Saturday, February 27, 2010

Basic Cell Phone Courtesy

Via Cultural Offering, a sign that should be at every service counter.

The Legal Minefield

Philip K. Howard speaking - the transcript is also available - on four ways to fix a broken legal system.

Quote of the Day

The presence of a star in a picture was at least a partial guarantee of its success; there would be a greater certainty of return on investment. This obtained as long as it was the right picture for the right star. A star in the wrong role stopped being a star.

- John Huston

Friday, February 26, 2010

Training and Second Life

Okay, I confess to being a traditionalist and a major skeptic, but do any of your organizations use Second Life as a training tool? [Here's a video on its potential usage.]

If so, what has been your experience with it?

Go Moped

You know you want one: A 1977 Puch Maxi moped.

Air Guitar

Population Statistic points to a very clever marketing idea for a rock radio station.

Mixed Signals Update

My post on 30 things learned at management workshops is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Friday Music Break: The Beatles

Just what you need:

Graphic GPS: Pens

View From the Ledge on the beauty of pens:

I like pens. Never much liked pencils. Too much maintenance and their erasers made a mess of things. I liked crossing out. A single line. Zip. Gone but not forgotten. Sort of like a graphic GPS – shows you where you’ve been and where you’re going. Besides, once I wrote the word down, if I decided to use it again, it was easily found.

And blue ink. Has to be blue ink. Not sure exactly why although thinking about it, before computers, we were told when we wrote in ink it had to be blue. And when I worked in advertising in print production, I was told that all signatures on the preprinted letters we sent out had to be in blue. Because it stood out. I still sign my letters in blue.

Be sure to read it all.

Bing on Spammers

I’ve already complained to you about the guys who write in with messages like, “Excellent post. It will be very helpful to me in my duties,” and then attach some lame link to someplace in which nobody has any interest. Who do they think they’re fooling with their smarmy compliments?

They compare favorably, of course, with the vicious Nigerian 419 scamming spammers who famously blanket the inboxes of the world with heart-rending stories of how their brother/sister/uncle or they themselves were once the King of Ruritania and now are trying to get their billions of dollars out of the bank, with your help. Those guys have actually killed the rare but not unheard-of idiots who actually dropped everything and went to Africa to assist in the extraction and stayed to be kidnapped for ransom.

Stanley Bing takes aim on spammers .

But their scams must be working for them.

Health-Care Summit

Ann Althouse with some clips from the health-care summit. [I have a feeling that the Paul Ryan for President campaign started yesterday.]

Some other observations from:

Quote of the Day

Feelings are chemical and can kill or cure.

- Bernie S. Siegel

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tofu in Camp Stew?

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Tony Woodlief looks at the changing manual of the Boy Scouts:

The latest handbook, further, suggests that we might add a fourth G to Mr. Mechling's three: green. Scouts for years have learned safe camping with minimal impact, and now they have an eco-friendly manual. But that's still not good enough for some. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wants the fishing merit badge eliminated. The Scouts have yet to do so, but the handbook now recommends tofu in camp stew, so who knows if PETA will triumph? The first edition, in contrast, described how to cook frog legs.

At the Gym

Living dangerously, 2Blowhards takes on the gym world:

OK, sure. I’ll buy the health explanation from the 40-year-old who spends a half hour on the treadmill, three times a week. Maybe they do some light weights too, because their doctors told them it was a good idea. I think they’d be better off, physically and spiritually, going hiking with their friends, tobogganing with their kids, or having sex with their spouses, but I will at least grant that they are trudging away to extend and improve their lives. The question then becomes: How fractured, lonely, and atomized has our society become, that the most popular form of exercise is the monotonous, low-intensity self-torture that goes on under the soul-sucking fluorescent lights of GoodLife Fitness? Activities that make your heart pump faster are not hard to find. Dreary hours on the exercise bicycle are the norm because we have chosen to make it so. Because we are sick, and for whatever reason our desire to connect with other people is so weak that we prefer a solitary workout over game of touch football.

Dan McCarthy's Career Advice

Dan McCarthy writes an excellent blog on leadership. He has written a series of thoughtful and timely posts containing career advice. They are worth reading and pondering.

1. Don’t Settle

2. Never Stop Learning

3. Lateral Moves

4. You Have to Ask

5. The Best Career Advice That You Will Ever Get

Phillips on "Leadership"

Here's a grand slam home run from employment attorney John Phillips who describes signs of questionable leadership. A small taste:

Never being on time for a meeting with a subordinate.

Always making subordinates wait for a scheduled meeting.

Taking phone calls during a meeting with subordinates.

Canceling or calling meetings at the last minute.

Too Many Apologies

Thomas Sowell examines meaningless apologies. An excerpt:

Back in the 1960s, when so many foolish ideas flourished simply because they were new, a New York Times columnist tried to make the case that we were all somehow responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

That was considered to be Deep Stuff. It made you one of the special folks when you believed that, instead of one of the rest of us poor dumb slobs who believed that the man who shot him was responsible.

Quote of the Day

Only the provisional endures.

- French proverb

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Highbrow Lowbrow

Sam Sacks reviews Stephen King's latest work. An excerpt:

King’s best trick has been to insist that anyone who spurns a cultural icon must be a snob. By making this argument, he’s stopped reviewers in recent years from looking too closely at what he’s writing. Because the truth is that, as praise for his books has become a shibboleth for open-mindedness, King himself has become one of the worst writers in America.

Showing Your Personal Side

How much of your personal side do you reveal to your clients?

