Monday, August 31, 2009

Martin Gilbert: The Holocaust

Although I'm reading several management books, one biography, and a novel, yesterday afternoon I picked up Martin Gilbert's The Holocaust. I expected to read the first chapter and then return the rather lengthy book to my "future reading stack."

I was still reading it at 10:30 in the evening. A riveting journey through a nightmare.

Meeting Warnings

Cultural Offering is right on target with his signs that your meeting could be improved.

They remind me of Lin Bothwell's maxim: "It takes a darned good meeting to beat no meeting at all."

Hey, Jack!

Not bad: An Australian ad on the importance of keeping in touch with your customers.

Pirate Latitudes

This report is encouraging for those of us who like a good adventure tale.

Tackling the Team

You've formed a team to accomplish a particular mission. It has bright and dedicated people and yet there is one important question:

Can this team accomplish the mission?

Now before you say, "Sure, that's why we all got together," take a few minutes and jot down why the team might not be able to succeed. Odds are, there are some reservations floating about in the back of your mind, such as:
  • Everyone wants to run the show. It's going to be government by committee and decisions will either be of lowest common denominator quality or they'll take too long.
  • No one wants to run the show. Most of the work is going to drift to one or two people.
  • There is no real agreement on the mission. Disagreement was fudged in order to form the team.
  • People aren't willing to speak up. There is so much emphasis on maintaining the great relationships, no one is going to shout, "You all are crazy" when it is most needed.
  • Key experience is needed. The team members are heavily experienced in one or two areas but are missing key components.
  • A charismatic leader is present. Everyone else is turning off their brains.
  • They are in love with the project. As a result, they are eager to overlook important barriers.
  • Some members are perpetual devil's advocates. They continue to criticize even after all concerns have been resolved.

It may be that these problems won't surface until the team has had several meetings. That's why it can be helpful to have periodic self-evaluations so the team can determine whether it can achieve the mission. A team that has lost or is missing effectiveness has to be disbanded or reformed.

Sometimes Seth Godin is Wrong

The original Seth Godin post on not looking for a job has gotten so much attention, it may help to look at a well-written dissent.

Quote of the Day

A bucket at Home Depot now comes with a warning label! We don't need health care reform. We need stupidity reform.

- Rob Long

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Weekend Story

A memorable short story for the weekend: Roald Dahl's Man From the South.

Intense and bizarre? Well, it's no Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Tech Innovators

Fortune features 16 tech world luminaries.

Dodging Clients

A video of those who have perfected the art of hiding from clients.

I think I've visited that office.

[HT: Dark Roasted Blend]

Music Break: Eagles

From their Hell Freezes Over Tour: The Eagles with Hotel California.

Very good stuff.

Quotes from Dear Old Dad

This is not the standard Twitter site and I'll attach a warning for language, but ....

[HT: Lou Rodarte]

You Know You're Getting Old When . .

  • Midway through "The Maltese Falcon" comes the realization that you have a closer resemblance to Greenstreet than to Bogart.

  • Drugstores possess an odd appeal.

  • Without requesting, you're given the senior discount.

  • The "Early Bird Special" seems like sound scheduling.

  • Your clothes are chosen more for comfort than for style.

  • That Andre Rieu concert is pretty enticing.

  • You use certain set phrases when you can't hear someone.

  • If something rolls under the sofa, you postpone getting it until some day when you're down there.

  • You have to pay attention to what you eat and drink and pillows are a serious subject.

  • Police officers, firefighters, and doctors look very young.

  • You don't recognize any of the celebrities in the gossip columns.

  • You personally knew some of the people that now have buildings and parks named after them.

  • You sense you're beginning to sound like your parents . . and find nothing wrong with that.

  • You realize that adults whom you regarded as old when you were in high school were probably in their late twenties.

  • You think back to your thirties and forties and shake your head at what you didn't know.

  • And you're chilled by how many political leaders are in their thirties and forties.

  • You avoid any movies that have a message.

  • Your newspaper was much better thirty years ago.

  • Elementary school children work with computers but you remember using a Big Chief tablet.

  • There's a Sinatra CD in your car.

  • And Beatles record albums in your garage storage room.

  • You're noticing a lot more tail-gaters on the road.

Interview Questions: Great and Not-So-Great

This list of "100 great interview questions" is a mixed bag.

"If you were an animal, which one would you want to be?"

["I'd want to be a horse so I could gallop out of here."]

Quote of the Day

Leisure is the mother of philosophy.

- Thomas Hobbes

Friday, August 28, 2009

Music for Friday

The Beatles: Twist and Shout

Fred Astaire: The Way You Look Tonight

Tracy Chapman: Give Me One Reason

Robert Palmer: Addicted to Love

Julie London: My Baby Just Cares for Me

To Avoid Making Enemies

My post on 9 rules to avoid making enemies at work is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Drake's Big Day

On August 27, 1859, Colonel Edwin Drake struck oil with the first oil well. Max Schulz notes:

By the summer of 1859, people had already begun to realize that “rock oil,” as it was known, could serve two very useful purposes. One, it could be refined to provide kerosene, an illuminant that might light up homes and businesses. Up to that time people used wicks dipped in fat, or dirty “town gas” produced from coal, or the oil extracted from the heads of sperm whales. But the global supply of whales was dwindling, and the price of sperm oil was increasing, so Drake’s discovery was welcome news in helping bring people’s lives into the modern era.

Craig's Company

Gary Wolf, writing in Wired, on craigslist:

Newmark's claim of almost total disinterest in wealth dovetails with the way craigslist does business. Besides offering nearly all of its features for free, it scorns advertising, refuses investment, ignores design, and does not innovate. Ordinarily, a company that showed such complete disdain for the normal rules of business would be vulnerable to competition, but craigslist has no serious rivals. The glory of the site is its size and its price. But seen from another angle, craigslist is one of the strangest monopolies in history, where customers are locked in by fees set at zero and where the ambiance of neglect is not a way to extract more profit but the expression of a worldview.

