Friday, July 31, 2009

Culture Break

Andres Segovia plays Asturias.

Master of Room 205

Read Kenneth R. Weinstein on the joy of having Frank McCourt, the author of Angela's Ashes, as an English teacher:

At Stuyvesant, where he taught from 1968 to 1987, McCourt was already a larger than life figure. To begin with, though several of our teachers at Stuyvesant in the late 1970s were immigrants, McCourt was the only Irish one. (Few Irish went into teaching--the remnants of the ethnic spoils system created by the party bosses sent them to the police or fire departments.) And, true to the stereotype, McCourt had a glorious brogue and the touch of blarney. He could, with a hint of exaggeration and a twinkle in the eye, turn the most mundane of human interactions into an amusing anecdote.

Missing from the Debate

Common Good's Philip Howard weighs in on defensive medicine and the trial lawyers:

A few years ago, I was not allowed to have minor knee surgery at an orthopedic hospital unless I went through a comprehensive "pre-operative examination." There was no financial incentive to the hospital because this pre-operative exam was to be done elsewhere. As it turned out, I had recently endured all those tests in my annual physical. But the orthopedic hospital would not accept month-old test results, nor even an explicit waiver by me of any liability. The result was pure waste: more than $1,000 spent on wholly unnecessary tests.

The Wisdom of Slow Reactions

My post on the wisdom of slowing down reactions is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Songs for the Workplace

It's Friday.

I'm starting with a 7 a.m. meeting followed by a 9 o'clock meeting, but upon returning to the office I plan on burning off the caffeine by leading all present in the following songs:

Quote of the Day

You get no prize for outrunning an ass.

- Martial

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The "No Jobs" Response

Check out Andy Lester's response to "What do I do when there are no jobs to be found?"

Crisis-Related Classes

When business school students return to class next month, they'll find their academic world a changed place, too. There will be new classes for some—classes designed to give MBA students an understanding of of the crisis and its causes. Existing courses in risk management, macroeconomics, and other crisis-related topics will be far more popular than they ever were. Ethics will play a bigger role than it did just a year ago. And in a few cases, entirely new programs will spring to life.

Read the rest of the Business Week article here.

Streamlining the Organization

Organization X used this chain of command to handle a critical project:

Chief Executive Officer
Special Project Advisor
1st Vice President
2nd Vice President
Regional Vice President
Department Director
two Local Managers who had direct contact with the problem.

Result? Extraordinary communication problems and confused authority in the field produced a disaster.

Organization Y used this chain of command in a similar situation:

Chief Executive Officer
Local Manager.

[The 1st Vice President was available for assistance regarding resources.]

Organization Y also had a complex chain of command under normal circumstances, but they reduced it in order to handle the pressing project more effectively. By doing so, they put the ultimate decision maker in touch with the decision maker who was on the scene.

Result: Clarity and success.

Quote of the Day

Ever tried? Ever failed? Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

- Samuel Beckett

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gutsy Sabbaticals

Daniel H. Pink looks at "sabbaticals by Sagmeister."

A gutsy and thought-provoking idea, similar to Tim Ferriss's stuff.

[Hmm. Perhaps some of my clients are on sabbaticals.]

Hot Car Break

You know you want one: the new Ferrari 458.

Scott Adams Speaks

You're Scott Adams, the creator of "Dilbert," and all of a sudden you are afflicted with a rare and strange ailment:

Take the rule about crowds. If Adams was at a party with friends, he'd open his mouth to talk, only to find the words tumbling out in a raspy, imperceptible staccato, chopping off sentences before they had a chance to form. If he tried to say, "Tomorrow is my birthday," for example, it would morph into a weak "Ma robf sss ma birfday." But if he was on the lecture circuit, delivering a prepared speech to a crowd of thousands, he could stand behind the podium and—"Hello!"—his voice would whir back to life, if only for the hour he was onstage.

Read the rest of the Wired article here. It is a fascinating account of illness and recovery.


I once heard an interview with a man who, having survived the Nazi death camps, decided to dedicate the rest of his life to the study of beauty.

He didn't make his pursuit strictly an academic one. He also made a conscious effort to achieve beauty in his appearance, living environment, language, and manners. His personal campaign was a reminder of how easily we accept the sloppy and the inadvertent and underestimate the power of beauty.

Visit John Soane's Museum in London and you'll find a home that, although cluttered, is an illustration of the combined effect of beautiful things.

We go through life trying to be efficient, kind, decent, and productive. At times, beauty may seem an affectation. In reality, it is more of an inspiration, even when it is small.

Quote of the Day

There is no little enemy.

- Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Back By Popular Demand: Gaius Petronius

From the first century A.D.:

We trained hard . . . but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.

- Gaius Petronius, a.k.a. Arbiter

Noise, Blogging, and Decency

Some quick videos: Seth Godin and Tom Peters.

[HT: Lou Rodarte]

Hackers: Older, Wiser, Richer, More Dangerous

This is the future of hacking: professional, smart, and above-all well-funded. In the old days, hackers were mostly kids and college-age acolytes sowing their wild oats before joining the establishment. Today, the best hackers have the skill and discipline of the best legitimate programmers and security gurus. They're using mind-bending obfuscation techniques to deliver malicious code from hacked websites undetected. They're writing malware for mobile phones and PDAs. The underground has even embraced the next-generation internet protocol IPv6, according to research by IBM -- setting up IPv6 chat rooms, file stores and websites, even as legitimate adoption lags. Ten years ago, an oft-repeated aphorism held that hackers were unskilled vandals: Just because they can break a window, doesn't mean they could build one. Today's bad guys could handcraft the stained glass in the Sainte-Chapelle.

Read the rest of the Wired article here.

Cell Phone Rules

This is controversial territory - I know people who are fused to their cell phone - but when is cell phone usage inappropriate?

In my humble - but undoubtedly correct - opinion, the cell phone should not be used when:

You're in traffic. Exception: You're on a deserted highway in Texas where you can see 100 miles in either direction.

