Thursday, March 31, 2011

Learning from Paul

Author Steven Pressfield draws some lessons about life while watching a legend:

Paul Anka understands that it’s easy to get psyched for the playoffs. Any fool can amp himself up for the World Series. But what about Show #23 out of 47 in January in Terra Haute?

Writing Habits

Pulp Serenade interviews author Heath Lowrance. An excerpt:

: What does your writing station look like?

HL: It's a god-awful mess. Books and papers everywhere. Notebooks and loose change, flash drives and Batman action figures.

Must Be The Guest House

The View from Your Window has been one of the more interesting features of Andrew Sullivan's blog. Here you can see a scenic shot in Bali.

To Start a Fire

Some fires take little coaxing. You put the kindling together with the logs, strike a match, and shortly afterward the flames are roaring. Other fires require a lot of work. The wood may be green, wet or resistant and efforts that would produce success with other ingredients go nowhere.

So too is the case with teams. A leader has to make a quick assessment of the components and whether the result will be worth the effort. Some people are the equivalent of wet wood.

Beware of them.

Quote of the Day

50 is the new 40. 40 is the new 30. Dead is the new "left for dead."

- Norm MacDonald

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

James Q. Wilson on American Politics

R. Shep Melnick reviews the latest book by James Q. Wilson. One of Wilson's observations:

Once politics was about only a few things; today it is about nearly everything.... Once the legitimacy barrier has fallen, political conflict takes a very different form. New programs need not await the advent of a crisis or an extraordinary majority, because no program is any longer "new"—it is seen, rather, as an extension, a modification, or an enlargement of something the government is already doing.... Since there is virtually nothing the government has not tried to do, there is little it cannot be asked to do.

Photos with a Question

Anderson Layman's Blog: Now what do we do?

Leave These on the Desk While Conducting Job Interviews

At CoolTools: Carson Lighted Magnigrip Tweezers.

Coaching Session: A Question

  • Coach: "You have come to me in the hope that I can help you to avoid some behavior that has become a problem for you."

  • Client: "Correct."

  • Coach: "My first question is this: What problem are you trying to solve with the problem behavior?"

Early Morning Meeting

An early morning coffee with a friend who thinks that meeting at 7 o'clock is letting things slip. This triggers flashbacks:

I knew an executive who, due to his strange travel schedule, used to have 4 a.m. staff meetings. [I'm sure his associates loved those.]

Another memory: Teaching a harassment prevention workshop for a night crew at 2 a.m. Judging by their questions, a lot was happening durng those hours. Even the name - the night crew - had certain connotations. Most of them were in their twenties. Hmm.

Quote of the Day

William Blake: You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Big Elbert

From a 2007 City Journal article by Stefan Kanfer on Elbert Hubbard: It was the last attribute that cost him his life. On a mission to see Kaiser Wilhelm II and stop World War I in its tracks, he and his second wife, Alice, boarded a ship to Europe. At dockside in New York City, Hubbard ebulliently informed reporters that he was a negotiator without portfolio, an “ex-officio General Inspector of the Universe, with power to investigate anything in any way I choose, as long as I do not violate the Pure-Food laws.” The inspector never reached his destination. On the morning of May 7, 1915, as the RMS Lusitania cut through the Irish Sea, a German torpedo hit her prow. She sank in 18 minutes. Among the 1,190 victims who drowned were Elbert and Alice, last seen arm in arm as they headed for their stateroom.

It Doesn't Get Better Than This

The news from Rome: Silvio Berlusconi's defense lawyers on Tuesday named George Clooney, the Italian foreign minister and a bevy of showgirls as witnesses at the premier's upcoming prostitution trial, an attorney and news reports said.


  • "Have I ever lied to you?"

  • "I wish I could say no, but I'm not sure."

  • "How can you say that?"

  • "Easily. You parse words. You will give me important information but only if I ask the right questions. You leave out items. You may not lie, but you deceive. I don't have time for evasions."

  • "But I'm much more cooperative than Carol."

  • "You are more pleasant. Carol is direct and she can be tough to deal with, but she doesn't play games. I know where she stands. In fact, she is more cooperative than you are because I never have to worry about her commitments. When she says 'Yes,' she doesn't mean 'Perhaps' or 'No.'"

  • "I think you are being unfair."

  • "Do you really? That's odd. Even now I'm not sure if I should believe you."

Panda Dad

Living in a Beijing housing compound, I watched Western and African kids running through the streets in roving packs of fun-seekers while their Chinese friends looked dolefully out the window in the midst of long hours spent practicing violin, piano or character-writing. When they were done, they unwound by picking up video game consoles. It looked like a sad, lonesome way to grow up and nothing I would ever prescribe to my children. And of course it’s not the only style of Chinese parenting. I saw plenty of kids smashing these same stereotypes. [Read the rest of Alan Paul's article here.]

"I Am Epic Win."

Much well-deserved praise for the Direct TV ads. The attention to detail is impeccable.