It's a tough question. Several years ago, with some trepidation, we put a page on our web site to give a whimsical view of the personalities of our firm's partners. We worried about whether doing so would seem too informal or frivolous but decided that it would be fun to have a page that is a tad unconventional. We expected that the page would become sort of an inside joke with our current clients.

What surprised us was how often clients and prospects commented favorably on the chance to get a humorous peek beyond the standard pinstriped biographies. It should be acknowledged that we did not get into any territory that might be knocking on the door of controversy - although car preferences and sports teams may do so in some quarters - but showing that we don't take ourselves too seriously could explain the appeal.

Have you noticed anything of a similar nature in your career? So much career and business advice goes in the opposite direction, there may be an advantage in showing the person behind the job title.

Good Trumps Innovative

A must read by Scott Berkun in Business Week on how "good" beats "innovative." An excerpt:

From my studies of the history of business innovation, I'm convinced you can beat competitors and even dominate markets without fancy tricks. All you need is the ability to make things that are good consistently, since few companies do.

Bring on the Goats and Chickens!

Cultural Offering has a helpful list of things we should have in case of some dire emergency. I think my household has around 32 items, which rates three notches above pathetic. I'd add:
  1. One copy of "The Road" for tips on dealing with marauding bands of cannibals.

  2. Ponchos, because they look neat.

  3. Flares, for entertainment.

  4. Lawyers, guns and money, in deference to Warren Zevon. On second thought, we can skip the lawyers and money. But go for plenty of guns. I also like that sling shot idea.

  5. Gopher traps. [See "O Brother, Where Art Thou" for guidance.]

  6. Pop Tarts. Hurricane survivors swear by them.

  7. Small bottles of Wild Turkey, for use as currency.

PowerPoint Exposed!

Consultant, professor, author, and man-who-never-sleeps Nicholas Bate has revealed the nutritional value and effects of PowerPoint.

Just as I suspected.

Quote of the Day

Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everybody gets busy on the proof.

- John Kenneth Galbraith

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Entertainment Break: Trailers

The trailers for:

Off The Desk!

What are the top items that people want off of their desks?

I suspect that these are some contenders:

  1. Government audits of any sort.

  2. Budget calculations.

  3. Disputes between employees.

  4. Inquiries from the boss.

  5. Phone messages from sales reps who won't take no for an answer.

  6. Any project that may reveal an embarrassing gap in their knowledge.

  7. Projects that are unfinished due to procrastination.

Thinking about Products, Services, and Customers

  • Is our product or service something which takes from people and gives little in return?

  • Will they greatly benefit from its use or will they later regret their purchase, however small the price?

  • Are we playing psychological games to trick them into buying or are we exploring whether it makes sense for that particular individual?

  • When we make a sale, have we acted as the customer's ally or as a competitor who has just scored against an opponent?

  • Do we respect our sales prospects and customers or do we regard them solely as a source of income?

Quote of the Day

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

- Jack Handey

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dogfight: Gladwell and Pinker

It is always a pleasure to be reviewed by someone as accomplished as Stephen Pinker, even if—in his comments on “What the Dog Saw” (Nov. 15)—he is unhappy with my spelling (rightly!) and with the fact that I have not joined him on the lonely ice floe of IQ fundamentalism.

Malcolm Gladwell countering Steven Pinker regarding Gladwell's book, "What the Dog Saw":

Here and then here.

Alexander Haig, R.I.P.

Overcoming the handicap of finishing 214th in a class of 310 at West Point in 1947, Haig was promoted rapidly and served as a general and brigade commander in the Vietnam War, where he won the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during the battle of Ap Gu in March 1967. As Haig surveyed the battlefield, his low-flying helicopter was hit by enemy fire. The chopper went down but Haig pulled himself from the wreckage and in two days of bloody hand-to-hand combat led his troops to victory over a Viet Cong force that outnumbered the U.S. soldiers 3-1.

Read the rest of Lou Cannon on the passing of Alexander Haig.

[HT: Real Clear Politics]

Music for Work

It is a rainy day in Phoenix. I got into the office early and rifled through some CDs to pick some appropriate mood music. My choice? Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring."

Although I have pretty eclectic tastes in music, Copland has the consistent capacity to transport and uplift. [When I was in the Army, I used to listen to "Rodeo" and "Billy The Kid" when homesick for Arizona.]

Some lean toward pop music, the blues or hard rock to get the work day going. There may even be some rap or hip hop fans out there.

Do you have a particular type of music or musician that helps you get the job done?

Selling Abbey Road?

Rumors abound that money-hemorrhaging music behemoth EMI may sell Abbey Road Studios, the sanctum sanctorum where the Beatles recorded most of their albums. Britain's National Trust is entertaining the idea of bidding on it, aiming to add the famed recording studio to its stable of historic castles and country houses. If that happens, will Abbey Road still function as a recording studio, or will it become a rope-lined destination for tourists to traipse through in their stations of Beatles veneration?

Read the rest of Eric Felten's article here.

Quote of the Day

There is a lot of talk about "Tanks" here now and I am interested as I can see no future in my present job.

- From a letter that George S. Patton wrote to his wife in 1917 when he was assigned to a desk job.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Miscellaneous and Fast

Fast Company: The world's most innovative companies.

Vroom: Via Dr. Helen, America's Most Dangerous Drivers by Profession.

Simple but effective: The 1939 trailer for "Gone With The Wind."

Jonathan Chait has a Rodney King moment.