You are in a restaurant. Most people don't want their meal to be accompanied by a nearby imitation of Foghorn Leghorn.

You're in a theater. A few weeks on a chain gang would be suitable for this violation.

Any others?

Quote of the Day

Egos eat brains.

- Alan V. Brunacini

Monday, July 27, 2009


Several years ago, a friend of mine successfully went through the interviewing process with a Fortune 500 company; one that is considered to be trendy and hip.

He had to survive 16 interviews before they made a decision.

Now I like the idea of thoroughness, but isn't that a bit excessive? Although my friend's talent is in the serious A+ league, is it not possible that telling them to go to hell after the third or fourth interview could have been a positive sign of independence?

Can you imagine Teddy Roosevelt sitting through 16 interviews?

Toga, Toga

The Princeton Review gives its list of the 10 biggest party schools.

I'm always suspicious of such lists as so much of college is what you make of it.

[Good Lord, that sounds old!]

Sowell on Housing

Nick Schulz interviews economist Thomas Sowell about the housing boom and bust:

NS: Who should we feel most sorry for in the wake of the bust?

TS: The people I feel most sorry for in this whole episode are the people few express any concern about—the taxpayers, present and future, who will be forced to pay the price for decisions they had nothing to do with. Moreover, the thrust of the “affordable housing” crusade was not to reduce or eliminate the impediments that raised the cost of housing but to force banks and other lenders to finance home purchases at existing prices but on less stringent terms. The net result was a variety of “creative” financing schemes to lower monthly mortgage payments, if only temporarily—such as during the first two years of a 30-year mortgage—and to lend to people whose income and down payments did not meet the standards of conventional mortgage lending.

Zeal, Zeal, Zeal

Cultural Offering has a list of items that will boost your week.

Life in the Jails

To understand the difficulties of running a large jail, imagine that your job is personally to shepherd each of the thousands of commuters streaming through New York’s massive Penn Station to their trains safely and on time . . . except that the commuters are all criminals who keep changing their travel plans, and their trains, to which they don’t want to go, have no fixed timetables.

Read the rest of Heather Mac Donald's City Journal article here.

Outside, Inside, and Perspective

I've met some managers who insist that no one should ever be given an evaluation of "Outstanding" in all performance categories or even overall.

"No one," they insist, "is perfect."

I respond that being outstanding is not the same as being perfect, but they shrug off that argument. What they are really saying is that their evaluation system is skewed, Any third party reading the evaluations should know that for many of the employees, "Meets Standards" is as good as it gets.

Unfortunately, not all of them will know that.

I've met other managers who can tell you what this or that employee did wrong 10 to 15 years ago. I ask, "Shouldn't there be a statute of limitations on such infractions?" Something in their smile makes me suspect that their honest answer would be "No."

How do people slide into such attitudes? I don't have the answer. I do wonder how many of them have ever been subjected to serious unfairness; not some minor "I don't think that was right" moment, but a raw, brutal episode that leaves a scar.

Fortunately, many managers have such memories. In most cases, those recollections provide a helpful perspective and a healthy sense of justice. In others, of course, it clouds perspective with prejudice and resentment.

Either way, as one observer noted, it can be difficult to see the picture if you are in the frame.

Monday Morale Exercise: Shatner

Nothing that you have to face this week will compare to this: Shatner singing "Rocketman."

Quote of the Day

Muddy water let stand will clear.

- Chinese proverb

Saturday, July 25, 2009

"Social Engineering" or Scam?

Social engineering and mind games expert Brian Brushwood has not come by his knowledge in the traditional manner of school or business training. Brushwood is the host of the Internet video series Scam School, a show he describes as dedicated to social engineering in the bar and on the street.

Read the rest of Joan Goodchild at CSO here.

P.S. 9 "dirty tricks" are here.

Trying to Go Green

Ask Uncle Bill tries to go solar:

Part One

Part Two

Candor and Sincerity

You've probably seen this:

A top executive stands before a meeting of employees and announces that he or she wants them to speak up if they see anything that can be improved in the organization.

Suddenly, throughout the audience, there are these side glances. Some people look at the floor. Others discover an intense interest in their schedule books. Those in the back may even bolt for another cup of coffee.

And the unspoken question is, "Do you really mean that?"

Another question is, "Even if you mean it, what about those other folks up on the podium?"

Indulgence Break

Cool Tools looks at the quick and easy Midas homemade ice cream maker.

Dignity: Post-George Washington

David Brooks looks at dignity in our times:

But the dignity code itself has been completely obliterated. The rules that guided Washington and generations of people after him are simply gone.

We can all list the causes of its demise. First, there is capitalism. We are all encouraged to become managers of our own brand, to do self-promoting end zone dances to broadcast our own talents. Second, there is the cult of naturalism. We are all encouraged to discard artifice and repression and to instead liberate our own feelings. Third, there is charismatic evangelism with its penchant for public confession. Fourth, there is radical egalitarianism and its hostility to aristocratic manners.

Immigrant Novels

Mattthew Kaminski lists his favorite novels about immigrants in America.

I'd add Mario Puzo's The Fortunate Pilgrim; written before he gained fame with The Godfather.

Life and Fate

Have been reading Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate.

An extraordinary book with unforgettable scenes. Joseph Epstein's review is here.

The comparison to Tolstoy is understandable. It is also easy to see why it was banned in the Soviet Union.

The Positives of Gloom

Alain de Botton gives a cry for pessimism:

We should instead remember the great pessimistic voices of history, of which I cherish two in particular. One is Seneca: “What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.” The other is the French moralist Chamfort: “A man should swallow a toad every morning to be sure of not meeting with anything more revolting in the day ahead.”

West Point: Class of '76

The class of 1976—who left West Point at a low point for both the Army and its famed training ground—has produced a striking number of generals now influencing the shape of the U.S. military. All told, at least 33 active and retired generals, now all in their mid-50s, were among its 855 graduating members. Gen. McChrystal’s deputy in Kabul, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, was a classmate, as was the officer leading U.S. efforts to train the Iraqi army, Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick. Retired Lt. Gen. Dave Barno, who spent 19 months as the top commander in Afghanistan, was also West Point ’76.

