Monday, May 31, 2010

The Mega-Scooter

You've got a lot of stuff to haul but you only have a motor scooter.

That's where Korean ingenuity comes in handy.

"Staff Recommendations"

Donald at 2Blowhards reacts to "staff recommendations" in bookstores.

I'm inclined to consider a staff recommendation if the person seems to like the type of books that I enjoy. On the other hand, if the person gushes over a writer whom I consider to be less than admirable, then that serves as a reverse-recommendation. I knew one bookstore employee who purposely recommended books that would contrast with the usual politically correct choices.

It can also be fun to try a book on a whim. That's how I found "Neverwhere" by Neil Gaiman and that was a pleasant discovery indeed.

Known and Unknowns

From The New York Times: An array of significant numbers for Memorial Day.

[HT: The Cranky Professor]

Taking Chance

A powerful clip from the very moving film, Taking Chance.

Memorial Day: "Seemingly endless rows"

In American military cemeteries all over the world, seemingly endless rows of whitened grave markers stand largely unvisited and in silence. The gardeners tend the lawns, one section at a time. Even at the famous sites, tourism is inconstant. Sunsets and dawns, winter nights, softly falling snow, and gorgeous summer mornings mainly find the graves and those who lie within them protected in eternal tranquility. Now and then a visitor linked by love, blood, or both will come to make that connection with the dead that only love can sustain.

Read the rest of novelist Mark Helprin's column on Memorial Day here.

Quote of the Day

Let all the ends thou aimest at be thy country's, thy God's and truth's. Be noble and the nobleness that lies in other men - sleeping but not dead - will rise in majesty to meet thy own.

- Words carved on Union Station, Washington, D.C.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Crafting a Successful Weekend

Talk show host Dennis Prager once devoted an hour to discussing how people regard the weekend. Many people, it seems, are stressed out by weekends due to the lack of structure and the need to fill the hours; a problem, let it be noted, I've never faced.

In my case, Sunday afternoons are often overcast with regret that the weekend is about to end and more was not accomplished. My favorite time is late Friday afternoon when the weekend is anticipated, hope is fresh, and self-reproach is absent.

The perspective can be greatly shaped depending on whether we regard the weekend as a time to recuperate or a time to achieve. Those of us who fall into the latter inclination may be courting disappointment if we try to do both and succeed at neither. It is better to do one or the other.

If we are going to rest or goof off, let us do it intentionally, boldly, and with style.

Entertainment Break

Trailers for:

7 Deadly Scenarios

One of the more sobering and intellectually invigorating books out there:

7 Deadly Scenarios: A Military Futurist Explores War in the 21st Century by Andrew F. Krepinevich. An excerpt:

Dawn was now breaking. As sunlight streamed over the horizon, the airborne strike force pressed home its attack over Pearl Harbor, achieving complete surprise. Dive-bombers and torpedo planes went to work on the ships lying at anchor along Battleship Row, where the U.S. Navy's capital ships were berthed. Fighter aircraft peeled off and strafed the airfield, hitting parked planes, fuel storage tanks, and hangars. Army Air Corps pilots rushed to take off after the attacking force, but by the time they were aloft, the attackers had completed their strikes and vanished. Failing to locate the attackers, the Army aircraft returned to base, whereupon a second wave of carrier strike aircraft hit them. A New York Times reporter on the scene reported that the attacks were "unopposed by the defense, which was caught virtually napping."

Surveying the results, the American defenders were filled with anger - and relief. The attack, executed on the morning of Sunday, February 7, 1932, occurred at the outset of a U.S. Army-Navy war game called Grand Joint Exercise 4. Rear Admiral Harry Yarnell, commander of the newly commissioned American aircraft carriers Saratoga and Lexington, had launched the attacking planes. The "bombs" dropped were flour bags, which could be found splattered on the Navy's ships still sitting at anchor.

Little BIG Things When Presenting

  • Temperature of the room *
  • Size of the room *
  • Acoustics
  • Distance between the speaker and the audience
  • Any physical barriers between the speaker and the audience *
  • The lighting
  • Size of the audience *
  • Background of the audience
  • Expectations of the audience *
  • Relationships among audience members
  • Visual aids *
  • Nature of the topic
  • Knowledge of speaker
  • Preparation by speaker*
  • Goal of the speaker
  • What the audience hopes to get out of the presentation *
  • Appearance of the speaker *
  • The speaker's voice
  • Eye contact
  • Proper mix of generalizations and examples*
  • The theme*
  • Sound system
  • Physical comfort of audience re chairs, tables, writing materials, refreshments
  • The nature of the introduction, especially if given by another person *
  • The pace *
  • The number and size of breaks *
  • Enthusiasm level or tone of the speaker *
  • Length of presentation *
  • Audience's ability to ask timely questions *
  • Hand-out materials *
  • Clarity *

[* Items that often receive less attention than they deserve.]

Quote of the Day

You can't depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus.

- Mark Twain

Friday, May 28, 2010

Absent Cell Phone Syndrome

Waiter Rant tells of yet another medical condition to worry about.

"Shock" (Expound)

All Souls has decided to scrap the one word exam!

The exam was simple yet devilish, consisting of a single noun (“water,” for instance, or “bias”) that applicants had three hours somehow to spin into a coherent essay. An admissions requirement for All Souls College here, it was meant to test intellectual agility, but sometimes seemed to test only the ability to sound brilliant while saying not much of anything.

[HT: Althouse]

Hiding Between an Email

My post on how introverts may hide behind technology is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Top 50 HR Blogs

Great news! has made the list of the Top 50 HR Blogs to Watch in 2010.