[HT: Cranky Professor]

10 Ways to Signal "We Don't Want to Hear"

10 ways that managers and organizations discourage open communication:
  1. Inviting only a predictable set of people to meetings.
  2. Avoiding management by wandering around (MBWA).
  3. Using MBWA to put people on the spot or to ask superficial questions.
  4. Openly exiling dissenters.
  5. Asking for input and then not listening.
  6. Listening only to what is said and ignoring what is not said.
  7. Turning staff meetings into pep rallies.
  8. Never admitting mistakes.
  9. Attributing continuing problems to predecessors.
  10. Disparaging those who speak up.

Insomnia Cures

This article on ways to beat insomnia brought to mind a fail-proof way I discovered many years ago while studying government. (In those days we didn't pretend that politics was a science.)

One of the assigned reading books was a thin volume by Roy C. Macridis that had near-magical powers. A mere three to five minutes with it and I was out. Any time. Any location. Unfortunately, I gave away the book before reaching the age when insomnia strikes. I've half a mind to track it down today.

Controlling Virtue with Virtue

Lest we go mad or work ourselves to death, let us find virtues to restrain virtues.

In order to rein in industriousness and secure comfort, we can seek balance.

To control analysis and prevent boredom, we can employ decisiveness.

We want to be bold, but not too bold, and so discretion must be added.

Collegiality is quite popular and yet it often is exhausting. Objectivity and professionalism can be used as shields.

Abandon a virtue and another is waiting to take its place. They are bodyguards against one another.

Quote of the Day

Conversation is the enemy of good wine and food.

- Alfred Hitchcock

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Great Moments in Advertising: Mandom

Thanks to Idea Anaconda for pointing the way to the classic Charles Bronson commercial for "Mandom."

Apparently, Bronson ordered the stuff by the crate.

Music break: Bernstein and Gould

It doesn't get better than this.

Talent and Non-Competes

The HR Capitalist gives some advice on how to deal with a non-compete clause:

The more talented you are, the more it's expected that you'll have questions. Early career or commodity talent usually doesn't have a lot of questions about non-competes, and that's because they're not thinking too much about their next step. Conversely, the more talented an individual is in their field, the more they've thought about their next step, including possibilities outside their company. Smart companies and managers understand this, so the more talented or highly regarded you are in your field, the more questions are expected.

"People I've Been Neglecting" List

I took a few minutes and put together a "People I've Been Neglecting" List. It contains the names of people I've been meaning to contact, thank or meet.

I thought there would be five or six names. When I finished, there were 33.

I'd better get busy.

Peer2Peer University

Well, registration ended yesterday (argh) but the Peer2Peer University will be worth watching:

The courses do not have a traditional professor at the front of the virtual classroom. Instead, a facilitator (who volunteers his or her time) manages online discussions, but students are expected to essentially teach one another (and themselves). Sessions last only six weeks, to help nontraditional students fit the courses into their schedules. No credit will be granted by P2P University.

[HT: Biz Deans Talk]

Miscellaneous and Fast


I know at least one person who'll enjoy this: A look at the 1965 IKEA catalog.

[HT: Kottke]


John L. Herman on the meaningful "instants" of life:

A pilot flies thousands of hours going completely unknown. He safely delivers hundreds of thousands of passengers to their destination and not one person in the back of his plane ever knew his name. One day birds are struck and the engines fail and in that instant “Sully” becomes a hero recognized the world over. In just an instant of time he did his job just as he always did…but on that particular day it counted more than all those other flights…this time if he had failed in any way…everyone would have died…but in an instant of his perfection all were saved.

Real Management Needed

We're overled and undermanaged. As someone who teaches, writes, and advises about management, I hear stories about this every day: about CEOs who don't manage so much as deem—pronouncing performance targets, for instance, that are supposed to be met by whoever is doing the real managing.

Read all of Henry Mintzberg's Business Week article here.

Quote of the Day

Do not choose to be wrong for the sake of being different.

- Lord Samuel

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hand Me That Timex

To follow up on a recent item about material things:

10 of the world's most expensive watches.

[Are the buyers out of their minds?]

The First Circle

There are many novels that give a better picture than management books of how various organizations operate.

I'm currently reading and enjoying Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "The First Circle" and would definitely place it in that category. An excerpt:

The offices in this building increased in size according to the rank of their occupants. The desks grew larger. The conference tables with their velvet tablecloths grew larger. But the portraits of the Great Generalissimo grew largest and fastest of all. Even in the offices of ordinary interrogators his portrait showed him far larger than life size. And in Abakumov's office the Most Brilliant Strategist of All Times and Peoples was portrayed on a canvas fifteen feet tall, full length from his boots to his visored marshal's cap, in the glitter of all his orders and decorations. (In fact, he never wore these honors, many of which he had awarded to himself, or received from foreign presidents and potentates.) Only the Yugoslav decorations had been carefully painted out.

The Unfired

In a windowless room in a shabby office building at Seventh Avenue and Twenty-eighth Street, in Manhattan, a poster is taped to a wall, whose message could easily be the mission statement for a day-care center: “Children are fragile. Handle with care.” It’s a June morning, and there are fifteen people in the room, four of them fast asleep, their heads lying on a card table. Three are playing a board game. Most of the others stand around chatting. Two are arguing over one of the folding chairs. But there are no children here. The inhabitants are all New York City schoolteachers who have been sent to what is officially called a Temporary Reassignment Center but which everyone calls the Rubber Room.

