Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Hard Way

I once reviewed the practices of an organization that seemed dedicated to doing things the hard way. They didn't think they were choosing that path, but they were. Simpler approaches were either not identified or were dismissed out of hand. They believed the hard slog was the only option and when things didn't work out, they slogged all the harder. It was a perversion of the work ethic.

They had to be persuaded to think, for want of a better description, like a lazy person. Consider your current situation. How could you achieve your goals with the least amount of effort? Make a list. Include the silly as well as the remotely plausible. Pretend that it's a contest to find an approach that looks promising. You may find that you have been struggling through sand and mud right next to a sidewalk.

Quote of the Day

Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.

- Benjamin Disraeli

Friday, April 29, 2011

Swing Away

Cultural Offering likes hackers. (The baseball kind, that is.)

The Business Card

A historian, now retired and writing books, gave me his business card. It has the usual information alongside a small cartoon of him.

I have a group of cards from several people. All of those are quite formal. Which card do you think I can spot from across the room? Which card immediately told me more about its owner?

Learning the Ropes

I once knew a person who said that a great turning point in his study of a foreign language came when he stopped resisting the pronunciation and rules and accepted them as a given. He knew that sounds strange and foolish and yet he had been seriously trying to learn the language on his own terms and not the terms of those who speak it.

The organization that has an A through M through G process is not going to smile on attempts to go from A directly to G, even if such a course of action has benefits. Those of us who are impatient learn to adjust in order to be effective. If we are especially talented, we may discover ways to expedit the journey through the established pattern, but it will be a rare day when we can change the pattern itself. Basing a strategy on an exception to the rules is seldom a sound move.

Quote of the Day

Meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything.

- John Kenneth Galbraith

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Which is more beneficial to a career: being overestimated by your friends or underestimated by your enemies?

Street Smarts

Possessing the ability to:

  1. Think at least three moves ahead;

  2. Separate theory from practice;

  3. Smell a rat;

  4. Know when someone is blowing smoke;

  5. Ask important questions;

  6. Spot the levers of power;

  7. Pick the right battles;

  8. Read people;

  9. Look beneath the surface; and

  10. Control the ego.

Clear-Eyed Optimism?

French philosopher Andre Glucksmann on the end of fatalism:

“Revolution” and “freedom” don’t always mean democracy, respect for minorities, sexual equality, and good relations with neighbors. Such goods are gained as part of an ongoing struggle. Let us welcome the Arab revolutions, for they shatter the fatalists’ illusions. But let us not flatter them or delude ourselves: great risks and even worse dangers lie ahead. We know from our own history that the future holds no guarantees.

Quote of the Day

We find the man who stole the horse not guilty.

- Anonymous jury foreman

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Bear with me. I'm juggling a strange schedule while fighting allergies. Am turning in early in order to be ready for an important meeting tomorrow. Will spend part of the morning polishing the silver tongue. These hotel mirrors are brutal. I prefer the thin ones at home. Will read some Drucker and Ambler before dozing off; Drucker earlier because he keeps giving me ideas that I have to jot down. The Ambler book was published in 1939. The world was going to hell then. Not like today when all is so stable. Wink.

"How many balloons would fit in this room?"

At Fortune: The most ridiculous job interview questions.

[I would seriously consider any applicant who walked out of the interview.]

The Chinese Grand Tour

From The New Yorker, Evan Osnos with a Chinese tour in Europe:

I chose the “Classic European,” a popular bus tour that would traverse five countries in ten days. Payment was due up front. Airfare, hotels, meals, insurance, and assorted charges came to the equivalent in yuan of about twenty-two hundred dollars. In addition, every Chinese member of the tour was required to put up a bond amounting to seventy-six hundred dollars—more than two years’ salary for the average worker—to prevent anyone from disappearing before the flight home. I was the thirty-eighth and final member of the group. We would depart the next morning at dawn.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Quote of the Day

I'm not a snob. Ask anybody. Well, anybody who matters.

- Simon Lebon

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Patrick Dennis Remembered

Here's an excellent 2009 post from 2Blowhards on Patrick Dennis. As the post notes, the eccentric comic novelist is mainly forgotten nowadays, but he was once very big.

You have missed two very funny novels if you have not read "Auntie Mame" or "The Joyous Season." Track them down. Try them out. They're on my Re-Read List.

Slick and Free

Fast Company: 5 free tools for making slick infographics.

Alas Poor Typewriter, We Knew Thee Well

I think this news about the closing of the last typewriter company in the world is rather sad.

If you'd like a neat replica, consider this bookend at Levenger. [Pictured above.]

Great Plays

The average professional baseball game has many exhibits of extraordinary athletic talent that are taken for granted. The shortstop catches a ball and, while in mid-air, fires it off to the first baseman. The center fielder runs down a hit and then throws the ball all the way to the catcher in order to stop a runner at home.

Amazing stuff that may be lost in the course of the game.

So it is with much of life. There are extraordinary achievements all around us that we can easily miss. As with the people in the stands, we appreciate the game much more when we notice the many marvelous things that did not have to happen that way.