“It’s really sort of unprecedented,” says Stephen Grove, a civilian who recently retired after 30 years as West Point’s official historian. “The class of 1915 is known as ‘the class the stars fell on’ because of graduates like Omar Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower. But you could argue that the class of 1976 is becoming just as influential.”

Read the rest of the Wall Street Journal article here.

Quote of the Day

If the success or failure of this planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do, how would I be and what would I do?.

- Buckminster Fuller

Friday, July 24, 2009

Jazz Break: Brubeck

The Dave Brubeck Quartet with:

Take Five and Blue Rondo a la Turk. [The flying carpet in the latter is very high tech.]

Dangerous Instincts

So often:
  • We hide out when we should go out.
  • We make assumptions when we should be analyzing.
  • We add "just a few more remarks" when we should be silent.
  • We blow up when we should take a walk.
  • We construct blame where no blame is legitimate.
  • We expect change from the unchangeable.
  • We rely on wishes and call them plans.

Steady Hand

Solid proof that some performances are augmented by great camera work.

Negative People

My post on negative energy people is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Differing Schedules

Most powerful people are on the manager's schedule. It's the schedule of command. But there's another way of using time that's common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can't write or program well in units of an hour. That's barely enough time to get started.

When you're operating on the maker's schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That's no problem for someone on the manager's schedule. There's always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker's schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

Read the rest of Paul Graham here .

Quote of the Day

You've got to think about big things while you're doing small things so that all the small things go in the right direction.

- Alvin Toffler

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Moving Slowly

As long-time readers of this site know, I like the slogan "Fast is Slow, Slow is Fast."

Taking careful aim and hitting the serious targets requires perspective, courage, and focus. You may appear to be moving slowly, but you are methodically achieving the items that need to be achieved.

The perspective and focus components may be obvious. Why is courage essential? Because you need to have the courage to resist internal and external pressures to rush.

Admiral Rickover, reviewing the history of the nuclear submarine program, gave what I believe is the best description of the trait. He called it "courageous patience."

Camaro Guy

In a shameless display of bias favoring mega-bloggers, Chevrolet loaned Guy Kawasaki a new Camaro for five days.

It looks great although the gas mileage is sort of what you'd expect.

Sotomayor and the Senators

Employment attorney John Phillips, whose blog is a must-read, on the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings and the confirmation process:

The Judiciary Committee members who are part of the majority party ask questions filled with adoration. They might as well ask, “Isn’t it true that you are a great American?” And the nominee can answer, “Well, that’s not for me to say, but I’ve always tried to be.” The members of the minority party ask questions about suspicions, alleged contradictions, and concerns — all within the the scripted framework of showing servile abasement over learning some new truth about the nominee.

Execupundit note: I'm not sure if politicizing of the votes on Supreme Court nominees has recently been indulged in to the same degree by the two parties.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed by a vote of 96 to 3.

Stephen Breyer by a vote of 87 to 9.

Both were Clinton nominees. But what of the Bush nominees?

Samuel Alito: 58 to 42.

John Roberts: 78 to 22.

The Gates Case

The police report on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

President Obama's comments on the case.

The background of the police sergeant.

I may be missing something but it appears Professor Gates was the person acting stupidly in this matter. If that indeed turns out to be the case, will his career be damaged?

I think you know the answer.

From Wall Street to CIA

The CIA is recruiting economic analysts and is being inundated with resumes from Wall Street?

That's reassuring.

Weirdness Review: Eclipse of the Heart

Bonnie Tyler, Total Eclipse of the Heart.

Good singer. Good song.

But then someone produced this weird to the point of being inadvertently hilarious music video.

What were they thinking?

Quote of the Day

A committee can make a decision that is dumber than any of its members.

- David Coblitz

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Top of Antelope Butte: Jim Harrison

Thanks to Cultural Offering for posting this gem.

Take some time today and watch a short interview with novelist and poet Jim Harrison.

Psychology of Overconfidence

Since the beginning of the financial crisis, there have been two principal explanations for why so many banks made such disastrous decisions. The first is structural. Regulators did not regulate. Institutions failed to function as they should. Rules and guidelines were either inadequate or ignored. The second explanation is that Wall Street was incompetent, that the traders and investors didn’t know enough, that they made extravagant bets without understanding the consequences. But the first wave of postmortems on the crash suggests a third possibility: that the roots of Wall Street’s crisis were not structural or cognitive so much as they were psychological.

Read the rest of Malcolm Gladwell's article in The New Yorker.

Kindle Competitor

Barnes & Noble is unveiling its version of the e-book.

Quote of the Day

I finally understand what pluralism is: it's when lots of people share my point of view.

- Giancarlo Pajetta

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Advertising Done Right

Now this is one neat ad.

Winning on the Uphills

A lesson from Seth Godin:

Interesting business lesson learned on a bicycle: it's very difficult to improve your performance on the downhills.

Deja Vu and The Long March

David Brooks on political overreach by conservatives and liberals. An excerpt:

We’re only in the early stages of the liberal suicide march, but there already have been three phases. First, there was the stimulus package. You would have thought that a stimulus package would be designed to fight unemployment and stimulate the economy during a recession. But Congressional Democrats used it as a pretext to pay for $787 billion worth of pet programs with borrowed money. Only 11 percent of the money will be spent by the end of the fiscal year — a triumph of ideology over pragmatism.

Management: Basic and Real

Andrew Rondeau on what is management and what do managers do?

[HT: Political Calculations ]

Tsunami Update

In 1964, a magnitude 9.2 earthquake off the coast of Alaska generated a wall of water more than 40 feet high that hit Alaska, British Columbia, Oregon and parts of California, killing 130 people and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Now, geologists say an even bigger tsunami could someday be in store for the West Coast.

Read the rest of the Wired article here.