Idea Anaconda notes
the need to make churches more appealing to men.

George F. Will on populism and Sarah Palin. [HT: Instapundit]

Adfreak: The making of a very creative Old Spice commercial.

Krauthammer on the "structural failure" argument.

Classic: 1964 interview with Alfred Hitchcock.

Finally Seeing It

You know the feeling. You've been grappling with a problem. You've considered it from what seemed like all directions. Conventional and unconventional solutions have been evaluated but you know they don't ring true.

And then it happens: You suddenly notice the real problem and realize that for months you've just been wrestling with symptoms. The real problem is obvious. It has indeed been the elephant in the living room and you've been stepping on ants in the front yard.

The tip-off may have been triggered by two things:

  1. You dropped your reluctance to admit the real problem, and

  2. You finally noticed the common denominator.

Another factor may have also contributed to your myopia: A tendency to get too sophisticated. Some problems hide in mazes. Most are far more visible. As the medical maxim notes, "When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras."

I'd add: And look for the elephant.

Rube Goldberg Lives!

I sometimes mention the great Rube Goldberg to my classes on presentation skills when we talk about complicated explanations. The younger members usually stare at me.

Here is a household version of a Rube Goldberg device. It is beautifully done and I guarantee that you'll smile.

Watch it and then you can spend a rainy Saturday building one in your house. [My favorite part is the Slinky.]

Deception at War

Nicholas Rankin gives his top five list of books about British military deception.

I've read The Man Who Never Was. It's an amazing story.

Recognition: Slick Moves

Fistful of Talent examines blunders in recognition programs; minor items, you know, like giving a deaf employee an ipod.

Quote of the Day

If you try to fail and succeed, which have you done?

- George Carlin

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Value of Public Humiliation

The HR Capitalist has some samples of e-mails that were sent when Bob neglected to lock his computer.

The first one that went out:

From: Sackett, Bob
Sent: January 11, 2010 8:39 AM
To: DL - Everyone
Subject: Some Guidelines for 2010

From now on, I want everyone to follow a few rules to help us hit on all cylinders in 2010:
1. You must call me “Kemosabe”
2. High fives when things are going well
3. Make “rub your eye” motions when things are not
4. Haircuts every Thursday, I’ll pay
5. Teambuilding in the Best Buy parking lot, BYOB
6. Hugs will be our primary means of communication

Looking forward to a good year.


George Washington in New York

Though New York had bounced back from a bad war—the city had burned in 1776—it was not a particularly comfortable place, even by the standards of the day. Philadelphia, thanks to Benjamin Franklin, had swept streets. New Yorkers dumped their offal in the gutters, to be eaten by pigs and wild dogs, and the Supreme Court met above the bleating animals of a Broad Street farmers’ market. Abigail Adams complained that it was “impossible to get a servant from the highest to the lowest grade that does not drink.” An influenza epidemic in May of 1790 laid Madison low, and nearly killed Washington.

When he was not ill, the president relaxed by riding a 14-mile circuit to Morningside Heights and back. He attended plays at the John Street Theater and at his residence, where he saw an amateur performance of Julius Caesar. He also went to the circus. In the summer of 1790, he took Jefferson and Hamilton on a three-day fishing trip off Sandy Hook.

Read the rest of Richard Brookhiser here.

[And who would not have wanted to be on a fishing trip with Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton?]

Career Fumbles

My post on 10 career regrets you may have too late is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Music Break

Tine Thing Helseth: Haydn Trumpet Concerto.

Corp Speak

The Scratching Post presents a brief and brutal video: "Death by Corporate Efficiency."

[HT: Larry Sheldon]

Killing Trust by Omission

"I didn't lie. I just didn't tell the whole story."

"Oh, so you deceived."

"No, no. I didn't intend to deceive. I just didn't mention anything that might have disturbed the other person."

"But you were aware that the omission would cause the other person to believe something that you knew was not true."

"Well, yeah. But I didn't lie."

"How do you think that person will feel if the news of your creative editing is revealed."

"I don't know."

"I'm not sure if you're being honest about that. How would you feel?"

Spending: Reality Knocking

Peggy Noonan on new realizations about spending:

But this is an interesting time. It's easy to say that concern about federal spending is old, because it is. It's at least as old as Robert Taft, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. But the national anxiety about spending that we're experiencing now, and that is showing up in the polls, is new. The past eight years have concentrated the American mind. George W. Bush's spending, the crash and Barack Obama's spending have frightened people. It's not just "cranky right-wingers" who are concerned. If it were, the president would not have appointed his commission. Its creation acknowledges that independents are anxious, the center is alarmed—the whole country is. The people are ahead of their representatives in Washington, who are stuck in the ick of old ways.

Quote of the Day

The "silly question" is the first intimation of some totally new development.

- Alfred North Whitehead

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Alabama Shooting: Background Checks and Negligent Hiring

Employment attorney John Phillips weighs in on the Alabama shootings and background checks.

An approach that I think is helpful: Don't just get the names of former supervisors as references. Also get the names of former colleagues. You may learn more from the people who worked alongside the applicant on committees than you do from the supervisor.

Go Somewhere

Cultural Offering on setting yourself free.

The Story Behind "Finding Dolly Freed"

Nobody was interested in a profile of a woman who used to eat roadkill, make moonshine, and sit around reading Sartre with her alcoholic and probably-genius father, a woman who later went on to get her GED, put herself through college, and become a NASA rocket scientist who helped figure out the mess behind the Challenger explosion before turning her back on that world for a life that felt more authentic and invigorating.