Pensions and Romance Update

Prepare to dab your eyes. At Above the Law, the story of a sizable retirement package and a love gone sour.

Rattlers, Pythons, and Fleas

It is said that at GE's "work out" sessions, managers and employees distinguish between rattlers (problems that can be resolved immediately) and pythons (problems that require further study). Those distinctions are helpful, but I'd add one: fleas.

The flea is a minor item and so small that people may be reluctant even to mention it. While it may do little direct harm, if not eradicated, a flea can be hugely irritating and distracting. Left unchecked, fleas can multiply.

They deserve action before they drain attention from larger matters.

ADA Amendments Act

I'm in the process of preparing a workshop on the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act which, I assure you, is much more interesting than it sounds.

What is fun is to crawl into the reasoning behind the Act and the conflict between Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court (as well as lower courts), then translate what managers need to know into plain language. Fun but tricky because there are plenty of side roads to be avoided; ones that could lead to glazed expressions and points of no return.

Always in the back of my mind is the cynical guy who sits in the back of the room, folds his arms, and wonders, "Why should this matter to me?" If I can capture the interest of that guy, all else follows.

Quote of the Day

A proletarian dictatorship is never proletarian.

- Will and Ariel Durant

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Extraordinary Mr. Hitchens

Writing in The Guardian, Martin Amis on his friend Christopher Hitchens. An excerpt:

The year was 1981. We were in a tiny Italian restaurant in west London, where we would soon be joined by our future first wives. Two elegant young men in waisted suits were unignorably and interminably fussing with the staff about rearranging the tables, to accommodate the large party they expected. It was an intensely class-conscious era (because the class system was dying); Christopher and I were candidly lower-middle bohemian, and the two young men were raffishly minor-gentry (they had the air of those who await, with epic stoicism, the deaths of elderly relatives). At length, one of them approached our table, and sank smoothly to his haunches, seeming to pout out through the fine strands of his fringe. The crouch, the fringe, the pout: these had clearly enjoyed many successes in the matter of bending others to his will. After a flirtatious pause he said, "You're going to hate us for this."

And Christopher said, "We hate you already."

The Main Man

Back by popular demand...The Elmore Leonard Site: No one writes about scum better than Elmore.

[Although "Glitz" was the book that caused his reputation to zoom, my recommendations would be "City Primeval," "LaBrava," and
"Split Images."]

Why We Save Junk

“Do not go shopping through your own junk,” a friend of mine warned me when I told him the plan. “My wife does that and it drives me crazy. We still have the charger for a Sonicare toothbrush they haven’t made since 2003. Do yourself a favor: take it straight to the dump.”

Read the
rest of Rob Long here.

Book Review: Tell to Win by Peter Gruber

The complete title of Peter Gruber's book is "Tell to Win: Connect. Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story."

That hooked me from the start, simply because I believe in the power of stories and often use them in my workshops. Gruber, the former chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures and the current head of the Mandalay Group - even that title evokes stories - knows the role that story plays in the hit films he produced. [Anyone associated with
Midnight Express gets extra points.]

Despite that experience, he is not immune from misreading his audience, such as when he tried to get the mayor of Las Vegas interested in building a minor league ball park even though anyone could have told him that Vegas regards itself as strictly major league.

As one might expect from a person with his background, his book is filled with stories from powerful people on the power of stories, some much more persuasive than others. [Having no sympathy for dictators, I could have done without the anecdote about meeting Fidel Castro. There were a few other examples that I thought were weak.]

But don't let those distract you. Gruber's book has important truths that we often overlook, such as:

"The emotional reward of the story makes the connections easy to remember, and every time we do remember, we also experience why the information tucked inside the story matters. By contrast, what's the meaning you attach to a list of numbers in a PowerPoint? Zilch! And that's why lists of numbers or facts are not memorable."

His interview with Steve Denning, a consultant and former director of Knowledge Management at the World Bank, is especially revealing. Denning observes that higher education downplays the importance of emotion and emphasizes the importance of theoretical and statistical models, but when people relax with their friends, they revert to telling stories.
That point alone deserves special consideration when presentations are being prepared. We may have been trained to shun one of our most powerful communication tools.

There are entire departments that could use this book. I'm already jotting down ways to use some of its concepts. Check it out. Tell to Win is worth your time.

The Ghoulish Gawker

I remember working rewrite on an Indiana prison break at the Chicago Tribune when I turned to the news editor, Ralph Hallenstein, to ask how much more he wanted. Ralph never stopped smoking. He’d fill a large ashtray every night, and until their game was discovered, the editors on the next shift held a “ghoul’s pool” and counted Ralph’s butts. Ralph died of lung cancer. When I asked Ralph this night, he took a pneumatic drag of his cigarette, exhaled three-alarms’ worth of smoke, and rasped over at me, “Find the nearest period.”

Read the rest of
Jeff Jarvis here.

Transformation Guide

The incomparable Nicholas Bate gives an update on The Year of Transformation: 2011.