Cringe Break

Idea Anaconda offers a memorable scene from the British version (aka the best version) of The Office.

[The bald guy leaning back and fuming is a management consultant who's just had his workshop hijacked by David Brent (Ricky Gervais).]

Prager: Happiness as a Moral Obligation

Take some time and check out Dennis Prager's video on the moral obligation to act happy.

Think of the many unhappy people who inflict their mood on others.

The Wrong Stuff

The Wall Street Journal editorial writers hit the target with this essay contrasting two events. An excerpt:

It took eight years from the time John Kennedy declared we would go to the moon to the day an American landed on it, 40 years ago this week. It was also eight years ago this September that terrorists struck the World Trade Center, the site of which continues to be a hole in the ground and a national disgrace.

Yes, New York politics is complicated. There were lawsuits over who owed what to whom, countless constituencies to please, and no single accountable political authority governing Ground Zero. Still. How much harder can it be to fill a hole in the ground with buildings of any kind than to master the ground-breaking science and mechanics of space travel over the same number of years?

Bad Career Advice

I recall hearing years ago that fluency in a foreign language is required for a Ph.D.

That's not true - many Ph.D. programs require the ability to read in a foreign language but not complete fluency - and yet the full fluency requirement was solemnly repeated as a universal truth.

Looking back, I should have considered the sources, all of whom had never wandered near a doctoral program. Even aside from that, however, it is not unusual to hear people give grossly inaccurate accounts of how companies screen and select candidates. Everyone, it seems, is eager to expound upon human resources practices.

That could easily be classified under the standard smoke and mirrors of life, but I wonder how many careers have been affected by off-hand - and inaccurate - remarks made in articles or by acquaintances.

Quote of the Day

I went into a general store. They wouldn't let me buy anything specifically.

- Steven Wright

Monday, July 20, 2009

Returning to the Moon

The moon can be a haunting sight and yet, as this old painting suggests, thoroughly captivating.

The trailer for the film "In the Shadow of the Moon" neatly condenses many of the feelings that surrounded the extraordinary event that occurred 40 years ago today.

Those feelings have changed. Columnist Charles Krauthammer recently observed:

Michael Crichton once wrote that if you had told a physicist in 1899 that, within a hundred years, humankind would, among other wonders (nukes, commercial airlines), "travel to the moon, and then lose interest - the physicist would almost certainly pronounce you mad." In 2000, I quoted these lines expressing Crichton's incredulity at America's abandonment of the moon. It is now 2009, and the moon recedes ever further.

Despite the current economic challenges, President Obama should renew our commitment to manned exploration of the moon.To forsake possible projects such as a moon space station would, of course, produce a loss of scientific knowledge. The greater harm, however, may be to the human spirit.

World's Toughest Laptop?

Kick around the Panasonic Toughbook F8.

Icon Abuse

Joe Queenan finds that icons aren't what they used to be:

For a number of reasons, the term "icon" cannot be used the way it is currently being tossed about. If your nickname is Wacko Jacko, if you have forked over tens of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits in which you were accused of child abuse, the term "icon" is probably not le mot juste. "Iconic" carries with it a subtext of moral elegance. It is not interchangeable with "famous" or "powerful" or even "brilliant." This is why Henry VIII, Attila the Hun, Oliver Cromwell and Satan are rarely described as "iconic." They were interesting chaps, they put a lot of points on the scoreboard, and they changed the world forever. But iconic? No.

Take the Rest of the Day Off

Today is Diana Rigg's Birthday. Alert the media.

Quote of the Day

I was a vegetarian until I started leaning toward the sunlight.

- Rita Rudner

Saturday, July 18, 2009

General Rules

  1. People who give you a very short period of time to decide whether to buy what they are selling are trying to slip something past you.
  2. It is a mistake to accord automatic trust to companies, unions, or governments.
  3. Few scoundrels are unethical all the time.
  4. Being able to spot weasel words is one of the most important skills in life.
  5. Trusting your intuition that something is wrong is usually wiser than trusting your intuition that something is right.
  6. Some highly educated people stopped learning twenty or more years ago.
  7. The more you know about a news topic, the more you are disturbed by the reporting on the news topic.
  8. Some of the most anti-American people you'll ever meet are Americans.
  9. Always know the strongest arguments on both sides but don't assume that either side has a strong argument.
  10. A test of knowledge is whether or not the person can explain the subject in plain language.
  11. Beware of anyone who is cruel to subordinates.
  12. It is better to have and not need than to need and not have.
  13. The most articulate person is not necessarily the wisest but many people will believe that to be the case.
  14. Celebrity is not the same as greatness.
  15. Don't kid yourself: Experience matters.

Chocolate Miracle

Barry Callebaut (BARN.MU), whose annual output of over 1.1 million tons of cocoa and chocolate products makes it the world's largest producer of chocolate, has developed a type of chocolate with completely new properties. According to the company's head developer, Hans Vriens, the chocolate has up to 90 percent fewer calories than regular chocolate.

What's more, high temperatures can't touch it—unless, by chance, they soar higher than 55 degrees Celsius (131 degrees Fahrenheit). Depending on its composition, traditional chocolate starts to melt at around 30 degrees Celsius. And that's the inspiration behind the tentative name its developers have given the new product: "Vulcano."

the rest of the Business Week article here.

The Rahm Road

Ted Van Dyk, a former aide to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, calls for a reset :

Many of the missteps that have followed flowed, in part, from your reliance on these Clinton holdovers. Your chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, defined your early strategy by stating that the financial and economic crises presented an "opportunity" to jam through unrelated legislation. To many of us, the remark was cynical and wrong-headed.

The Offer Never Made

This should be clipped out and posted on every desk:

Cultural Offering on the offer never made. An excerpt:
  • The book never written will never be printed.
  • The plans left unfinished will never become an enterprise.
  • The idea never stated will never rally supporters.

Godin on Focus

A must read: Seth Godin on the Law of the Little Shovel.