Yeah, I can’t see the appeal whatsoever.

Read the rest of the Wired article by Paige Williams here.

Quote of the Day

What [the Germans] did, in effect, was to institutionalize military excellence . . . and more than any other single factor it was the German general staff that made the difference . . . . There were generals in World War II, Russian generals, American generals, British generals, who were as good as the best of the Germans, but the Germans had about ten times as many very good generals.

- Col. T.N. Dupuy

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Arnold Beichman, R.I.P.

From the article by John Podhoretz:

What a life he lived! I'm talking about a man who grew up on the Lower East Side, a Yiddish-speaking son of a pious working-class father who made his way to Columbia University in the late 1920s — there to edit theColumbia Spectator along with the man who would be his lifelong friend, Herman Wouk. In the 1930s he worked for what was called the "exploitation department" of Warner Bros., I believe, writing press releases about Jimmy Cagney's command of Yiddish and showing Cagney around New York during a publicity tour. (He knew Babe Ruth too.) He then became a journalist, and had a storied career, going from the New York Herald Tribune to PM to other places, as a labor reporter and city editor and foreign correspondent. He wrote cover stories for Newsweek about the anti-imperialist wars in Africa in the late 1950s and 1960s. In his 50s he decided he needed to educate himself better and went to get himself a Ph.D. in history, then became a teacher, and then, in his 60s, embarked on yet another career as a Sovietologist of distinction. He was writing regularly until he was 95.

Thank the Beatles

Writing in Slate, Thomas Goetz on how the Beatles caused the health care crisis.

And saved a bunch of lives.

And in 1962, on the recommendation of EMI recording executive George Martin, the company signed a new group called the Beatles to a recording contract. Over the next decade the company earned millions of dollars from the Fab Four. It was so much money that EMI almost didn’t know what to do with it. Meanwhile, a middle-aged bachelor engineer named Godfrey Hounsfield was working at EMI’s less glamorous electronics business. Hounsfield was a skilled, unassuming scientist, quietly leading a team that built the first all-transistor computer. Flush with money broken out of teenagers’ piggy banks, EMI let Hounsfield pursue independent research.

Leonard Tompkins, Mentor

Wally Bock recalls some timeless lessons from Leonard Tompkins.

Petraeus on Leadership

General David Petraeus in a Washington Post interview on role models and leadership:

I took enormous strength from reading about Grant and what he went through. He was a truly admirable figure. The response he had after the first day in Shiloh was one that I often repeated to our troopers during the tough moments.

As you'll recall, the Union forces were almost driven into the river in the first day at Shiloh; terrible casualties. It's the night of the first day, it's raining, he's got his slouch hat on. Rain is literally running off it, got a wet cigar on his mouth, the cries of the wounded all around him. There's no shelter because the wounded are inside anything that has a roof on it, so he's sitting in this chair under a tree and it's dark. And out from the darkness stomps Sherman, his most trusted, I think, subordinate leader during those war years. And Sherman says to him, "Well, Grant, we had the Devil's own day today, didn't we?" And Grant says, "Yup. Lick 'em tomorrow though."

Lawyers, Lines, and Bubbles

Go to the lawyers about a problem with an individual and you'll probably find that they will advise you to do little or nothing. Why? Because more problems are generated by commission than by omission and in most cases if you want to avoid complications you will sit tight.

Of course, they don't have to work alongside your problem.

That's why a key line in dealing with lawyers - or HR types, for that matter - is "We cannot tolerate this." You then have to be prepared to back that up with supporting evidence, general and specific. The line is important because they may assume that you can tolerate it. In fact, you've probably been tolerating it for some time and only approached the dismal duo of Law and HR after exhausting your patience or depleting your supervisory bag of tricks. Can you blame them for thinking that they may be looking at two problems: the one you brought in and the one that is you?

As a result, part of your strategy must be to convince them that you are not a problem reporting a problem. You must impress them with your professionalism and your reasonableness. Your demeanor should cause a little cartoon bubble to float above your head and that bubble should read "Good witness." If you appear to be disorganized, vindictive, uncertain or prejudiced, other bubbles will appear.

This is especially challenging because, due to the procrastination that you must vow never to repeat, your mood may not be the best. Restrain yourself. Understate your case. And zero in on the solid proof that reasonable action must be taken.

If you need more proof, bear-hug the lawyer and HR. Bring them into the process so their fingerprints are all over your plan of impending action. This will increase the likelihood of their support in the future. As was once said, people seldom argue against their own data. You want your strategy to become their strategy.

Quote of the Day

I have never seen a problem believed to be caused by the behavior of others that could be solved by assuming they were irrational.

- Russell L. Ackoff

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Open Doors Within Closed Doors

There are opportunities that open with a slight breeze and others that are held open for us.

In many cases, however, the opportunity is an unlocked door hidden within a locked one. We encounter the larger barrier and are about to turn in another direction when we notice a crevice. Upon exploration, we learn that there is a hidden opening that would not have been found but for our initial interest in a way that would not work.

Some of our greatest achievements are modified failures.

Music Break

Crank up the sound. Get your office moving.

Webb Wilder with Jumpin Jack Flash.

Update: The man has a credo.

