Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Trivia Test: Japan

If you think you know quite a bit about Japan, try this challenging quiz from National Geographic.

I'm heading back to the books.

3D and the Next Steve Jobs? Well, Maybe.

I see articles like this one about the glories of 3D and question my own less than enthusiastic reaction.

I've yet to see a 3D film - and I suffered through Avatar - where I felt 3D greatly added to the enjoyment and impact of the picture. Of course, there was a time when some people were skeptical of "talkies."*

[*Way before my time, I might add.]

Humor Break: How We are Perceived

BusinessPundit has a classic chart on How Do You See Your Colleagues?

Maslanka on Zero Tolerance

Bravo to employment attorney Michael P. Maslanka, who wrote:

I have zero tolerance for zero tolerance policies. Lawyers should encourage employers to look at each situation in context: Did the employee express true remorse? Has he not just acknowledged responsibility but also set out how he will avoid a recurrence? Does he have an otherwise good work history? Employers should ask these questions before deciding to impose the workplace equivalent of capital punishment. Those who promulgate zero tolerance polices often get a shocker: The first person who violates it is a key, long-term or beloved employee. Shock No. 2, managers often do not want to (and will not) enforce a policy they perceive as too harsh.

Enthusiasts Alert

Cool Tools is asking for the names of "enthusiasts sources." Such sites provide an extraordinary amount of helpful information on a specialty.


A few of the examples cited are:

Peaceful Valley -- Serious small farm and large garden tools and supplies
Chinook Medical -- Medical supplies for first aid and search and rescue
X-Treme Geek -- Tools for techies
Eagle Optics -- All scopes, and binoculars
Small Parts -- Unusual materials in small quantities
Micro-Mark -- Model-makers and miniatures
Plastruct - Materials for models

A Meeting of Philosophers

Maria, a department director, supervises Jake, who heads one of her divisions. She finds various problems with the performance of Jake's area and is frustrated that no improvement has been made.

She tries to find precisely how Jake has been lacking but that search has been difficult. She thinks that Jake may playing a game of escape and evade.

Her search is a waste of time. Jake's division is performing quite well. The problem is Jake and Maria have very different views of what the division should be doing. Each has assumed that the other has the same view. That assumption - combined with a sense that discussing something as basic as the general direction is embarrassing - has kept them from talking about this crucial topic.

How often does this occur? Based on over thirty years of advising organizations on management issues, I'd say this happens a lot. It is cloaked by the fact that other reasons are blamed for problems created by a failure to have periodic conversations about priorities and guiding philosophies. We tend to talk about specific issues and miss the big picture.

As a wit once said, "It's hard to see the picture when you're inside the frame." My prescription? Schedule some philosophical discussions with your direct reports. Learn about their operating theories and let them learn yours.

It will be time well spent.

Quick Thought: Speed


Some key questions in any project: When is speed an ally and when is it an adversary? And can you use systems to make it a major advantage?

Building a House

Ask Uncle Bill is building a house and he's beginning to feel like a famous gnome:

Sorry about being late but had to meet a framer to talk about this new house. Nothing like pulling up to work site in 103 degree Texas weather feeling like an idiot, or a complete fraud, or both. But with plans in hand I slid out of the truck and went looking for John Hughes, the frame guy. For those not in the know, the framer frames the house. Easy so far.

John had his head stuck in the back of a truck trying to get a balky compressor to compress. He was sweating and so was I. One of his guys saw me, nudged John and said something. Probably "Hey, the idiot that thinks he can build his own house is here."

Quote of the Day

He was of the faith chiefly in the sense that the church he currently did not attend was Catholic.

- Kingsley Amis

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Miscellaneous and Fast

The Joy of the Tangible



This post from Cultural Offering and this one by View From the Ledge contain much to think about.

They remind me of the beauty of work that produces a tangible product. There is a reason why so many of us envy skilled carpenters, bricklayers, and gardeners.

Inner Space



Take some time today and read this article about the great Ray Bradbury. An excerpt:

When the would-be writer graduated from high school in 1938, his family had no money to send him to college. Mr. Bradbury educated himself in the public library. He sold newspapers at a street-corner newsstand. And he joined the Los Angeles Science Fiction League, which met downtown at Clifton's Cafeteria.

"We were all loners," he says of the 30 people in that group, whose ranks included such other future-famous scribes as Robert Heinlein and Leigh Brackett. "We were all lonely. We believed what we believed, and the society didn't believe in what we believed."

Such as what? "Well," he says with a sigh, "'Fahrenheit [451]' is full of it. I grew up with radio, I saw what radio did to a people. I saw that it was beginning to disconnect us in society. So I wrote about that disconnection."

Quote of the Day

I use outsourcing in my job, too. My cats were my in-house legal department until I discovered they were coughing up hairballs and recording the time as billable hours. Now I pay a human being in another city to handle my legal stuff. He still coughs up hairballs, but he has the professional courtesy to call it "phone conversation" when he lists it on the invoice.

- Scott Adams

Monday, March 29, 2010

Testing The Volt

Fast Company test-drives the Chevy Volt:

Having cost GM billions in R&D, it's a technical marvel well ahead of it's time. And it won't be making money anytime soon: When the Volt finally hits market after a whirlwind, moonshot development process, it'll be limited to just 10,000 units in California, Washington, D.C., and Michigan. (A profitable product run would likely be 40 times that.) With a price tag somewhere in the low $30,000 range (after a $7,500 government tax credit) each one will be sold at a loss. For GM, this is the quintessential halo product, meant to catapult it to the forefront of consumer consciousness.