Read the rest of Steven Brill on the battle over New York City's worst teachers.

Music Break: Mad World

Back by popular demand: Gary Jules with "Mad World."

Thanks, Nicholas

Some very kind words from the consultant-author-professor-who-never-sleeps, Nicholas Bate.

On the other hand, the competition is getting fierce. [HT: 2Blowhards]

Lost in Translation

So often we treat the implementation of plans as self-evident. The plan states that the departments will do X and Y by December 1. By heavens, they should forge ahead and do it.

Unfortunately, many of the executives and managers do not know how to implement the plan and are embarrassed to admit their ignorance. [Learning to admit ignorance is a major life skill.]

In some cases, these key actors think they know but they don't. In others, they will cobble together an approach that may cause more problems than the plan was devised to resolve.

It is so easy to believe that guidelines are clear and the required passion is present. Planners have been known to fall in love with their product. They cannot grasp the indifference of those who simply want to do whatever is necessary to get the externally-imposed requirement out of the way so the "real job" can be done. They are shocked when deadlines are missed and important actions are not taken.

All plans require translation and drill until it is evident that the team knows the language and accepts the priorities. Up to that point, a plan is simply a document. We may as well write them in Latin.

Quote of the Day

There is too much emphasis on management technique, as opposed to knowing and seeing what the heck is going on.

- Henry Mintzberg

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What Do You Notice?

Despite the best efforts of Madison Avenue to convince us that various products are essential if we are to signal our high status and power, it may be that some of us don't quite notice what they want us to notice and, even if we do, we don't care.

So here's the first question: Which if the following items are you most likely to silently note the price of [as in whether it is very expensive] in the course of a one hour meeting with a person?
  1. Wrist watch.
  2. Shoes.
  3. Purse.
  4. Briefcase.
  5. Tie.
  6. Belt.
  7. Scarf.
  8. Dress.
  9. Suit.
  10. Jewelry.
  11. Pen.
  12. Cologne or perfume.

What's the second question? If an item is very expensive, would it make a difference - be it logical or not - in how you perceive the person's taste and/or competence?

Death in Naples

The taxi driver shouted, “Tell us! Tell us!” when his other passenger, a local journalist, announced that she’d had a fascinating dream the night before. She had dreamt of a large room in which there was an eagle. The driver shouted out a number. The eagle was accompanied by a lion. Another number. And so I received my first lesson in the Neapolitan interpretation of dreams and the Neapolitan relation to the dead.

Read the rest of Michael A. Ledeen here.

HR Mammoths

Via John Phillips, check out Know HR's list of HR species that are nearing extinction.

Great stuff.

7 Ways to Lose Arguments

Some classic mistakes in arguments are:
  1. Using false comparisons. This is the "comparing apples to oranges" blunder, as in "The United States and Britain have nuclear weapons therefore there should be no problem if Iran and North Korea obtain nukes."
  2. Overstating the case. The overstatement can make the rest of the argument suspect. The clock that strikes 13 times is never trusted again.
  3. Attacking the other person instead of the other person's argument. Clods and weasels are sometimes right.
  4. Guilt by association. This may make the other person unsavory but it does not automatically destroy the other's argument.
  5. Glitz by association. One can graduate from Harvard and Oxford and still be wrong.
  6. Turning off the jury. Behaving in a manner that loses the audience that counts.
  7. Defending weak points and losing credibility. Defend everything and you may defend nothing.

Quote of the Day

Did you ever get the feeling that the world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes?

- George Gobel

Monday, August 24, 2009

Creating Happiness

Anne Fisher gives six ways to be happier at work:

So try to split up your workday into short sprints of 90 to 120 minutes each, with a 5-minute break in between," Achor says. "Walk down the hall or around the block, call a friend, listen to a calming piece of music, do some stretching exercises, or eat a high-protein 100- to 200-calorie snack. Not only will you feel less run-down and worn out, but you'll see a jump in your concentration and productivity."

Healthcare Incentives

In an interesting and thoughtful article in The Atlantic, David Goldhill examines American healthcare and proposes a solution.

Entertainment Break: Allen and Walken

Back by popular demand:

A brief scene between Woody Allen and Christopher Walken in "Annie Hall."

Little Boxes

We live in a world of specialization.

The person with a doctorate may well be eloquent but ignorant when speaking outside of his or her field of study. Graduate schools contain some of the brightest and dumbest of our citizens and, depending on the subject, those qualities may be found in the same person.

When it comes to advice, we are not far from the days where we bought thread in one shop and needles in another. Our consulting firm often gets referrals from attorneys with clients whose problems stem more from management fumbles than from legal ones. We, in turn, send people to law firms or to mental health professionals and other specialists.

I've seen some cases where the best strategy is to get the experts together in the same room in order to work out a comprehensive approach rather than bounce from source to source for six months or more. Doctors are ahead of other professionals in adopting that technique.

This simply recognizes how various subjects connect. It is difficult to grasp certain situations without some knowledge of law, psychology, history, economics, language, management, and more mixed in with a bunch of street smarts. Even then, we may be reaching in the dark.

Learning the potential connections is a marvelous way to foster humility.

An Electric Cadillac?

Business Week reports dreams at GM:

There has been heated debate within GM about whether the idea should be resurrected. GM has done a lot of research on luxury buyers and hybrids, according to one source who worked on the project. The company concluded that traditional luxury buyers don't care much about hybrids or electric vehicles.

But one contingent within GM argues that researchers were talking to the wrong kind of consumer. Toyota's Prius owners make an average of about $100,000 a year, so they could afford something pricier than a $25,000 Prius, the reasoning goes.

[Oh yeah. The Prius owners I've known secretly lust for a Cadillac.]


