Monday, April 30, 2012

Success: Do You Have the Right Passion?

Take some time today and read Elizabeth Grace Saunders on the thought-patterns of success.

The Meeting

Tomorrow's meeting must be planned and unplanned, with boundaries and no boundaries, so we may run all over the track while remaining on it and cross the finish line on time. Creativity is not anarchy and a major virtue of those who are consistently creative is self-discipline. The boundaries are needed not to restrict good thoughts but to keep out diversions.

It will be fun.

The Crash of Air France Flight 447: A Technical Problem?

As the airliner entered the worst of the weather, Bonin told the cabin crew to prepare for turbulence. Eight minutes later, everyone on board would be dead. 

Read the rest of The Telegraph article here.

First Paragraph

The Satrap Ekuman's difficulties with his aged prisoner had only begun when he got the fellow down into the dungeon under the Castle and tried to begin a serious interrogation. The problem was not, as you might have thought from a first look at the old man, that the prisoner was too fragile and feeble, liable to die at the first good twinge of pain. Not at all. It was almost incredible, but actually the exact opposite was true. The old man was actually too tough, his powers still protected him. All through the long night he not only defended himself, but kept trying to hit back.

- From Empire of the East by Fred Saberhagen

Known, There, and Safe

If they were going strictly on how well the job would be done, he wasn't the best choice, but he had two advantages over the other contenders: They knew him and he was already on-board. He had a good, not a great, record, was pleasant and honest and they wanted to keep him happy.

There was another advantage. They regarded the selection as a way to reward a reliable employee at little risk. If the situation had been challenging and a seasoned turn-around artist or an imaginative decision maker was needed, he would not have been chosen.

Pleasantness will only take you so far. When times are reasonably safe, that may be far enough.

The Greatness of Berra

At Anderson Layman's Blog, a classic story about Yogi Berra.

Achievement Aversion

The old line about being able to get a lot of things done if you don't mind who gets the credit is true. What surprised me early in my career, however, is just how many people are consumed with acknowledgments of achievement.

A predecessor in a position once told me that good performance on my part would imply poor performance on his own; an absurd notion that assumes future achievement is not possible if a job has been done right. Bosses who believe that no one deserves an "Exceeds Standards" performance evaluation because "no one is perfect" routinely subvert the accuracy of appraisal systems while committing acts of injustice. It takes a warped view to see the world as a zero-sum game in which someone else's gain is our loss. There is also something twisted in a refusal to recognize great performance; a view that lumps extraordinary performers in with the merely good ones.

I don't know what is at the heart of these aversions. I suspect it is either envy or an excessive emphasis on equality.

Strange Times

My local pharmacy now keeps its small baskets behind the sales counter because "People keep taking them." [I asked the clerk, "What about the vast majority of your customers who don't?" but got no reply.] They also keep the Sudafed behind the druggist's counter and you have to show I.D. before they'll sell it to you lest their supplies be pillaged by a local meth lab. I've been carded at a Target when buying a container of NyQuil. [And I really, really, don't need to be carded.]

We live in strange times.

Quote of the Day

You may depend upon it, sir, the knowledge that he shall be hanged in a fortnight concentrates a man's mind wonderfully.

- Samuel Johnson

Saturday, April 28, 2012

First Paragraph

The silence of snow, thought the man sitting just behind the bus-driver. If this were the beginning of a poem, he would have called what he felt inside him 'the silence of snow.'

- From Snow by Orhan Pamuk

Go Deep

Must reading from Wally Bockweekend imagination igniters.

Memorable Scenes

Sound dietary advice in Woody Allen's futuristic film "Sleeper."

Peter Pan Meets Property Rights

FutureLawyer has a video of some guy who built a tree house on land he doesn't own and then wants people to help him keep it. [As Kant would ask, "If everyone did it, would it be a good thing?"]

Great Moments in Film: Sand Sharks

How could I have ever missed this one?

What Managers Can Learn from Novelists

There is much that managers can learn from novels - Moby Dick and War and Peace provide much to ponder - but what can they learn from novelists and the construction of novels? I believe there are a few lessons:
  1. Don't dig a hole for yourself. Have you ever read a novel where it became obvious that the author knew the beginning and middle of the story very well but had no idea how to end it? You can cover a lot of distance with improvisation but eventually you'll want to know your destination.
  2. Beware of fatigue. Large novels are like marathons. You can sense when some authors started to tire. The quality of their work begins to decline.
  3. Beware of excessive love of technique. A unique style may work for the first three chapters but become quirky and irritating by the tenth. The same applies to bizarre management practices.
  4. Don't rely on a magical solution. It rarely works in novels or in real life.
  5. Don't expect a character to act against his or her type and remain credible. You may dress up Clyde as a sales rep and send him to sales rep classes but Clyde is never going to be a sales rep...unless you're looking for comedy or tragedy.
  6. Have the language match the moment. Placing 21st century hipster jargon in the mouth of a nineteenth century sea captain kills credibility. You can find less extreme but similar mismatches in the workplace. The language should match the place and the person.
  7. Recognize that life is not a novel. At least, not in most cases. The most powerful characters in life are the quiet heroes who support families, meet obligations, hone skills, and fulfill civic duties. The same is true in the workplace. Your most important employees are not the charismatic home run hitters. They are your base hitters who, although devoid of drama, win ball games.

Quote of the Day

Human action can be modified to some extent, but human nature cannot be changed.