Style and Grace Kelly

It may be the softest kiss in film history. The sun is setting over West Side rooftops, the sky persimmon. A man, his leg in a cast, sleeps near an open window, undisturbed by a neighbor singing scales. Just after the highest note is reached, a shadow climbs over the man’s chest, shoulder, and chin. We see a face: blue eyes, red lips, skin like poured cream, pearls. Then he sees it. The kiss happens in profile, a slow-motion hallucinatory blur somewhere between myth and dream, a limbic level of consciousness. The director, Alfred Hitchcock, liked to say he got the effect by shaking the camera. In truth, this otherworldly kiss comes to us by way of a double printing. Has any muse in cinema been graced with such a perfect cameo portrait of her power?


Read the rest of Laura Jacobs, writing in Vanity Fair, on "Grace Kelly's Forever Look."

Getting Technology to fit Life

My blog posts automatically go to Twitter and I occasionally write a Tweet but I've never quite understood the entire Twitter concept. It is nice that Twitterers can write thought-provoking, zen-like Tweets as opposed to the "I'm now at the grocery story" sort of updates, but they are in the minority. And I've yet to figure out the folks who are "following" 15,000 other people. How can you do that? I'm about to prune my own numbers down to around 25. I'll lose some great people but less can be more.

Linked In is another one of my neglected arenas and I'm sure business opportunities are being lost. Facebook is in tune with a generation that doesn't write letters and although Second Life seems even stranger, I can see some utility there.

If you encounter a bedraggled Don Quijote avatar in your Second Life Spanish class, I may be present.

Seeds of Disaster?

Robert Samuelson believes the chances of a budget crisis have been raised. An excerpt:

Let's be clear. A "budget crisis" is not some minor accounting exercise. It's a wrenching political, social and economic upheaval. Large deficits and rising debt -- the accumulation of past deficits -- spook investors, leading to higher interest rates on government loans. The higher rates expand the budget deficit and further unnerve investors. To reverse this calamitous cycle, the government has to cut spending deeply or raise taxes sharply. Lower spending and higher taxes in turn depress the economy and lead to higher unemployment. Not pretty.

Five Dinner Guests

Idea Anaconda has picked his five dinner guests.

He has made some excellent choices. I'm still thinking about mine.

Translation

"We're on top of that."

"We are about to start."

"The material will arrive next week."

"I'm expecting word from the committee."

Is that a real explanation or does it simply mean, "This is something I say to get you to leave me alone?"

The Inner Lizard and E-Mail

TwistedByKnaves* has posted a thoughtful reply to my earlier post on reducing the expectation that all e-mails will receive a prompt response.

There is a danger in feeding our own inner lizards as well as those of other people. I've turned off the e-mail notification on my computer and instant messaging is similarly blocked.

I need time to think.

[*One of the neatest blog names in the world.]

Quote of the Day

Perceive those things which cannot be seen.

- Miyamoto Musashi

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Classic Epstein: Intransitory Youth

Back by popular demand: Joseph Epstein, writing in 2004, on the perpetual adolescent. An excerpt:

Life in that different day was felt to observe the human equivalent of the Aristotelian unities: to have, like a good drama, a beginning, middle, and end. Each part, it was understood, had its own advantages and detractions, but the middle--adulthood--was the lengthiest and most earnest part, where everything serious happened and much was at stake. To violate the boundaries of any of the three divisions of life was to go against what was natural and thereby to appear unseemly, to put one's world somehow out of joint, to be, let us face it, a touch, and perhaps more than a touch, grotesque.

Today, of course, all this has been shattered. The ideal almost everywhere is to seem young for as long as possible. The health clubs and endemic workout clothes, the enormous increase in cosmetic surgery (for women and men), the special youth-oriented television programming and moviemaking, all these are merely the more obvious signs of the triumph of youth culture. When I say youth culture, I do not mean merely that the young today are transcendent, the group most admired among the various age groups in American society, but that youth is no longer viewed as a transitory state, through which one passes on the way from childhood to adulthood, but an aspiration, a vaunted condition in which, if one can only arrange it, to settle in perpetuity.

Music Break: Great Lines for Parents

"Just tell your hoodlum friend outside, you ain't got time to take a ride."

- From "Yakety Yak" by The Coasters

$500 Craigslist Rally Car: A Cinderella Story

The story of Caswell's WRC entry is a story of weirdness: He entered the biggest motorsport event of his life with no crew; an untested, week-old E30 M3 engine swap and a junkyard transmission (don't ask); a car that was still covered in dirt from the previous season's rallies ("I'd wash it, but I gotta fix stuff instead"); and a rented panel van. His co-driver, a Rally America genius named Ben Slocum, had not spent more than five minutes in a car with him prior to the event. He did this not out of stupidity, but out of a lack of resources — he wanted to go rallying, and this was the only way he could make it happen.

Amazingly, they finished third in their class.

Read the rest of the Jalopnik article here.

Remembering Frost

Yesterday was the birthday of Robert Frost. Bells should have been rung throughout the land.