At Anderson Layman's Blog: Something for your local anarchist.

Keeping at It

Aside from having the wrong goal, organizational structure, and people, they were well-suited for the job. They all talked about how hard they worked and, if someone put in a lot of time on a project, that person was praised, although little was ever said about results. Results were a vague something, out there in the distance and were to be achieved one day when the proper funding arrived or when, as they often said, the market turned. They were sensitive to any criticism; regarding it as a lack of appreciation for all of their efforts. If you asked them to describe their workplace, you would hear the same word: Dynamic.

Quote of the Day

Alexander Woolcott: There is absolutely nothing wrong with Oscar Levant that a miracle couldn't fix.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Music Break: Plant with Dylan

The Hammock Papers has Robert Plant with "Girl From The North Country."

Miscellaneous and Fast

The Man's a Rail

As I write this, tomorrow is Tuesday, which is a cardio day. I'll spend five minutes warming up on the VersaClimber, a towering machine that requires you to move your arms and legs simultaneously. Then I'll do 30 minutes on a stair mill. On Wednesday a personal trainer will work me like a farm animal for an hour, sometimes to the point that I am dizzy — an abuse for which I pay as much as I spend on groceries in a week. Thursday is "body wedge" class, which involves another exercise contraption, this one a large foam wedge from which I will push myself up in various hateful ways for an hour. Friday will bring a 5.5-mile run, the extra half-mile my grueling expiation of any gastronomical indulgences during the week.

Read all of John Cloud's TIME magazine article here. [HT: Instapundit]

Your Next Sport

Call me Rocky: Extreme base jumping in squirrel suits. Amazing.


Meaning instead of words.

Action instead of activity.

Purpose instead of drift.

Focus instead of diversion.

Humility instead of pride.

Honesty instead of maneuver.

Mission instead of turf.

Accountability instead of blame.

Team instead of faction.

Xanadu on Wheels

“Mongolians love their freedom, and greatly enjoy excursions into the varied natural surroundings of their high-altitude homeland,” Daimler said in a press release. “The two friends use their unique jumbo off-roaders for multi-day excursions into the Altai mountains, for example, where they hunt for wolves with an eagle.”

Hunting wolves with an eagle. And here we thought a good day of hunting involved a duck blind, an orange vest and a spill-proof coffee mug on the dash of a ‘79 Ford F-150.

Read the rest here.

Quote of the Day

No one has a finer command of language than the person who keeps his mouth shut. - Sam Rayburn

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Move to Self-Publishing

Author Joe Konrath on the switch to self-publishing. An excerpt:

Part of the problem is precedent. For over a hundred years, authors had no choice but to deal with publishers. Publishers had all of the power, and they've taken it for granted that they always will. Now the balance of power has truly shifted, but rather than realize their ENTIRE product line comes from artists, publishers instead continue to treat them in the same old way, and expect them to be grateful for the attention.

That won't fly anymore.

The Game Is Not Afoot, But It Is On

On the recommendation of Cultural Offering, I bought the first season of "Sherlock." Very nicely done. ["I'm a highly functioning sociopath. Do your research."]

Talking: Mind the Gap

Talking, of course, is not always about telling someone something. Many times, it involves not telling something or telling only part of something or merely going through the motions of telling something. It may be solely for the talker's benefit and the audience is slightly more important than a chair but at least by being there, the audience - which doesn't have to listen - gives the talker an excuse to talk.

A great deal of talk involves the control of behavior; sort of a verbal pinball where if you say this, then he or she will respond with that. What you said was not meant to achieve anything but a desirable reaction.

Ethicists note that lying is a way of gaining control over another person. Talking certainly lacks lying's inherent ethical problem but it, along with communication in general, can be hugely manipulative. The trial attorney who asks questions of a hostile witness from various points in the courtroom hopes the jury will see a witness whose darting eyes signal deception. A certain level of deception is regarded by many as acceptable within that context. Juror beware.

Communication scholars say that we cannot not communicate. The message is far from a simple note. Often it is meant to influence and not to reveal. How it was said is important. Why it was said is key.

Quote of the Day

Accomplishing the impossible only means that the boss will add it to your regular duties.

- Doug Larson

Friday, March 25, 2011

"The Wonderful Life of Not Expecting"

Dr. Ichak Adizes on the wisdom of dropping your expectations:

Now, imagine that you are able to stop yourself from expecting and even stop wanting. You are aware of what you need but you do not expect it nor do you make a scene how much you want it. Instead, you just relax and enjoy the scenery. And if a hotel should happen to appear along the road, what a wonderful surprise for you to enjoy! You are like a child who receives an unexpected gift: What a wonderful life, full of surprises!

Happy Belated Birthday to Wally Bock!

Management consultant, blogger, and author Wally Bock turned 65 the other day. He looks back with some worthy reflections (his reflections are always worthy) laced with humor:

...The day before I spent some time at the local DMV where they asked me things I don't remember being asked before. "Is there any reason that you're not fit enough to drive?" was one question. My favorite was "What medications are you taking?" Note that the examiner didn't ask me if I took any medications.