- Abraham Lincoln

Friday, April 27, 2012

Hot Stoves

Mark Twain observed a cat that once sat on a hot stove will never sit on a hot stove again, or a cold one for that matter. I recalled the line this morning when reviewing management experiences that produce an effect far beyond the direct lesson. Once an employee or a manager encounters one unpleasant episode, it is not illogical for them to avoid related ones, even though the latter may be harmless or wise or the cast of characters may have changed. The more severe the experience, the less people are inclined to parse nuances. Lawyers who protest that they didn't intend for employment lawsuits to discourage frank communication in the workplace may be utterly sincere, but their words come from the perspective of someone who does not risk being placed in the cross-hairs. So too with managers who regard a personnel action as narrowly focused and performed with a scalpel while the employees see someone who is beyond their control swinging a meat ax. Noble intentions are not enough. Consideration should also be given to the mitigation of unintended effects.

Laptop Dance

My computer wizard, Eric Rodarte of DarteData, tells me that my IBM ThinkPad - which I dearly love - may be in need of a replacement.

Forgive me while I wipe a tear.

The ThinkPad is a great machine; sturdy and dependable plus I like the design. I once tried a Dell computer and found that the keyboard just wasn't right for me. My computer must be tough enough to survive a typist who pounds the keys as if meeting a tight deadline on a Smith-Corona shortly before the last race at Belmont. As a result, I'll probably get another ThinkPad. If it works, it works.

But I'm still hoping the old computer can be salvaged.

Arty Talk

Art Contrarian (his entire post has great examples) goes after something we've all noticed:

One of that things that induces a gag-reaction from me is arty talk, either verbal or written. The worst is art-gush, and even long descriptions and analyses of paintings can something elevate my reaction from glazed eyes to incipient gag. I'm of the school of thought shared by Harley Earl, the legendary creator of styling at General Motors, who shut styling staff members up by announcing that if a design or design feature required explanation, it couldn't be of any use in a production car; its merit had be be visually obvious.

Bate Redux

The incomparable Nicholas Bate, who should be read every day, gives an index of posts from January 1 to now.

In Search of ....

Years ago, when In Search of Excellence was written by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, it quickly became a best seller. Despite being dated, the book is still a worthy read. I've found many workplaces, however, where a more accurate title would be: 

  • In Search of Comfort
  • In Search of  Fairly Good
  • In Search of More Benefits
  • In Search of No Customers

Quote of the Day

We are wide-eyed in contemplating the possibility that life may exist elsewhere in the universe, but we wear blinders when contemplating the possibilities of life on earth.

- Norman Cousins

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Is This Thing On?"

At CoolTools, a beginner's guide/computer handbook .

Entertainment Break

The trailers for:
"The Kid Stays in the Picture"

Friend of Middle Earth

Want to inspire a professor's creativity? A student who submitted a paper with a blank sheet certainly helped with a major work. Cultural Offering has the video.

The Crucifixion Technique

Here's a charming attitude by an Environmental Protection Agency regional director. You can imagine how that mindset gets translated within the organization. 

Helpful Questions

  1. What is the other side's argument?
  2. How soon does this have to be done?
  3. And then what?
  4. What will be the challenge once this goal is achieved?
  5. It's legal and we can do it, but is it the right thing to do?
  6. If this doesn't work out, what will be the likely reason for the failure?
  7. What are the costs?
  8. Where are we going to get the money?
  9. How well do you know this person?
  10. Is there any part of this project that makes you uneasy?
  11. How do we benefit from this?
  12. Can the process be simplified?
  13. Are our priorities in order?
  14. Is the timing right?
  15. How will this look?
  16. What is the worst case scenario?
  17. What are our assumptions?
  18. What do we know?
  19. What don't we know?
  20. Do we have sufficient resources?
  21. What can go slowly and what must move quickly?

The Don't Wannas

Many people don't want to:

  • Confront
  • Follow-up
  • Remember
  • Document
  • Decide
  • Wait
  • Study
  • Confess
  • Forgive
  • Monitor
  • Admit
  • Refrain

Old Dog

At Unhappy Hipsters:

A newer, sleeker home called for a newer, sleeker breed, but Clancy wasn’t giving up without a fight.

A Boost for 21 Things

I've been getting a lot of visitors lately to a post I wrote in 2007. Its topic was 21 things I wish I knew in my twenties.

You never know what will renew interest in a post. In this case, the spark was a very kind mention in a tweet by Teresa Palmer, the actress. Judging from the traffic, her fan base is dedicated and numerous.

Phone Call

"Do you remember that fellow you wanted us to hire?"

I did.

"I want you to know that he's been doing a fine job on that work crew. Just a fine job. Diligent. Always on time."

"You're not calling to tell me that, are you? There's something in your voice."

"Well, he was doing real well until yesterday morning when he stabbed a co-worker."


"Yeah, but don't worry. It looks like it was self-defense so we're not rushing to fire him."

"Thanks for the good news."

"I knew you'd appreciate it. We're doing our best over here."

The Old Journalist

Over lunch one day he told me, "The one thing I've learned in my career is that today's son of a bitch is tomorrow's hero. People have a habit of coming back." He'd met every Arizona governor but the first and could give pithy and often brutal takes on each. He followed the legislature the way some follow the racetrack but with far more detachment. His father had been a powerful, behind-the-scenes, operative but the son was more content to stay a few seats up in the stands. He was a walking novel. I cherish his memory.