What Employers Should Pledge to Job Applicants

  1. We will not list anything as a job requirement unless it is absolutely needed to do the job.
  2. We will not recruit for openings that do not exist.
  3. We will give people a reasonable amount of time to apply.
  4. We will respect your time and will not make it harder than necessary to complete the application materials.
  5. We will not use tests that are only vaguely related to the job requirements nor will we use any test, screening mechanism, or "pop" psychology exam that is insulting or ridiculous.
  6. We will dedicate sufficient time to evaluate the applicants.
  7. We will tell you if there is an unexpected delay in the evaluation process.
  8. We will make sure that those who interview people for our positions have been trained.
  9. We will not ask any inappropriate or discriminatory questions.
  10. We will not play "gotcha" in the interviewing and selection process nor will we use the interview as a "stress test."
  11. We will not interview anyone to fill a quota. Anyone who gets an interview will be a serious contender for the position.
  12. We will be courteous and professional as well as kind and patient.
  13. We will not lie to you.
  14. We will gladly and accurately describe the entire selection process.
  15. We will answer your questions.
  16. We will let you know the outcome of the process and not leave you wondering if you are still a contender.
  17. We will not permit a recruitment and selection process to drag out any longer than is necessary.
  18. We will handle information in a confidential manner and will not gossip about the selection process.
  19. We will strive to select the best person for the job.
  20. We will not forget what it is like to look for employment.
  21. We will regard applicants as people and will recognize that each application may carry many unspoken hopes and dreams.

Quote of the Day

Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain.

- Lily Tomlin

Friday, March 26, 2010

An Unexpected Leadership Quality

Jim Collins talking about a trait of great leaders.

Poetry Break

W.H. Auden: The Fall of Rome.

Those Old Books Will Remain

Russell Smith worries that e-books will empty our bookshelves .

I doubt if that will ever happen. The convenience of e-books is hard to deny. I can - via Kindle - carry around a bunch of books in one nifty volume. The other day, I needed a management book for a project and, within seconds, had it on my Kindle.

But if forced to choose between the two experiences, I'd pick the paper books. An e-book will never replace the warmth of a wall filled with books; colorful, beaten-up, beautiful books.


[HT: Eclecticity]

Miscellaneous and Fast

Glamour, Mystery, and the Power to Persuade

After C-SPAN reran a 1999 BookNotes interview about my first book, I received an email from a disappointed viewer. He was chagrined to hear that I was editing a website called DeepGlamour instead of writing “more serious nonfiction.” Glamour, he implied, is a trivial subject, unworthy of consideration by people who watch, much less appear on, C-SPAN.

To which I have two words of response: Barack Obama. In an era of tell-all memoirs, ubiquitous paparazzi, and reality-show exhibitionism, glamour may seem absent from Hollywood. But Obama demonstrates that its magic still exists. What a glamorous candidate he was—less a person than a persona, an idealized, self-contained figure onto whom audiences projected their own dreams, a Garbo-like “impassive receptacle of passionate hopes and impossible expectations,” in the words of Time’s Joe Klein. The campaign’s iconography employed classically glamorous themes, with its stylized portraits of the candidate gazing into the distance and its logo of a road stretching toward the horizon. Now, of course, Obama is experiencing glamour’s downside: the disillusionment that sets in when imagination meets reality. Hence James Lileks’s recent quip about another contemporary object of glamour, “The Apple tablet is the Barack Obama of technology. It’s whatever you want it to be, until you actually get it.”


Read the rest of Virginia Postrel's article here.

Taking Initiative

My post on taking initiative is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Does Diversity Training Work?

Employment attorney John Phillips gives his thoughts on a report that diversity training doesn't work. An excerpt:

If employers engage in diversity training just to check a box or to have some evidence they can use in case they get sued for discrimination, the training is hardly worth the time and expense. If diversity training is part of a broader initiative to create, in time, a more diverse workforce that works together in harmony and with respect, then diversity training can be an important component in any employer’s human resource practices.

Quote of the Day

In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

- Eric Hoffer

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lehman Brothers and a Favorite Sin

In 2008, Anton R. Valukas, a trial attorney in Chicago, published a four-page stiletto thrust of an essay entitled "Arrogance: My Favorite Sin." The piece, included in a lawyers' guide to cross-examination, recounted Valukas' delight in using understated questioning to tempt executives into making implausible statements of the sort that reliably alienate jurors. "Frequently, the smartest witnesses—the most sophisticated and the most arrogant—are most susceptible to this type of examination," he wrote.

The piece reads today like a preamble to Valukas' voluminous autopsy of Lehman Brothers, which he performed as the court-approved bankruptcy examiner in the investment bank's formal unwinding.

Read the rest of the Business Week article .

1984

Back by popular demand: The Apple commercial that used Orwell to introduce a product.

Your Phone as a Potential Security Threat

So now people are bringing their own devices to work, because, among other reasons, these devices have become fashion accessories. It’s my iPhone with the black silicon protector versus your Google Nexus One. It’s become an arms race about who has the coolest toys. But these are more than just cool toys – they’re also critical tools, yet they’re causing tension in the workplace. Users crave and demand the flexibility, freedom and choice that these devices provide. IT has concerns about the potential security risks they pose. If I’m the IT person, I have to wonder, does this device that comes into my environment have the same security posture as those I have provisioned? The answer? It depends.

Read the rest of the CSO article by Cisco's Fred Kost here.

And You Thought Freedom of Speech Was a Human Right

"Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don't give it any value."

A statement by the lead investigator of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

The Domestic Shed

If you click here, you will find an article about an architect who has brought a new home design to a neighborhood in New Orleans.

There is a photo of the new home tucked in with some old homes.

Which do you prefer?