The Craftsman

Staring out the window of my office, I can see a bricklayer at work on a wall.

What is it about bricklaying that makes it so fascinating?

Bear Down Arizona

As a University of Arizona alum, I would be remiss if I didn't post an item on yesterday's win over Duke and link to a famous person singing the school song.

"All 42 of her books have been best sellers."

Here are some things you'll never find in a Mary Higgins Clark novel: an unmarried couple living together, a curse word, a body hacked to pieces. By today's standards, Ms. Clark's thrillers are quaint throwbacks, more in the Agatha Christie mold than the blood-curdling, titillating fare produced by best-selling writers such as James Patterson and Stieg Larsson.

Read the rest of The Wall Street Journal article.

Time Wasters

Let us not waste time...
  • designing rules to control people who do not respect rules;

  • sending a memo to all when we really mean it for one;

  • investigating which person in a dispute is more to blame when it is evident that the relationship itself is dysfunctional;

  • giving motivational pep talks in-between highly demoralizing behavior;

  • applying convenient labels that permit us to cease thinking;

  • talking when we'd learn more by listening; and

  • acting so we can say we acted when in reality we have done nothing of substance.

You Know You Want One

Details here.

Favorite Film About Business

What is your favorite film about business?

Wall Street?


Not many serious contenders come to mind. My choice, of course, is this one.

Quote of the Day

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart.

- Helen Keller

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Robot Option

Imagine this scenario: Technology permits businesses to create robots that are exact duplicates of your employees. These robots can be operated via remote control so the employees need not be present to do the job. There is another "benefit": Each robot has a built-in filter that blocks bad attitudes as well as any inappropriate language or actions. This does not prevent stupid decisions, but it screens out the type of conduct that may lead to hurt feelings or lawsuits.

The robots would seem human, but only up to a point.

Would you want the robots or the people?

Lessons about Control

Michael P. Maslanka gets guidance from Marcus Aurelius on how to deal with unpleasant lawyers but the lesson has broader application.

When Men Wore Hats

From a 2009 post of The Bespoken: For Gentlemen:

... I love old movies, and my eyes sometimes linger on the crowd scenes where every man, wealthy or poor, is wearing a hat, every woman too. It is quaint. It is almost hard to imagine that society was ordered in that way. Wearing a hat was as commonly prescribed like sedatives are today. I find it fascinating that gentleman in old time movies courtly remove their hat whenever a lady comes into a room, back in the days when women were ladies, like it or not.


Some instant "toy" nostalgia at Anderson Layman's Blog.


A niche has a coziness that is very appealing. Keep your eyes straight ahead. Don't deviate from the path. Maintain your focus. Marketing experts often write of finding your niche and establishing your beachhead before you even think of moving further into the wider plains, if at all.

I won't dispute their wisdom.

The difficulty is that a niche can require a certain level of broader knowledge. Few specialties are immune from forces that come from far outside of their boundaries. As a management consultant, I've obtained extremely valuable information by studying history, government, philosophy, economics, drama, and psychology, just to name a few seemingly "outside" areas. That broader knowledge provides perspective while feeding a healthy skepticism about the current management fads.

As with so much of life, the choice can be "both/and" rather than simply "either/or." Knowing what else is out there can improve one's focus.

Quote of the Day

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

- E. B. White

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Nicely Done

Art Contrarian looks at the art of Michael Carson and Beverly Wilson. The Carson painting shown above indicates that he may know some bloggers.

Madness Break

A fast-paced Rick Liss film of New York City in 1983.

I don't think this was used by the Chamber of Commerce.

Who Uses Zynga?

Fast Company looks at users of Mafia Wars, FarmVille, CityVille, and others.

I have played none of them but hear they are addictive.

What's next? GeekVille? TenuredProfessorVille? [GeekVille sounds promising.]

The Listener

Let me listen to the music of your management decisions and I'll tell you if I hear a wrong note.

That's good.
Very nice.
Well done.
Wait a minute.
Please describe that last one again.
What was your purpose in taking that approach?

Elizabeth Taylor, R.I.P.

Worth many looks: Taylor and Burton.

When People Screw Up

Think of the times in your career when an executive, manager or employee just flat-out screwed up.

It was probably due to a failure to execute the basics. Seldom are such blunders the result of botching the terribly complicated.

"All I ask," people moan, "is for this person to [pick one: a: simply do his job; b: treat others will basic courtesy; c: show up on time; d: meet reasonable deadlines; e: stop making sarcastic remarks; f: do what she says she will do."]

You can easily add others. Perhaps when we measure job applicants on their desire for success, we should also measure their desire for failure.

Quote of the Day

If you're not in it to win, get the hell out.

- Ed Snider

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Instant Afghanistan

Last night, as I was pulling into my driveway, I heard journalist/novelist Alex Berenson being interviewed about Afghanistan and his new nonfiction e-article "Lost in Kandahar."