Steyn: Pay Dispute in Columbia

Cartagena's most famous "escort" costs $800. For purposes of comparison, you can book Elliot Spitzer's "escort" for $300. Yet, on the cold, grey fiscally conservative morning after the wild socially liberal night before, Dania's Secret Service agent offered her a mere $28.
Twenty-eight bucks! What a remarkably precise sum. Thirty dollars, less a federal handling fee? Why isn't this guy Obama's treasury secretary or budget director? Or, at the very least, the head honcho of the General Services Administration, whose previous director has sadly had to step down after the agency's taxpayer-funded, public-servants-gone-wild Bacchanal in Vegas.

Read the rest of Mark Steyn here.

Quote of the Day

My mother loved children - she would have given anything if I had been one.

- Groucho Marx

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

First Paragraph

I had never considered visiting North Yemen. I arrived quite by accident while sailing with four others from the Maldives to Athens by way of the Red Sea. The little I had heard about Yemen convinced me that it was a place I didn't want to visit, although the rumors were tempting enough. There were stories that the entire male population was hopelessly addicted to a narcotic leaf called qat, that the men wore skirts, and that during public circumcisions the foreskin was thrown into the crowd, where people rolled on it as a sign of joy. If this was how friends and family members fared, I wondered, what would happen to people the Yemenis didn't like? Intertribal warfare had been going on for 1500 years, and child brides were sold for twenty times the average yearly income. Alcohol was prohibited, and before having intercourse husbands were known to mutter "Bismillah" (In the name of God). It didn't sound like my kind of place.

- From Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea by Eric Hansen

Entertainment Break

The trailers for:
"Man of Steel"
"Dark Tide"
"The Pianist"
"Viva Zapata!"

After the Workshop

My workshops are performances, not recitals. I've never been into the "sit on a stool, throw a slide on the screen, and then mumble a few explanations" approach to training. The usual preference is for substantive and fast, with doses of quick humor, plenty of case examples, and lots of interaction with the audience. As a result, by the time I'm done, I'm exhausted. I want to crawl off somewhere, drink bottles of water and perhaps stare at a ceiling.

Workshops differ from college classes that can be stretched out and covered in a low-key manner. You have to seize attention and continue to hold it because time is limited and points need to be made. Two tasks must be achieved: the memorable conveying of practical information and the creation of genuine interest in the topic. All else is secondary.

Time to put up my feet.

Leadership and Introspection

One of the common characteristics of extraordinary leaders is introspection. They study themselves. They know their weak spots. They grow. The Winston Churchill who pushed the disastrous Gallipoli invasion in the First World War was very different from the insightful leader who rallied Britain when it faced mortal danger in 1940.

Look at Lincoln, Washington, and Franklin and you'll find deeply introspective personalities. Other leaders, also great, go astray when they fail to heed their own life's lessons or ignore their flaws. The introspection that makes the vital difference is not that of the vain, but of those who combine self-confidence with humility. Those words of so long ago are still valuable: Know thyself.

Quote of the Day

If no action is to be deemed virtuous for which malice can imagine a sinister motive, then there never was a virtuous action.

- Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Peek at Documentaries

The trailers for:

"Waiting for Superman."
"Ears, Open. Eyeballs, Click."
"Gimme Shelter."

By the Sea

I'm not a materialistic person but occasionally something is spotted that sparks a massive envy attack.

So it is with Eclecticity's recent version of a clean, well-lighted place to blog. If, in  the interests of good blogging, the owner wishes to give that place to me, I will humbly accept.

Regulatory Compliance Wordsmiths

We know the requirements. We also know the mindset of compliance auditors. Our goal is to help the client get through the process with as little pain and as productively as possible. That means knowing which words are red flags, which battles are worth fighting, and which are not.

This comes from an intuition produced by experience. [When someone who is experienced winces, there's a reason.]

You become like an old doctor who knows all the symptoms and all of the dodges. "This is what was said. Was that what was really meant?" It is a fascinating process and each time there's something to learn.

Three Types of Professional Contacts

Your professional contacts consist of far more than friends and allies. They also include information resources, perspective providers, and adversaries.

Take the last group first. An adversary one week may be an ally the next. The nature of the relationship may even shift from hour to hour and many adversaries would never admit to the role. It makes sense, as the saying goes, to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, in order to learn what they are up to. Some people don't realize the extent of their opposition or how their tactics are perceived. Those deserve special attention lest they do you a "favor" that is anything but.

The information resources may be acquaintances or friends but their main professional role is to let you know what's going on in their area. They resemble the informers in the old detective movies who, over a cup of coffee, can give a mainly unexpurgated version of the local developments. Depending upon your job, the information resources can be formally recognized as liaisons, which can make them double-agents. You should not worry about that just so you get the information you're after.

The perspective providers need not be in your organization or profession. Their role is to give wise advice as bluntly as possible and to warn when you are about to make a foolish or dangerous move. Out of the three types, the perspective providers are the most valuable.

They are also the least-used.

Quote of the Day

No man who is in a hurry is quite civilized.

- Will and Ariel Durant

Monday, April 23, 2012

Neruda: Poetry Break

"If You Forget Me" by Pablo Neruda.

Practices to Abolish?

Which of the following workplace practices would you rush to abolish?