Quote of the Day

If you define cowardice as running away at the first sign of danger, screaming and tripping and begging for mercy, then yes, Mister Brave Man, I guess I am a coward.

- Jack Handey

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Sexy Mannequin

Employment attorney John Phillips on the case of an attractive figure who just stands around, brings in business, and offends the local zoning commission.

An earlier news story has a photo of the focus of the controversy.

Cary Grant wouldn't wear Crocs

Idea Anaconda notes an endangered article of the modern hipster's wardrobe: Crocs.

Self-Sabotage Tips

My post on 7 effective ways to sabotage yourself is up at U.S. News & World Report.

German Translation

In the days when Bismarck was the greatest man in Europe, an American visitor to Berlin, anxious to hear the Chancellor speak, procured two tickets to the visitors' gallery of the Reichstag and hired an interpreter to accompany her there. They were fortunate enough to arrive just before Bismarck intervened in a debate on a matter of social legislation, and the American pressed close to her interpreter's side so as to miss nothing of the translation. But although Bismarck spoke with considerable force and at some length, the interpreter's lips remained closed, and he was unresponsive to his employer's nudges. Unable to contain herself, she finally blurted, "What is he saying?" "Patience, madam," the interpreter answered. "I am waiting for the verb!"

- Gordon A. Craig, The Germans

Quote of the Day

I started out with nothing. I still have most of it.

- Michael Davis

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"Workplace with suntan lotion"

After a venture-capital presentation at a Hamptons home three years ago, guests were moved poolside for cocktails. Several people donned bathing suits. “After that, I felt I knew them very well,” says Jonscott Turco, an attendee who watched the swimmers frolic from the safety of his business suit.

Mr. Turco sometimes sees those people in Manhattan these days. Their names often escape him, but other details are indelible. “No matter how dapper they look in Midtown, I think, ‘He was the Speedo,’ ” says Mr. Turco. Same with the people he has dubbed “White Bikini,” “Leopard Bikini” and “Board Shorts.”

Read the rest of Christina Binkley
on surviving the corporate outing.

Top Hospitals

A ranking of top hospitals from U.S. News & World Report.

If it employs the same methodology as the ranking for law schools, I'm sure there's room for debate.

Pride as Ninja

Check out Bryan Stewart's take on Pride: The Silent Leadership Assassin. An excerpt:

With every individual or team success, the unwary leader can increase their vulnerability to the destructive forces of pride. The same skills, competencies and values that make you successful as a leader can be the very things that can “puff you up” and replace humility in your heart with a lethal dose of venomous pride.

The Blob

If you work at The Blob, you eventually notice:
  • Many things are planned but few are completed.

  • "Yes" does not always mean "yes." It often means "perhaps" or "no."

  • Conflict is seldom expressed openly. That would be unseemly. Instead, people are quite cordial, even when they strongly disagree. They are always searching for an appropriate time to surface their disagreement and that is usually when the other party is not in the room.

  • Authority is murky and it can be difficult to determine who is/was responsible for what.

  • There is little coordination because coordination involves sharing information. Sharing information is another task that requires the ever-elusive "appropriate time."

  • Unless the infraction is extreme, people are not held accountable for poor performance.

  • Memos are written, as the old saying goes, not to inform but to protect.

  • After a while, the best people flee.

The Blob, sad to say, is not hard to find.

Stein on the Economy

When I think about the economy I think about a plump man who has just been hit by a truck while crossing a street and is in severely critical condition with internal bleeding. Instead of just stabilizing his hemorrhaging, the doctor decides that while the patient is unconscious, he might as well also do a face lift, some coronary bypasses and a stomach stapling to keep him from gaining weight while he is recovering (if he does recover). After all, a crisis is not to be wasted.

- Ben Stein

Quote of the Day

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.

- Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Noir Break

It's no "The Maltese Falcon" but "The Asphalt Jungle" is darned close. [Check out the trailer.]

Can't believe I waited so long to see the film. Louis Calhern, Sam Jaffe, James Whitmore, Marilyn Monroe, and Sterling Hayden are extraordinary.

[Calhern's performance goes way beyond good. The man should have been a household name.]

Waugh Interview

Here's an excerpt of a BBC interview with novelist Evelyn Waugh.

Note the "objectivity" of the interviewer.

Choose Your Management Vices

Pretend that you have some management vices.

I know that's a stretch, but bear with me. If you were able to limit those vices to three, and indeed could not have less than three, which three of the following vices would you choose for your current job?
  1. Procrastination.
  2. Lack of punctuality.
  3. Insensitivity to others.
  4. Inefficiency.
  5. Poor productivity.
  6. Poor writing skills.
  7. Poor speaking skills.
  8. Poor planning skills.
  9. Lack of focus.
  10. Lack of initiative.
  11. Poorly motivated.
  12. Overconfident.
  13. Lack of versatility.
  14. Uncooperative.
  15. Disorganized.
  16. Passive.
  17. Sloppy.
  18. Arrogant.

Workplace Types

Stay in the workplace long enough and you'll encounter the following types:

The Wizard. Brilliant, charismatic, and high achieving. Surrounded by capable people who, in time, become less capable and more dependent as they adjust to a personality-driven environment.

The Insecure but Self-Centered. Willing to talk about his or her problems and doubts for hours and then address the subject again next week. You thought all self-centered people were secure? Think again.

The Survivor. A finger is always testing the wind. Sensitive meetings are dodged. Decisions are delayed and ducked. Friendly to all but a friend to none. Never to be trusted.

The Scattered. Has a thousand bright ideas but few of them are consumated. Helpful in a staff role but lethal as an executive.

The Barracuda. Great at rough and tough turnarounds that take no longer than a week or two. Terrible at long-time relationships. Short shelf-life.

The Relaxed. Nothing is urgent. Nothing is a crisis. All is well. Everything will work out fine until the plane hits the mountain.

Quote of the Day

Not being ahead of time is not being on time.

- Javier Moreno Valle

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Humor Break: Cake Wrecks

Some niche blogs are consistently good.