When Less is More

How often have you seen a situation where the speech-class-sermon-presentation-film was very good, but if it had been cut by around ten to fifteen minutes, it would have been superb?

It can take a great deal of courage to be brief.

Cold-Blooded Kindness

Quote of the Day

There is only one rule for being a good talker - learn to listen.

- Christopher Morley

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter - 2011

You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.

C.S. Lewis

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"The Forgotten Categories of the Lady and the Gentleman"

Mark T. Mitchell on why we need Jane Austen:

I want to suggest that Austen provides something for which young people—even the jaded ones—secretly long. While the world she depicts is in many ways foreign to us, it is only just different enough to bring our own pathologies into clearer relief. In short, Austen reminds us of the largely forgotten categories of the lady and the gentlemen. It is her genius to make us aspire to these roles even in a world where such notions are strange and often ridiculed.

Creepy Villains and Neil Gaiman

...can be found in Doctor Who's new season. Check out 47 years in 6 minutes.

Gilbert on Churchill

Sir Martin Gilbert in an interview about his biography of Winston Churchill:

Spock Etiquette

From a Star Trek film: Kirk and Spock ride the bus.

When in Rome

The Cranky Professor is "immoderately pleased" with this photograph. He should be extremely pleased.

Beyond "To Do"

Tom Peters takes us way beyond our "to do" lists. Read the entire thing, but this one really has me thinking:

#2. "To be" list. If you went to a play, and someone appeared on stage and proceeded to read the play—with no acting—you'd say they missed the point of theater. Well, management of any sort is, pure and simple, theater with the acting. Who are you going to "be" this morning? How are you going to project yourself upon the scene? What is your tactical interpersonal approach to each and every one of those items on your "to do" list? A manager by definition can't do it all—or maybe can't do any of it. Hence her/his job is to "engage" others—and engagement is 100% about emotion—whereas the "to do" list is 100% engineering. So think through your "leaderhip" approach—and the unabashed "theater" you will use with each of the folks-teams you are attempting to engage re that particular "to do" item.

When Creativity Meets Rubber Chickens

Neatorama has the details on the rubber chicken launcher. You know you want one.

The Key to Happiness

Tim Berry discusses a study on the role that time plays in achieving happiness.

Are you happiest on days when your time is well spent? Squandering time puts me in the doldrums.

232 Pounds

Very interesting: A low-key weight loss plan that worked.

Of Gods and Men

Here's the trailer and a review.

Idea Fashions of the Eighties: America in the Year 2000

From a 1984 speech by Tom Wolfe:

The 1960s fashion I have called radical chic actually continued well into the 1970s; it didn't die with the end of the war in Vietnam. In 1974 I attended a conference at a university in the Great Plains, a conference called "America in the Year 2000." It was held in a typical student activity center, one of these great butter-almond colored buildings with expando-flex interior walls like accordions that are pulled back and forth by a night watchman in green balloon-seat twill pants. Here come the students in for the conference on "America in the Year 2000." They seem to me very lively, they are laughing, they are chattering to one another. Their veins are pumping with Shasta and Seven-Up. They are wearing bluejeans and bursting out of their down-filled Squaw Valley ski jackets. And no sooner do they settle down into their seats, than the keynote speaker of the conference, a young historian in a calfskin jacket and hair like Felix Mendelssohn's, looks down, and he says: "America is a leaden, life-denying society."

Best Garage Door Ever

It's very nicely done. Makes you wonder why we have such bland garage doors.

[HT: Guy Kawasaki]

"Coffee with Lizards"

True West magazine has an 1894 coffee recipe and more. An excerpt:

The first literary reference to coffee being drunk in North America is from 1668. In 1773, the Boston Tea Party was planned in a coffeehouse called the Green Dragon Tavern. In protest of the tea tax, the Continental Congress named coffee the new national beverage of the U.S. in 1777. Knowing this explains why coffee was the popular drink served at “tea time” rather than tea.

Quote of the Day

There are some ideas so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe in them.

- George Orwell

Friday, April 22, 2011

Being Well-Read

I've written before about the mentor of my undergraduate years, Daniel Curley, he of the corduroy pants, Sears boots and rucksack. In English 101 he assigned us Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, James, Forster, Cather, Wharton, Joyce, Hemingway. I still read all of them. In 1960, he told us, 'What will last of Hemingway's work are the short stories and The Sun Also Rises.' Half a century later, I would say he was correct.

Read the rest of
Roger Ebert here.

Armadillo House

Wait until I show this house to my family. It makes my plan for a moat and a pack of dobermans seem kind of modest. [Be sure to scroll down for the full effect.]


Hungry or Guarded

Here's the key truth: in any given moment, in any given situation, a person is either hungry or guarded. You need to decide which sort of person you'll be telling your story to, because one approach won't work on the other type of person.

Read the rest of Seth Godin's post here.

Miscellaneous and Fast

This may be the final word on presidential endorsements.
Julie London: "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To."

Gentle Touch

View From the Ledge
has a whale tale. Fascinating.