  1. Twelve or six month performance evaluations
  2. Weekly staff meetings
  3. Casual Fridays
  4. Executive parking spaces
  5. Executive dining rooms
  6. Motivational posters
  7. PowerPoint presentations
  8. Hip job titles
  9. Recognition plaques
  10. Gold watches as retirement gifts

Miscellaneous and Fast

Wally Bockweekend imagination igniters.
Entrepreneur: How to build a billion dollar start-up.
The poetry of Jeff Kopito at View From the Ledge.
Anderson Layman's Blog on spy shows in the Sixties.
Chief Executive: The zipper problem of some CEOs.
Video: "If I Wanted America to Fail."
The Hammock Papers has thinking tools.
Joe Loconte on the second career of Chuck Colson.
FutureLawyer on iPhone versus Android.
The trailer for "Boxing Day."

Art Break: Maurer

Art Contrarian looks at the work of Alfred Henry Maurer.

12 Workplace Saboteurs

  1. Indifference
  2. Fatigue
  3. Miscommunication
  4. Factions
  5. Complexity
  6. Hubris
  7. Distraction
  8. Lethargy
  9. Deception
  10. Cowardice
  11. Poor systems
  12. Disrespect

Quote of the Day

A complex system that does not work is invariably found to have evolved from a simpler system that worked just fine.

- Murphy's Law of Computing

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Health Food Break: Oatmeal Whoopie Pies

The Pioneer Woman has what appears to be a reasonably easy recipe. Of course, the easiest recipe I know is to get someone to make them for me.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Dean Martin: "Memories Are Made of This."
The trailer for "Birdwatchers."
CoolTools: A travel humidifier.
The trailer for "Burn Notice."
Gregory Manchess lists 10 things about planning paintings.
The trailer for "Berlin Calling."
Burt's Bees: An organic orchestra.
The trailer for "Red Riding Hood."
Anne-Elisabeth Moutet on a Hollande presidency in France.
Jalopnik: Six gears of car stories.

Fortune Cookie

There always are interesting things at Eclecticity. Where does he find that stuff?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Will You Lose Internet Connections This Summer?

I set aside my goose quill pen to hammer out this link to a disturbing article. Am I the last person to hear of this? An excerpt:

The FBI is encouraging users to visit a website run by its security partner, , that will inform them whether they're infected and explain how to fix the problem. After July 9, infected users won't be able to connect to the Internet.
Most victims don't even know their computers have been infected, although the malicious software probably has slowed their web surfing and disabled their antivirus software, making their machines more vulnerable to other problems.

6 Sci Fi Picks

Intel futurist Brian David Johnson gives an interesting list of six science fiction books.

And I have read none of them.

Iconic Places to Photograph

And National Geographic knows the best spots.

Taking Responsibility and the Book Biz

Regardless of how you feel about publishers, e-books, the battle over the agency model, and the actions of the Justice Department, there is much to admire when a CEO takes personal responsibility. Here is Macmillan's CEO John Sargent describing his decision:

It is also hard to settle a lawsuit when you know you have done no wrong. The government's charge is that Macmillan's CEO colluded with other CEO's in changing to the agency model. I am Macmillan's CEO and I made the decision to move Macmillan to the agency model. After days of thought and worry, I made the decision on January 22nd, 2010 a little after 4:00 AM, on an exercise bike in my basement. It remains the loneliest decision I have ever made, and I see no reason to go back on it now. 

Read Shawn Coyne's take at the Steven Pressfield blog and also be sure to read Sargent's full statement.

Kotkin on the Great California Exodus

The scruffy-looking urban studies professor at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., has been studying and writing on demographic and geographic trends for 30 years. Part of California's dysfunction, he says, stems from state and local government restrictions on development. These policies have artificially limited housing supply and put a premium on real estate in coastal regions.
"Basically, if you don't own a piece of Facebook or Google and you haven't robbed a bank and don't have rich parents, then your chances of being able to buy a house or raise a family in the Bay Area or in most of coastal California is pretty weak," says Mr. Kotkin.

Read the rest of The Wall Street Journal interview with Joel Kotkin here.

Quote of the Day

In Japan, employees occasionally work themselves to death. It's called Karoshi. I don't want that to happen to anybody in my department. The trick is to take a break as soon as you see a bright light and hear dead relatives beckon.

- Scott Adams

Friday, April 20, 2012


There is some classic management reading at Cultural Offering. Read and savor the story of MacGregor.

About a Problem Employee

They'd talked to the HR people. The lawyer was even brought in. Upper management was alerted. Policies and procedures were consulted. Plans were developed. The employee's possible reactions were analyzed and the likely ones identified. And then someone asked, "Has anyone ever talked to the employee about this?"

You can guess the answer.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Wally Bock on magical bosses.
The trailer for "Waterloo."
Do diet sodas cause weight gain?
Neil Diamond, 1971: "Holly Holy."
The trailer for "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre."
Tanmay Vora has a story of self-awareness.
Sensory Dispensary has Admiral Grace Hopper explaining nanoseconds.
A Simple, Village Undertaker retires from a part-time job.
The trailer for "Thale."
Michael P. Maslanka and the words on tombstones.

When You Talk About Ethics

In my experience, people will more readily discuss possible legal violations than ethical ones. Cite the law and you're a serious decision maker. People scoot up to the conference table. The high priest/lawyer may be called upon to read the entrails. The legal issues are quickly sorted out. Usually no one gets upset. Mention an ethical problem, however, and you can see the personal defenses shooting up.