Carry briefcase and laptop into house. Click, I have it within seconds.

It was an interesting interview, but the price was the final nudge.

The Thank You Economy

Matthew E. May reviews The Thank You Economy.

Be sure to read the part about Zagat and Yelp.

Report for Client

I'm finalizing a report today on a management study for a client. This is the stage where the conclusions are reviewed, then challenged. Always most suspect: My favorite lines. When you are too close to something, it can be hard to see the flaws. Another thing to watch for, serving rocky road when they want vanilla. Consultants, like architects, can fall in love with their creativity and forget that people need to live with their work.

Quote of the Day

The inability to forget is infinitely more devastating than the inability to remember.

- Mark Twain

Monday, March 21, 2011

Naples: Gracious and Civilized

The outward appearance of the city of Naples is not welcoming. Trash is everywhere, piled high on the sidewalks and street corners even of fashionable districts, such as Santa Lucia. (Supposedly the result of a labor and environmental dispute, the garbage crisis is really the work of the Camorra, the Neapolitan mob.) Seemingly abandoned digs and construction projects dot the landscape. Stray dogs rule the town. Rusted junk lines all the larger roads. There seems to be no surface within reach of a human arm free of graffiti. Even the ancient buildings in nearby Herculaneum—preserved miraculously intact by Vesuvius ash in ad 79—are covered with “scratchiti,” the form of defacement invented by New York City punks when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority learned how to defeat the spray can.

Read the rest of Michael Anton's City Journal love letter to Naples.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Business Week: Business majors charged higher tuition.
Groovy Green: How to grow a shower sponge.
Classic Alka Seltzer commercial.
Moll Flanders:
The trailer.
Victor Davis Hanson: The fragility of complex societies.
National Geographic: Earthquakes 101.
Fascinating Civil War account:
Three Months in the Southern States.

Quote of the Day

A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.

- Steve Martin

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Computer Woes

The hammer has not worked nor has spreading Vicks VapoRub on the keyboard. Computer wizard to review machine on Monday.

Bear with me.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Beatles Slide Show

From Vanity Fair: A slide show of The Beatles on tour.

The Disappearing Phone Call

Phone calls are rude. Intrusive. Awkward. “Thank you for noticing something that millions of people have failed to notice since the invention of the telephone until just now,” Judith Martin, a k a Miss Manners, said by way of opening our phone conversation. “I’ve been hammering away at this for decades. The telephone has a very rude propensity to interrupt people.”

Read the rest of the story here.

[HT: Althouse]


Any others?

Border Tale: Note from a Friend

An expert on border history, he sent a photo of a grave.

Sadness. Back when Apache warriors divided their attacks between southern Arizona and Mexico, a young Mexican boy was sent from an isolated Arizona ranch to buy a saddle in a nearby town. He was intercepted by a raiding party and killed. The rancher ordered that the boy be buried where his body was found, perhaps as a warning..

Beauty. The grave is under some mesquite trees in a lonely spot that looks like a breeding ground for rattlesnakes. For well over 125 years, the descendents of the ranch foreman have continued to maintain the boy's final resting place.

Quote of the Day

Brain: An apparatus with which we think we think.

- Ambrose Bierce

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tell Those Lions to Keep It Down

I suspect that for many, it is impossible to hear this song and not think BBC World Service.

This Could Solve More Than One Problem

More on that secret envoy to Libya.

Who Ruined the Washing Machine?

It might not have been the most stylish, but for decades the top-loading laundry machine was the most affordable and dependable. Now it's ruined—and Americans have politics to thank.

In 1996, top-loaders were pretty much the only type of washer around, and they were uniformly high quality. When Consumer Reports tested 18 models, 13 were "excellent" and five were "very good." By 2007, though, not one was excellent and seven out of 21 were "fair" or "poor." This month came the death knell: Consumer Reports simply dismissed all conventional top-loaders as "often mediocre or worse."

Read the rest of The Wall Street Journal article here.

Entertainment Break

Welles and Dietrich: Movie magic.

"I Thought They Were Handling That"

Some reasons why projects fall between the cracks:

Terminology. People are odd about this. They think that the Marketing Department is supposed to handle, well, marketing and that the IT people have an internal monopoly on IT stuff. When there are exceptions that are not broadly communicated, then things get lost, even by members of those departments.

Blurred Lines of Responsibility. This is the easy one. Blurs create conflict and miscommunication.

Poor or No Follow-Up. If we all discussed it and reached agreement, that means it is magically done. Right?

Sabotage. Someone wanted the project to fall between the cracks. It is tempting to believe that this is the reason. Tempting, but seldom accurate.

Turn-over. Ed forgot to tell his successor about the project while he was packing his bags for retirement in Tahiti.

Differing Priorities. The project only seems to have fallen between the cracks. It was placed there for safe-keeping and will be retrieved after other priorities have been addressed.

Loose Language. When you said that we would handle it, I thought you were using the royal we.