Class Names

I often feel that if people could sign up for the classes they'd really like we'd see titles such as:

  • "How to Discipline an Employee Without Upper Management Getting Weak-Kneed and Selling Me Out Later"

  • "Briefing Your Team on What is Happening When You Don't Have a Clue"

  • "Techniques for Maintaining a Straight Face When Someone Who Can Harm Your Career is Speaking Utter Nonsense"

  • "Staying Motivated When the Weasels are Winning"

  • "How to Survive Being Logical in an Illogical Workplace"

  • "Secrets of Successful Loons"

Quote of the Day

Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal.

- Friedrich Nietzsche

Monday, February 15, 2010

When I Grow Up . . .

Another classic find by Eclecticity.

Art Linkletter would be proud.

No Fancy Talk. Just Serious Improvement.

Let's forget all of the Brand talk. First we must demonstrate a passion for brilliant execution of the basics.

And how will we know how good we are? Once we've learned how bad we were. Or are.

In order to achieve that rather unsettling state, we have to learn more. It's possible to be praised in one firm for achievements that would be average in another so trophies and salary bonuses aren't a reliable indicator. Many of us once regarded ourselves as good leaders and managers and later came to realize our limitations.

The formula for success involves constant learning through study, reflection, and action. Given the current economy, that is more important than ever.

Our employers may have other plans. We need to invest in ourselves.

Strangely Appealing

Johnny Depp discusses his approach to The Mad Hatter.

Watching the Olympics

I regard the Olympics as an appropriate exception to my "no television" rule.

Here are several things I've noticed:
  1. I miss Jim McKay but Bob Costas is extremely good.

  2. I also miss the lengthier coverage that was given in the old days. It was nice seeing more events and award ceremonies.

  3. Not missed: The East German and Soviet judges.

Barbershop Culture

Cultural Offering looks at the workings of a classic barber shop.

P.S. Check out Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry.

The Heart of the Matter

Very nicely done: Nicholas Bate suggests a doppio espresso meeting.

Remembering The Toyota Way

Writing in Fortune, Alex Taylor III on what Toyota can learn from the crisis:

As the company grew to become the world's largest automaker, it failed to adjust its corporate structure to accommodate its altered scale. And in its zeal to deliver profits as well as revenue, it may have overlooked fundamental principles that used to underpin its business.

The Price of a Bad Reputation

Recently, I spoke with the president of a very successful group regarding the appointment of various project leaders.

As names were mentioned, I silently noted the ones that were absent. A couple of possibilities would have sunk the projects on the date of their appointment solely on the basis of reputation. These people had burned bridges with several key players and generated wholly unnecessary animosity.

Had they been appointed, all would have been sweetness and light on the surface, but cooperation would have evaporated. The desire not to help an enemy would have trumped any desire to see the project succeed.

"Plays well with others" is a virtue that goes far beyond the playground and people can have very long memories of those who do not.

Quote of the Day

The effective subordinate exceeds the expectations of superiors, protects their reputations, and gives them all the credit.

- Theodore Levitt

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Turner Syndrome

Have you ever met with an accomplished executive or manager and discover, once the conversation shifts to a subject area outside of the person's expertise, that this usually insightful person has turned into Ted Turner?

Do you ever wonder why CEOs are prone to buy dubious management fads that have Flavor of the Month stamped on the cover?

I suspect that these hard-nosed decision makers are especially prone to misjudgment when confronted with social science-related subjects, such as diversity and affirmative action. Unfortunately, there are plenty of "experts" willing to encourage those misjudgments if sizable amounts of money are involved.

This is not meant to mock. Their stumbles are a reminder to all of us that a combination of humility and skepticism may be needed when we step outside of our zones of knowledge.

Gremlins. Evil, Vicious, Gremlins.

My blog is acting strangely. Help has been summoned.

As you have generously done so often in the past, please bear with me.

I apologize for the glitches. The hammer beckons.

Quote of the Day

Great minds have purposes, others have wishes.

- Washington Irving

Friday, February 12, 2010

Olympic Perfection

Torvill & Dean - Bolero - 1984 Winter Olympics.

Don't Hide Out. Go See.

My post on the importance of seeing for yourself is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Be Sure to Ask

Dan McCarthy's career advice post, "You Have to Ask for It," is right on target.

Organizations don't naturally wonder about what their employees want. Unrewarded genius is the norm. As some wag put it, fools rush in and get the best seats.

If you want something, you have to ask for it. Don't hint. Don't expect justice. And don't think the decision is obvious.


Quote of the Day

Managers think the people with whom they work want them to exhibit consistency, assertiveness, and self-control - and they do, of course. But occasionally, they also want just the opposite. They want a moment with us when we are genuinely ourselves without facade or pretense or defensiveness, when we are revealed as human beings, when we are vulnerable.

- Richard Farson

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Smart Money Is On O'Leary

Michael O'Leary, Ryanair's chief executive, on Thursday went public over the row and, in typical style, challenged Sir Stelios to settle their differences in a "chariots of fire" race around Trafalgar Square.

Read the rest here.

Just Another Community Group

Recently, I read the minutes of a community group that I've been involved with for several years. Board members come and go, topics arise and are addressed, and the group moves on. On one level, the minutes are boring recitations of treasurer's reports, motions made, motions seconded, and votes taken.

On another level, however, the minutes are an illustration of citizen initiative and decentralized power. A diverse group of people with a common unifying interest has regularly built upon the earlier work of other citizens; a process that, in this particular case, has been going on since 1864. They may not be efficient because there are other demands on their time, but via the power of the incremental and the efforts of folks who sacrifice evenings and beaver away at projects, they eventually get things done.

Boring? Sure, but also very impressive.

