be insured--and more likely to drink, smoke, and be overweight. They also die six years earlier than women on average.

Why are there no conferences, petitions, workshops, congressional hearings, or presidential councils to help men close the education gap, the health care gap, the insurance gap, the job-loss gap, and the death gap? Because, unlike women, men do not have hundreds of men's studies departments, research institutes, policy centers, and lobby groups working tirelessly to promote their challenges as political causes.

Read the rest of Christina Hoff Sommers here.

Live Courageously

Steve Pavlina's Personal Development for Smart People site is one of the best ones out there.

This essay on the importance of courage is an example of why. An excerpt:

Fear is not your enemy. It is a compass pointing you to the areas where you need to grow. So when you encounter a new fear within yourself, celebrate it as an opportunity for growth, just as you would celebrate reaching a new personal best with strength training.

Celebrity versus Recognition

There is a difference between celebrity and recognition. Celebrities are recognized in the street, but usually because of who they are, or who they are supposed to be. To achieve recognition, however, is to be recognized in a different way. It is to be known for what you have done, and quite often the person who knows what you have done has no idea of what you look like. When I say that I've had enough of celebrity status, I don't mean that I am sick of the very idea. As it happens, I think that the mass-psychotic passion for celebrity — this enormous talking point for those who do not really talk — is one of the luxurious diseases that Western liberal democracy will have to find a cure for in the long run, but the cure will have to be self-willed. I don't think that it can be imposed, and certainly not from the outside. I didn't much like Madonna's last television appearance in Britain. Billed as the height of sophisticated sexiness, it featured Madonna wearing high heels, a trench coat and a beret. She crouched like a pygmy prizefighter while snarling into the microphone as if anyone listening might be insufficiently intelligent to understand her message — a hard audience to find, in my view.

Read the rest of Clive James on the meaning of recognition.

The Many Ways of Story-Telling

del Toro: We are used to thinking of stories in a linear way—act one, act two, act three. We're still on the Aristotelian model. What the digital approach allows you to do is take a tangential and nonlinear model and use it to expand the world. For example: If you're following Leo Bloom from Ulysses on a certain day and he crosses a street, you can abandon him and follow someone else.

Read the rest of Wired's interview with director Guillermo del Toro on the future of film.

The Balance

A key element of productivity consists of knowing when to engage and when to disengage.

We cannot function well as hermits and yet we need quiet time in which to collect our thoughts. The latter activity is often scorned as wool-gathering or goofing off. In an action-oriented environment, it can be an act of bravery to declare the need for additional thought.

Much is intangible. We shuffle tasks and search for poetry in our work. I suspect that it usually lurks in the balance between action and analysis and between engagement and disengagement.

Quote of the Day

Troops landing on the exposed beach were simply mown down. The casualty rate was massive. The advantage, other than in sheer numbers, lay plainly with the defenders. Omaha [Beach] gave a horrifying taste of what the landings could have faced elsewhere had the German defense been properly prepared and waiting. But even at Omaha, after several torrid hours of terrible blood-letting, almost 35,000 American troops were finally able to push forward and gain a foothold on French soil. By the end of the day, around 156,000 Allied troops had landed, had forged contact with the 13,000 American parachutists dropped behind the flanks of the enemy lines several hours before the landings, and been able successfully to establish beachheads - including one sizable stretch some thirty kilometers long and ten deep.

- Ian Kershaw

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Bail-Out State

In the bailout state, the federal government takes over failed private entities in order to maintain overall economic stability. Sometimes the companies already had ties to government, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) that the Treasury seized--sorry, "took into conservatorship"--last summer. Sometimes the bailout state's beneficiaries are businesses like AIG, Citigroup, Bank of America, and the other financial institutions wedded to government through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (or TARP). Other times, the beneficiaries are unions: the United Auto Workers (UAW) whose members' jobs at Chrysler and the "new GM" will survive thanks to government largesse.

The wards of the bailout state have more in common than government support. After all, the government has supported the railroad, agriculture, and steel industries for a long time. But not through direct bailouts. No, the salient feature of the bailout state is government ownership and control.

Read the rest of Matthew Continetti in The Weekly Standard.

Music Break

Praising Poorly

My post on poorly delivered praise is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Pulp Serenade

If you like pulp, noir, or crime fiction or simply appreciate the cover art on those old novels, Cullen Gallagher has a site for you.

Sample line from one book:

I was so hungry I think I might've sucked in some bacon strips through my nose.

Jungle Work

I've found that unless I block out some machete time, the jungle begins to return.
  • The email box overflows.
  • Working files are not properly organized.
  • And I fall behind on sending thank you notes and birthday cards.

I find it far easier to postpone these chores than to fail to return a phone call. Phone call messages, for some reason, are more pressing and I have a strict rule of returning all calls, if at all possible, within the work day.

The seemingly trivial tasks do not easily merge with other business. They demand special focus and, if unattended, spark feelings of guilt that are not minor.

Recently, I wrote about the importance of designating an Unpleasant Tasks Day once a month. Once a week, at least an hour or two should be devoted to Jungle Work.

And if it is not placed on the calendar, it won't get done.

Take It from Tuna

When times get hard, do people go to the movies? An excerpt from the Business Week article:

Last year, U.S. box-office receipts totaled $9.63 billion, essentially unchanged from $9.66 billion in 2007. Movie attendance dropped by 4.8% but was mostly offset by a 4.4% rise in the average ticket price to $7.18. That's all the more impressive given the sharp drop in consumer spending amid a harsh economic backdrop and the fact that 2007 was a banner year for movie sales, analyst Tuna Amobi said in a recent research report for Standard & Poor's. (S&P, like BusinessWeek, is a unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies (MHP).)

Quote of the Day

Gently in manner, strong in deed.

- Saying kept on the desk of President Dwight Eisenhower