From The Eyeslit-Crypt: 10 tips for mindfulness at work.

All Figured Out

He sat down, folded his arms, and proceeded to tell me what a genius he is.

His supervisors are fools, upper management is clueless, and his co-workers lack education and creativity. All of his problems would be solved if the rest of those people would shape up. They don't care for him because he makes them feel stupid. He is tired of holding their hands and having to draw them a map whenever he comes up with a great idea.

Once upon a time, there was a supervisor who understood him, but then that person moved on. He's contacted him about a transfer. The guy would love to have him there, but barriers keep rising. You realize how bureaucratic things can be.

All he knows is that there's a hell of a lot of stress when you have to carry everyone else in the unit. This gets worse when they start rolling marbles under your feet.

It's envy, you know. Pure and simple.

Quote of the Day

My goal is to figure out how to turn "morbid obesity" into "cheerful, upbeat obesity." Perhaps with a brownie? That always cheers me up.

- Rob Long

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Song for Saturday Night

Simple procedure.

Take a few minutes. Watch Dean Martin sing That's Amore.

Then smile.

[Although I bet you'll be smiling before the end of the song.]

The Mokita in the Mirror

While working on a project for a community group, I ran headfirst into Stephen Covey's observation that as soon as we think the problem is "out there," that's the problem.

Meeting after meeting dealt with ways to fix everything but ourselves. The result, as I told one executive, was the organization resembled a 500 pound man who announces that he's going to get on the Olympic track team. All of the earlier plans were doomed to failure because the organization was designed - unintentionally, of course - to fail.

It was a mokita moment; mokita being a Papua New Guinean term for "The truth that everyone knows but no one speaks." People had been scurrying about buying track shoes for the 500 pound man, selecting the color of his shorts, and picking a press secretary while ignoring the central fact that there was no way he was going to get on the track team.

I pass this along because there are probably a few mokita moments that you've encountered or will run up against. When the time comes, your view may be blurred by the fog bank of frenetic activity that does not acknowledge a central truth.

Russia's Desire

Richard Pipes gives an overview of Russian attitudes and ambitions:

A single party, One Russia, virtually monopolizes power, assisted by the Communists and a couple of minor affiliates. Parliamentary bodies duly pass all bills presented to them by the government. Television, the main source of news for the vast country, is monopolized by the state. One lonely radio station and a few low-circulation newspapers are allowed freedom of expression in order to silence dissident intellectuals. And yet, the population at large seems not to mind this political arrangement—an acquiescence which runs contrary to the Western belief that all people crave the right to choose and direct their government.

Miracle in Stone

Della Porta, who had been Michelangelo's pupil, did the ­unthinkable. He redrew the master's design, creating a far bolder silhouette, and he raised the new dome in just 22 months. Dwarfing every other construction, the dome of St. Peter's soars 452 feet and spans a 138-foot diameter. It is three times the height of the Pantheon dome and 100 feet higher than the Duomo in Florence. The inner shell visible inside the basilica retained Michelangelo's rounded contour. The outer shell that fills the sky over Rome is a higher, more dramatic ellipse.


Quick recommendation: If you have never read any of the spy novels of Charles McCarry, they are well worth your time.

The Chemistry of BBQ

Details. Details.

What chemists think of when approaching the sacred rite of barbeque.

Searching for the Richest Source

A scholar once asked, "Why do the schoolchildren of so many nations study English literature?"

And his answer was because it is the best, the richest source of fine writing.

He didn't mean that other countries don't have excellent authors, poets, and playwrights. [In my opinion, War and Peace is the greatest novel ever written.] But when you're up against Shakespeare, Dickens, Hardy, Trollope, Orwell, Austen, and company, you're dealing with the varsity team.

Where am I going with this? While sitting in the waiting room of a doctor's office recently, I was reading a book on Roman history and wondering what practical lessons could be extracted from the power games of Julius Caesar when the thought came: Which period of history is the richest source of lessons for modern life?

In the introduction of his work on the two dictators, Lord Bullock wrote, "Looking back, I cannot think of a better preparation for writing about Hitler and Stalin than a close study of Thucydides, Tacitus, and those sections of Aristotle's Politics that deal with the Greek experience of tyranny."

Is there a particular period of history from which we can glean extraordinary insight into how the world works? My initial reaction is similar to Bullock's. Roman and Greek history have timeless lessons - read today's papers and consider the strategies of Augustus Caesar - but I've met people who are convinced that the French Revolution is the richest source.

This is sort of a parlor game, akin to the "Which books would you take if you were to be stranded on a deserted island? challenge. But it can be both thought-provoking and fun.

Genius: Jonathan Winters and a Stick

Jonathan Winters on The Jack Paar Show giving a demonstration of imagination in action.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Quote of the Day

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

- Dorothy Parker

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Mask of Zorro and Creating Zealous Customers

...[U]nless the CEO makes it crystal clear to everyone that product design gaffes and other dissonance (lack of parts) are unacceptable, because it enrages customers, we’ll continue to see customers like me moving from “zealot” straight down to “no way, no how.”

If you have customers - and who doesn't? - take a few minutes this weekend to read this Chief Executive article by Drew Morris on customer service.

Way to Go, Scott

Scott Blitstein (of the My Thermos blog*) is in Business Week.


*As well as being owner and president of the eSeMBe consultancy.

Early Retirement Package?

You can rest assured that many HR departments are watching this closely:

Employment attorney John Phillips on the AT&T age discrimination case.

If You Fight, Fight Smart

My post on avoiding fights at work is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Friday Break: Best Lines

Which films contain truly memorable lines?

Some choices are obvious. Many of us can't get through a year without quoting from "Casablanca" or "The Godfather."

But which others should be on the list?