Getting Pricing Right

Rafi Mohammed has some thoughts on pricing for small firms. An excerpt:

Pricing is about the value that the product offers relative to the next best alternative. If potential customers are using a rival's product, you need to justify why they should use yours. "Sure we offer fewer attributes, but we're cheaper." Or, "Gee, for only 15 percent more, you get all these attributes." When consumers buy a product, they're in essence saying, "I looked around at all of your alternatives, and you offered me the best value."

Surrounded by The Remarkable

It has been observed that fathers become clearer with the distance of time. I think that can be said of many people.

Some charismatic individuals will seize your attention immediately. I had lunch with such a person years ago and can still recall his insights, quips, and asides. He was truly fascinating. It is hard to miss certain qualities when a personality projects as easily as a smoothly hit home run.

With other people, however, years may have to pass before you realize what an extraordinary person was in your life. I recall a great aunt of mine who, after leaving Sawpit, Colorado, got her degree and started teaching school in Glendale, Arizona shortly after the First World War. She volunteered to teach a class that was mainly Mexican American and taught herself Spanish in order to teach English to her students. She captained their baseball team, umpired games, and gained unending affection from a legion of students over the years. (She later recalled a boy named Marty Robbins who squandered much of his time practicing the guitar.) After the First World War, she corresponded with and sent money to French orphans.

When she reached the mandatory retirement age in her district, she moved out to a small Arizona mining town that needed teachers and taught there. As a child, I used to have long political discussions with her - talks that I miss to this day - but I didn't realize what an extraordinary person was in the room.

Now I can see that my life has been filled with such people.

Quote of the Day

Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.

- John Wesley

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Music Break

Why the West Thrived

Writing in The Wilson Quarterly, David S. Landes on lessons to be drawn from the economic domination of the West. An excerpt:

The older centers of hither and farther Asia—the Islamic world, India, and China—lacked the cultural and institutional foundations on which entrepreneurship rested. Worse: They tended to cling to tradition in a world of disturbing and disagreeable challenge. Both China and the Arabic Middle East offer case studies of this resistance to innovation and the subsequent national revenge against those they blamed for the economic disparities that ensued. Both impoverished themselves by insisting on their cultural, moral, and technical superiority over the barbarians around them, by refusing to learn from people they scorned as inferiors, by simply refusing to learn. Pride is poison, and as the proverb puts it, pride goeth before a fall.

China was once the richest and proudest of civilizations. Faced with pretentious, eager, and greedy barbarians, the Chinese did badly, nursing feelings of superiority that blinded them to opportunity. British economist Angus Maddison has shown that as late as 1400 China’s GDP per capita outpaced that of Western Europe. By 1820, however, the trend had been turned on its head, with China’s GDP per capita less than half of Western Europe’s. In 1989, it was just one-seventh.

When a Governor Cuts Spending

The Governor of New Jersey meets with citizens at a town hall and notes an important distinction between his state and the federal government.

Capturing Biometrics in Afghanistan

From Michael Yon's post on "Penguins of Afghanistan":

Each device has internal memory with a database of photos, retina scans and prints. The computer within the HIIDE will go ahead and scan what is entered against its internal database. So, as our folks scan people in the villagers, if they were to get a hit that matched a latent print from a bomb or a weapon, say, a message would pop up. It could say anything that was entered, such as “DETAIN. Suspected bombmaker,” or, facetiously, “This is Wali Karzai. Let him go.”

Michael H. Jordan, R.I.P.

Stanley Bing remembers Michael H. Jordan:

There's a quality of executive hauteur that some people have and some don't, no matter what their title might be. Mike had it. He was Chairmanly. He presided. Behind the sangfroid, you always had the feeling that there was a tough guy in there that you really didn't want to piss off.

One time, a sleek little barracuda came in from a west coast competitor to straighten out our strategic planning function. He came to his first meeting with the executive team. Ran his mouth off. Said we didn't know our butts from a hole in the ground. Mike listened. After the meeting, the President, who had hired this person, said to Mike, "What do you think of Larry?"

"Oh, he's fine," said Mike. "I'm sure he's very smart. I just never want to see him again. If he's in a meeting, I won't be there."

Chili Lime? Didn't he play for the Mets?

Cultural Offering on baseball season, tradition, and sunflower seeds:

Once the edges of the seed are cracked, the tongue moves the seed to a new position - still end on end - between the upper and lower central incisors (still on the opposite side of the mouth from the area used for cheek storage). The incisors will, with a little practice, easily release the internal kernel to be chewed and enjoyed. The empty seed halves are then spit out of the mouth - preferably on to some part of a baseball field. If you spit seeds in the stands, be careful to avoid hitting other spectators.

"The Great Law of Change"

Writing in The New York Times, David Brooks examines Yuval Levin's work on two theories of change. An excerpt:

Paine saw the American and French Revolutions as models for his sort of radical change. In each country, he felt, the revolutionaries deduced certain universal truths about the rights of man and then designed a new society to fit them.

Burke, a participant in the British Enlightenment, had a different vision of change. He believed that each generation is a small part of a long chain of history. We serve as trustees for the wisdom of the ages and are obliged to pass it down, a little improved, to our descendents. That wisdom fills the gaps in our own reason, as age-old institutions implicitly contain more wisdom than any individual could have.

Image Advice

A Long Distance Wow

One of the pleasures of reading history and great literature is the discovery that people centuries ago were grappling with the same problems we face today. For the most part, their solutions were getting the same results.

When I was young, I thought that the writers of classical literature were inhibited from discussing the grit of life due to prudishness or censorship but no, it's all there. Late last night, while reading a portion of The Idiot, I had to put down the book and say, "Wow!" Not the most eloquent response perhaps, but a feeble affirmation of a great writer's ability to reveal an instantly resonating insight into how people behave. I would have never gotten that particular slant as powerfully from a textbook or a lecture.