Hitchcock: Something's Ticking

A classic observation from Alfred Hitchcock on how to create tension in a film scene.

The Doctor's Office and Customer Service

A visit to the doctor's office can produce a multitude of observations on customer service. I've had several doctors over the years - they kept retiring on me - and so have had the chance to see a variety of offices.

My current physician, an internal medicine man, has a fairly nice waiting room, not award-winning but comfortable. Most of the other waiting areas were reminiscent of old bus stations. Do I touch the germ-filled magazines or watch the dreck on television? [I never touch the magazines and always bring a book.] It seems that many medical offices now have a "medicine channel" running on a wall screen as if people who are worried about their current medical condition might be interested in whether they have others.

Many a monster story is told of the dragons at the front desk. (My current doctor has a nice front desk team.) I know they're juggling a lot. If they are reasonably friendly and efficient, then I'm fine.

The key customer moment, of course, comes in the examination room. [Such rooms, I should note, have far too many pictures of internal organs. How about some nature scenes?] The experience is measured by the demeanor, the questions, the amount of time, and the conclusions that I receive from the doctor. One reason why internal medicine doctors are my preference is I've found them to be the intellectuals of the breed. They give far more time and attention than the "thump you on the back and listen to your chest" characters who spend a maximum of ten minutes before sending you off with a prescription.

I once dropped a doctor who, although in internal medicine, seemed hurried. He set a record for the fastest annual physical in history. My wife later asked me if I'd had my physical exam and I replied, "I think so."

So the common customer service thread to all of this seems to be respect: Is respect for the patient shown in the physical surroundings, the behavior of the support staff, and the manner and quality of the examination? Call it the Rodney Dangerfield Syndrome.

Quote of the Day

The best place to hide anything is in plain view.

- Edgar Allan Poe, in The Purloined Letter

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Learning Quest

If you were given a two-year sabbatical to go off and study any subject of your choice, which one would you choose? Assume that you cannot pick a foreign language.

Once a language is removed, I'm not certain. Both psychology and philosophy are appealing. Although I've studied a lot of history, there is still so much more to learn. Narrower subjects, such as the French Revolution and the American Civil War, are very attractive.

Which way would you lean?

Climate Oops

Cultural Offering points to an interesting article on the climate refugees. I've noticed that most of these purveyors of dire predictions never seem to pay a price.

Watch This. Smile. Jump Into Your Day.

This is a great ad: Experience human flight.

Macho Beetle

The new version of the Volkswagen Beetle makes me nostalgic for the two VWs I owned back in the Sixties and Seventies. Something quickly noticed: The new version looks less feminine than the recent model.

Jalopnik notes the same thing:

These days, marketers believe that the death knell of a car comes when people consider it's too "girlie." And that's precisely the one broad stroke the second-generation Beetle found itself brushed with. The new Beetle that drops the "New" — which wasn't supposed to be revealed for another hour until
Motor Trend and others were apparently so excited they dropped some of the embargoed news five hours early — is supposed to get a bit more man-like.

Dangerous Assumptions About The Unemployed

Michael P. Maslanka warns against having a hiring bias that excludes applicants who are currently unemployed:

According to an interesting article in BNA's Employment Discrimination Report for the week of February 23, "EEOC Ponders Potential for Hiring Bias In Excluding Unemployed Job Applicants" by Kevin P. McGowen, the EEOC believes that such a rule has a disparate impact on people who are black, Hispanic, have disabilities, and are older workers.

Talking about Performance

Wally Bock has some great guidelines on how to talk to team members about their job performance.

A technique that I've found to be very effective: When you talk to them about what you want, also talk to them about what you don't want.

Diverse Opinions on Fixing Government

Newsweek has a gallery of opinions from 20 prominent Americans on how to fix government. Some are especially interesting given the person's background.

Role Play with History

You're wrestling with a significant problem. Take some time and ask how some or all of these people would handle it:
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Margaret Thatcher
  • Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Mahatma Gandhi
  • Winston Churchill
  • George Washington
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • ?
You get my point. Step out of your shoes and consider a completely different perspective. Look for the positives and negatives of each person's approach. Don't rush to assume that their technique won't apply. See if a combination of two or more might be helpful. Jot down your observations.

[I met with a group several months ago on a leadership issue. The team members were arguing over the options. One question - "How would Teddy Roosevelt handle this?" - brought some smiles and a quick and practical resolution.]

Quote of the Day

It is not from ourselves that we learn to be better than we are.

- Wendell Berry

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fire in the Bellies

Campaign consultant Mike Murphy gives his candid assessment of the presidential candidates.

Ode to Allergies

At Playtime at HazMat, an "Ode to Allergies." [Be sure to scroll down to see it.]

No Comment: Voices from the Internet Series

From a reader at Andrew Sullivan's site:

How is the online life ranked below the in-person? The rudeness to me is an individual who thinks that just because I am standing next to them they may monopolize my time for hours on end. I am to be shared.

Bischoff's Art

Art Contrarian examines the paintings of impressionist artist Franz Bischoff.