I'll give a few nominees:

Nobody's Fool
Napoleon Dynamite
Animal House
The Wild Bunch

Investing in Afghanistan

Consider Afghanistan as an investment proposition. Initially, we had to make a short-term outlay to shatter a cut-throat competitor's business model. But then, without even reviewing the books, we conducted a hostile takeover of a huge derelict factory (where our rival had briefly squatted) that had been a chronic money pit for every previous owner.

Read the rest of Ralph Peters here.


Sorry I didn't post this earlier.

French philosopher Andre Glucksmann on global political realities:

Political nihilists, of both the red and black varieties, have always been obsessed with the idea of a clean slate. Consider Trotsky, Lenin and their successors in the Soviet Union on the one hand, and then listen to Goebbels in Germany a few days before the end, exulting as bombs fell around him: "The last obstacles to the achievement of our revolutionary mission are falling, along with the monuments of civilization. Now that all is in ruins, we are forced to rebuild Europe. In the past, private property has imposed bourgeois restrictions on us."

Your Career as a Trailer

Check out Mike Vandervort on why your job is like a Hollywood movie. An excerpt:

Executives are not only evaluating your story and your pitch – but whether or not we would hesitate putting you in a room with Studio Executives. And whether or not you are someone we are going to want to talk to and work with for the next 1-4 years of our lives. I can usually tell within the first minute if that’s the case.

[HT: Political Calculations]

My Major Vice

Most of us have one significant vice. Some have temper problems. Others are too passive. The list of potential vices is infinite.

Mine is impatience.

It took years before I spotted this. I'm usually regarded as a very mellow and calm person. Earlier, I would have identified procrastination as my vice. [I'm a towering castle of sloth.] Only later did it strike me that my definition of procrastination was a tad hair-trigger and that in itself was a sign of impatience. In short, I was impatient with myself.

This doesn't mean I'm a loon in traffic or that I go around barking at people.

It means that when I see a project that could be done in two weeks taking five months, I'm not pleased. Impunctuality drives me up the wall (8:00 is not the same as 8:05) as do meetings where people have not done their homework.

What I've had to realize is that impatience often clouds reality. The decision that could have been made in ten minutes tops has to go through lengthy discussions so everyone is on board. Those discussions are neither optional nor trivial and - barring a crisis - the outcome is usually superior to the ten minute version.

So it goes with many other episodes in which impatience rears its head. I now regard impatience as both a virtue and a vice. It serves as a guard against unnecessary delay and yet it can lead to hours of needless frustration.

What's your vice?

Grit and Achievement

I have never liked to suggest that writing is grinding, let alone brave work. H. L. Mencken used to say that any scribbler who found writing too arduous ought to take a week off to work on an assembly line, where he will discover what work is really like. The old boy, as they say, got that right. To be able to sit home and put words together in what one hopes are charming or otherwise striking sentences is, no matter how much tussle may be involved, lucky work, a privileged job. The only true grit connected with it ought to arrive when, thinking to complain about how hard it is to write, one is smart enough to shut up and silently grit one’s teeth.

Read the rest of Joseph Epstein here.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily]

Quote of the Day

We had one war with Mexico to take Arizona and we should have another to make her take it back.

- General William Tecumseh Sherman

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wow! Break

Back by popular demand: Cirque du Soleil.

Nothing you see today will match this.

Stroup on Gadgets

Jim Stroup of Managing Leadership easily leaves me in the dust when it comes to technology. I've been reading his posts on gadgets and wondering if I should abandon my Jurassic-era appointment book.

I print off the calendars from Outlook, punch them with a Circa punch, and place them in a Circa notebook which has various sections. That notebook becomes my appointments Bible: Nothing is official until it is entered there. I'm sure that I'm missing all sorts of electronic advantages and yet I have something approaching a phobia about reliance on the technical.

Odd. But then after my last electric bill I found a renewed interest in candles.

Admitting Failure

This post by employment attorney John Phillips about a candid admission of failure is a reminder of a powerful truth. It will cause many of us to recall occasions that would have been quickly defused if someone had simply been honest.

Fiorello La Guardia, while mayor of New York City, was once asked by the press about an embarrassing appointment that he'd made to a city commission. His response? "When I make a mistake, it's a beaut!"

The story, which would have dragged on had he been evasive, quickly died and LaGuardia's reputation for honesty was enhanced. Basic rule that cannot be considered too often: It is better to do right than to be right.

Alert Dan Brown!

The request was nothing out of the ordinary for the Seraphic Society, which has served as a kind of secretarial Skull and Bones for the past 69 years. The term comes from the biblical name for the order of angels, the Seraphim, that stand in the presence of God; its members have included assistants to the heads of Xerox (XRX, Fortune 500), the New York Stock Exchange, GE (GE, Fortune 500), the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Bloomingdale's, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the American Museum of Natural History.

Read the Fortune article here.

IT Security: Dirty Secrets

CSO has an interesting article on Joshua Corman's 8 dirty secrets of the IT security industry. An excerpt:

Dirty Secret 8: Security has grown well past "do it yourself" Technology without strategy is chaos, Corman said. The sheer volume of security products and the rate of change has super-saturated most organizations and exceeded their ability to keep up.

"Organizations realize only a fraction of the capabilities of their existing investments. Furthermore, the cost of the product is often a fraction of the cost of ownership," he said. "There was a time when you could do it yourself."

The vendor community must therefore stop trying to convince companies that they can buy a product, set it and forget it.

Quote of the Day

People can be slave-ships in shoes.