Quote of the Day

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve -
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for help, that I might do greater things -
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy -
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life -
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for -
But everything that I had hoped for.
Despite myself, my prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

- Prayer/poem written by an anonymous Confederate soldier during the Civil War

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Strangers on an Airplane

You don't need to work in Central Casting to spot:

The Talker. The Crying Kid. The Possible Terrorist. The Couple Going to the Big Game. The Make-Out Artists. The Impatient Businessman. The Manure Salesman. The Accountant. The Hoodlum. The Lawyer. The Expectant Mother. The Tourist. The Cowboy. The Recluse. The Difficult Customer. The Road Warrior. The Beauty Queen. The Jock. The Brain Surgeon. The Marine.

Although often once you get to know them, The Manure Salesman turns out to be The Brain Surgeon, The Talker is The Accountant, and The Possible Terrorist is some guy going to Dallas for a job interview.

And don't think they're not casting you.

Dreams House For Sale

The "Field of Dreams" house, lot, and baseball diamond are for sale.

Advertising Creeps

Okay, which is creepier: A polar bear with Willem Dafoe's voice or two Hugh Hefners at a bar?

I vote Hefner.

The Gulf Oil Spill

Here is the sort of story that gladdens the hearts of plaintiffs' attorneys.

Totten Interview: Lee Smith

As mentioned earlier, I've been reading The Strong Horse by Lee Smith. It is a fascinating and often troubling view of the Middle East.

Here is a January 2010 interview of Lee Smith by Michael J. Totten. An excerpt:

The issue is not our policies; the issue is an existential one, and it is not about us, rather it is about a society that makes no room for difference, or what is known in academic circles as “the other.” If Zarqawi becomes a folk hero for slaughtering Arab Shia, this is not a region where a non-Arab, non-Muslim superpower is going to find much love.

The Most Enjoyable Moment

Have you ever considered which stage of your work is most enjoyable?

I don't mean something general such as "Meeting people." That one could be dissected into:

  1. Meeting new clients.

  2. Visiting with old clients.

  3. Meeting prospects.

  4. Exchanging ideas with peers.

  5. And so on.

I bet most people have not identified the one task that gives them the greatest pleasure. We can probably name the part we dislike the most more readily than we can cite our favorite.

Assuming that is the case, what is the impact of that inability? Is it possible that we are rushing through our best moments?

Driving Off Silicon Valley

Guy Sorman looks at the possibility that California may drive off Silicon Valley firms. An excerpt:

California has piled every imaginable burden on businesses. Minimum-wage laws are among the highest in the country, and health and safety regulations are among the strictest; cities like San Francisco and San Jose require businesses to offer employees health insurance; labor laws are extremely union-friendly; environmental policies drive up energy costs—and on and on. Small firms have the toughest time in this business-toxic climate. A recent study by Sanjay Varshney, dean of the College of Business Administration at California State University in Sacramento, estimates that the cost of state regulations in 2007 reached an average of $134,122 per small business—the equivalent of one job lost per company. And it’s not just the small guys: Google, which uses colossal amounts of electricity, is building its data centers in other states or abroad, where energy is much cheaper.

Quote of the Day

I've searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statues of committees.

- G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Entertainment Update: The Infidel

This film might get some attention: The trailer for the comedy, "The Infidel."

The real question is whether it will get wide distribution.

[HT: Libertas Film Magazine]

Another Blog to Check Out

There are lots of new or relatively new blogs out there. This is one where I always find something of interest: Anderson Layman's Blog.

Very nicely done.

Odd Jobs Update

Carl Hiassen tags along with a Florida python catcher. Operative quote:

The trick is to take their minds off escape.

"Once it focuses on trying to bite you,'' he says cheerfully, "you're home free."

Dangerous Times

The always excellent Political Calculations looks at three signs of economic trouble in the modern world.

The Approachable Line

Business Week looks at the Starbucks strategy of boosting Seattle's Best. An excerpt:

Starbucks' move is a familiar one in the consumer world. In fashion, there's Gap (GPS, Fortune 500) with its Old Navy and Banana Republic brands, or take Ralph Lauren's (RL, Fortune 500) American Living line for J.C. Penney (JCP, Fortune 500). Williams-Sonoma (WSM) has Pottery Barn and West Elm. Marriott (MAR, Fortune 500) has the Fairfield Inn, and the list goes on. Companies do it because it's a classic, proven way to grow a business.

Fistful's List

Fistful of Talent has released its latest list of the top 25 Talent Management blogs.

Customer Service and Germs

I've been meaning to address this for some time. Since I'm currently stationed near Kleenex boxes, this may be the right moment.

Being a tad germophobic, I tend to notice when people are less than cautious regarding hygiene. Some are oblivious - such as the woman who held a wet handkerchief while shaking my hand after a speech - while others seem to regard cleanliness standards as applicable only if convenient.

Recently, I was impressed when a grocery store cashier covered a sneeze and then, before proceeding, cleaned her hands with disinfectant. It reminded me, however, of how often I've seen workers who did not follow her example. I have walked away from sales counters after spotting an employee who is sneezing and hacking away.

Is my concern hypersensitive or reasonable?

The Internal Hostile Work Environment

If you are a supervisor, you need to know that there is a strong possibility many of your employees are called "stupid," "dumb," "irresponsible," "scatter-brained," "disorganized," "weak," and "unworthy" on a frequent basis.

You also need to know that the culprit is also the victim because that's what they are calling themselves.

Whenever you can help to build a person through real achievements, and not empty praise, you may be changing a life.