Culture Break

At Unhappy Hipsters: “Valentina ignored her father’s attempts to recreate Where’s Waldo? by comfort eating and practicing the lotus position.”

Do The Work

Today is publication day for Steven Pressfield's new book. He notes:

Do The Work
isn’t so much a “follow-up” to The War of Art as it is an action guide that gets down and dirty in the trenches. Say you’ve got a book, a screenplay or a startup in your head but you’re stuck or scared or just don’t know how to begin, how to break through or how to finish. Do The Work takes you step-by-step from the project’s inception to its ship date, hitting each predictable “Resistance point” along the way and giving techniques and drills for overcoming each obstacle. There’s even a section called “Belly of the Beast” that goes into detail about dealing with the inevitable moment in any artistic or entrepreneurial venture when you hit the wall and just want to cry “HELP!”

Recruitment Announcement Footnotes

For some reason, the following footnotes are not found on most recruitment announcements:
  1. You don't really need a degree to do this job but we like to pretend that you do.
  2. The "years of experience" requirement was grabbed out of thin air. We thought that "five years" sounded sort of nice.
  3. "Other duties as assigned" may seem vague, but they will constitute 90 percent of the job. Think about what that means.
  4. Unless it's a tech job, "extensive computer experience" means the ability to type in Word.
  5. All of those other items in the announcement were taken from an outdated job description that never accurately described the job. They were left in to discourage people. HR doesn't want to process a mountain of applications.
  6. The initial selection screening will be done by HR. The interviews will be done by the hiring department. Those two groups seldom talk to one another.
  7. If you are invited to an oral board, be prepared to discuss your abilities with a bunch of people who don't know how to interview and who want to go to lunch.
  8. If you call to check on the status of your application, you will make people very nervous. The term "borderline stalker" may be used.
  9. If your interviewing skills are a little rough, you may want to take a workshop to smooth them out. The people who make hiring decisions often find inarticulate candidates to be unimpressive. Of course, they don't trust smooth ones.
  10. It may take us a while to complete the selection process. This may seem even longer to you because you'll probably never hear from us again. If you are eager to see if a decision has been made, see item 8 above.

Quote of the Day

The most exquisite folly is made of wisdom spun too fine.

- Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Reprise: Note From Boss To Employees

I wrote this "Note From Boss To Employees" back in 2007 and it remains my most-cited post. [There were boos as well as cheers along with some polite applause.] Here it is for those who missed it:
  1. I am sometimes under enormous pressure from upper management; pressure that you seldom see. Anything that you can do to make my job easier will be greatly appreciated.

  2. Your interests are important, but please remember that I also have to juggle the concerns and feelings of a bunch of other people, including individuals outside of the department.

  3. I may not have been given a huge amount of training before being named to a supervisory position. As a result, I’ve had to learn through trial and error. That's not always bad. Many of my responsibilities can only be learned through practice.

  4. If you are a former co-worker of mine, please recognize that supervising former peers is one of the toughest jobs any supervisor faces. The support that you give me is crucial.

  5. I will make mistakes. Please give me the same understanding that you’d like me to give you when you blunder.

  6. If I do something dumb or am on the verge of doing so, please tell me. Don’t hint. Tell me.

  7. I don’t like unpleasant surprises. Let me in on bad news as soon as possible. (Things that you believe are obvious may not be that clear to me. On the other hand, you'd be surprised at how quickly the latest gossip reaches my ears.)

  8. I expect you to take initiative. If you keep bouncing things to me, I’m going to wonder why I have you around.

  9. You should ask questions if you don’t know what to do. On the other hand, you should not have to be taught the same thing over and over again.

  10. Let’s respect each other’s time. We each have a job to do and the more we can reduce unnecessary interruptions, the happier we'll each be.

  11. Don't let all of my talk about meeting goals and producing results lead you into unethical behavior. You always have my permission to be ethical.

  12. If either of us has a problem with the other's performance, let's talk about it.

Thoughts Regarding Change

  • If something is simple, the burden of proof should be on those who would make it complicated.

  • "We've always done it that way" is not a sufficient reason to keep doing it that way.

  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is another unpersuasive argument. We shouldn't have to wait for things to break before we improve them.

  • The Wing-Walker Rule: Don't let go of one thing until you have a firm grasp of another.

  • If the practices of those who came before us seem foolish, perhaps we need to review their reasoning. They may have understood something that we overlooked.

  • "Bold" and "Daring" are not always "Best." George Armstrong Custer was bold and daring.

Recreation Break: Attack of the Carp

If you are going to go fishing on the Wabash, this is the way to do it.

Basic Considerations

Think of how often in your life you have seen blunders because of a failure to follow these basics:
  1. Read the minutes. What happened before? Which actions were deferred or never considered? Which points were raised by the opposition? You won't know many of these if you don't read the minutes. [Also be aware of who is writing the minutes. That job can be extremely powerful when there is creative editing.]

  2. Get some sleep. Fatigue can produce sloppiness and cowardice. The amount of sleep that you get can seriously affect the quality of your decisions. Make sure your team gets enough rest.