Lou Rodarte has gotten me hooked on this site, which features wizardry such as photo cakes.


The organizations that need training the least do it the most. They feel an obligation to develop their employees and understand that the expense of many training sessions is small compared to the cost of a lawsuit or a major managerial blunder.

The places that don't train often cite money as the reason but I don't think that is the case. They don't train when times are flush. Instead of worry over finances, you can sense a feeling of inferiority on their part; a fear that if the employees gain knowledge - especially from an outsider - then management will somehow lose control.

You can show the value of the finished product. You can describe the process used to get there. You can point to similar groups that benefited. But it is still hard to remove the fear that drives groups that regard knowledge as an adversary of control.


Take some time today and read Jim Stroup's essay on unsung heroes:

And so, we miss it – real, breathtaking heroism – when it is displayed. We often don’t notice it when we, ourselves, are its inspiration, its origin, or its beneficiary. It is not observed, it doesn’t rise above the background noise of our daily lives. It is not singled out for attention. It is just repeated.

Surely, there is no need to belittle those who have justly earned renown for their actions. But the stories untold are the most powerful. They are all the more so for their anonymity, and their ubiquity.

In Praise of Baseball

If you've not been to a little league ball game recently and see a game being played as you drive by, stop and watch. You will see baseball in its pure form. I understand the criticism (parents being hard on their kids, coaches shouting, and the pressures of competition). It mostly comes from those outside of the arena. Sure there are problems as there are with any institution. But the do-gooders and complainers miss the kids' perspective.

Read the rest at Cultural Offering.

Quote of the Day

The world bats last.

- Anonymous

Monday, July 13, 2009

Well Written: Mark Helprin

From "Winter's Tale" by Mark Helprin:

The main door of the French Mill opened, let in some glassy snow, and shut. At first, Peter Lake thought that the wind had done this, but then he looked down and saw two small men walking to a table on the opposite side of the room. Not only were they no more than five feet tall, but they both wore bowler hats, and ragged jackets that, before they were trimmed in the back, had once been tails. Their eyes were sunken, their faces had a leathery look, and they had bony cheeks and mouths that would have been large and toothy on men twice their size. Their hands were fat little balls of flesh with flat infantile thumbs, as delicate and strange as the paws of a tree frog. Their voices matched the rest of them in that they were small and sounded like the supplicating chirp of men who are married to female lumberjacks or prison matrons.

Different Definitions

There is a reason why many regulatory documents include definitions near the beginning.

Operate with different definitions of standards and compliance and you'll wind up with very different results.

Definitions are a form of navigation. Rush past them and you may find yourself on the way to the administrative equivalent of Turkey instead of Tahiti.

The need to define stems from the fact that we may ascribe widely varying meanings to the same terms. Consider how some organizations lump those who resigned and those who were fired under the label of "terminations." Similar confusion may arise when defining "applicant" or "test."

Years ago, when conducting investigations, I followed the Columbo approach of asking dumb questions and striving to get a verbal picture of what had taken place. What I learned was that the dumb questions were far from stupid because of the spins and assumptions that are so easily attached. When we conceive of items, we draw from our experience and that may lead us astray.

Mention a locker to one person and visions of high school may emerge while another may think of a gym. Still others may be picturing foot or tool lockers. A rose is not always a rose.

Guy Got Hacked

Sorry I'm late in reporting this. CSO has the story on the incident involving the hacked Twitter page of Guy Kawasaki:

It's not clear how hackers managed to gain access to Kawasaki's account -- security experts say that he and others may have fallen victim to earlier Twitter phishing attacks, where attackers tried to trick victims into logging into fake Twitter sits in hopes of stealing their login credentials.


I always enjoy it when the masks slip and the warm-mongers explicitly demand we adopt a massive Poverty Expansion Program to save the planet. “I don’t think a lot of electricity is a good thing,” said Gar Smith of San Francisco’s Earth Island Institute a few years back. “I have seen villages in Africa that had vibrant culture and great communities that were disrupted and destroyed by the introduction of electricity,” he continued, regretting that African peasants “who used to spend their days and evenings in the streets playing music on their own instruments and sewing clothing for their neighbors on foot-pedal powered sewing machines” are now slumped in front of Desperate Housewives reruns all day long.

One assumes Gar Smith is sincere in his fetishization of bucolic African poverty, with its vibrantly rampant disease and charmingly unspoilt life expectancy in the mid-forties. But when a hereditary prince starts attacking capitalism and pining for the days when a benign sovereign knew what was best for the masses, he gives the real game away. Capitalism is liberating: You’re born a peasant but you don’t have to die one.

Read the rest of Mark Steyn here.

Book Recommendation: George Washington

Paul Johnson's short biography of George Washington is a bargain both in price and quality.

There's only one negative: At the end you'll be hungry for more.

Quote of the Day

Right now, we're in the cool phase of American politics - we like our leaders robotically programmed and unflappably empty.

- Rob Long

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Power and Ideas

A test of any organization is bringing the people who have the ideas together with the people who have the power to transform the ideas into reality.

Too often, the powerful are too busy to spot rising issues or new approaches. Their days are packed.

The idea people have more time, but they are in the wilderness. They can conjure up brilliant strategies but without access their insight is as meaningless as the skill of a world-class card player who never gets near a gambling table.

The extraordinary leader is on the watch for ideas from the outskirts. Those remote territories may seem unlikely but they are grand locations for a clear and untarnished perspective.

Music Break: Candide

Bernstein conducts Bernstein: The Candide Overture.

Bean Ball

American Heritage looks at baseball's rough old days:

Early organized American baseball took two forms. New Englanders knew the game as “town ball” or the “Massachusetts game,” which featured base paths laid out in a square instead of a diamond, and a rule allowing fielder players to put out the batter or “striker” by “soaking” him (hitting him with a thrown ball before he reached base). Town ball flourished along the eastern seaboard. A group of young men in Philadelphia, who formed the Olympic Ball Club to play town ball in 1833, may have been the first organized baseball-related team in America. In 1838 the created and published rules aptly called their “constitution.”