Quote of the Day

A man should live with his superiors as he does with his fire; not too near, lest he burn; nor too far off, lest he freeze.

- Diogenes

Monday, May 24, 2010

Books on the Bed

A sick bed has to have the proper books. Mine currently has The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevski and The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations by Lee Smith.

On Sunday, I finished Blood Rain by Michael Dibdin, one of his Aurelio Zen mysteries. When you are feeling exhausted, reading about a cynical Italian investigator is right on the mark. Besides, it was a nice shift from all of the change management stuff I've been reading lately. Next up: Either The Virtues of War by Steven Pressfield or Prey by Michael Crichton.


Under the weather today. Slept a large part of the weekend.

Sinus problems. Applying home remedies. Leeches are on the schedule for tomorrow.

Quote of the Day

Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move. Go very lightly on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social rumble ain't restful. Avoid running at all times. Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.

- Satchel Paige

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Man Who Was Almost Always Wrong

I will not give his name but you would recognize it if I did. He has written essays and books and has served as the editor of a prominent journal. I've greatly enjoyed reading his work over the years and yet there is one slight problem: He is almost always wrong.

Dead wrong. Mind-numbingly wrong. Wrong in a way that should be shouted from the rooftops.

But he is amiable and bright and being wrong does not seem to have harmed his career. While I might have headed to the hills to do penance and eat locusts, he flourishes. His opinions are taken seriously in certain citadels of the American elite.

I have no problem with that because he is always worth reading. He brings up interesting points and ferrets out tantalizing facts before arriving at his wacked out conclusions. [There was one essay in which he was right on all points. He wrote that over 20 years ago.]

It is good that he is out there. He serves a real purpose and will take you on a fascinating journey. You may not like the destination but the trip's a blast. And his example raises a question: Would he be able to survive in an organization that ultimately favors results over creative thinking?

Corruption Gallery

The Daily Beast ranks the states in terms of corruption.

I seriously question their scoring system. Arizona is more corrupt than New Jersey?

War is No Joke

Check out Ruth R. Wisse's speech at West Point: "...[R]adical innocence is no match for radical evil."

Actual Quote(s) from Commenter(s) on the Internet

This will be the beginning of a frequent feature. You can't make this stuff up.

Anyone but me thinking of moving to Africa living in an African tribe using bows as weapons surviving in the wild? Screw western europe and our boring cultures, Africa here I come!

The Facebook Arena

Stanley Bing takes on Facebook:

Anybody who knows a teen knows what I'm talking about. Facebook is an arena where lions and hyenas prowl, looking for dinner. Bullies rule. Of course, as always, it's easy to blame the medium. The medium is not to blame. But it's a big part of whatever is going on, which also has spilled over into the hallways where these kids go to school, the pizzerias where they grab a slice, the living rooms where they hang out.

Mogul Biographies

T.J. Stiles gives his top five list of books about moguls.

Ineffective Action Index

  • Number of staff members who received the boss's memo: 20
  • Number of staff members who needed the directive in the memo: 2
  • Number of staff members who will heed the message: 18
  • Number of staff members who would have complied anyway: 18
  • Number of staff members invited to training on the subject of the memo: 20
  • Number of staff members who will fail to attend the training: 2

Signs That Work

Daniel H. Pink points to some shocking signage.

A Sharp Eye on the Hooters Weight Standard

Employment attorney John Phillips looks at the question of weight discrimination and Hooters, an establishment that does not exactly embody the essence of a family restaurant.

[The concept of beauty has changed. I doubt if either Marilyn Monroe or Sophia Loren would be able to meet the Hooters weight standard despite an ability to fulfill all other requirements.]

Pack a Bag

How many top CEOs have international experience? Very interesting.

Quote of the Day

Lack of education simply results in students' seeking for enlightment wherever it is readily available, without being able to distinguish between the sublime and the trash, insight and propaganda.

- Allan Bloom

Friday, May 21, 2010

Entertainment Break

The great Lou Jacobi delivering a rant in "Little Murders."

The Need for Skepticism and Humility

My "Nobody Knows Anything" post is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Name That Blogger!

Some bloggers have catchy bylines. Which bloggers have these? [The answers given below. The links are in my blogroll.]

  1. "Crusty conservative coating, creamy hippie love chick center."

  2. "The inhabitants have a right to take their amusements in a lawful way."

  3. "Business of Life + Life of Business."

  4. "Frequently Wrong. Never in Doubt."

  5. "The Strategy of Bingo. The Excitement of Chess."

  6. "I wear the required uniform."

  7. "You type, and I tell you why 4,500 years of written history shows you're wrong."

  8. "You have to push as hard as the age that pushes against you."

  9. "Just Some More Disposable Thoughts Clogging Up The Hinterlands."

  10. ". . . musings, misgivings, and general apprehension."

  11. "No thumbs. No stars. Just reviews you can trust."

  12. "Experiments in Lifestyle Design."

[Answers: 1. Althouse; 2. Cultural Offering; 3. Nicholas Bate; 4. What Would Dad Say; 5. Tom McMahon; 6. Sensory Dispensary; 7. Cranky Professor; 8. Idea Anaconda; 9. Verging on Pertinence; 10. View From the Ledge; 11. What Would Toto Watch?; 12. Tim Ferriss.]

Anti-Troll Strategies

Tim Ferriss gives some rules for dealing with haters. My favorite:

10% of people will find a way to take anything personally. Expect it.

Friday Morning Purge

Friday is my favorite day of the week.

I normally do not have any speaking engagements set for Mondays and Fridays since I've found that audience's heads are elsewhere on those days. This is a day to catch up, to plan the next week, to read, reflect, and purge.

Purge? It's a great time to toss the unnecessary papers and emails that have accumulated over the past four days. How many of them would truly be missed? The goal is to get rid of more documents than were created during the week.