  3. Study the environment. Know the boundaries. Know which ones are brick walls and which are mere fences. Some may be kicked down, but consider why they were constructed.

  4. Know your roles. As leaders, we each wear an assortment of hats. It is important to know which hat we have on and whether it matches the occasion.

  5. Stay off of side streets. Carefully control the amount of time and energy that is spent on matters that don't contribute to the primary mission. Such journeys may be attractive and enjoyable but they can also be a huge distraction.

  6. Don't expect a cow to be a camel. Carefully fit resources and people to the particular task.

  7. Know what you are neglecting. Determine if it is the right thing to neglect and how long it can be neglected.

Escape Literature

Time for some escape literature: People often discover "new" authors who have been around for a while. In the past few months, I've been rediscovering some excellent writers whom I once enjoyed but then neglected. They are:

  • Eric Ambler. The old master of spy novels. If you've never read him, start with "Coffin for Dimitrios" or "Journey into Fear."

  • Gerald Seymour. Another great spy novelist. He wrote "Harry's Game" years ago and probably hasn't written a bad book since. I'll let you know. I've been catching up.

  • Tom Sharpe. Politically incorrect humorist. A pleasant change from the usual thin gruel.

  • Paul Scott. Author of "The Raj Quartet." Good for slow reading on a winter's night.

  • William Faulkner. If his books are too strange, try his short stories. Wow.

Quote of the Day

A celebrity is a person who works hard all his life to become well known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized.

- Fred Allen

Monday, April 18, 2011

Nostalgie de la boue

Heather Mac Donald on celebrating graffiti barbarians:

MOCA’s practice of removing graffiti from its premises represents cutting-edge urban policy; too bad its curatorial philosophy isn’t equally up-to-date. Graffiti is the bane of cities. A neighborhood that has succumbed to graffiti telegraphs to the world that social and parental control there has broken down. Potential customers shun graffiti-ridden commercial strips if they can; so do most merchants, fearing shoplifting and robberies. Law-abiding residents avoid graffiti-blighted public parks, driven away by the spirit-killing ugliness of graffiti as much as by its criminality.

[As Steve Martin once put it, "Those French have a word for everything."

Mistakes to Make

A great post from Dan McCarthy on ten mistakes that leaders should make and learn from before they die. An excerpt:

1. Take too long to fire a problem performer. This is probably the number one regret I hear the most, from seasoned executives to new team leaders. They waited too long to take action on a poor performer. They had their head in the sand in denial, thought they could perform a miracle and save the employee, or were aware of it and just didn’t want to face it.

Well Then, It's Back to the Cave

Some frightening news from FutureLawyer.

Book Sales

Well, the council presentations book is outselling the one on workplace tact. This may mean:

  1. More people are afraid of giving speeches than of lawsuits or scandals.

  2. You might buy the tact book for others, but will get the presentations book for yourself.

  3. The presentations book is easier to read and/or a better book.

  4. The one on tact needed some references to Charlie Sheen.

  5. Absolutely nothing.

Then Again, It Might Be About Hollywood

A new book out on Kindle sounds like something that Hunter Thompson would write. I can't wait for the movie.


A 2000 address by Wendy Shalit on modesty. An excerpt:

I first became interested in the subject of modesty for a rather mundane reason—because I didn’t like the bathrooms at Williams College. Like many enlightened colleges and universities these days, Williams houses boys next to girls in its dormitories and then has the students vote by floor on whether their common bathrooms should be coed. It’s all very democratic, but the votes always seem to go in the coed direction because no one wants to be thought a prude. When I objected, I was told by my fellow students that I “must not be comfortable with [my] body.” Frankly, I didn’t get that, because I was fine with my body; it was their bodies in such close proximity to mine that I wasn’t thrilled about.

Blogging: And So It Begins

Anderson Layman's Blog has some great moments in blog creation.

Theology, Dogs, and Church Signs

Eclecticity has something to make you smile: A battle of church signs.

Volunteer to be Happy

Gretchen Rubin at The Happiness Project notes the happiness to be found through volunteering.

The Indians are Coming: Cars of the Tata Empire

The Indian car market is small -- one-sixth the size of China's -- but growing just as fast. Tata wants to use its vast potential as a platform to transform Tata Motors (TTM) from a regional powerhouse into an international automotive player. In the past 24 months he has taken three audacious steps in that direction. First, Tata unveiled the Nano, which aspires to be nothing less than a people's car for the developing world. With a beginning price of $2,900, it is designed to lure India's growing middle class away from their bicycles and motor scooters and into safe family-size, weatherproof vehicles. Nano got off to a rocky start but is gathering speed. It could open big export opportunities that Tata hopes will eventually include the U.S. and Europe.

Read the rest of
the Fortune article here.

A Disturbing Practice

One of the most disturbing differences that exists in society and within organizations is the one between two groups identified by cultural scholar Fons Trompenaars: The universalists believe that the same rules should be applied to everyone. The particularists believe that different treatment is allowed and even desirable for certain relationships such as family members, business associates, and friends.