Some computer problems today. If this note is posted, that is a good sign.

Quote of the Day

If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna.

- Napoleon

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sex and Academic Freedom at Northwestern

The professor, J. Michael Bailey, is a man with a reputation for specializing in the outrĂ©. (Northwestern ought perhaps to consider itself fortunate that he didn’t teach a course in Aztec history, or he might have offered a demonstration of human sacrifice.) The word got out about the demonstration he had arranged, journalists quickly got on the case, and Northwestern found itself hugely embarrassed, its officials concerned lest parents think it was offering, at roughly $45,000 a year, the educational equivalent of a stag party.

Read the rest of Joseph Epstein's article here.

Amanda Hocking and the New World of Publishing

The story of Amanda Hocking continues to inspire legions of struggling authors.

I just applied one of its principles to the price of the e-version of my book on tact in the workplace (All I Said Was).

Of course, since my book doesn't have any vampires, the results might be a tad skewed.

Quote of the Day

According to an email I just got, I am currently the president of Egypt.

- Dave Barry

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


The late Michael Crichton talking about the new religion.


No comment:

"Bay area sushi bars face daunting supply shortages"

Bock: Thin Watches and the Donner Party

The day before I was to take over the new center, my boss took me to dinner. He used the occasion to tell me his "secrets of success." As I remember it, he credited his successful career to wearing patent leather shoes and having a thin watch. He'd gotten that advice from some "how to succeed" article. He shared it with me so I would know how smart he was.

Read the rest of Wally Bock's post here.

Twitter Has a Birthday

Put down those power tools, gather around, and read the riveting story of the first Tweet.

Quote of the Day

You know what I really need? A badge. A stinking badge.

- Norm MacDonald

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Timely Articles from Scientific American

Hacker in Times Square


Watch this brief video at Eclecticity.

Snow Day

Stanley Bing ponders whether to brave the weather and go to work:

And let's consider the macho factor. The jungle we work in is run by big, tough gorillas with hair on their knuckles. They are not bothered by a little snow. "When I was a boy in Chicago," Bob will say, "we used to walk to school in snow up to our belly buttons." Of course, belly buttons were lower then, but that's beside the point. These days people freak out a lot worse than they used to about a little bit of snow. London twisted its knickers for a week this year over less than six inches of the stuff. Washington and Baltimore run around screaming like little girls every time they get a light dusting. Do I want to be one of those weenies? I think not!

Poems in Obscure Bookshops

His shop was a curious illustration of Malthusian theory, for he sold books (if at all) arithmetically, but bought them geometrically. As far as I could tell, he also bought indiscriminately; he put his new purchases in flat cardboard boxes of the kind used for peaches and kiwi fruit, and piled them up dangerously between the shelves so that most of them became inaccessible, or accessible only at the risk of being crushed by a falling pile of such boxes. He said what was obviously true, that one day he would have to arrange the books, but there was no shelf-space on which to do so—it was already taken up with pre-existing stock. Besides, he was out most of the time, searching for more books, leaving the shop to a woman assistant who quite clearly had no interest in books, reading, or customers and could not or would not understand that browsers are put off by the bright shining drivel of popular radio played at high volume; when I asked her once to turn it off, she said with the asperity of incipient martyrdom, “I’m here all day on my own.”

Read the rest of Anthony Daniels here.

Courage, Strength, and Freedom

Writing in First Things, Anthony Esolen on restoring the village. An excerpt:

It is not just that the people of Wakefield are in a better position than are the king’s flunkies to determine how their children should be brought up, which men should be constables, and whether stocks or whipping posts better deter disorderly behavior. It is that, if the king or anybody else should take from them the authority to do such things, such usurpation would violate man’s nature. These were the people’s decisions to make. Your nanny might be the best shoelacer in the world, but as long as she ties your laces for you, you are a child, and not a man.

Layman: Sales 101

One of the many reasons for visiting Anderson Layman's Blog is you find stuff like this. [Be sure to watch the video.]

Quote of the Day

I get mail; therefore I am.

- Scott Adams

Monday, March 14, 2011

"Our Town"

The rather haunting song by Iris DeMent.

Hurray for Amazon

I remember when a friend of mine first told me about shopping on Amazon.

"I don't know if I'd like that," I said. "I really like browsing in bookstores and finding books that I might not normally buy. There's something about the whole browsing experience."

"Try it," she said. "You'll be surprised." She had a sly smile.

It didn't take long for me to be thoroughly hooked. One click and the book was on its way! And I really liked the gutsy way that they published bad reviews of their products. A new form of browsing had begun.

Amazon is one company that has never disappointed me. The one time I had a customer service problem, they handled it promptly, professionally, and with a sense of style. I cannot think of a company that has done a better job of earning my loyalty.

What is their appeal to book-lovers? I think they realized that book-lovers want to buy books and yet often have a reluctance to do so because of the cost or the fact that serious readers always have an unread stack awaiting their attention. They became a friend who whispers, "Don't listen to those nay-sayers. Click here and I'll find that book at a decent price and smuggle it to you while you are doing other things."