Very liberating.

Quote of the Day

How did Amazon get to be so big and so profitable and so important? Not by interrupting people who don't want to be interrupted. By interacting with people. Interactions are a million times more powerful than interruptions.

- Seth Godin

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cell Phone Irritation

An interesting article from The Los Angeles Times on why overhearing cell phone conversations is annoying:

Cellphones have made phone conversations ubiquitous. But many people confess to feeling a bit startled, then irritated, when they hear speech, think someone is talking to them and then realize the person nearby is talking to someone else on the phone. It turns out that our brains just don't like this phenomenon. Researchers at Cornell University conducted a series of tests to gauge people's reactions when exposed to four background noise settings: silence, a monologue, a conversation between two people and half a conversation (called a halfalogue). The study participants were seated at computers and asked to perform various cognitive tests while exposed to one of the three sounds or silence.

The study showed that hearing the halfalogue was the only background noise that distracted the study participants and lowered their scores on the cognitive tests. For some reason, our brains are unable to tune out half a conversation. Researchers believe this is because we can't predict the speech pattern of a halfalogue the way we can with a monologue or two-way conversation -- making it harder to ignore.

An Addiction to Career Success

Michael Santarcangelo points to what can be a decisive factor in job interviews and careers:

The desire and ability to learn is important to a successful career. Actions speak louder than words, and more important than the desire is the discipline to practice learning on a regular basis.

On my first job out of college, at 22 years of age, I was assigned to a technical team and ended up sitting next to a guy in his 50s who had been a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. Bill was (and probably still is) an amazing guy; he was cool in nearly any situation, spoke ill of no one and always either had an answer or was willing to find one.

We'd often eat lunch together sitting at our desks, and I still recall a key piece of advice he shared with me one day, "Michael, the key to success in life is to keep learning. You never know it all, and the technology is always going to change. If you keep learning, you can do anything. You'll always have a job."

While I was already a passionate seeker of knowledge and experience before I met Bill, his words resonated with me then and carry with me today.

World Gone Wacky

Kathryn Jean Lopez talks to Melanie Phillips about the latter's new book, The World Turned Upside Down. An excerpt:

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What’s notable about the current “apparent mass departure from rationality”?

MELANIE PHILLIPS: What I have found so striking is that, in this supposed age of reason, there is such an implacable refusal, over a wide and disparate range of issues, to acknowledge the authority of factual evidence over opinion, or distinguish truth from propaganda and lies, or differentiate between justice and injustice, victim and victimizer. More than that, this phenomenon is confined to the supposed custodians of reason, the intelligentsia; and some of the most prominent of these often-militant “rationalists” propound assertions that are demonstrably irrational.

Food Niche

I recently learned that Phoenix has two well-regarded soul food restaurants that are noted for serving fried chicken with waffles.

Now the first time I heard of that culinary combination, I thought it was a joke; albeit one concocted by a food genius. I also thought it would be fun to meet my doctor there for lunch and mention that it is my daily menu.

Fried chicken and waffles? It sounds like a breakfast of available foods following an extended drinking session but I'm assured that each component is pretty darned good and the combination is marvelous.

Anyway, they have their niche and a dish that is guaranteed to get attention. McDonald's may try to imitate it some day with a McChickWaf, but the result will be a pale shadow of the real thing.

Hmm. What could be the equivalent for a management consulting firm?

California on the Hook: Billions and Billions

In 1999 then California Governor Gray Davis signed into law a bill that represented the largest issuance of non-voter-approved debt in the state's history. The bill SB 400 granted billions of dollars in retroactive pension boosts to state employees, allowing retirements as young as age 50 with lifetime pensions of up to 90% of final year salaries. The California Public Employees' Retirement System sold the pension boost to the state legislature by promising that "no increase over current employer contributions is needed for these benefit improvements" and that Calpers would "remain fully funded." They also claimed that enhanced pensions would not cost taxpayers "a dime" because investment bets would cover the expense.

What Calpers failed to disclose, however, was that (1) the state budget was on the hook for shortfalls should actual investment returns fall short of assumed investment returns, (2) those assumed investment returns implicitly projected the Dow Jones would reach roughly 25,000 by 2009 and 28,000,000 by 2099, unrealistic to say the least (3) shortfalls could turn out to be hundreds of billions of dollars, (4) Calpers's own employees would benefit from the pension increases and (5) members of Calpers's board had received contributions from the public employee unions who would benefit from the legislation. Had such a flagrant case of non-disclosure occurred in the private sector, even a sleepy SEC and US Attorney would have noticed.

Read the rest of David Crane's article here.

Quote of the Day

The lower the rank of managers, the more they know about fewer things. The higher the rank of managers, the less they know about many things.

- Russell L. Ackoff and Herbert J. Addison, Management f-LAWS

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pick Up The Phone

In the beginning of email (I was on Applelink, CompuServe and the Source in the middle 1980s) it was a fabulous productivity booster. My favorite business relationships were the people I could reach in email.

Lately, however, every day I see more of the occasions when email is a weak second-best alternative to dialing the damn phone and talking to somebody. Talk, and more important, listen. Have a conversation. You have the benefit of two-way conversation, tones of voice, inflection, and so forth. Email gets lost, quarantined as spam, misunderstood, and misinterpreted. It’s dangerous. Once you send something in email, that person has control of it, forever. It gets forwarded without context to the wrong people.You can’t get it back. And if it’s misunderstood, you might never get to explain it.

Read the rest of Tim Berry here.

The Line Just Moved Into The Red

This looks like a fine use of research time and money.