"Personal" is the operative word. The law is frequently vague and external. Questioning the ethics of conduct is regarded as more of a personal matter. People are more inclined to question the authority of the questioner - hardly a saint and at best a wounded healer - to make judgments. That's why ethical concerns must be raised carefully but they must be raised. It is too easy to slip into a "just obey the law" mode and think that doing so puts one in the sunny meadows of ethical behavior. There are many forms of legal conduct that are pretty ugly. As a Supreme Court justice noted years ago, having the right to do something doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.

We need more people who are willing to ask, "Are we doing the right thing?"

Quote of the Day

Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity....Even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.

- Leonardo da Vinci

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Music Break: Stones in Amsterdam

The Rolling Stones in Amsterdam with "Gimme Shelter."

The Alibi League

Why did they require a degree for that job, even though it is not necessary? Because they wanted something official-looking to justify their decision; something that could be quickly checked off without a lot of additional inquiry. Their sense is that no one will be fired for hiring a person with a degree. Multiply that feeling if it's an advanced degree. Hey, somebody else thought the applicant is smart. Don't blame me.

Why did that memo go to all of the employees, even though only two of them are the problem? Because management wants to show that everyone was treated the same way. Besides, direct confrontation can be so unpleasant. Now the memo can be waved, flimsy though it may be. Let's pretend it will work.

I'm convinced that far too much effort is put into developing alibis instead of shaping solutions. If alibis were microbes, most workplaces would be crawling with them. 

First Paragraph

It was an unnaturally cool morning in this part of northern Spain, when the youth who had got there first gave a whoop of triumph from the top of the rise which men called Montjoie, the Mountain of Joy. At least in those last moments before he died, the youngster knew absolute pleasure of a kind which he could never have known while slaving in the fields. He was only a damned peasant, after all, Gregory thought, watching him.

- From The Templar's Penance by Michael Jecks

Art Break: Patterson

Art Contrarian looks at the advertising art of Russell Patterson.

The Resource of Time

It is almost amusing to see second-guessers who, amid ample time and comfort, can critique the decisions of a person who had to grapple with serious problems when information was sparse, stress was high, and the potential effects were costly.

Time, in particular, is an element that is underestimated. Limit that and you have much less ability to collect your thoughts, gather information, and seek other perspectives. That's why wartime adversaries strive to rob their enemies of time. It can be as important a resource as ammunition. Reduce it and you produce confusion and knee-jerk reactions.

In our daily lives, it can be easy to create unnecessary deadlines that add to the pressure. Just keep piling on the tasks. We try to do too many of the minor things and thus drain time from the important ones. It is not unusual to meet people who barely give themselves time to think, consequently make poor decisions, and then waste additional time upbraiding themselves for the results before rushing on to the next disaster-in-the-making.

Quote of the Day

Keep high expectations, moderate aspirations, and small needs.

- Herbert Stein

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Looking the Part

Sometimes it's interesting to see a person who goes against type. A banker who looks like a Hell's Angel might have a certain appeal, although no doubt limited. Most of the time in the business world, we want a person's appearance to reassure us by reinforcing the sense that we are in good hands.

I recently checked in at a hotel where the people behind the front desk were so strangely dressed that I half-expected to see the shoes of an unconscious desk clerk protruding from under the counter. They were friendly enough, but a walking example of why uniforms are needed in some jobs. In the hotel biz, a uniform immediately tells you a multitude of things, such as "This is a hotel employee." They can even signal the type of job.

Go too casual and guests wonder, "Who is this person?" In some respects, we all wear uniforms. The question is whether they advance our purpose. If the "uniform" isn't right, we have a problem.

Picking Post Topics

Let's see, there is, nah, too glib. Too revealing. Have done it before. Everyone knows that. Risks breaching confidentiality. Too opinionated. Boring. Bizarre. Other bloggers have covered it. My clients would flip. Where's that "Plan 9 from Outer Space" trailer?

Bring Up the Bodies

If you liked Hilary Mantel's historical novel "Wolf Hall" - I loved it - the second volume in the trilogy is about to come out.

The Company Play

One does not have to be Sherlock Holmes to develop a skill for noticing. Given time and practice, you can sit in a meeting and spot what was not said, what was rushed, who filibustered to avoid questions, who used diversions, and who sat quietly and then made a telling point. You can witness alliances and feuds, challenges and surrenders, and individuals whose specialty is the backroom deal. You can see when a person who seemed to lose did not, where a bluff has been called, and when someone fell on a sword. Finances aside, there is a reason why so many are reluctant to leave the workplace. It is often the grand stage of life. The plots can equal a Shakespearean comedy or tragedy and there is no admission charge. The acting is usually superb if only because so many of the players naturally take to their parts.

Quote of the Day

No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been for what he gave.

- Calvin Coolidge

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Great Moments in Modern Film

The trailers for:
"Howard The Duck"
"Heaven's Gate"
"Battlefield Earth"
"Plan 9 from Outer Space"

Didya Hear the One About...

FutureLawyer on the physicist who beat the traffic ticket.