You can see this in the political arena. Some politicians will stick to certain standards and criticize allies and supporters who deviate from those standards. Other politicians will tolerate and even defend behavior by friends and allies that they would have loudly condemned if the same conduct was by an adversary.

The universalists may be too rigid on occasion but the particularists face a greater danger. Their practices destroy credibility in the short term and character in the long.

Quote of the Day

Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others.

- William Allen White

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Management Techniques from the Movies

Entertainment Break: Chaplin

Reka has Charlie Chaplin's "table/dinner roll ballet." Simple, difficult, and great.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Getting the Boot

G. Daniel DeWeese at True West magazine gives advice on the purchase of cowboy boots. Be sure to check out the slide show.

Topsy-Turvy is Back

Very good news: "Topsy-Turvy" has been re-released on DVD. As Terry Teachout notes in The Wall Street Journal:

"Topsy-Turvy" is the smartest backstage movie ever made, a deeply knowing fictional study of how a theatrical production takes shape. The acting, especially that of Jim Broadbent as the irascible, anxiety-ridden Gilbert, is as convincing as it is possible to be. But "Topsy-Turvy" is also a cinematic scrapbook of Victorian life, a probing portrait of what it felt like to be a Londoner in 1885, the year "The Mikado" opened. We visit the office of Richard D'Oyly Carte and notice with surprise that he has a phone on his desk; we dine in Victorian restaurants, sit in Victorian parlors, go backstage at the Savoy Theatre and watch a prop man shake a piece of sheet metal to simulate the sound of thunder. Detail is piled on imaginatively re-created detail, and by film's end you feel as though you've taken a stroll through a vanished world.

Conveying Virtues

From a speech by William Bennett on 9/11 and the teaching of virtues:

I was reading an updated transcript a couple of weeks ago in which one of the four men who rushed the cockpit on Flight 93 said to the person on the other end of the phone line, “We are waiting until we get over a rural area.” They knew what was likely to happen, so they were waiting in order to minimize the death toll. What extraordinary human beings these ordinary Americans turned out to be.

Moleskine Thinks Bigger

Attention notebook fans: Moleskine is making bags.

Go Deep

A must-read at Cultural Offering on the importance of digging in:

The act does not constitute micromanagement nor does it harm the process of delegation; in fact it enhances delegation. There is a natural tendency in management to keep discussion and decisions at a "high level". And while I don't advocate hours and hours of discussion on the minute details of every process or issue, it is important to regularly dig in to the details of accepted practices or a particular situation in order to understand, improve and operate effectively at a higher level.

My boss and I joke about an executive at a large insurance company responding to a question on one of his operational units: "I don't operate at that level," he explained dismissively. The executive is no longer at the company.

Reverse Management

Let's pretend that we are going to set up an organization and that our goal is to foster poor management. What might we do?

  1. Put teams in rigid boxes to discourage cooperation between work units.

  2. Give employees inaccurate job descriptions.

  3. Encourage happy talk and squelch candor.

  4. Exile mavericks.

  5. Reward the office politicians and overlook the real producers.

  6. Hire quickly and fire slowly.

  7. Cave in to special interest groups.

  8. Have everyone waste time with a worthless performance evaluation system.

  9. Use hiring quotas.

  10. Don't train people unless forced to do so.

  11. Wink at violations of core values.

  12. Ignore urgency.

  13. Reorganize frequently.

  14. Use one narrow leadership style for all circumstances.

  15. Create factions.

  16. Favor style over substance.

  17. Have long and frequent meetings.

  18. Isolate upper management.

  19. Turn the lawyers loose on the managers.

  20. Have lots of rules.

  21. Treat the employees as if they are adversaries.

Quote of the Day

It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.

- Alfred North Whitehead

Friday, April 15, 2011

It Made All the Difference

What was not...
  • Mentioned
  • Argued
  • Studied
  • Funded
  • Planned
  • Anticipated
  • Prevented
  • Stopped
  • Believed
  • Supported
  • Appreciated
  • Valued.

Entertainment Break

A memorable scene from "Master and Commander."

Our Lean Federal Government

Title: U.S. training for professional Chinese chefs

Sol. #: AG-3151-S-11-0016

Agency: Department of Agriculture

Office: Farm Service Agency

Location: Acquisition Management Division, Contracts Operations Branch

Posted On: Apr 14, 2011 11:15 am

Base Type: Combined Synopsis/Solicitation

Overrated Paintings?

Art Contrarian is a brave man.

The NG Car

Fast Company on why Chrysler will be selling natural-gas cars in 2017:

For one, compressed natural-gas vehicles are cheaper than electric cars. The vehicles contain compressed gas tanks instead of pricey lithium-ion batteries. Honda's Civic GX CNG vehicle costs $25,490--compare that to the Chevy Volt, which cost $41,000 before tax credits, or the Nissan Leaf, which starts at $32,000 before credits (these are considered the most affordable of the new batch of electric cars).