Just the thing for those of us who like mysteries.

Technology Self-Assessment

Computer? IBM ThinkPad.
Google? Frequently.
iPad? I'm just waiting for the price to drop.
Blog? You're reading it.
Fax? Only because I like unsolicited t-shirt and insurance ads.
Kindle? Love it (and yes, I still buy a lot of "regular" books).
iPhone? Nope.
BlackBerry? Tempting.
Calendar/Appointment book? A paper one using the Levenger Circa system.
GPS? I'm more of a Rand-McNally guy.
iPod? No.
YouTube? Marvelous.
Facebook? Just barely and thinking of leaving.
LinkedIn? Yes. Remind me to think of why.
Twitter? Yes, but few tweets.
Groupon? Yes.
Netflix? No, but it's appealing.
Second Life? Not yet.

The Limits of Self-Sacrifice

We've all heard of people who have a way of putting themselves first. They always look out for #1. The interests of others are only considered if it happens to be convenient or if there is some benefit for you-know-who.

I may be far too optimistic, but my guess is that those selfish souls are far out-numbered by people who are so selfless and generous, they have to be reminded to consider themselves. These people are self-sacrificing in the best and, yes, the worst aspects. Their dedication and ideals may become self-inflicted wounds.

There has to be a middle ground between being a selfish jerk and being a selfless martyr. The trick is deciding just where that ground is located. My suggestion is that this become a topic for discussion at company retreats and meetings. Many a martyr may believe that such conduct is the only ethical course of action. If that belief is left unchecked, we can lose a lot of good people.

The Duo

Back by popular demand: "The Blues Man."

Quote of the Day

The creative adult is the child who has survived.

- Ursula K. Le Guin

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japan: Before and After

Chilling. At The New York Times, a gallery of satellite photos of the disaster in Japan. You move the slider and see the before and after shots.

[HT: Ann Althouse]

Japan After the Tsunami

Der Spiegel has a photo gallery.

So does The Guardian as well as many other papers. Extraordinary shots.

Ads That Are Novels: Angel

Instant classic: Direct TV's the reading of the will.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

When the Boundaries Shift

The sad and scary story from Japan is another of the periodic brutal reminders of the fine line between civilization and a very different life. We like optimism and the view that the coming decade will always be better than its predecessor. Life, however, gives few guarantees.

Few of us make preparations for disasters beyond purchasing health and life insurance. When we hear of families who store back-up supplies of food, the tendency is to acknowledge the wisdom of the practice in the same casual way we might acknowledge the wisdom of daily exercise and fiber. The Japan story, of course, cuts both ways since in many cases such preparation would have been worthless. You can't plan for everything, we reason, so we'll plan for as little as possible.

In recent conversations, however, I've noticed a slight shift in tone. The mockery that almost immediately surfaced whenever survival preparations were mentioned is no longer there. People are not at the point of digging shelters, of course, but the idea of some extra precautions is not as wild as it once seemed. What do you do if, due to nature or man, the boundaries of everyday life dramatically shift?

English Folk Song Suite

A bit of the English Folk Song Suite by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Makes me want to enlist in the Royal Navy.

Saturday Morning

Reviewing paperwork. Taking notes on some strategies. Preparing a synopsis on a management project. The Wall Street Journal is waiting. Coffee. A quick glance at the news from Japan. Soundtrack to "True Grit" playing. Answering email. Haircut appointment. Introspection. Checking the Spring Training schedule. Reading. Reviewing the past week: What went well and what went not-so-well. Planning the coming week. Life.

Quote of the Day

Far too many leaders believe that what they do and why they do it must be obvious to everyone in the organization. It never is. Far too many believe that when they announce things, everyone understands. No one does, as a rule.

- Peter F. Drucker

Friday, March 11, 2011

News You Can Use

The Telegraph: All you need to recreate the Royal wedding in wool.

Music for Friday

Marvelous: Offenbach with "Baccarolle" from "The Tales of Hoffman."

Japan Hit

The BBC has some extraordinary footage of the disaster in Japan.

Over Coffee

As we look over what we do, we need to consider:

  • Whether we have the same goal;

  • Where our efforts are supportive and where they may collide;

  • Whether we have the same core operating values;

  • Which information needs to be shared;

  • Which information might not be shared;

  • Our common barriers and frustrations;

  • Problems unique to our respective areas, but which the other should know about;

  • How we should handle disagreements;

  • What we hope the other person will do; and

  • What we hope the other person won't do.