Term Limited

Tomorrow, I step down from the presidency of a community group. I will have completed the maximum number of terms (two years) and a solid leader will take my place. I will remain on the board of directors.

The experience has been both fun and frustrating. We've gotten a lot done but I can also see a mountain of unfinished business. I've certainly learned a great deal.

One of the major lessons is the importance of term limits. No matter how successful the leader, it is good to churn the talent pool and get in some fresh perspectives. I know of another community group that has had the same president for around 20 years. That is an injustice to the organization and to the highly talented people who could have served in that period.

My successor told me that he didn't think he could fill my shoes. I strongly disagree. He'll not only fill them, he will do a better job. He'll bring in new ideas and approaches. Some will work and others won't but as a group and as individuals we'll learn along the way.

One of the most dangerous things in any organization is ego. It is so easy to tell yourself that you are indispensible. After all, sometimes that is the case. Washington, Lincoln, and Churchill may well have been irreplaceable. But there is always a time to stay and a time to leave and overstaying one's time is a huge mistake. Even if a term limit is not mandatory, leaders are wise to follow self-imposed ones.

After all, who wants to miss out on the most coveted of jobs, President Emeritus?

CEO Alma Maters

Business Week has an interesting list of where top CEOs got their undergraduate degrees.

Many, it seems, graduated from a place called The School of Hard Knocks.

Inspired by Ambulances?

A video interview with the founder of Twitter.

More evidence that you can get great ideas in the most unlikely of places and times.

Jig Status: Up

Ed Driscoll on the decline of Newsweek and company and "the news they kept to themselves."

Goals: Cool or Crazy?

To Have More Time. It isn't going to happen and the more you chase it, the less it is going to happen. You live a wonderful life: great family, cool job, amazing opportunities. That's why you have no time. Make choices, make better choices. That's what you have power over. Any time, any place, anywhere: you can make a choice. You have no control over time. So let it go. Make the choice and be in the moment. Fully.

Read the rest of Nicholas Bate on 7 apparently cool, but perhaps they are crazy, goals.

Quote of the Day

It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.

- Jonathan Swift

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

2010 Top Workplace Pet Peeves

ATLANTA, May 5, 2010 – Employees would rather deal with gossiping co-workers than with colleagues who have poor time management skills, according to Randstad, a leading staffing firm and workforce solutions provider. The company’s new Work Watch survey, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs among more than 1,000 employed U.S. adults, revealed the top three workplace pet peeves to be: people with poor time management skills (43 percent), gossip (36 percent) and messiness in communal spaces (25 percent).

Read all of Dan McCarthy's post here.

Great Moments in Technology

Back by popular demand: The telephone scene from "Topsy Turvy."

I especially like the line about the Italian hokey-pokey. We should have kept that name.

Two Managers and Two Responses

Some photographs related to the organization's mission were needed for a publicity campaign. Another set, showing different scenes, was needed for a recognition ceremony.

One manager provided hard copies of the photos along with a disk. Everything was neatly packaged.

Another manager handed over some grainy photocopies of photographs. They were in a used file folder.

Both of these people will be remembered but not for the same thing.

Codifying Life

Cultural Offering provides some must reading for our Nanny State times:

"When it rains, the water gets deep and I'm afraid one of them will get too close to that drain pipe and be sucked in," he worried. "Id like to put a grate across the front of it but it might get clogged and flood my yard," he continued. "They don't play in the creek when the water is deep," I said. "I think that they are fine."

The comments continued over the summer as the water remained six inches deep. He told me how he had called the city and told them that there was a liability in the creek. "Someone is going to drown in that water," he began one day. My kids reported that he was telling them to stay clear of the water. And then the sign went up and he was happy. "No One Permitted In Water". Problem solved.

And the kids continued to play in the water. My neighbor, Bill, moved away but the sign remained and the kids kept playing in the water - fishing, overturning stones, wading. . .playing. I suppose removal of the sign by the city would be tacit approval of kids playing in the water. If something happened, there could be liability. So the sign remains. . .ignored. No harm? Problem solved?

Quote of the Day

The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

- C. S. Lewis

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Coastal Conundrum

Writing in The American, Michael Barone notes that the east and west coasts have a problem. An excerpt:

Bottom line: Despite net domestic outflow from our largest metro areas, most of the nation’s population growth is still occurring there, thanks to immigration inflow. But the large domestic outflow from what I call coastal metropolises is disturbing, and suggests a vote of no-confidence in what were previously our fastest-growing metro areas. In contrast, metro areas in Texas and states like Georgia and North Carolina have attracted substantial numbers of both Americans and immigrants and have enjoyed balanced growth, with room for high-education singles in “cool cities’” neighborhoods but even more space for families who will produce the workers and consumers of the future. That’s the kind of growth we should hope for in the decade ahead.

Entertainment Break: What's in Your Back Yard?

Idea Anaconda points to another strange dance routine by OK Go.

Be sure to slip down and click directly to the YouTube link since the embed is no longer allowed.

Underground Economy Update

Just what is it that gives that special flavor to the pizza in Naples?

[HT: Drudge Report]

Bate on Business Culture

Consultant, professor, and author Nicholas Bate reminds us of what business culture is.

And it is not some fancy-dancy concept that is served with wine and cheese.

Keeping a Low Profile

A friend of mine once told me about an unusual experience that he encountered in Army basic training. He said that on the last day, as the drill sergeant was calling out various names, people realized there was one guy in the platoon who had gotten through the entire training cycle without being noticed.

He said people looked at one another and asked, "Who is that guy?"

This was regarded as both remarkable and admirable. It was remarkable in that, just like in the movies, you get to know everyone in a platoon, maybe not real well but well enough to identify the slackers, the intellectuals, the streetfighters, the jocks, and the nerds. You know the Bill Murrays and the John Waynes and everyone in-between.