While McDonald's has benefited from its global presence during the current recession, its worldwide advance began decades ago. And it's had some successful -- if amusing -- results: In Mexico, there are McMollettes, or English muffins topped with bean, cheese, and salsa. The McArabia features a chicken patty with garlic mayonnaise, vegetables, and Arabic bread. There's Vegemite on toast in Australia and Chicken SingaPorridge in Singapore. And don't forget the McAloo Tikki -- made with potato and vegetables -- and the lamb or chicken Maharaja Mac in India.

Read the rest of the Fortune article here.


The story behind an extraordinary soundtrack:

It isn’t unusual for movies to be rescored under pressure, but Goldsmith’s music for “Chinatown” is so well suited to the film that it’s hard to imagine that he knocked it out at the very last minute. The original score, written by the classical composer Phillip Lambro, was heard on the soundtrack of the version of the film that was shown seven weeks prior to the film’s release date at a preview in San Luis Obispo, a small town north of Los Angeles. “By the time the lights came up, half the audience had walked out, scratching their heads,” Robert Evans, the producer of “Chinatown,” wrote in “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” his 1994 autobiography. Concluding that Mr. Lambro’s “dissonant, weird, scratchy” music (as Mr. Towne would later describe it) was responsible for the film’s poor reception, Mr. Evans called in Goldsmith, and 10 days later “Chinatown” had a new score. Mr. Towne, who was present at the first recording session for Goldsmith’s score, later told a journalist that “you could see the movie come to life. It was like you couldn’t see the movie with the other score, and now you could, and I thought, ‘Omigod, we may have a chance.’”

Quote of the Day

When I went into motion pictures, the studios told us, "You absolutely cannot do television in any form anywhere. It's just a gimmick. It's going to pass away." Those may have been some of the stupidest remarks in history. But that's the way Hollywood thought in those days.

- Charlton Heston

Friday, July 10, 2009

17 Rules for Job Seekers

My post on 17 rules for job seekers is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Naked Fridays

Employment attorney and party pooper John Phillips on an English firm's decision to have "Naked Fridays":

In the U.S., however, don’t do this. Don’t suggest it. Don’t ask your employees if they’d be interested in it. Don’t bother getting legal advice. Rely on a lesser known American labor and employment law proverb that there is a fine line between having fun at work and a hostile environment.

The Unstimulating Stimulus

As unemployment rises ominously toward 10 percent and the economy continues to appear listless, leading economic voices have begun to call for a second fiscal stimulus. The first stimulus was controversial among economists; it seemed to discard a great deal of what had been learned about macroeconomics in recent decades. The calls for a second stimulus seem to discard logic altogether.

Read the rest of Phil Levy here.

Face to Face

Cultural Offering reminds us that all of the high tech cannot replace being in the room:

For clients I will take a personal meeting every time. The week started with a client lunch meeting. So much is expressed by a head nod as a concept is explained. The look a person gives when they have a question. A smile when they understand what you are saying. The conversation that starts and ends the meeting.

Quote of the Day

Execution is the chariot of genius.

- William Blake

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Ricci, Disparate Impact, and the Skills Gap

Heather MacDonald on the Ricci case:

The main function of the race industry today is to repackage problems of black underachievement as instances of white racism. For decades, the vast majority of alleged discrimination violations have been manifestations of the black-white performance gap, whether in academic achievement, crime rates, or poverty-producing behaviors like illegitimacy and dropping out of school. The race industry cloaks such problems in the language of rights and racism—pushing the achievement gap offstage, keeping alive the phantom of ubiquitous white bias, and generating jobs in the race industry. Thus, employment and educational standards that no one would otherwise think twice about are suddenly viewed as legally suspicious, without any reason to think them flawed except that blacks do not meet them at equal rates.

Book Review: How to Sell and Market Your Way Out of this Recession

Nicholas Bate, a.k.a. The Man Who Never Sleeps, Blogging Compadre, Consultant, Professor, and Prolific Author, has written another book.

"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)," has been on my desk, in my briefcase, and in my car for several weeks.

I keep diving into the book for ideas and taking notes, even on sections I've already read. As with all of Nicholas's books, this one is crisp and to the point. [The section on negotiation should be re-read frequently.] An excerpt (I've substituted dollars for pounds):

Before you go into a negotiation and if necessary during the negotiation: do the calculations. Let's keep it simple. You sell for $100. Your cost is $50. So that's $50 profit? Lovely. But now you give 5% discount. Assuming your costs are fixed (we're keeping it simple), you've just given away 10% of your profit. Mmm, something to think about.

Short, sharp, and helpful. Check it out.

The ADA Amendments Act's Wild Ride

Employment attorney John Phillips looks at the Pandora's Box that has been opened with the ADA Amendments Act.

Tough Customers: A Tale of United Airlines

Jena McGregor at Business Week looks at customer vigilantes:

Still, this has to be one of the most professionally produced acts of consumer vigilantism I’ve seen. Musician Dave Carroll, fed up by United Airlines’ response to his broken guitar, produced a four minute video about his experience. I’m not sure how much this will damage United’s reputation for baggage handling—most airlines don’t have much of an image in this department—but it certainly can’t help it, either.

Click to her post and watch the 4 minute video by Dave Carroll. It is extremely well-done.

Neverland's Treasures

Michael Jackson wears tube socks.

You can have them.The King of Pop’s 28-year-old acrylic, rhinestone-­encrusted footwear intimates are known in auctionspeak as “signature pieces.” They make up item No. 7576 in this month’s auction of all sorts of things that found their way onto Neverland Ranch before Jackson abandoned the place in 2005. The catalog’s “low estimate”: $600 for the pair.

Read the rest of Amy Wallace in Portfolio. [Note: The article was written before Jackson's death.]

Problem with Comments

Several of you submitted some comments yesterday and, for some reason, they disappeared.

I don't know what happened but they're gone. I apologize and hope that you'll repost.