- Zora Neale Hurston

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tough Economic Times = Smokin' Travel Deals

Travel always bottoms out right after Labor Day since most leisure fliers are done for the summer and most business travelers haven't geared up for the fall. Given the state of the economy this year, however, no one knows what to expect for this September and early October. So JetBlue Airways has bowed to the obvious and launched a heck of a "sale." For one flat price ($599), you can fly anywhere you want as often as you want on the JetBlue network between September 8 and October 8. The so-called All You Can Jet pass has no blackout dates and any seat JetBlue has to its 57 destinations on 600 daily flights is available. Even the domestic taxes and fees are included in the $599 price. The only restrictions of note: You must book at least three days before departure. But you have to hurry: Passes must be purchased by end of the day Friday (August 21).

Read the rest of the Portfolio article here.

Not Just Black Suits

Newsweek interviews the people behind Project Runway.

[HT: Althouse ]

Saving New Orleans, One Architect at a Time

What does New Orleans need aside from honest local government and lots of rebuilding?


Unusual Request: Favorite Poets

In between posting on management, ethics, politics, economics, life, and signage, it makes sense to have a post on poetry.

I love poetry. Still have memories of elementary school when we were required to memorize and recite poems in front of the class. Some classmates would meet the minimum number of lines and then stop. As a result, I never heard anyone complete "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere."

I also recall quoting Longfellow once and getting a sneer from an English major who thought the old guy was over the hill and that a few lines from "Howl" would have been much more sophisticated.

Anyway, some poets I've especially enjoyed are Yeats, Wordsworth, Wylie, Sandburg, Longfellow, Larkin, Auden, Robert Browning, Hughes, and Kipling.

Which ones do you like?

Drugs On-Line

Writing in The American, Roger Bate on purchasing drugs over the Internet:

The World Health Organization reports that drugs from websites that conceal their physical address are counterfeit in more than 50 percent of cases. Our findings are consistent with WHO’s assessment. All the drug failures came from websites lacking a physical address. Our research suggests that even non-approved websites that at least have a physical address will deliver decent brand–name drugs, though the sites break the law by selling drugs without a prescription.

Zombie Bar

Although this story is cynical, I don't think a zombie themed bar is a bad idea.

There already are a lot of zombies in bars so what's the problem?

Bad Management: Who Leaves and Who Stays

Who leaves?
  • Those who can quickly assess the situation.
  • Those who realize that upper management will not correct matters.
  • Those who know that the bad manager won't leave because no one else will hire him (or her).
  • Those who draw the line at losing their self-respect.
  • Those who are tired of seeing creativity squelched and competence scorned.
  • Those who can no longer hide their contempt.

Who stays?

  • Those who have more than a touch of masochism.
  • Those who have retired on the job and no longer care.
  • Those who have convinced themselves that all workplaces are dysfunctional.
  • Those who believe upper management will eventually intervene.
  • Those who are governed by a fear of unemployment.
  • Those who regard any scrap of kindness from the boss as a sign of impending change.

Quote of the Day

We all know that Prime Ministers are wedded to the truth, but like other wedded couples they sometimes live apart.

- Saki

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"My Dad works here."

Daniel H. Pink points to some emotionally intelligent signage.

Something about this story bothers me.

Could it be the obvious manipulation akin to the "Baby on Board" signs you used to see in the back of cars? ["Oh, I'll drive more carefully because there is a baby in that car."]

If this signage catches on, just imagine what The Onion will do with it.

Music Break: The Wind

Cat Stevens in Naples.

The Joy of Pricing

Stanley Bing on the price is right - or else:

It was the newspaper that interested me. You know, of course, that nobody reads newspapers anymore, a fact that the idiotic newspapers are only too happy to keep telling us. Occasionally, however, some ancient, creaking loser like myself likes to sit with an actual physical object that doesn’t require charging or clicking and see what somebody thought was important yesterday. I brought my San Francisco Chronicle to the counter and fished in my pocket. “A dollar nine,” said the proprietor.

“I beg your pardon?” I said.

Three Simple Rules

There is more wisdom in this post by Wally Bock than in most management books. It should be mandatory reading for supervisors.

Ethics and Success

I would have difficulty arguing that many Wall Street firms had ever had a higher purpose than making money for themselves first and their customers second. But that's clearly not true for all Wall Street companies. Charles Schwab & Co. (SCHW) has largely avoided the huge fallout. So has US Bancorp (USB). A quality both of these companies share is a laser-like focus on customer service and on honesty and transparency. This comes from their cultures.

Read the rest of Vivek Wadhwa here.

Currently Reading

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port

A Sense of Urgency by John P. Kotter

The Divine Comedy by Dante

Just finished: Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman [Highly recommended]

About to start:

The Complete Midshipman Bolitho by Alexander Kent

The First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

What Would the Founders Do? by Richard Brookhiser

Back to Hats?

This Wall Street Journal article makes me wonder if hats can ever truly come back.

I live in the Southwest - an area that should be prime hat territory due to its sunshine and the threat of skin cancer - and yet the hatless trend continues. Baseball caps, of course, are fairly common but they don't look good on all people - I turn into Jonathan Winters imitating a coach - and cannot be worn with a business suit.

The baseball cap also carries a touch of adolescence. Unless an adult is a baseball player, wearing a cap seems to be some fruitless effort to be young. The photos of those crowds in the baseball stadiums in the forties and fifties reveal men wearing fedoras and other "grown-up" hats, not caps.

It may be that the national desire to seem younger and to reject one's age was the real cause of the decline of the hat. If the hat returns, it may be a sign that we are changing our attitude about age.

Quote of the Day

A successful man cannot realize how hard an unsuccessful man finds life.

- Edgar Watson Howe

Monday, August 17, 2009

History Break: John Adams

The incomparable David McCullough talking about John Adams.

When You Hear This, Beware

  1. "Ignore the dog. He just looks mean."