On Campus

Out of town and walking around a university campus. The contact person for my workshop recommended scouting out the location ahead of time and she was right. The place is a maze. I asked three students for the location of the building and not one of them knew. Fortunately, I had some rough directions and was able to reckon the spot by using stars and reading animal sign. Eventually, I could ask at a front desk and not get blank stares. Plenty of other stares came my way, of course, since my passport to the World of the Young expired years ago. Unfortunately, it cannot be renewed and so I have a visiting alien status.

Those of us who are older (and I'm not that old, saith the geezer) live in a different world from the young. We have other points of reference, heroes, music, and interests, although the last item may be closer than we realize. The age gap needs more exploration.

Anyway, I'm ready for my class and expect to get there with time to spare. If I can just get these roller blades on.

Quote of the Day

We do not remember days, we remember moments.

- Cesar Pavese

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Fine Line

Another consultant once asked me for some advice on his training sessions. He seemed surprised when I told him I think there is a fine line between a so-so presentation and an excellent one. The more we talked, the more evident it was that he really had some very good material but his presentation was too defensive. Timidity was keeping him from crossing that line into the very good or even excellent territory. He seemed to want to bribe the audience into loving him and that's a tactic that works for, say, three seconds.

He needed to dissect every aspect of his presentation and see what could be improved and then, after improving it, keeping doing the dissection and improvement process over and over again and never stop. Making presentations is a brutal business. What succeeds with one group will be less so with another. Audiences can be unfair and cruel and speakers are easy targets but every group has its lessons. Part of the learning process is knowing when a negative reaction is irrational and sensing when it might, just might, have a point, however small, that should be addressed.

When scrutinizing your own performance, you need to play two roles: that of critic and personal advocate. Sackcloth and ashes can be as dangerous as arrogance. Introspection is crucial. If honesty and perception are present, you become your own best consultant.

Art Break: Orpen

Art Contrarian looks at the work of Sir William Orpen.


Back by popular demand: George Harrison and Eric Clapton.

21 Ways to Claim Offense (Real or Otherwise)

  1. They said something inaccurate.
  2. They said something insensitive.
  3. They said something offensive.
  4. Their timing was wrong.
  5. They slanted the facts.
  6. They shot from the hip.
  7. They chose the wrong audience.
  8. Their words were okay but the tone was off.
  9. They said something once said by a really bad person and so they must be bad.
  10. They are hypocritical.
  11. They are posturing.
  12. They are inarticulate.
  13. They are too smooth.
  14. They are just repeating talking points. (Unlike our side, of course.)
  15. They've said this before.
  16. They've never said this before so their remarks must be contrived.
  17. They didn't say it but they implied it.
  18. They didn't say it but we know they really meant it.
  19. They sounded arrogant.
  20. They talked down to us.
  21. They were demagogic.

Quote of the Day

For a long, long time it seemed to me that I was about to begin real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last, it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.

- Alfred Souza

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Rifleman and Company

Anderson Layman's Blog has themes from old TV westerns. Great stuff.

First Paragraph

On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back.

- From I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Miscellaneous and Fast

Wally Bock gives some weekend imagination igniters.
The Telegraph: A gallery of weird items confiscated by airport security.
The trailer for "By the Will of Genghis Khan."
CoolTools: The Ultimate Hikers Gear Guide.
The trailer for "Seven Years in Tibet."
The New Criterion: James Piereson remembers James Q. Wilson.
The trailer for "Cold Comfort Farm."
Fast Company: The snail that is a power plant.

Rat, Mole, Toad, and Badger: Good Friends

I once had the tradition of reading The Wind in the Willows once a year.

It was pure pleasure. After reading this post at Cultural Offering, I'm going to revive it.

A Place to Curl Up

You know you want one: The Brooks Brothers Blazer Chair.


Titanic's Anniversary

The UK trailer for "A Night to Remember."
A coroner's report on what happens when a person is in water that is 31 degrees. 10 myths about the Titanic.

Top Five List: Books About Adventurers

Richard Mason gives his choices, including a famous adventurer known as Fanny Hill.


In general, I would be placed in the group which, if asked how they'd like their hair cut, would reply, "Silently."

That is inconsistent with the fact that for years I've gone to a very sociable barber. I violate my rule and maintain a strong loyalty because he is both competent and genuinely friendly. I've never seen him truly down. Even when he thought he might have cancer his demeanor matched my own on what I'd call quasi-happy days. Although he undoubtedly faces the sort of challenges carried by the rest of us, he never inflicts them on his customers.

There is a quiet joy in watching a person who truly loves his work and who takes the time to be more than simply polite. The lessons may be short and taught strictly via example, but I have learned a great deal from him.

Quote of the Day

Whoever battles with monsters had better see that it does not turn him into a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back at you.

- Nietzsche

Friday, April 13, 2012

Entertainment Break

The trailers for: 
How The West Was Won"
"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
"The Wrestler"

The Lost City

Even so, every Westerner I have ever met who has been to Beirut fell in love with the place almost at once. Even the Israelis I know who have sneaked in (and I know several) think it’s fantastic. “Life crackles in the air there like it does here,” Israeli journalist and academic Jonathan Spyer told me after he used a British passport to visit Beirut from Jerusalem. “I think that’s proof of health. And I don’t feel that in Western Europe.”

Read the rest of Michael J. Totten here.

Gratitude and Meetings

Congressman Mo Udall once described the status of a committee meeting by noting, "Everything has been said but not everyone has said it." 

It is a happy day when everyone on a committee does not feel compelled to echo previous remarks. What are some other times for which we should be grateful? 