Over a year ago, I had to start a comment approval process not because the genuine commentary was poor but because spammers were submitting as many as 25 to 75 unrelated comments per post. Most of the spam dealt with selling gold and all of them had nothing to do with the subject of the post.

Once again, I'm very sorry for the inconvenience.

Quote of the Day

The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.

- Chinese proverb

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Best Books


You've been working on a project for days. The paper has been circulated to the relevant folks and the research digested and described.

A colleague who has nothing to do with the project and no expertise whatsoever in the subject matter takes a gander over your shoulder, points to a paragraph, and declares, "That'll never work" and gives some ridiculous reason why.

Your irritation evaporates after ten seconds of thought when you realize the unsolicited opinion has more than some merit; it has a huge amount of merit.

What the meddler was able to do, of course, was to approach the proposal with fresh eyes and no agenda. We fall in love with our projects and rush to dismiss their failings. No matter how many genuises we manage to get on-board, a bad idea is still a bad idea. Some very bright people were behind the creation of the Maginot Line, the Titanic, and, for that matter, the Edsel.

Injecting a review by disinterested parties can at least turn up the lights and end the romance.

A Pebble in the Shoe

I once noticed a significant increase in efficiency resulted from simply changing from one type of briefcase to another.

Until the switch, I hadn't realized how the old briefcase had turned into a paper trap. The new one facilitated the organization of projects and saved time. I'd sensed a problem, but had not identified the culprit.

There are people who serve as a pebble in the shoe for teams and who need to be reformed or removed. But what I'm focusing on now are devices; consumer goods that you've found to be an extraordinary aid in increasing productivity and efficiency.

Are there any that come to mind?

[BTW: The briefcase is the Swiss Army combination computer case/briefcase on rollers.]

Quote of the Day

It is easier to act yourself into a better way of feeling than to feel yourself into a better way of action.

- O. H. Mowrer

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Niall Ferguson

An interview with Niall Ferguson on the economics of history.

I have not read his recent book. He's been getting a fair amount of publicity on issue of repudiating the debt. A bright guy. I'm not sure if he's right on that one.

SRO in the Sky

Will Ryanair make customers stand?

A bar stool with a seat belt might be an improvement over some airline seats.

"Basically, I want to be Jim when I grow up."

An enticing look at the Montana abode of novelist Jim Harrison:

The wilderness is never far away. One night a few years ago, wolves ate 44 of a neighbor’s sheep, right under the Harrisons’ bedroom window. The front yard is full of rattlesnakes, which Mr. Harrison says he shoots at with a pistol.

Sun drenches the big open kitchen, where Mr. Harrison and guests occasionally cook elaborate, multi-course meals—many featuring birds and game he’s hunted himself. Earlier this summer, Anthony Bourdain, chef and host of the Travel Channel’s food show “No Reservations,” visited Mr. Harrison’s home during a trip to Livingston. Mr. Harrison cooked an elk and antelope stew and grilled about two dozen doves, washed down with several bottles of Côtes du Rhône. “Basically, I want to be Jim when I grow up,” Mr. Bourdain said in an email.

Our Sophisticated Press

Consider the front page attention given to the demise of Michael Jackson and then search for the stories of real substance.

Iran seizes British diplomats? That's on page nine.

North Korea fires off more missiles? That's pages behind the story about the rescued cat.

Remember when President Bush went to Iraq and some reporter with Baathist ties threw a shoe at him? Which received greater press attention: the throwing of the shoe or the substance of the President's meeting with the Iraqi government?

Setting aside press bias - and the bias favoring the Obama administration is an embarrassment - is there any doubt that editors favor fluff, and especially celebrity-related stories, far more than ever?

Quote of the Day

Instead of having "answers" on a math test, they should just call them "impressions," and if you got a different "impression," so what, can't we all be brothers?

- Jack Handey

Monday, July 06, 2009

Stopping the Bullies

Employment attorney John Phillips on the three groups to deal with on the issue of bullying.

In my experience, organizations usually don't know about bullying because they don't want to know about it.

Should most cases of bullying result in progressive discipline rather than termination?

Why shouldn't it be the other way around?

Age Without Rules

Victor Davis Hanson looks at the mixed signals of our confused society. An excerpt:

The point? We live in an age without rules only to reinvent them at a whim. A prudish society does not invest billions in Botox, reconstructive surgery, and sexual enhancement; yet a Gomorrah does not demand public contrition for sexual intercourse outside of marriage. I am not passing moral judgment as much as confused about the consistency, and puzzled over what are the exact rules, if any any more.

Rising Stars

There are rising stars in organizations.

They are whispered about as people to watch. Long before gaining any serious power, they benefit from an unusual amount of deference because of their perceived potential.

No one wants to cross a rising star.

A great many of them fall. It is often difficult to determine the reason. Sometimes their fortunes were linked to a mentor and when the mentor went into disfavor, so did the protege. On other occasions, the rising star ran afoul of some arcane corporate rule or unwisely stepped on a person who still retained enough power to be lethal.

This is not surprising because rising stars are targets. Not everyone who smiles on their fortune is a friend. And for students of Machiavelli, there are twelve different ways to ruin an opponent before breakfast.

Other rising stars self-destruct. They take reckless risks that seem designed to produce scandal and perhaps they were.

There are times, however, when nothing but simple exposure brings about the decline of the rising star. The space telescopes reveal there is not much substance beneath the glitter.

That condition that fascinates me. What creates the image of a faux rising star? These are some common characteristics:
  • They are good looking. Few people who are flat-out ugly are regarded as rising stars. They look the part.
  • They are articulate. Listen to a faux rising star and you may be impressed. Read the same words and you will be less impressed.
  • They dress well. These folks know how style seduces.
  • They have powerful allies. Their main skill may indeed be the cultivation of connections.
  • They hide a vague grasp of issues in the guise of sophistication. For them, matters are always complex. Very complex.
  • They are famous for being famous. Search for a real accomplishment and you'll probably find few, if any. They rise on potential, not on achievement.

But they can give a good speech.