Tone-Deaf

Novelist Andrew Klavan weighs in on a tale of two cities:

Washington, D.C. and Hollywood are two cities suffering from the same condition: they’ve not only become completely alienated from the people they’re meant to serve, they’re bizarrely blind to the fact of that alienation. Like deranged narcissists in a hall of mirrors, both our lawmakers and our culture-makers blow kisses at their own reflections, see a million kisses coming back their way, and think, “Oh, look, they love me—love me!”

Avoiding Mr. In-Between

Writing in The New Yorker, James Surowiecki on the danger of being in "the mushy middle":

These two strategies may look completely different, but they have one crucial thing in common: they don’t target the amorphous blob of consumers who make up the middle of the market. Paradoxically, ignoring these people has turned out to be a great way of getting lots of customers, because, in many businesses, high- and low-end producers are taking more and more of the market. In fashion, both H. & M. and Hermès have prospered during the recession. In the auto industry, luxury-car sales, though initially hurt by the downturn, are reemerging as one of the most profitable segments of the market, even as small cars like the Ford Focus are luring consumers into showrooms. And, in the computer business, the Taiwanese company Acer has become a dominant player by making cheap, reasonably good laptops—the reverse of Apple’s premium-price approach.

Quote of the Day

Companies tend to be as sick as their secrets.

- Richard Pascale

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Change Briefings



I'm preparing some briefings on change management. As is my custom, I study the subject like a crazed monk, approaching it from all angles and exploring unconventional as well as the usual sources.

For example, part of today involved reviewing fighter pilot tactics and some Aristotle.

One of my goals is to be able to overcome the objections of the most cynical person in the room; you know, the big guy with his arms folded who sits in the back and exudes "I don't want to be here" and "I've heard it all."

Back to the fighter pilots.

A Violation of the Commerce Clause?

Althouse has an excerpt from one of the Commerce Clause challenges to the new health care law.

This entire question is going to be a sugar rush for law professors around the nation.

Hand Me a Bar of Ivory

Seth Godin analyzes the story on a $20 bottle of soap.

Kotkin Predicts

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Nick Schulz reviews Joel Kotkin's new book:

For Mr. Kotkin, population growth translates into economic vitality—the capacity to create wealth, raise the standard of living and meet the burdens of future commitments. Thus a country with a youthful demographic, in relative terms, enjoys a big advantage over its global counterparts. In the next four decades, Mr. Kotkin observes, "most of the developed countries in both Europe and Asia will become veritable old-age homes" because of stagnant population growth. And the economies of these countries, already devoted to a vast welfare-state apparatus, will face crushing pension obligations—but without the young workers to defray the cost.

Quote of the Day

The only way to get positive feelings about yourself is to take positive actions. Man does not live as he thinks, he thinks as he lives.

- The Reverend Vaughan Quinn

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Brutal Workplaces Update

J. Ryan Stradal on working in the arctic:

I was there to work on a media production that shot on and between the natural gas fields of the Mackenzie Delta. The field crew at the sites told us to wear a hard hat at all times. They told us only go to the bars in groups. They told us not to go to anyone’s house, “especially if they’re native.” The acrimony between what they call “the oilpatch” and the locals has left blood in the snow of weekend mornings for decades. Even in a just world, if you take away the sunlight for a month, there will be fighting.

They told us to stay in our vehicles. If something happens, and you leave your vehicle, you will not be rescued in time. You do not leave the road; to leave the road is to die. You are given an orange safety vest, so they can find your body, in case you don’t listen.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily]

Fish Story: Regulation's Reach

Not used in fish pedicures.


If fish pedicures are outlawed only outlaws will have fish pedicures.

iPad: 13 Attractions

Writing in Fortune, Philip Elmer-DeWitt has assembled 13 ways of looking at an iPad and, for the first time, I am getting a sense of why it might be attractive.

[The first link takes you to excerpts. You can then click for the full essays.]


An excerpt:

Chris Anderson, Editor in chief, Wired: "Bigger than a phone, funner than a laptop, more cuddly than a Kindle. I think they’re going to sell like hotcakes."

When Warthogs Attack

Michael Yon is in Afghanistan with the Warthogs. An excerpt:

Two pilots were gearing up to fly from Kandahar over to neighboring Helmand to support a British unit. The A-10 “Warthogs” are slow—not supersonic—but fantastically agile. The aircraft dart like dragonflies and seem to change direction against the laws of physics. The A-10s can turn so fast that they can break the laws of healthy physiology, and can cause a pilot to pass out and crash his airplane. And so pilots wear G-suits to help counter adverse fluid dynamics.

Lessons from the National Health Service

Americans would do well to ponder a recent admission by a former British minister in the Blair government. On March 2, the Guardian reported that the ex-minister, now Lord Warner, said that while spending on Britain’s National Health Service had increased by 60 percent under the Labour government, its output had decreased by 4 percent. No doubt the spending of a Soviet-style organization like the NHS is more easily measurable than its output, but the former minister’s remark certainly accords with the experiences of many citizens, who see no dramatic improvement in the service as a result of such vastly increased outlays. On the contrary, while the service has taken on 400,000 new staff members—that is to say, one-fifth of all new jobs created in Britain during the period—continuity of medical care has been all but extinguished. Nobody now expects to see the same doctor on successive occasions, in the hospital or anywhere else.


Read the rest of Theodore Dalrymple's article here.

Spring


Last evening, for the first time this year, our neighborhood was awash with the scent of orange blossoms. There are few scents that can compete with it, although the smell of greasewood in the desert following a rain is an equal and perhaps its superior.

It is said that various scents are powerful triggers for our memories. I can attest to that. A whiff of diesel fuel takes me back to early mornings on an Army post. The smoke from Camel cigarettes can achieve the same trick.