  2. "We're not a company. We're more like a family."

  3. "Keep breathing. I'll be back before you know it."

  4. "Go down to the corner. Turn left. It's around 12 blocks on your right. You can't miss it."

  5. "This will be the funniest movie you've ever seen."

  6. "We'll be encountering some slight turbulance."

  7. "I'm sure that nickname is some kind of joke."

  8. "What we lose on price we make up for in volume."

  9. "And I'll pay you back as soon as I get to Cleveland."

  10. "How do you like my new dress?"

  11. "There's nothing wrong with the potato salad."

  12. "You'll feel a slight pinch."

  13. "Ed's done this hundreds of times."

  14. "They're hibernating this time of year."

  15. "If it works on cotton it'll work on suede."

  16. "The cuisine here is supposed to be quite authentic."

  17. "There's a lawyer for you on line 3."

  18. "The paragraph says that but it's never enforced."

  19. "They won't sting if you don't move."

  20. "The boss says you've got quite a sense of humor."

Car Update

Okay, no joking.

I want a 1932 Bucciali TAV 12.

Check out the photo at 2Blowhards and you'll see why.

The Incomplete Investigation

Employment attorney John Phillips discusses a fascinating case in which a city employee, who proclaimed his innocence, was fired for downloading pornography on a city computer.

Then a problem surfaced:

There’s no doubt that the City of Franklin did an investigation before firing the employee in question. It just wasn’t thorough enough. Eventually, computer sleuths determined that the pornographic images were the result of a spam email and that the employee hadn’t downloaded the images. The City’s computer system wasn’t sufficient at the time to filter out such things. The City has agreed to pay the employee $2 million to settle his lawsuit.

Subsidizing Irresponsibility?

Writing in City Journal, Nicole Gelinas argues against "Too big to fail." An excerpt from her review of its history:

Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker told Congress that the decision to protect uninsured lenders of a private institution from the consequences of a freely assumed risk wasn’t meant to set a precedent. But the federal comptroller of the currency, which regulates banks, made clear that a shift in policy had taken place, telling Congress that none of the nation’s top 11 banks would be allowed to fail. Small banks were apoplectic. Jokes flourished about investors’ not wanting to put money into the nation’s 12th-largest bank. “How often and to what extent can the government, and in turn the taxpayers, prop up any institutions that are neither the nation’s best or brightest?” wondered the Independent Bankers Association of America.

Guilt Deflectors

The politically correct tone often injected into so many arguments nowadays is not designed to prove the other person's guilt so much as to establish the critic's innocence.

The idea is that by declaring myself to be more sensitive/compassionate/tolerant than you, I am deflecting any guilt that may be ascribed to me.

Shelby Steele wrote about this practice in his book on white guilt and yet you can see the technique employed in discussions that have nothing to do with race. I've sat in meetings where people scramble to outdo one another in sensitivity by taking positions that are ludicrous in substance but which - in their eyes - hold the virtue of being inoffensive.

They may not realize that the posturing itself may be offensive since it implies that the potentially offended are hot-house flowers who cannot survive frank talk. The guilt-deflectors, however, do not care about that.

They have a hair-trigger mechanism that wields the appearance of impropriety as a weapon. Alleging an appearance certainly requires far less evidence as actual impropriety. In fact, in some arenas, an assertion of the appearance is sufficient proof since to inquire as to whether the appearance exists is to tacitly admit to insufficient sensitivity; a dangerous admission indeed.

Has this practice improved our society? I believe it has been a boon for hypocrisy and a blow to free speech. We would benefit from more reasonableness and less posturing.

The Candy Store

Looking at the photo of this stack of freshman reading brought back memories.

I used to regard a visit to the university bookstore much as some people thought of candy shops. Here's hoping the professors know how to bring the material to life.

Quote of the Day

Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising.

Cyril Connolly

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Your Favorite Knife

Cool Tools praises the Buck 305 Lancer mini-folding knife and triggers a small flood of opinions.

Knives, it seems, are a powerful and controversial topic.

I've carried a Swiss Army pen knife for years and have found it to be extremely helpful, but I like the lethal look of the Buck. It could be a handy item to examine during staff meetings.

Years ago, my mother created quite a stir in the family when she returned from Mexico with a nifty knife for my then teenaged brother. You see, this knife's blade remained in the handle until you pressed a button on the side and then it conveniently popped out.

Just the thing for a boy.

Europe, Immigration, and Unease

Okay, forget economic growth. With Europe’s population aging and the worker/retiree ratio shrivelling remorselessly, we need more immigrants to come in and prop up the welfare state. Johnny Frenchman may get a bit tetchy at the end of an agreeable evening with his mistress when he glances out the window just before heading back to the missus and sees une bande de jeunes (in the preferred designation) lighting up his Citroën. But when he’s 53 and retired he’ll be grateful to have those jeunes in the workforce paying in to keep his benefit cheques coming. That, at any rate, is the theory. The reality is encapsulated in this remarkable statistic from the Bundesausländerbeauftragte: between 1971 and 2000, the number of foreign residents in Germany rose from three million to about 7.5 million. Yet the number of foreigners in work stayed more or less exactly the same at about two million. Four decades ago, two-thirds of German immigrants were in the workforce. By the turn of the century, barely a quarter were. These days, Germany’s Gastarbeiter (“guest workers”) are heavy on the Gast, ever lighter on the Beiter.

Read the rest of Mark Steyn here.

[HT: Real Clear Politics ]

Horse Sense

Rowan Manahan doesn't buy that "No use beating a dead horse" argument.

He's come up with some far more creative alternatives, such as:
  • Convene a dead horse productivity improvement workshop.
  • Harness several living-impaired equines together to increase speed.
  • Conduct a productivity study to see if lighter riders improve a living-impaired equine's performance.