  • When a person says, "In conclusion" and then promptly concludes.
  • When someone notes an item of interest that is not on the agenda...and then does not attempt to pursue it.
  • When everyone has done their homework and organized their thoughts.
  • When reasonable compromise is possible.
  • When people who have reservations about a course of action voice their concerns at the meeting and not afterwards.
  • When the person chairing the meeting keeps people on track.
  • When more than three options are considered.
  • When people treat rapid agreement as cautiously as they do rapid disagreement.
  • When you can tell that everyone's head is in the game.

Book Review: Glock by Paul M. Barrett

Glock: The Rise of America's Gun by Paul M. Barrett is a fascinating account of a very unlikely weapon.

A small curtain rod manufacturing firm in Austria that also produced field knives and bayonets but which had never made a handgun decided to bid on a pistol contract for the Austrian Army. Gaston Glock began to study handguns; buying and testing the various models in a shooting range he'd installed in his basement. He asked firearm specialists what they would want to see in the pistol of the future and a picture began to emerge.

The pistol should point "instinctively" at the target without requiring use of the gun sights, it should be able to withstand snow, ice, and mud, have a long service life, a generous magazine capacity, and address a major problem: the fact that many soldiers and police officers become confused as to whether the safety is on or off.

Barrett's book shows how Glock's pistol beat out his formidable competitors in part because he was not restrained to produce a product with set resources but instead could assemble the resources around the product. The Glock pistol came out at the perfect time as American law enforcement was concluding, after some disastrous encounters in which the cops were outgunned by the criminals, that slow-loading revolvers were unable to do the job on America's tough streets. Barrett reveals how Glock's company made an astute marketing move by selling his pistol first to law enforcement with the knowledge that its fame would spread to the society in general and to Hollywood. Once the Glock became the screen weapon of choice of Bruce Willis and others, its reputation was assured.

Barrett explores the controversies surrounding the Glock pistol as well as technical criticisms of the weapon. Essentially, his book is a tale of an eccentric inventor who made a very good product that coincided with a rising and powerful demand. You don't need to be a gun-owner or advocate to enjoy this book. It is an amazing story and its ending has not yet arrived.

Quote of the Day

A no-offense society is a no-knowledge society.

- Jonathan Rauch

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Why Paddy's Not at Work Today

The Clancy Brothers and Robbie O'Connell with a sick note to the boss.

Sharpen Your Wits and Win a Prize

Eclecticity has started a great contest: How would you caption this photo

[And it's a pretty neat photo.]

Miscellaneous and Fast

Art Linkletter and Irene Dunne at Disneyland on opening day.
Jocky Wilson, darts champion, has died.
Alan Dershowitz on the Zimmerman case.
Peter O'Toole's footprint ceremony at Grauman's Chinese Theater, April 30, 2011.
The trailer for "Illegal."

The Letter

E-mails. Faxes. Phone calls. I understand there are people who even text-message. [A brief pause while some readers scream, "Dinosaur!"]

When was the last time you wrote a letter? I don't mean business correspondence such as cover pages for proposals and the like. I mean a regular letter to a friend or an acquaintance; a missive that goes beyond a note card, covers several pages, and which is hand-written on paper and mailed in a stamped envelope.

It's been a long time since I've done that. 

History weeps.

Aside from the special nature of such letters, there is indeed a loss to history, even if it is the scrawl of an obscure management consultant in Phoenix. I treasure some letters that an ancestor of mine, a young farmer, wrote while he was serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. They cause me to wonder who is going to pass along e-mails from generation to generation? Will that sterile format have the same appeal? I can study this ancestor's handwriting and get a sense of his personality. His stationery was patriotic and he had a "fine hand" as they used to say before we hammered everything out by machine. Despite limited education, he was rather eloquent.

I've been neglecting some friends. 
It's time to get out the paper. I may even use a fountain pen.

Art: Tarzan and More

Art Contrarian looks at the work of J. Allen St. John.

Seeking Balance

Anderson Layman's Blog has an exchange with Tom Peters of some interesting lists.

That Helpful Attic

There are certain scenes and smells that evoke a flood of memories for me. A whiff of Camel cigarettes will bring back "smoke 'em if you've got 'em" Army days. The way a questioner's head is tilted or some shoes are tied will trigger memories from other events. With all of those ghosts that rattle around in the attic of our minds, it is surprising that we can get anything done and yet sometimes those seemingly disconnected memories will help us make important connections and thus facilitate our reasoning. I can see a minor gesture and know that the speaker is not quite confident - my mind provides plenty of precedents - or hear a combination of examples and know that they are meant to conceal and not make a point. "How did you know that was going to turn out that way?" a less experienced person might ask. When you observe carefully and have a helpful attic, it's not always that difficult.

Quote of the Day

The habit of learning is what keeps us fulfilled, surviving, and interesting.

- Philip B. Crosby

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Please forgive the absence of today's posting. I was trapped in a hotel that had troublesome Internet connections. It also had a mattress designed by Torquemada. That mistake will not be made again.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Forceful Painter

Art Contrarian looks at the art of Sergei Bongart. I think with a name like that you can do anything.

Presentations Book

A very kind plug at Cultural Offering

Just a Different Point of View

There's a painfully accurate cartoon at Anderson Layman's Blog.


FutureLawyer checks out a device that will permit you to charge your android devices via a campfire. Although I am famed for my frequent and raw encounters with nature, this has a strange appeal.

