Thursday, March 31, 2011
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?
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.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
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.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
- "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."
Monday, March 28, 2011
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]
“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.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Saturday, March 26, 2011
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.
Friday, March 25, 2011
...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.
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.
- 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.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
The robots would seem human, but only up to a point.
Would you want the robots or the people?
... 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.
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.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
I have played none of them but hear they are addictive.
What's next? GeekVille? TenuredProfessorVille? [GeekVille sounds promising.]
Wait a minute.
Please describe that last one again.
What was your purpose in taking that approach?
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.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Carry briefcase and laptop into house. Click, I have it within seconds.
It was an interesting interview, but the price was the final nudge.
Monday, March 21, 2011
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.
Groovy Green: How to grow a shower sponge.
Meatball: 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.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Saturday, March 19, 2011
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.”
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.
Friday, March 18, 2011
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.
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.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
The professor, J. Michael Bailey, is a man with a reputation for specializing in the outré. (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.
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.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
"Bay area sushi bars face daunting supply shortages"
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.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
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!
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.
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.
Monday, March 14, 2011
"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.
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).
Calendar/Appointment book? A paper one using the Levenger Circa system.
GPS? I'm more of a Rand-McNally guy.
Facebook? Just barely and thinking of leaving.
LinkedIn? Yes. Remind me to think of why.
Twitter? Yes, but few tweets.
Netflix? No, but it's appealing.
Second Life? Not yet.
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.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Saturday, March 12, 2011
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?
Friday, March 11, 2011
- 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.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
- 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.
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.
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
- "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."
- "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."
- "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."
- "Make reversible decisions quickly and irreversible ones slowly."
- "Be sensitive to timing. The proposal that will sink like a rock today will be hailed as brilliant in two months."
- "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."
- "Lead by example. It's tried and true and it builds trust."
- "If you can't trust someone, why is that person still around?"
- "Don't act like a jerk. People have enough to worry about in their lives without you adding to the list."
- "Delegate. You can't do it all and delegation develops people."
- "Be accessible but don't hand over your schedule to others. Give yourself time for undisturbed thought."
- "Focus. Have a core goal and try to link as much as possible to the achievement of that goal. Beware of attractive detours."
- "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."
- "Hire cautiously. It is one of your most important decisions and few things in business are as painful as a bad hiring decision."
- "Listen for what is not being said."
- "Beware of complicated plans. They seldom work."
- "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."
- Review my theme
- Touch base with supporters
- Rethink any visuals
- Consider the counter-arguments
- 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
- Enjoy the moment
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
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."
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.
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.
"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.
Monday, March 07, 2011
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.
Sunday, March 06, 2011
Saturday, March 05, 2011
Friday, March 04, 2011
Like Napoleon, he had made his army on the march. He had walked in front of his mob of aggressive characters as Napoleon did in front of the half-baked battalions of the Revolution. And, like Napoleon, he won battle after battle before he knew his own plan of campaign; like Napoleon, he put the enemies' forces to rout before he had put his own force into order. Like Napoleon, he had a victorious army almost before he had an army. After his decisive victories Napoleon began to put his house in order; after his decisive victories Dickens also began to put his house in order. The house, when he had put it in order, was Bleak House.