Quick Thought

In many organizations, a guaranteed way to raise some eyebrows is to be caught reading a book or to sit quietly and think.

Iran Stuns?

News from Iran on what was supposed to be a day that would stun the West.

So far, I'm sort of "unstunned."

Being Strategic

Take some time today and read the interview that Mary Jo Asmus had with Erika Andersen, consultant and author of Being Strategic. An excerpt:

Strategies fail for lots of reasons. One of the most common is that strategies are, all too often, not created to move toward a defined future, but simply in response to a threat. For example, in the early eighties, Pepsi had a strategy of “winning on cost.” It was how they thought they’d take market share from Coke, which at the time was beating them in most domestic markets. Unfortunately, that strategy wasn’t linked to a clear vision (other than “kill Coke”), so they made some sales decisions that weren’t sustainable, in terms of impact on long-term profitability.

Write It Down

That small but potentially great idea you had this morning? Although it seems unforgettable, you might not remember it this evening. You probably won't remember it next week.

Write it down.

I carry around a Moleskine notebook to jot down good ideas that occur when one would least expect them. It is seldom out of reach. I keep the old notebooks and periodically scan them to trigger memories of past thoughts or to nudge me into new ones. Upon reflection, not all of the ideas are worthy of action and yet even the marginal thoughts may lead to one that is promising.

Despite having a very good memory, I have found that the most creative ideas are as soft as feathers. Unless quickly captured, they can float away.

And in a competitive world, you don't want to lose those feathers.

Raw and Wild

A clip from the documentary: Louisiana Boys: Raised on Politics.

[Update: Sorry for the grammatical lapse that had to be corrected. Credit it to pure sloppiness.]

Quote of the Day

We think in generalities, but we live in detail.

- Alfred North Whitehead

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Opposing the Mullahs

Well, tomorrow is the day on which leaders of the Iranian regime have promised to "stun" the West.

Michael Ledeen gives his perspective on the context but not on the event. An excerpt:

I believe that the Iranian regime has assembled the largest armed force in history to protect it from the Iranian people’s righteous indignation on Thursday the 11th. There will be hundreds of thousands of police, revolutionary guards, Basij, and people bused in from the countryside to Tehran.

Additionally, the regime is shutting down communications, especially in Tehran. Iranian Tweeters say internet is largely gone, and cell phones are not working. None of this is new, and in the past the dissidents have managed to beat the censors; it will be interesting to see if the mullahs’ trusted advisers (mostly Chinese) are more effective this time. They certainly have failed in China, and the Iranian authorities have demonstrated an almost supernatural ability to screw up their own plans.

World Trade Center Photos

Here are some extraordinary photos of September 11.

[HT: Drudge Report]

Starbucks: 15th Avenue & Tea

Writing in Reason, Greg Beato on the occasional divide between Starbucks and the tastes of its customers:

At 15th Avenue and Tea, the quest to cultivate highbrow customers continues. There’s a wall covered with excerpts from Plato’s dialogues. Blended drinks are banned from the premises, and you can safely assume that Bearista Bears, the highly sought-after plush toys that Starbucks has been selling since 1997, won’t ever appear here either.

Google Buzz: How It Works

Tuesday saw the debut of Google Buzz, a new service for sharing status updates, links and media with your friends. It’s currently being rolled out to the public slowly — you can sign up at — but we’ve had access to Buzz since shortly after it launched, and I’ve had a chance to play around with it.

Read the rest as Michael Calore examines its pros and cons .

Filling Up the Low Places

William Horden on how to see beauty in the mundane. An excerpt:
This aspect of wisdom that is both personal and impersonal at the same time seems to be one we are most reluctant to accept. We know the world doesn't revolve around us but we are loathe to give up our central place in our life-story, perhaps because we fear that if we don't look out for ourselves, no one will. Behaving like water, the wisdom saying advises, means that we stop seeking for ourselves and simply nurture others. This places us in a position that most other people around us reject but because we are fulfilling an unmet need, we actually make ourselves indispensable and, as the time changes in unforeseeable ways, we find unimagined success. This strategy of "filling up the low places" is a time-honored open secret of success.

In the Works

Two blog-related books are currently being prepared.

The working titles are The Best of and The Book of Quotations.

Shameless plug. I'll let you know when they are ready.

Vora: Managing HR

Tanmay Vora gives seven key thoughts about managing human resources.

HR needs to act less like a cop and more like a consultant.

Hearty Breakfasts and Learning on the Job

Thanks to Cultural Offering for pointing out these manly breakfast recipes.

And while you're sipping strong coffee and eating your biscuits and gravy, read this account of some important lessons a young man learned on a job.

Undercover Boss

Here are three takes on the new reality TV show "Undercover Boss":

As for me, I haven't seen it.

Quote of the Day

Do it now. It is not safe to leave a generous feeling to the cooling influences of the world.

- Thomas Guthrie

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Where's Marion Barry When You Need Him?

Megan McArdle on snow in D.C.:

. . . DC today is the province of taxi drivers and SUV owners who seem simultaneously confused and overconfident. As I eased down the street in our little Japanese sedan, I quickly surmised that none of the drivers in the bite-sized tanks surrounding me had ever seen snow before. Three blocks later I revised that opinion: I don't think any of them had ever seen cars before. Certainly not the ones they were operating.

Buzz Words vs History?