Quote of the Day

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

- Stephen R. Covey

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Different Styles

  • Jack likes oral reports and sighs whenever he sees a stack of mandatory reading.
  • Mary gets uneasy with oral reports and relaxes as soon as a proposal is reduced to writing.
  • Jack wants to move quickly and iron out any problems along the way.
  • Mary wants all of the contingencies to be analyzed before proceeding with any major project.
  • Jack is comfortable with vagueness and uncertainty because he believes that trusting relationships are the safety net and that even the best agreement will encounter unforeseen circumstances.
  • Mary wants specifics and regards ambiguity as fertile ground for misunderstanding and conflict.
  • Jack likes a low-to-medium level of conflict.
  • Mary regards conflict as a sign that someone is behaving improperly.
  • Both have solid records of achievement.
  • Jack and Mary have just been assigned to negotiate an agreement with an outside organization.
  • Things are about to get interesting.

Alert Narnia and Middle Earth: Journal Launched

For Lewis and Tolkien fans: The Journal of Inklings Studies.

Academic Envy

I wish I were in this class taught by The Cranky Professor.

And check out some of his photos.

Good Ideas: Don't Consider the Source

I am surprised by people who will resist an idea solely because it wasn't their own. There can be a sort of mindless solidarity in which they label anything from outside their tent - be it outside themselves, their team or their department - as suspect.

Let's take it to an extreme. Who cares if the most obnoxious toad in the room came up with the idea so long as it is a good idea?

But, the idea-blockers sometimes reply, if we adopt that person's proposal, then he or she will gain in status or strength and we can't have that. My answer is: Go fight your turf wars somewhere else. Adopting the other person's good idea associates you with the good idea and it puts the emphasis on doing a good job.

As for the toads, not all brilliant people are pleasant. If the individual is going to be around anyway, you should at least benefit from the experience. Ignore the croaks. Snag the insight.

Quote of the Day

When I was a boy the Dead Sea was only sick.

- George Burns

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Style and Understatement

From "The Third Man": One of the greatest scenes in film history.

What Managers Will Say

Get some experienced managers together in a room, ask for the advice they would give new managers, and it is likely that you will hear at least some of the following:

  1. "Confront your problem employee. Don't think that the person will magically reform or that you even know all of the bad stuff that's going on. Organize your thoughts and then get with the person. Pronto. And be prepared to focus on specific performance issues and not personality."

  2. "Get to know all of your direct reports. Don't just accept the image that they try to present in staff meetings. Get to know their strengths and weaknesses and what they may do that drives their employees crazy."

  3. "Try to get out of the way of your employees. This doesn't mean to become disengaged. It means that you should avoid being a barrier. Don't make it harder for them to do their jobs."

  4. "Make reversible decisions quickly and irreversible ones slowly."

  5. "Be sensitive to timing. The proposal that will sink like a rock today will be hailed as brilliant in two months."

  6. "Get a trustworthy and knowledgeable person to whom you can talk about your leadership and management challenges. Don't walk through the valley by yourself."

  7. "Lead by example. It's tried and true and it builds trust."

  8. "If you can't trust someone, why is that person still around?"

  9. "Don't act like a jerk. People have enough to worry about in their lives without you adding to the list."

  10. "Delegate. You can't do it all and delegation develops people."

  11. "Be accessible but don't hand over your schedule to others. Give yourself time for undisturbed thought."

  12. "Focus. Have a core goal and try to link as much as possible to the achievement of that goal. Beware of attractive detours."

  13. "Learn to say no. You will meet some very nice people who will want some things they should not have or will propose some projects you should not touch."

  14. "Hire cautiously. It is one of your most important decisions and few things in business are as painful as a bad hiring decision."

  15. "Listen for what is not being said."

  16. "Beware of complicated plans. They seldom work."

  17. "Creativity is great, but keep reviewing and executing the basics. They aren't called the 'basics' because they are just sort of nice to have."

Tweet Discretion

A helpful list of 11 things your tweeps don't need to know.

[Remember the Kissinger line that even paranoiacs have enemies?]

[HT: FutureLawyer]

An Important Presentation is Coming

And I need to ...
  • Review my theme
  • Touch base with supporters
  • Rethink any visuals
  • Consider the counter-arguments
  • Simplify
  • Recheck the figures
  • Have supporting material nearby
  • Talk with the neutrals
  • Put myself in the shoes of the audience
  • Be ready to address risks and resources
  • Know the precedents
  • Know the relevant rules
  • Arrange the room to achieve the right effect
  • Adopt the appropriate tone
  • Be ready to listen
  • Inject some magic
  • Clarify
  • Enjoy the moment

Quote of the Day

If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant's life, she will choose to save the infant's life without even considering if there is a man on base.

- Dave Barry

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Miscellaneous and Fast

Bear Grylls: Survival skills.
Smart or not? Jennifer Aniston's sex tape?
Slideshow: Subway cars meet ocean.
Clothing: Why blend in with the crowd?
New blog: Silent Film Chronicle.
Gordon Lightfoot: "Sundown."
Michael Lewis on A Confederacy of Dunces.
Michael Josephson on creating a culture of kindness.
Jonathan Swift: "A Description of Morning."

"I save lives."

Take a few minutes today and read Tanmay Vora on employee engagement.

Niche Market Film

The trailer for The Adjustment Bureau.

It looks interesting. I plan to see it. [If they'll let me.]