A Trip to the Hardware Store

I occasionally go to a hardware store where several of the staff members look and sound like alumni of a tough biker gang. [It takes little imagination to picture them chain-whipping shoplifters.] They are always friendly, however, and - here's the important part - helpful. They know their stuff. They can solve my problems without making me feel like an idiot.

These specialists stand in contrast to the better-dressed and untattooed staff at another branch of the same chain. Those sharpies look like they're eager to update their resumes. They possess only a vague knowledge of what's being sold in the store. It's not that they are snooty. They are amiable enough, but seem confused as to the difference between ratchets and beach balls. I have no confidence in their advice.

There is another factor. With the bikers, I sense a serious commitment to the products and the customers. Their competitors at the other store are just putting in time until another job opens up.

That may be true of anyone, but you sure don't want to telegraph it.

Quote of the Day

Conscience is the perfect interpreter of life.

- Karl Barth

Monday, April 09, 2012

Rules for Gentlemen

Cultural Offering has the poster.

The Necessary Vices

She was so zealous that some indifference would have improved her judgment. He was so inept that his laziness prolonged his career. Some vices, if taken in the right dosage, can improve performance. Hypocrisy and procrastination have probably saved all of us at some point in our lives.

Part of wisdom is knowing when a vice may be a virtue and when a virtue has become a vice.

Days of Distractions

There are weekly reminders that one of the greatest barriers to the success of individuals and organizations is distraction. [A powerful curse could be "May my adversaries be distracted."]

In an entertainment-sodden society, avoiding distraction is a chore for the alert. Television, radio, the Internet, and the related technology that put us in touch with a constant flow of amusement, news, and interruptions combine to divert our focus. [Take a note card and make a mark on it every time you encounter a distraction. On most days your tally will be formidable.]

Distraction erodes will and time. We would be better off choosing an activity of pure focus than the halfhearted attention we give to - and pleasure we glean from - those which fall in-between.

Quote of the Day

University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.

- Henry Kissinger

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Thoughts for Easter

A reading of one of the most memorable parts of C.S. Lewis's book, "Mere Christianity."

Saturday, April 07, 2012

When You Talk About...

When you talk about...

"Loyalty," some folks hear: Blind obedience. Subservience. Keep quiet. Just follow orders. One-way street. 

"Creativity," some folks hear: Dreamer. Impractical. Not our firm. Blue sky. Garret in Paris.

"Diversity," some folks hear: Quotas. Politically correct. Interest groups. Flavor of the month.

"Ethics," some folks hear: Hypocrisy. Goody Two-Shoes. Unrealistic. Naive.

"Teamwork," some folks hear: Free-loaders. Factions. Turf wars. Unequal burdens.

"Customers," some folks hear: Nuisances. Manipulators. Interruptions.

"Meeting," some folks hear: Waste of time. Ego trip. Lack of candor. Coffee.

"Motivation," some folks hear: Pep talk. Recognition. Money. 

"Deadline," some folks hear: Far-off. Extension. Some day.

The National Law Journal on Android Tablet

A true bargain:  FutureLawyer has the details.

Bezos on Leadership

Forbes has Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos's top ten leadership tips. An excerpt:

2.“Obsess over customers.” 
Early on Bezos brought an empty chair into meetings so lieutenants would be forced to think about the crucial participant who wasn’t in the room: the customer. Now that ­surrogate’s role is played by specially trained employees, dubbed “Customer Experience Bar Raisers.” When they frown, vice ­presidents tremble.

Flags and Shields

When people make a major decision, they want a flag to wave or a shield to wield. The inherent quality of a course of action may not be apparent or even that important. [Those innocent souls who rely solely upon high quality selling itself are in for disappointment.] The decision makers want to feel good or safe about their choice and if you can make them feel both you are in good shape indeed.

When preparing proposals or interviewing for a position, never forget that truth. Know your flag and shield. At a minimum, make them feel better or make them feel safe.

Quote of the Day

Pope Leo used to cite his father, Lorenzo de Medici, who often said, "Remember that those who speak ill of us don't love us."

- Francesco Guicciardini

Friday, April 06, 2012

The Mexican Drug Wars

Spengler on what James Q. Wilson would tell Mexico. An excerpt:

The bad news is always the good news. There are fewer crimes because more criminals are in jail. A great deal is made over the fact that a million of America's 7.3 million prison inmates were convicted of non-violent (mainly drug-related) crimes. It is much easier to convict a dealer for selling a modest amount of drugs to an undercover police officer, though, than to catch the dealer in a violent act. Drug gangs are violent criminal conspiracies, and most of the prison inmates convicted of selling drugs promoted such violence.

Music Break: Rozsa

Miklos Rozsa conducts the suite from "Ben Hur."

You Know You Want One

Okay, this Citroen concept car was out at car shows in 2009. Why isn't it out at the dealerships?

Miscellaneous and Fast

The trailer for "Jesus of Nazareth."
Wally Bock: Don't be Steve Jobs.
Tanmay Vora meets a winner.
Uncle Sugar: GSA employee does rap skit about his job.
James Lileks on a Snapper Mower ad that probably sold few mowers.
Can't wait for the trial: More on Olbermann v. Gore.
Portlandia: The vintage clothing store.
CoolTools: A lightweight ratchet that rocks.
Back by popular demand: "Pancho and Lefty."