Writing in Armed Forces Journal, William F. Owen on why military history trumps buzz words:

The evidence that the threats of the 21st century are going to be that much different from the threats of the 20th is lacking. Likewise, there is no evidence that a “new way of war” is evolving or that we somehow had a previously flawed understanding. In fact, the use of the new words strongly indicates that those using them do not wish to be encumbered by a generally useful and coherent set of terms that military history had previously used. As war and warfare are not changing in ways that demand new words, it is odd that people keep inventing them.


I thought I was harsh on Avatar until I read Stephen Hunter's review:

Avatar, the latest cinematic science-fiction epic, turns out to be a half-a-billion-dollar case of reinventing the Ferris wheel. The final product is a hyper-gaudy, brainless attraction that goes round and round and deposits you exactly where it picked you up, only you’re poorer and dumber and you’ll never get your 2 hours and 40 minutes back.

Simplicity in Architecture

Dwell looks at a shotgun-style home in Indiana.

Terrorism: Home-Grown

Writing in Commentary, James Kirchick on the home-grown terrorist threat. An excerpt:

While they come from diverse ethnic and regional backgrounds, most of the men involved in homegrown plots fit a similar profile: they are middle class and well-educated. The same can be said of many, if not most, Islamist terrorists, whether it be the son of the former Nigerian finance minister who attempted to bring down a plane on Christmas Day near Detroit; the seven British doctors (and one medical technician) who plotted to carry out car bombings in 2007; or Osama bin Laden himself, whose family operates a massive construction empire worth billions of dollars. This reality contradicts the trendy, post-9/11 contention, as wrong then as it is now, that terrorism is caused by poverty.

Knew or Should Have Known

When the supervisor spoke to the female employee about the male employee, she became emotional, told him "I can't talk about it," whereupon he answered "That's good because I don't want to know what happened." The supervisor then changed the female employee's schedule so she would not have to work with the male.

Read the rest of Michael P. Maslanka's post here.

I Like People Who've Been Knocked to the Floor

I like people who've been knocked to the floor but got up, who know what it's like to do something that deserves a medal but instead gets a reprimand, who crack a small smile when listening to the latest program from on high, and who know more about - and care more about - the job than any five of the wizards promoted last year. I like the mavericks and eccentrics and the weirdos whose eyes light up when talking about how they had to cobble together a solution at the last minute or how they noodled over a problem for years before finding a new way. I like their passion and their lack of pretense and that they think you're interested about some arcane aspect of the job only a person who loves the job might find fascinating. I like their refusal to become cookie-cutter personalities and to "dress for success." I like the fact that they like facts and, although they can theorize as well as any of us, they know the difference between theory and reality. I like their bluntness and their way of looking you in the eye and that they have scars, many scars, some of which may be visible, from battles won and lost.


For those of you in snow country: The poem "Velvet Shoes" by Elinor Wylie.

Plus: Some time-lapse photos of snowfall. Keep an eye on the teddy bear and the stick.

[Weather forecast today here in Phoenix: Partly cloudy with a high of 64 and a low of 47. Brutal.]

Quick Thought

Whether you call yourself a member of Human Resources, Personnel, or Talent Management, the minute you start thinking of an individual as an "employee" or an "applicant" rather than a person, you begin moving in a dangerous direction.

Quote of the Day

Don't let yourself forget what it's like to be sixteen.

- Anonymous

Monday, February 08, 2010

Entertainment Break

The trailer for "Bullets Over Broadway."

A great comedy, packed with great lines.

C. S. Lewis: Mentor

David C. Downing has written a post on how C. S. Lewis was often a mentor by mail. An excerpt:

Lewis’s advice to his correspondents often took the form of quotable epigrams. To a new wife who felt guilty over her mixed emotions about pregnancy, Lewis observed about guilt feelings, “You can’t help their knocking on the door; but you mustn’t ask them in to lunch” (3, 310). To a mother who asked Lewis to write a letter to her troubled daughter, Lewis answered prudently, “I think advice is best kept till it is asked for” (3, 320). On the same subject to the same correspondent, Lewis observed in another letter, “If few can give good advice, fewer still can hear with patience advice either good or bad” (369).

17 Guidelines: When Briefing the New Boss

  1. Leave all humor at the door.
  2. Make sure your appearance is thoroughly professional.
  3. Don't badmouth the old boss.
  4. Don't criticize other managers or employees.
  5. Avoid any semblance of pandering.
  6. If you don't know something, admit it.
  7. Don't understate the impact of past mistakes.
  8. Make no assumptions regarding the boss's management proclivities.
  9. Be able to discuss and recommend alternatives to current policies.
  10. Know your subject area inside-out.
  11. Don't overwhelm the boss with details, but have them at hand.
  12. Be respectful of time.
  13. Expect interruptions.
  14. Know all areas of risk and all available resources.
  15. Don't brag.
  16. Know three things you'd like changed and three things you want to remain the same - just in case you are asked.
  17. Be prepared to note what is done well and what can be improved.

Sno Wovel

Cool Tools reviews the Sno Wovel, a timely tool for some parts of the country.

Who Dat Nation

Back from the Super Bowl, Stanley Bing notes a virtue of the Saints fans:

The best thing about the Who Dat Nation is how nice they all are. I’ve been to a lot of conventions, some of them in New Orleans, but also in Houston, Miami, Dallas and of course, Vegas, and this Super Bowl was, without question, the most pleasant gathering of happy drunkards I have ever attended. Some people get annoying or mean when they’ve been sopping up alcohol and shrimp for three consecutive days. Not this bunch. This was simply a gathering of excited, happy people bobbling around like kids saying “Who Dat?” to each other until game time.