I cannot smell the orange blossoms without thinking of Cochise Hall at the University of Arizona where the breezes and open windows conspired to take one's mind away from the books, drifting it outside to anywhere, just so it was out of doors.


[Photo: Courtesy of Christopher Yoder]

Quote of the Day

I'm Wellesley St. Louis St. Drem and tonight on All Things Considered we'll look at just how awful the world is, why America made it that way, and the unmitigated success of apology in our foreign policy. But first, stay tuned for The Virtuous Vegan, with our favorite chef de cuisine, Amanda Stark.

- From Girls in Trouble by Jonathan Reynolds

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ten Books and More

Matthew Continetti on ten books that shaped his world.

My own list of more than ten [hardly all-inclusive and the Bible is a given]:

  • Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
  • Modern Times by Paul Johnson
  • Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy
  • The Warden by Anthony Trollope
  • Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (Yes, I know it's a play)
  • Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
  • The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
  • Free to Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman
  • The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam
  • The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  • Churchill by Lord Moran
  • Paris in the Terror by Stanley Loomis
  • The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

    What is on your list?

Quick Reflection: The Importance of Being

Our days are so consumed with doing, it can be easy to miss the importance of being.

If we are going to acquire skills A, B, and C, are those skills going to be fully realized if our very being is not in harmony with those actions?

And can we expect to be seriously competitive if we encounter someone who does possess that harmony of being and ability?

An oft-told story of Rabbi Zusya of Hanipol notes that he once remarked, "In the world-to-be they will not ask me, 'Why were you not Moses?' They will ask me, 'Why were you not Zusya?"

Healthcare Vote Reactions

Some reactions to the vote on the healthcare bill:

Photo Radar Traffic Tickets: Does It Pay to Pay?

Political Calculations reports on the "Arizona State Photo Radar Lottery."

Quote of the Day

The working of great institutions is mainly the result of a vast mass of routine, petty malice, self-interest, carelessness, and sheer mistake. Only a residual fraction is thought.

- George Santayana

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Greener Than Thou

Andrew Sullivan points to "The Halo of Green Consumerism" and the late Michael Crichton on environmentalism as a religion.

Mindless Entertainment Break: TV Show Intros

The intros to TV shows from:

Hijacked

Doug Fine, who writes the excellent Eclecticity blog, has just experienced a hijacking of his site. Since he has put substantial time and creativity into his blog, this is not a minor event.

He writes:

If you would be willing to help me, if you are able to post to your readers that I am out of commission due to the hijacking and if there is anyone that may know how to help me, my email address for this "problem" is eclecticity57@yahoo.com. Feel free to give that out."

Update: I'll keep you posted on the status of Doug's site.

Update: Eclecticity is back!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Frank Luntz on Customer Service

Consumers want the entire process simplified. ONE-stop shopping, ONE bill to pay, ONE single point of contact if and when something goes wrong, ONE person to hold accountable.

[Execupundit comment: Or, as Tolkien put it, "One ring to bind them all."]

Miscellaneous and Fast

Books on Scandals

Henry E. Scott's list of the top five books about scandals.

I'd add a novel: Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full. I didn't appreciate it as much at the first reading but will give it a second because there are some scenes that keep coming back to me. It is also a rather interesting introduction to the thought of Epictetus.

At the Fair


A shameless plug for a worthy event: For a large part of today, I will be at the Arizona Historical Photographs Fair. If you're in the neighborhood, come by and say hello. There is free admission and free parking and the Fair will be from 11 to 3 at the Arizona Historical Society Museum at 1300 N. College Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. A large variety of classic photographs will be on display and the proverbial good time will be had by all.

Quote of the Day

Bricoleur (French): A person who constructs things by random messing around without following an explicit plan. [noun]

- From They Have a Word for It by Howard Rheingold

Friday, March 19, 2010

Summarizing the Best?

Cool Tools reviews the 100 Best Business Books of All Time.

When Poetry Meets Voice: Lewis and Lee

Many thanks to TwistedByKnaves for pointing me to this great reading of Jabberwocky by the incomparable Sir Christopher Lee.

Friday Afternoon Music Break

When was the last time you ran into these guys in the waiting area at your local tire store?

Mark Muleman Massey and Blind Mississippi Morris.

When Life is High School


My post on when your office seems like high school is up at U.S. News & World Report.

The Lunatic Express

In Outside magazine, an excerpt from Carl Hoffman's new book:

By population, the city—just nineteen miles across, with 19 million souls—was bigger than 173 countries. The population density of America was thirty-one people per square kilometer; Singapore 2,535 and Bombay island 17,550; some neighborhoods had nearly one million people per square kilometer. A neverending stream of Indians was migrating to Mumbai, which was swelling, groaning, barely able to keep pace. In 1990 an average of 3,408 people were packing a nine-car train; ten years later that number had grown to more than 4,500. Seven million people a day rode the trains, fourteen times the whole population of Washington, D.C. But it was the death rate that shocked the most; Nasirbhai was no exaggerating alarmist. In April 2008 Mumbai's Central and Western railway released the official numbers: 20,706 Mumbaikers killed on the trains in the last five years. They were the most dangerous conveyances on earth.