Paying for the Volt

Where's your checkbook?

Political Calculations gets out his calculator and crunches government subsidies and the Chevy Volt.

Culture Break: Chopin Ocean Etude

Via Idea Anaconda: One of those wow performances.

Hidden Powers

We've all seen them.

The sergeant, the administrative assistant, the executive secretary, the technician, the what-have-you who, while not being the highest-ranking person in a unit, has through expertise, information, and access, accumulated a great deal of power.

Those folks are the "go to" people. They regularly refute the notion that "If you want something done, go to the top." In their cases, going to the top would just complicate matters. It would add several layers and more confusion.

They sit like Buddhas, knowing the wise will come to their desk to find out what's really going on or to get help that goes beyond the verbal.

If you are going to be effective in any sizable organization, you need to learn the identities of those hidden powers and, if possible, cultivate a positive relationship with them. They can be powerful friends and formidable enemies.

In the organization's real organization chart, they are near or at the top.

Quote of the Day

Baby Boomers are embarrassing the entire nation through their misguided obsession with remaining youthful in both appearance and behavior in spite of the biological facts and social imperatives working against them. Traditionally, older people in most societies have functioned as wise, respected mentors to younger generations. But how could any young person today possibly take advice from a fifty-three-year-old man wearing a baseball cap turned backward, perched on roller blades, who is contemplating a stint at Burning Man?

- Joe Queenan, Balsamic Dreams, 2001

Friday, August 14, 2009

Humor Break: "I'm kidding you. I'm a kidder."

From 1985: Billy Crystal and "You Look Marvelous."

Miscellaneous and Fast

One for HR to Ponder

You can find engineering departments that may drag their knuckles on personnel issues but are top-notch when a road needs to be built.

So here's a question for HR-types (and I ask this sincerely and with no malice):

In general, what do Human Resources departments do very, very well?

Free Work vs. Internships

I think internships are overrated. Most of the time, the employer thinks he's doing the intern a favor, but he doesn't trust the interns to do any actual thoughtful, intelligent work worth talking about. And to be fair, most of the time the interns are busy hiding, not grabbing responsibility but instead acting like they're in school, avoiding hard work and trying to get an A.

Read the rest of Seth Godin here. He discusses how job seekers can benefit from "free work."

Time Tips

My post on the use of time is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Quote of the Day

A cookie bought is a cookie eaten.

- Unknown

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hurston's Journey

It doesn't take long for a reader to realize Their Eyes Were Watching God is an exceptional book.

John H. McWhorter writes about the extraordinary life of its author:

One of the last photos of Zora Neale Hurston, taken in the late fifties, is heartrending. Once renowned as a handsome figure who could dominate any room, she sits outside a Florida bungalow, a bloated old woman living in poverty, chatting with locals. As sanguine as she looks, we can’t help wishing that she had been in New York, plugging her latest novel on The Jack Paar Show. But all her books were out of print, and she was supporting herself on piddling jobs, including working as a maid (not for the first time). She seems to have reached the state of mind that her character Janie describes at the end of her masterwork, Their Eyes Were Watching God: “Ah done been tuh de horizon and back and now Ah kin set heah in mah house and live by comparisons.”

Give That Man a Bearclaw!

A tragic story from Florida of medical zealotry :

Newsom was hired by the state Health Department to direct the county agency. His $140,000-a-year salary is paid jointly by the state and the county. His job primarily involves educating the public about health issues — swine flu, AIDS and the like — but he also decided to address the dangers of glazed, sprinkled and jelly-filled treats.

He angered staff members by barring doughnuts from department meetings and announcing he would throw the fat-laden sweets away if he saw them in the break room. He also banned candy bars in the vending machines, putting in peanuts instead.

[Execupundit note: If you are a doctor and your name is Homer Simpson, your appointment to this job is a lock.]

Diversity and Trust

Jason Richwine examines political scientist Robert Putnam's findings on diversity:

When he spoke to my class in 2004, Putnam had started to analyze the survey data, but he had not yet published any findings. He began by telling us about one result he encountered that was thoroughly upsetting to him—the more ethnically diverse a community is, the less social capital it possesses. When a person lives in a diverse community, he trusts everyone less, including those of his own ethnic group. In describing the behavior of people in diverse areas, Putnam told us to imagine turtles hiding in their shells.

Hiding the Burden of Government

Our democracy is corrupted when some voters think that they won't have to pay for the benefits their representatives offer them. It is corrupted when some voters see themselves as victims of exploitation by their fellow citizens.

By both standards, American democracy is in trouble. We have the worst of both worlds. The rhetoric of the president tells the public that the rich are not paying their fair share, undermining the common understanding from the bottom up. Meanwhile, the IRS recently released new numbers on who pays how much taxes, and those numbers tell the people at the top that they're being exploited.

Read the rest of Charles Murray's essay here.

Balancing Speed and Excellence

There are three types of excellence: Slow Excellence, Fast Excellence, and True Excellence.

With Slow Excellence, you obtain a very high quality product or service but it takes time. In some cases, the delay makes the added quality that was produced by the additional production time irrelevant. You would have preferred a product or service that had less quality but which was faster.

You can find that with Fast Excellence, where you obtain a very high quality product or service but, as with its counterpart, its quality has been shaped by speed. In other words, it is extremely good given the speed at which it was produced. It may well have been better, perhaps even much better, had more time been available but you can't afford additional time.

With True Excellence, you quickly get a product or service that would be extraordinary under any known circumstances. Additional time would not have mattered. The performance is, until an innovation arises, as good as it gets.

Part of our work involves determining what manner of excellence is desired, when quality and speed countermand one another, and whether anything resembling excellence is desired.