February 11: Stun Day?

"The Iranian nation, with its unity and God's grace, will punch the arrogance (Western powers) on the 22nd of Bahman (February 11) in a way that will leave them stunned," Khamenei, who is also Iran's commander-in-chief, told a gathering of air force personnel.

Read the rest here.

No word on whether Israel has a surprise planned for February 10.

[HT: Drudge Report]


Bill Brenner on why security execs should care about a hacker fest. An excerpt:

The larger reality is that a lot of important talks happen here that have implications up and down the IT security food chain. It's also important to note that a lot of the young ruffians who come here are the very people who find the security holes so they can be fixed. They also build a lot of the technology CSOs lobby their upper management to invest in.

Some examples:

Tyler Shields of the Veracode Research Lab gave a talk about those BlackBerry phones security execs can no longer live without. His message: The BlackBerry is full of weaknesses an attacker can exploit to target the larger enterprise network.

Many CSOs have become equally dependent on their iPhones, and they are increasingly being used to conduct business. Guess what? Those devices are equally at risk, according to Trevor Hawthorn, founder and managing principal at Stratum Security. He gave a presentation on how the bad guys can attack through your iPhone apps and tap into your GPS to track your whereabouts.

Hooking Up Update

This is depressing. Charlotte Allen on the new dating game:

Courtney, 21, is a student at Penn State University. Tucker Max, 33, six feet tall, extrovertedly good-looking, and usually photographed latched to a girl, a bottle of booze, or a cheeseburger, is an honors graduate (in three years) of the University of Chicago. He has a law degree from Duke University, whose admissions committee was so impressed with his academic record that it awarded him an academic scholarship. Yet his only experience practicing law to date has consisted of getting fired from a $2,400-a-week summer-associate job at a prestigious Silicon Valley firm for, among other things, showing up intoxicated at the orientation meeting and complaining that he couldn’t see anything because he had lost his contacts in a hookup with a girl he had met at a party the night before; informing a female recruiter at the firm that he was “calling a porn line” when she walked into his office unexpectedly; and getting fall-down drunk at a firm retreat and shouting the F-word at a charity auction attended by the partners and their spouses. His email account of the last escapade made its way to laughs around the country.

Rules, Exceptions, and Accommodations

You study an organization. You read the rules and then look for the formal exceptions to the rules. And then you search for the informal exceptions to the rules, the unsanctioned exceptions, the "street justice" exceptions: the daily accommodations.

The accommodations are tacit understandings. If you do this, I'll do that and if you don't do this other thing, I won't do this other thing. They are part of a game in which the parties appear to be playing separate roles and yet also share a role. It is that shared role that can be fascinating. The common goal is a zone of comfort. The guard and the prisoner, the teacher and the student, the cop and the speeder, the boss and the employee - all quietly accept certain boundaries in order to avoid mutual unpleasantness. There are some things that must not be done and, in exchange for that acknowledgement of boundaries, some formal rules will be overlooked.

One of the secrets to success in organizations is knowing what is frequently overlooked and what is never overlooked. That knowledge reveals a great deal about the place.

Quote of the Day

Do not wait for extraordinary circumstances to do good; try to use ordinary situations.

- Jean Paul Richter

Sunday, February 07, 2010


Great game. Great winners. And some Louis Armstrong to celebrate.

Audi's Nitwitted Super Bowl Commercial

Did anyone at Audi think for two minutes before approving this Super Bowl commercial?

Who gets the sympathy? The people being arrested by the intrusive Green Police or the toady driving the Audi?


Is there a football game today?

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Leisure: A Poem

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

And the Sequel Should Be: How to Distinguish "Art" from "Scam."

Neatorama: How to distinguish "Art" from "Trash."

Game Info

New York magazine on all you might possibly need to know about the Super Bowl. For example:

Brees once threw 73 passes in a college game and then apologized afterward for not throwing more.

Even more on the TV day that never ends.


Cultural Offering remembers his college days:

Reagan had just "survived" the economic recession and was preparing to blow up the world. My professors reacted to conservative views with attitudes ranging from puzzlement to disgust. In my Capitalism Versus Socialism class the socialist viewpoint was ably represented by a former SDSer; the capitalist viewpoint was butchered by a professor with views barely to the right of the socialist prof. It wasn't that they couldn't understand conservatism; they had no interest.

My experience was similar. I never had a problem with decidedly left-wing professors - one of the best teachers I encountered was a Marxist teaching assistant - but their knowledge of conservatism was cartoonish.

Albert Brooks and His Horse

Back by popular demand: The party scene from "The Muse."

Sex Week at Old Boola Boola

The idea behind the program, which will fittingly run through Valentine's Day, is to promote sexual health awareness and sexuality. Programs range from speed dating to tea with a transsexual porn star.

Read the rest here.

[Well, that certainly addresses a major issue: Getting college students to think more about sex.]

With Assistance from Edgar the Leadership Pug

Mary Jo Asmus with leadership lessons from The Dog Whisperer. An excerpt:

Use calm, assertive energy: Caesar teaches humans that screaming, yelling and anger only serve to escalate the energy of the dog to that level; they are ineffective at best and can be destructive. Organizational leaders who use these techniques must also find a way to stop using these emotions that can be “caught” like viruses in the organizations they lead.

Five Best Cookbooks

Alton Brown gives his "five best" list of cookbooks.

I'd add an excellent book that I represented in a very brief moment as a literary agent:

Gourmet Gringo by Mari Meyers