Memo to Future Presidents

Peggy Noonan on the road to Demon Pass. An excerpt:

Presidents have a right to certain prerogatives, including the expectation of a certain deference. He's the president, this is history. But we seem to have come a long way since Ronald Reagan was regularly barked at by Sam Donaldson, almost literally, and the president shrugged it off. The president—every president—works for us. We don't work for him. We sometimes lose track of this, or rather get the balance wrong. Respect is due and must be palpable, but now and then you have to press, to either force them to be forthcoming or force them to reveal that they won't be. Either way it's revealing.

Do You Need a Degree?

Suzanne Lucas, who blogs as Evil HR Lady, has written a thought-provoking article on why most managers need degrees.

I agree that employers place a huge amount of emphasis on degrees and so it makes sense to get one. I also agree that some specialized and licensed positions logically require a degree.

It is more difficult, however, to conclude that a degree is needed for the successful performance of most management jobs. Certainly some level of education is needed but street smarts and experience can quickly balance things out. Many degree requirements simply serve as a quick and dirty way to determine if the candidate has writing and research skills. Some of the most competent people I've known in my career do not have college degrees.

Charles Murray is onto something with his proposal that we switch from emphasizing degrees and instead consider establishing more apprenticeships in particular subjects.

It may be wrong to consider degrees strictly as a career booster. I regard a large part of my college experience as more of an intellectually enriching experience. Do you need to have studied Shakespeare to do most jobs? No. But an appreciation of Shakespeare adds a lot to your general wisdom and to an appreciation of life. It may help to think of college as more of a place to pursue knowledge - whether it be French Literature or History of Mexico - and less of a trade school.

Quote of the Day

Sometimes it is remarkably productive to NOT "be productive."

- Nicholas Bate

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Big Spenders Go Global

. . . In the United States, Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute calculates that if the federal government were to increase every single tax by 30 per cent it would be enough to balance the books—in 25 years. Except that it wouldn’t. Because if you raised taxes by 30 per cent, government would spend even more than it already does, on the grounds that the citizenry needed more social programs and entitlements to compensate for their sudden reduction in disposable income.


Read the rest of Mark Steyn here.

The Big Short

But as early as 2004, if you looked at the numbers, you could clearly see the decline in lending standards. In Burry’s view, standards had not just fallen but hit bottom. The bottom even had a name: the interest-only negative-amortizing adjustable-rate subprime mortgage. You, the homebuyer, actually were given the option of paying nothing at all, and rolling whatever interest you owed the bank into a higher principal balance. It wasn’t hard to see what sort of person might like to have such a loan: one with no income. What Burry couldn’t understand was why a person who lent money would want to extend such a loan. “What you want to watch are the lenders, not the borrowers,” he said. “The borrowers will always be willing to take a great deal for themselves. It’s up to the lenders to show restraint, and when they lose it, watch out.” By 2003 he knew that the borrowers had already lost it. By early 2005 he saw that lenders had, too.


Read the rest of the Vanity Fair excerpt of The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis.

Business Tripping

Some travel considerations when the destination is too far to be close and too close to be far:

I used to fly to one of my upcoming gigs but after getting stranded in an airport for the amount of time in which I could have driven the distance, I vowed never again to fly. The security hassles added more time to "the airport experience" and also tilted the scales.

Another factor comes into play: control. I once had a training schedule that put me in a different city every day. I'd teach a bunch of managers and supervisors, then rush to the airport so I could fly to another city and do it all over again. On occasion, however, I could simply rent a car and drive. I could train in Boston, drive to a town outside Boston, drive to New Hampshire, and later drive to Maine. It was marvelous because of the scenery and because I didn't have to worry about canceled flights.

I still have occasional doubts about the amount of time spent on the road but they are erased by the allure of an open road. No airport has quite the same appeal.

Techno Skeptic

Writing in City Journal, Adam Thierer reviews You Are Not a Gadget:

Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto is a provocative—and ultimately quite pessimistic—assessment of the influence of the Internet and digital technology over our lives, culture, and economy. Like other Net skeptics, Lanier worries about diminished individual creativity, the rise of “mob” behavior, the dangers of “free-culture” fanaticism, and the emergence of a new sharecropper economy in which a small handful of capitalists purportedly are getting rich off the backs of free labor. A respected Internet visionary, a gifted computer scientist, an expert on virtual reality, and a talented wordsmith, Lanier deserves serious attention, even from those who don’t share his lugubrious worldview.

Quote of the Day

. . . Managers often feel they've failed when their actions produce complaints and demands. However, the paradox of rising expectations (i.e., revolutions are more likely as social conditions improve than when they're hopeless) suggests that when things get better, employee grumbling persists - and may even get louder - but about a higher level of concern. When this happens, managers can take the same approach therapists do, and see complaints as evidence of progress, not problems. It's not achieving contentment that matters, but improving the quality of discontent.

- Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes, Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On the Juke

Cultural Offering has put together a great list of juke box selections. Idea Anaconda has followed suit, although the Snoop Dogg thing has me completely baffled.

I'd add:
  • Great Balls of Fire - Jerry Lee Lewis
  • Chantilly Lace - The Big Bopper
  • Jumping Jack Flash - The Rolling Stones
  • Paperback Writer - The Beatles
  • Mr. Tambourine Man - The Byrds
  • Layla - Derek and The Dominos
  • Sweet Home Alabama - Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • Rave On - Buddy Holly and The Crickets
  • Jenny Jenny - Little Richard
  • Crying - Roy Orbison
  • Amanda - Waylon Jennings
  • Blueberry Hill - Fats Domino
  • King of the Road - Roger Miller
and, of course, the ultimate jukebox song:

Before Blaming, Check the Maps

It has been said that we shape our buildings and then they shape us. The same can be said for the workplace structures, policies, and practices that quietly dictate how we conduct business.