Except, apparently, this one guy.

My friend said the guy was suddenly regarded as a hero - the Invisible Man - because he'd managed to slip into the background and avoid the hassles and the chores. No one ever recalled the guy being picked on by the drill sergeant or drawing guard duty. They didn't remember him from long marches or the rifle range. He sort of cruised through.

There are some jobs in which the ability to assume a low profile is a highly desirable talent. A prominent figure in French politics was asked what he did during the French Revolution and he replied, "I survived."

The Invisibles, if I may use a convenient term, know the work schedules of unpleasant people so they can better avoid their paths. They quickly determine when a meeting should be ducked. Their personal radar is impeccable. They find hiding places; nooks where no one goes. They don't draw unnecessary attention to themselves. They go on trips just before all hell breaks loose.

Watching a true Invisible in action is akin to watching Houdini. Of course, you never really see them; you just sense traces of their presence. When that's all you get, you know there is an artist at work.

The Plumber, The Affair, and The Murder

George's Employment Blawg examines a sad case that tests the boundaries of negligent hiring:

In Phillips v. TLC Plumbing, Inc., 172 Cal.App.4th 1133 (2009), a plumbing company hired a plumber in 1999, although it knew he had been convicted of domestic violence and/or arson involving his ex-wife.

Four years later, in 2003, the plumber performed a service call at a woman’s home. The plumber and the woman started a relationship that eventually turned romantic. About a month after this service call, the company terminated the plumber’s employment for misuse of a company vehicle, drug and alcohol use, and an allegation of threatening a co-worker.

In 2005, the woman ended the relationship and applied for a restraining order against the plumber. The plumber shot and killed her and was convicted of her murder.

Quote of the Day

Keep cool; anger is not an argument.

- Daniel Webster

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Queenan's Lament for the Class of 2010

Joe Queenan has some words of warning for young job-seekers. An excerpt:

Young people can be forgiven for thinking that the portrayal of the working world in comedies like "The Office" and "Office Space" is completely over the top. Now they're going to find out otherwise. Reality is a mean trick that grown-ups play on the young. Companies really do schedule annual outings where everybody is required to see "Jersey Boys." Managers really do give motivational speeches with lines like, "If we can't enhance value for our shareholders, why on Earth are we here?" Young people really do have to work all day in offices where the plaintive voice in the tinny radio on the adjacent desk ceaselessly pleads, "Give me the beat, boys, and free my soul, I wanna get lost in your rock 'n roll."

And slip away.

If you're a recent grad and you think you're going to hate your bosses, wait till you meet your coworkers. You're going to be working with people who believe in UFOs. You're going to be working with people who play in REO Speedwagon tribute bands. You're going to be working with people who participate in French and Indian War re-enactments every summer. They're going to try to get you to join, mon beau chevalier. You really have no idea how awful this is going to be.

One More for the Weekend

Sensory Dispensary has Susan Tedeschi singing "Angel from Montgomery."

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Woodman Strikes Out

Idea Anaconda points to why Woody Allen should not talk about politics.

Music for Memories

Leaping Tall Buildings in a Single Bound

At KnowHR: This is truly a brilliant way to get hired.

Chilling Numbers

Here's an ominous look at the U.S. debt from the Economics Editor of The Telegraph. An excerpt:

But the really interesting stuff is the detail, and what leaps out again and again is how much of a hill the US has to climb. Exhibit a is the fact that under the Obama administration’s current fiscal plans, the national debt in the US (on a gross basis) will climb to above 100pc of GDP by 2015 – a far steeper increase than almost any other country.

10 Things I Learned from the Internet

  1. When you receive an email that starts with "Dearest Beloved," it is not from a friend.
  2. Think of any obscure topic and you'll find a blog on it.
  3. We get information so quickly that a publication named "Newsweek" may as well be named "Newsmonth."
  4. At some point several years ago, people started giving computers to sociopaths.
  5. As a general rule, journalists who scoff at bloggers aren't as smart as bloggers.
  6. You can tweet some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot tweet all of the people all of the time.
  7. The only consolation when you receive large volumes of worthless emails is, hey, at least they're not calling you.
  8. In the future, some unfortunate people will fail to be elected to high office on account of something they once wrote in a tweet.
  9. If you are a successful Ivory Coast businessman, keep an eye on your partners.
  10. We know what we do with the Internet but we don't know what the Internet does with us.

Quote of the Day

In art there is only one thing that matters: what cannot be explained.

- Georges Braque

Friday, May 14, 2010

Unusual Commencement Speeches

This may be the most unconventional commencement address of all time.

The Farrelly brothers at Roger Williams University: Part One and Part Two.

Down at The Corner

Many thanks to John Hood for mentioning my recent U.S. News & World Report piece at National Review's "The Corner."

Be Nice

My post on why most CEOs are nice is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Some Rejection Reasons

Karen Burns explores seven little-known reasons why people don't get hired.

TR and the French Ambassador

From William Roscoe Thayer's 1919 biography of Theodore Roosevelt:

The Europeans had no definite conception of him at that time, and so the sympathetic and much-esteemed Ambassador, who still represents France at Washington, tried to give his Government information by which it could judge for itself what sort of a person the President was. What must have been the surprise in the French Foreign Office when it received the following dispatch: (I give the substance, of course, because I have not seen the original.)