Crank It Up

Cool Tools likes the Cambridge Soundworks Portable Speaker System: I have used it for parties, outdoor BBQs, and on vacation and it never fails to sound great. The included speakers and amplifier, the necessary cables, and your iPod, all pack into the included hard case (which also contains the subwoofer).

Quote of the Day

I do more painting when I'm not painting.

- Andrew Wyeth

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Drama: Why and What

I'm sorry it took me so long to find this: Via Derek Siver's blog, Kurt Vonnegut explains drama.

[HT: ENC Press]

HR/Career Blog List

The Cynical Girl has put together an extensive HR/Career Blog List for 2011.

Lowering Standards Does Wonders

Gretchen Rubin at The Happiness Project has 9 tips to quit nagging.

Reaction to the Speech

Some takes on the President's speech from:

Civil War Wisdom

At Anderson Layman's Blog: Two great quotes to ponder from the American Civil War.

List of Bad Assumptions

It might be beneficial to make a list of assumptions that we once held and later found to be false. A false assumption can sabotage navigation and lead into a swamp. It can be difficult to spot because it hides within a mist of the bumbling actions that it helped to produce.

Once that list is completed, we then should jot down the assumptions that are currently guiding our actions.

How many of those will withstand the scrutiny of time?

Quote of the Day

The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.

- Tacitus

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Guy Billout

The unusual art of Guy Billout. [His work is always the first thing I look for in The Atlantic.]


Should "Silicon Valley" be added to the name at the San Jose airport?

Because You Never Know When You'll Need a Saw Blade

Back by popular demand: Cool Tools discusses the "credit card survival tool."

Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric

Ordered and in the mail.

Pusher Aircraft

Art Contrarian looks at a concept that failed. An excerpt:

But perhaps the greatest problem was what to do when the pilot had to bail out of a single-engine plane; without special steps taken, he would be chopped up as he passed through the propeller arc. Solutions included feathering the prop or detaching it before bail-out. Another solution was the ejection seat common on jet fighters but something that didn't emerge until towards the end of World War 2.

Creativity Exercise: Time Traveling

Knowing what you know, if you were to travel back in time to the Forties, Fifties or Sixties, what knowledge - aside from which stocks to buy - would you be able to use?

Clearly there are opinions on major issues that could be conveyed, but just on a personal, day-to-day life level, what would you do differently that people back there might have done but did not?

Now leap ahead, then back. If you arrived here today from some point in the future, what changes might you make to your daily routine or personal life? What types of chores or tasks do we take for granted that people in the future will have greatly altered?

Quote of the Day

Don't play what's there, play what's not there.

- Miles Davis

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Video Break

A presentation gone wrong.

Good Enough: Wants and Needs

Several years ago, I spoke with an executive about a service for his managers. It was rather innovative and would permit his managers to get some expert guidance on employee relations issues within a few hours.

He was enthusiastic at the beginning, but then wondered aloud if his managers would feel the need to be, to put it bluntly, that good. He said that unless a B or B+ manager was under the gun, the person might be happy to remain at that level, possibly because the person might regard his or her work as A level.

He had a point. In fact, I've noticed that the people who are most inclined to seek management assistance are the genuine A level performers. That's how they got there and that's how they stay there.

All of which brings up a marketing observation: Sometimes, those who want a product don't need it that much and those who need it the most don't want it.

Prospecting Yourself

Businesses are often advised to see which additional services or products can be sold to current customers instead of burning up money and energy trying to find new ones. A variation of that advice can be applied to your resources.

Which of your current strengths can be used to a greater degree? Are there some skills or products that were employed in other arenas that can be modified and used today? Go back ten years. Review all of those projects that were successful "once upon a time" and look for hidden treasure.

You may be surprised at what emerges.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Quote of the Day

Seek simplicity and then distrust it.

- Alfred North Whitehead

Monday, April 11, 2011

Service If and When It's Convenient

View From the Ledge has some customer non-service stories. [I must note that the service I've had over the past year has been, on the whole, quite good.]

Compliance in All Things 101

Ann Althouse on some Chicago schools that won't permit students to bring lunch from home. [Be a rebel. Eat a cookie.]

Don't Be a Stranger

Unhappy Hipsters has found the ultimate unwanted guest room.

California's Crisis

Victor Davis Hanson writing of California on the razor's edge. An excerpt:

Consider also regulation. In a vast state of 20 million in 1970 few cared that there were new building code rules and mounting new labor statutes. All sorts of innovative bureaucracies came on line. I remember the mosquito abatement jeeps spraying pools suddenly everywhere to stop mosquito-born disease; the country dog people were out in force checking for licenses and shots on your farm to eradicate even the rumor of rabies. Now fast forward to 37 million residents, with a vast new government superstructure. and we have become both the most and the least regulated. The poor broke highway patrolman sits on the corner, straining his neck to find a cell-phone user who is a sure thing for a $200 hit. Yet he would hardly wish to drive two miles away along a rural pond where a dishwasher is tossed in open daylight — the former involves money and the law-abiding, the latter nothing but all sorts of unimaginable costs and trouble.