Bock: Marvin Bower

Bower also understood that it was important to define principles. McKinsey consultants were always to put the client's interests ahead of the firm's. That meant speaking the truth even when it might cost the firm an engagement. McKinsey would only do work that was necessary and that the firm could do well. That sometimes meant turning down work that was lucrative. Over the years those principles set McKinsey apart.

Read the rest of Wally Bock here.

The Winnowing Process

George F. Will summarizes the GOP presidential field:

Let us not mince words. There are at most five plausible Republican presidents on the horizon - Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Utah governor and departing ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, former Massachusetts governor Romney and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.

The Mysterious Bruce Chatwin

"Say almost anything of Bruce Chatwin and the opposite is also true.” So determined his official biographer Nicholas Shakespeare, who spent eight years piecing together the endless dualities in the life of this highly secretive writer. Chatwin was both the prodigal son (read, young man in a hurry) and the wandering Jew (another classic English case of the Bolter)—a charming companion yet selfish in the extreme. An aesthete with a great gift for understanding and appreciating art, he survived financially throughout most of his life by the grubbiest of commercial dealings. A talker of epic volubility, he took up the most lonely and silent of occupations. A disciplined writer of hard-earned sentences and rhythm, he was equally capable of a senseless laziness that marred a work. He wrote three great books and followed the first two up with an impossibly poor one—the pendulum then swinging right back. A man who unquestionably loved his wife, he cheated on her (with men and women) as often as possible. Known entirely as a travel writer, he never actually wrote a travel book.

Read the rest of Robert Messenger's article here.

Quote of the Day

Four-fifths of all our troubles would disappear, if we would only sit down and keep still.

- Calvin Coolidge

Monday, March 07, 2011

Not Just M.A.S.H.: Wayne Rogers Makes His Own Rules

You can hear the voice of Wayne Rogers while reading his book, "Make Your Own Rules: A Renegade Guide to Unconventional Success."

Although Wayne Rogers is better known nowadays for his appearances as a panelist on the Fox Business Channel, once upon a time he was involved with a little TV series called "M.A.S.H." A Princeton grad, Rogers has been a serial investor and entrepreneur so his smarts extend beyond drinking home brew in The Swamp. I confess to being highly biased in his favor when, early in the book, he notes:

"I have never read a business book; therefore, this will not be a conventional business book. I often see 'how-to' manuals for every type of business and books on how to 'win' in business. I have no interest in telling you what you should or should not do or in giving you lessons about how to get involved in a business, start a business, or run a business. I have no step-by-step plan for success or surefire tips to becoming a millionaire."

He goes on to say that the book will only say what worked and didn't work for him and why.

So what do you learn? Precisely that. Rogers's book is an informal business memoir of his real estate and development deals; the sort of account that you might hear if you'd played golf with him and he decided to tell some business tales. [I thought his metaphor of a tray of food to describe derivatives was rather nifty.]

Although an important part of his message is that he was able to use his creative side in his business ventures, the book is more a story of a man who performs three basics very well: He picks extraordinary associates, he does his homework, and he always has an eye open for opportunity.

To his credit, Wayne Rogers uses "we" far more than "I." He tells how his teams were able to achieve success in a variety of businesses, ranging from vineyards to bridal shops. I found it refreshing that he didn't try to peddle a magic formula. He clearly acknowledges that the elements don't always work and that business can be more poetry than prose.

Readers who are looking for a bunch of show biz anecdotes will be disappointed. The main character of this book is the entrepreneur. If you are in business, you know that is dramatic enough. An enjoyable read. Check it out.


Check out this video. Fascinating and spooky at the same time.

Beating the System: A Thought

It would be nice if organizations spent as much time figuring out how to help the employees who have concluded that the system must be beaten in order to do a good job as they do trying to thwart those who want to beat the system in order to do a poor one.

Bach Enthusiast

Cultural Offering: The man never rests in his search for fine performances of Bach.

The Origins of the HOV Lane

A rather interesting account, going back to Joan Didion and The White Album. An excerpt:

Well, for starters, Caltrans leaned on the municipal engineer of L.A.’s surface streets. They didn’t have jurisdiction over these local roads, so they wanted him to create a “confused and congested situation” (their words) on the surface roads so that drivers would be forced onto the gridlocked freeways. And Caltrans knew that the freeways would be gridlocked, because that’s the way they wanted them.

Your Personal Inventory

If you conducted a personal inventory, would you conclude that you have too much or too little?

How would your balance sheet look between insight or theory? Serious goals or wishful thinking? Creativity or a continuing attention deficit?

Do you have a home or a place? Family or relatives? Friends or acquantances?

Is your day characterized by action or activities? Are you focused or obsessed? Do your views create perspective or a prison? Have your achievements brought pride or doubt?

Finally, have you gained wisdom or simply a store of knowledge?

Quote of the Day

Success is simply a matter of luck. Ask any failure.

- Earl Wilson

Sunday, March 06, 2011