A common mistake is to ascribe problems to personalities instead of examining the organization's inadvertent encourage of poor performance. If you keep encountering conflicts, see where the lines of authority overlap. If you spot employees working at cross-purposes, check for opposing signals from elsewhere in the organization.

In short, consider the possibility that the other person is using a different map.

Where is John Phillips?

Employment law wizard John Phillips has a new blog.

If you hire, fire, or anything in-between, it is must reading.

Culture/Humor Break

Frank McCourt reading from Angela's Ashes.

Philip K. Howard Interview

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog interviews Philip K. Howard, attorney, chair of Common Good and author of Life Without Lawyers:

Part One and Part Two. An excerpt:

. . . It’s extremely important for judges to draw firm boundaries as a matter of law. Say someone brings a lawsuit asking for $45 million for a pair of pants, a judge should say immediately, ‘look, maybe you’ve got a claim in small claims court, but not here. Case dismissed.’

Throw Them a Bone!

Truly bizarre: The Grim Reaper in an Italian public service announcement.

A Chore for St. Patrick's Day

Today is St. Patrick's Day.

A good day to drive the snakes out of your organization.

The Case for Toyota

Writing in Reason, Ronald Bailey on the Toyota panic:

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the reported cases of sudden acceleration are for real and not being cobbled together by greedy drivers and unscrupulous plaintiffs’ lawyers seeking jackpots from playing civil jury roulette. How dangerous is driving a Toyota? First, consider that last year highway fatalities in the U.S. fell to 33,963, which is the lowest number of traffic deaths since 1954. Taking the number of miles traveled into account, the 2009 traffic fatality rate is the lowest ever at 1.16 deaths per 100,000,000 vehicle miles traveled. Nevertheless, this means that on average 93 people per day died in traffic accidents in the U.S. last year. Assuming that 52 people really have died in Toyota sudden acceleration events over the past decade that would net out to 0.015 people killed per day. Thus the 2009 daily rate of traffic deaths was 6,200 times higher than deaths from sudden acceleration incidents. To get a sense of the risks we run, the daily traffic death rate also compares to the 20 people per day who die from taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, mostly to manage the symptoms of arthritis. In other words, you are 1,300 times more likely to die from taking aspirin or other NSAID than from a sudden acceleration accident.

Quote of the Day

There is no healthy organization without a sense of common destiny linking it to a larger scheme.

- Ichak Adizes

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Being an Entrepreneur

Hugh Macleod at Gaping Void with some random thoughts on being an entrepreneur. A few excerpts:

You can either be cheapest or the best. I know which one I prefer.

If an average guy in a bar can understand what you do for a living, chances are you’re halfway to becoming a commodity.

Smart, young, artistic people are always asking me which is a better career path, “Creativity” or “Money”. I always answer that it doesn’t matter. What matters is “Effective” and/or “Ineffective”.

Did You Notice What Wasn't Said?

If you have been in the workplace for any serious length of time, you have probably encountered conversations in which everyone knows what is being said but no one is saying it.

We don't want to say that the CEO's idea is half-baked so, in very polite terms, we mention that the proposal could benefit greatly from some additional analysis.

We don't want to say that Edgar is a conniving bundle of raw ambition who'd sell his mother to get a promotion so we say that he needs some more seasoning in the field, perhaps in an international assignment.

When such things are not said, what is really being said may be understood far better than any direct statement that is cluttered with words because within the unspoken you can sense a meeting of the minds. No words can achieve such eloquence.

Too Clever By Half

Regardless of one's feelings about health care legislation, the Slaughter option is a very bad idea.

Procedures are frustrating and even maddening but there are reasons for their existence. One of the best is to restrain us when we are tempted to become too clever.

I've seen this in private organizations. If we tinker with this rule and place this creative interpretation on that policy, we can get what we want. Such moves seldom come without a heavy price. Presidential advisor Bryce Harlow once said that the messiness of democracy meant that the system was working. It was designed to be difficult. That's the idea, no matter how clever we are because part of the system's genius is to save us from ourselves.

Quote of the Day

A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

- George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

Monday, March 15, 2010

Prodigy Break

Some Beethoven played by a typical six-year-old.

I believe when I was six I had mastered all of the tunes available to some wax paper and a comb.

The Known World

Recently, my late night reading has been The Known World by Edward P. Jones.

The novel, which came out several years ago, is about some blacks who owned slaves in the South. The understated prose illustrates the indirect way that slavery spawned a series of convoluted rationalizations by people - some of whom are otherwise admirable - who sought to deny its inherent evil. Standing to benefit from the "peculiar institution," there are those who stress its legality or who regard it simply as a business opportunity or who shun freeing slaves because they want to preserve the family's financial "legacy."

A fascinating book on several levels. I highly recommend it.

The Impact of Cesar Chavez

Writing in The Wilson Quarterly, Richard Rodriguez on the man and the movement:

Cesar Chavez similarly cast his campaign for better wages and living conditions for farm workers as a religious movement. He became for many Americans, especially Mexican Americans (my parents among them), a figure of spiritual authority. I remember a small brown man with an Indian aspect leading labor protests that were also medieval religious processions of women, children, nuns, college students, burnt old ­men—­under the banner of Our Lady of ­Guadalupe.

The Arrogance of the New

Being the new appointee or the holder of new ideas can cause a certain arrogance.