Yesterday,’ wrote Ambassador Jusserand, ‘President Roosevelt invited me to take a promenade with him this afternoon at three. I arrived at the White House punctually, in afternoon dress and silk hat, as if we were to stroll in the Tuileries Garden or in the Champs Elysees. To my surprise, the President soon joined me in a tramping suit, with knickerbockers and thick boots, and soft felt hat, much worn. Two or three other gentlemen came, and we started off at what seemed to me a breakneck pace, which soon brought us out of the city. On reaching the country, the President went pell-mell over the fields, following neither road nor path, always on, on, straight ahead! I was much winded, but I would not give in, nor ask him to slow up, because I had the honor of La belle France in my heart. At last we came to the bank of a stream, rather wide and too deep to be forded. I sighed relief, because I thought that now we had reached our goal and would rest a moment and catch our breath, before turning homeward. But judge of my horror when I saw the President unbutton his clothes and heard him say, “We had better strip, so as not to wet our things in the Creek.” Then I, too, for the honor of France, removed my apparel, everything except my lavender kid gloves. The President cast an inquiring look at these as if they, too, must come off, but I quickly forestalled any remark by saying, “With your permission, Mr. President, I will keep these on, otherwise it would be embarrassing if we should meet ladies.” And so we jumped into the water and swam across.

Inside the Evil Empire

. . .These minutes from a Politburo meeting on October 4, 1989, are similarly disturbing:

Lukyanov reports that the real number of casualties on Tiananmen Square was 3,000.
Gorbachev: We must be realists. They, like us, have to defend themselves. Three thousands . . . So what?

And a transcript of Gorbachev’s conversation with Hans-Jochen Vogel, the leader of West Germany’s Social Democratic Party, shows Gorbachev defending Soviet troops’ April 9, 1989, massacre of peaceful protesters in Tbilisi.

Read the rest of Claire Berlinski's article on the unread Soviet archives.

Jim's Back!

I'm glad to see that Managing Leadership is back in action.

Bock on the Perfect Leadership Book

A great post from a very perceptive person:

Wally Bock prescribes the perfect leadership book for you.

Friday Music Break

Outlawing the Burqa

Andrew Sullivan has drawn some interesting comments on the issue of outlawing the burqa. A couple of examples:

Last week I encountered a person in a burqa in my crowded suburban Baltimore supermarket. I hadn't realized how much of our public interactions require "feedback" of one sort or another. Even the minor "excuse me" requires some sort of feedback to properly "read" the other. When I moved closer, I was able to make eye contact and so complete the social dance. Ironically, this moving closer required me to invade her social space.

Is all this discomfort important enough to outlaw? Of course not. In time with more interactions like this it will become easier to read the other. I will become fluent in reading "Burqa". This is however a large problem if there is segregation like with Muslims in France. However can you become fluent enough in other cultures and so adapt to one another in the public space if you have no experience with one another?


Let me respectfully disagree with your views. The burqa has nothing to do with religious freedom or a woman's "choice" or any of that crap. It is a form of subjugation. It is a way to reinforce the notion that women are dangerous and that they belong to men. It says "you are allowed out of the house only if no one can see you. Only if you are invisible." It is akin to wearing chains.

Finding the Simpler Way

Many of us have to battle a tendency to make chores more complicated or difficult than they need be.

For example, let's say you want to frame an old photo so it can be used as an award at the upcoming meeting of the Loyal Order of Raccoons. You already have a historic photograph that would work perfectly well, but instead go to a museum and review other photographs. You know about an excellent framing shop around a mile from your home, but no, that would be too convenient and perhaps too expensive so you drive much further away to buy a frame at a large shopping mall and then spend hours framing it yourself.


Option One: Take picture to frame shop. Pick up finished product. Take it to meeting.

Option Two: Drive to museum. Search for photos. Perhaps find a different one, but maybe not. Drive to mall. Spend a good hour buying a frame. Go home and spend even more time framing the photo. Take it to the meeting.

True, the second option may have cost less, but it certainly gobbled up more time and perhaps caused more stress than the first one. And oh, by the way, since the photo is going to be an award, the club would reimburse you for costs anyway.

Why do we drift toward the complicated? My guess is it is because we don't seriously look for the simplest solution. I've written before about how it helps to ask, "What would an adult do?" That question could well apply here. A child might wander about. An adult will know how to complete a project in the most efficient and professional way so other matters can be tackled.

This assumes, of course, that you do not get an inordinate amount of enjoyment out of shopping for frames and looking over old photos and that you have enough time to do so. If that is the case, then wander away.

For most of us, however, it helps to be on the alert for simple solutions or we will be quickly entangled in the vines of our chores.

Forgetting My Own Travel Rules

While on the road, I've recently pondered the travails of travel. As a veteran road warrior, I'm embarrassed to admit that these time-tested rules were forgotten. Call it a temporary lapse.

  1. If at all possible, bring your own pillow. George W. Bush was mocked for doing so during his first presidential campaign but if you've ever tried to sleep on what passes for pillows in some hotels, you'll know the value of bringing your own. I remembered this at two in the morning.

  2. Bring some NyQuil. A reduced dosage will produce a decent night's sleep. Although some road warriors favor the bouquet of certain cough syrups, I am a NyQuil snob, preferring the original vintage to the cherry-flavored varietals.

  3. Bring exercise garb. You don't need to go all out but some comfortable tennis or running shoes will at least permit you to get on a treadmill or even walk around an empty conference room. If you wear low-cut Converse tennis shoes they'll think you're a wandering film director.

  4. Have a good novel close at hand. The business reading is fine, but eventually some escape reading will be needed. You don't want to be subjected to the dreck that is offered in the gift shop.

  5. Keep the television off. I turned on the TV for a few minutes to catch up on the British elections and then squandered an additional five minutes trying to make sense of one of the dumbest movies ever made. I am ashamed of that five minutes.

Quote of the Day

Robinson Crusoe started the 40-hour week. He had all of the work done by Friday.

- Leopold Fechtner