The new chief executive who is brought in to fix a problem may be tempted to think that his or her predecessor overlooked various approaches or was insufficiently bold. Those thoughts are sparked by the reasonable belief that each of us possesses a unique blend of talents. With all due respect to those who came before, we know that even exceptional performers will miss or fumble opportunities.

As understandable as that attitude may be, it is also dangerous. Beneath the surface is a failure to pay sufficient deference to the intelligence of others. That failure can lead to a misreading of the situation and an inability to address the world as it really is. When that arises, serious thought takes a detour. If the decision maker is fortunate, the detour will be quickly noticed and the path re-traced. We can spend a sizable amount of our lives painfully learning the truths that were discovered by our predecessors. It is only when we have a clear view of them that we can wisely decide whether a new path is warranted.

Honor

Cultural Offering points out a difference between the good guys and the bad guys.

Entertainment Break: Frogs, Lizards, and an Occasional Ferret

A collection of the classic frogs and lizards Budweiser ads.

Editing Black History

John McWhorter has a thought-provoking list of people he would like to "erase" from Black history.

OJ Simpson is an easy choice.

[HT: Andrew Sullivan]

Quote of the Day

The used key is always bright.

- Benjamin Franklin

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Sandpit

Watch this video via Eclecticity and take some time to relax today.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hybrid Coyotes?

Writing in Outside, Elizabeth Royle on the question of safety and a new type of coyote :

Cape Breton Highlands rolls over 366 square miles of elevated forest and open swale. About 100 eastern coyotes make their living inside the park, though the animals have inhabited it only since the 1980s. The coyote evolved as a hunter of small mammals in the Great Plains, but within the past half-century the species has expanded its range to the entire lower 48 and to every Canadian province. "We're among the last places to get them," says Derek Quann, the park's resource-conservation manager. In Quann's park, the animals eat hare and small rodents but, working in groups in the deep snows of late winter, have also been known to take down 1,200-pound moose—an astonishing feat, considering that western coyotes neither hunt in groups nor prey on anything larger than sheep or calves. Wolves, however, routinely do both, which raises the question: What exactly is an eastern coyote?

Smile

Flashback to a very funny film: The trailer for the 1975 comedy, "Smile."

James Interviews Burleigh

Clive James interviews historian Michael Burleigh about his book on The Third Reich.

The End of Civilization As We Know It

Coming in July: Barbie Mad Men Collectors Dolls:

Of course the dolls wouldn't be complete without period accessories, including hats, overcoats and pearls, but will stay true to Barbie's image – established five decades ago – excluding cigarettes, ashtrays, martini glasses and cocktail shakers.

[HT: Adscam/The Horror!]

What a Car!

Gentler times: The first commercial for a car named Corvette.

[HT: Lou Rodarte]

No Fear of Prius

I’ve been driving Toyota Priuses since 2001. As a junior defense lawyer in the mid-90s, I litigated a number of bogus sudden acceleration cases that were brought against General Motors.

So the recent kerfuffle over alleged mysterious electronic problems with the Prius and other Toyotas has certainly caught my attention beyond just throwing my floor mat in the trunk.


Read all of Theodore H. Frank's column on why he's not afraid of his Toyota Prius.

Reading about Ireland

Frank Delaney gives his "five best" list of books about Ireland.

[As a result, I have vowed to read "Ulysses."]

Zeno's Conscience

Svevo's subject is the weakness of the will, or abulia, and how a dreamy nature has little chance up against the temptations set out by the amazing and obdurate reality of life. In "Zeno's Conscience," Zeno Cosini, an unexceptional Trieste businessman, pits his will against the enslaving habit of smoking, the complexities of courtship, the delights of philandery, the discipline required by business, and loses every time, yet cannot quite be said to go down in defeat.

Quote of the Day

. . . Only strictly capable men reach the top in surgery, for instance. For some reason, Italians do not mind entrusting their national life to incompetent and intriguing generals, but refuse to entrust their personal lives to inept surgeons. For analogous reasons, they do not encourage bad opera singers, conductors, ballerinas, courtesans, actors, film directors, cooks, tailors and pilots. These people get ahead strictly on their merit.

- Luigi Barzini, The Italians

Friday, March 12, 2010

Air France Flight 447

Der Spiegel examines the last four minutes of Air France Flight 447. An excerpt:

According to this scenario, the pilots would have been forced to watch helplessly as their plane lost its lift. That theory is supported by the fact that the airplane remained intact to the very end. Given all the turbulence, it is therefore possible that the passengers remained oblivious to what was happening. After all, the oxygen masks that have been recovered had not dropped down from the ceiling because of a loss of pressure. What's more, the stewardesses weren't sitting on their emergency seats, and the lifejackets remained untouched. "There is no evidence whatsoever that the passengers in the cabin had been prepared for an emergency landing," says BEA boss Jean-Paul Troadec.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily]

The Known Universe

It's Friday afternoon. Time to check out the known universe.

[HT: Lou Rodarte]

Differentiation

Tanmay Vora has some quick thoughts on differentiation. An excerpt:

Differentiation is about bringing your DNA to the work. You are uniquely gifted with things only you can do. Key is to realize a few such skills which, when combined together offers a unique value. Key question then is: “What do you stand for?”

Differentiation is not just about talking smart and convincing people that you are different. If it takes long speech to prove that you are different, you are probably not. Differentiation should be felt, should be evident in the way you approach a customer and do things. Differentiation is what the other person defines. You think you are different. Key question is: “Does the other person/client/prospect also think you are different?”

Truly Frightening

Samsung ad: Do not trust profile pictures.