Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Therapy of Used Bookstores

This may seem odd, but I feel a personal obligation to help used bookstores stay in business. Take the mom-and-pop store near my home. It has an excellent selection and is kept clean and well-organized. The prices are reasonable and the people are pleasant. It is a rare week when I don't visit and the trips are a form of therapy. In addition to tracking down books by familiar authors, I also like to give new ones a try. It can be fun to read far outside the usual range and see if something clicks.

Since the used bookstores don't charge the ridiculous prices that today's publishers like to slap on new books, it is easier to experiment and finding shelves filled with books by unknown writers who are - truth be known - extremely good is an exercise in humility.

What more could you ask from a simple visit to a store?

When Lost

At The Hammock Papers, read about what to do if you're lost in the woods. Best line: "A clear head will find itself."

Robot Man

FutureLawyer, once a mocker of that intelligent and sophisticated part of the populace known as wristwatch wearers, has come back from The Dark Side and is wearing a Sony SmartWatch. His description of the transformation is here but I was especially interested in this: 

Now, my wrist buzzes when I have incoming email, gives me the time and date in digital numbers when I want it, tells me my exact location with the press of a button, acts as a long distance viewfinder for my phone's camera, vibrates and buzzes when a call comes in on the phone, and more.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Anderson Layman's Blog has the button we all want.
The trailer for "Local Hero."
Students hijack a drone?
Mark Steyn on the repeal of Canada's Section 13.
Prager University: Arthur Brooks on the moral promise of free enterprise.
Wally Bock looks at uses of the past in this weekend's imagination igniters.
Beauty tip: Sleep in a freezer.
CoolTools looks at the classic, "Thinking with a Pencil."

Quote of the Day

Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.

- John Stuart Mill

Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday Night Treat

The trailer for "Jungle Manhunt." Remember, people got paid for this.

Hypocrisy: Good and Bad

When it comes to promoting ethical behavior, all of us are wounded healers. If sainthood were required in order to be an ethics advocate, there would be few of them. As Zig Ziglar said when confronted by those who said his church had a bunch of hypocrites in it, "Come on in. There's room for one more."

Adopting a positive image in order to promote good is understandable and desirable. We try to appear better than we are. [As I'm reminded every morning, clothes do make the man.] Some gaps between image and reality are permissible. The difficulty arises when the gap is too large. For example, we will permit politicians a certain amount of waffling but when there is a sizable distance between what is said and what is done, then trust is no longer deserved.

The same is true in various organizations. Leaders who say "Yes" but do "No" will only be able to get away with that under limited circumstances. Step past those boundaries and credibility will evaporate. Are the boundaries clearly marked? Not really and that creates further friction. I frequently see people cheering leaders who are, in my opinion, ethical eunuchs. Whenever that happens, I'm not sure which troubles me more: the leader or the followers? The violator or the apologists? To what extent does the leader's hypocrisy corrupt the followers?

I recall an executive who told me that in his organization, "We don't recover our wounded." They weren't shouting that revelation from the rooftops. It was a hard truth but, as hard truths tend to do, it triggered questions: What sort of leadership does that place have? And what sort of people remain there?

First Paragraph

The modern era begins, characteristically, with a revolution. It is commonly called the Protestant Reformation, but the train of events starting early in the 16C and ending - if indeed it has ended - more than a century later has all the features of a revolution. I take these to be: the violent transfer of power and property in the name of an idea.

- From From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life by Jacques Barzun

Music Break

The Traveling Wilburys with "End of the Line."

The Obamacare Decision: Various Views

Timothy Dalrymple
Charles Krauthammer
Leslie Savan
Megan McArdle
Ann Althouse
Jonathan Cohn
John Steele Gordon

Update: An interesting take by law prof Randy Barnett.
Update II: Ezra Klein.
Update III: Paul Rahe.
Update IV: David Brooks.

Quote of the Day

No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up.

- Lily Tomlin

Thursday, June 28, 2012

In the Evening

I love mornings but some of my best work is done in the evening. The morning has promise but the evening brings silence. Lists are scrutinized and assembled. Letters are composed. Missing answers are found.  I reproach myself for incessant sloth, unwritten books, and undiscovered success. As bedtime approaches, I'll read a little in the Bible and any novel that won't keep me awake. There is so much to do, it could take several lifetimes.

I think I'll check out the sky.

Too True

Cultural Offering has your moment of zen.

Brutally Frank

I think I'll print off this post from the extraordinary Nicholas Bate and tape it near my computer.

Learning The Job

"How do I do this this job?"
"You mean you don't know?"
"Well, yes, in a way. I mean I was hired because my training and past performance indicated I could do it but that doesn't mean I don't have things to improve."
"But it sounds like you're talking about improving on the basics, not just fringe items."
"Yes. I suppose that's why professional baseball players have batting coaches."

Quote of the Day

Life is a foreign language: all men mispronounce it.

- Christopher Morley

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Reluctance to Ask

It may be due to shyness, fear, pride or some other characteristic but many people are reluctant to ask for things. "I shouldn't have to ask" they'll say and - truth be known - they shouldn't. If the world were awash in sensitivity other people would know this individual requires something. Unfortunately, need is frequently blanketed by indifference.

Their complaint that "I would do it for them" is as irrelevant as it is correct. The fact is the average person struggles through life with so many personal concerns - "Is my tie straight?" - they barely have time to notice the friend in the corner who is sending a nonverbal SOS. In some cases even a clear statement of need would only elicit a blank stare. Admission would be quickly challenged by denial: "You're doing fine!" 

A friend of mine once told me about a relative whose sixth sense was so finely developed that he would show up just when things were about to turn south. She said this relative would simply announce, "I felt you could use some help" and then, once assistance was rendered, would disappear to his home in another city.

If only more of us were so alert.

Life Sentences and the Court

In  the 1790s, a Tennessee man convicted of horse theft got off easy. Instead of being hanged, as horse thieves often were, he was sentenced to “stand in the pillory one hour, receive thirty-nine lashes upon his bareback well laid on, have his ears nailed to the pillory and cut off, and that he should be branded upon one cheek with the letter H and on the other with the letter T, in a plain and visible manner.” Tennessee could not do that today because of what the Supreme Court has called “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

Read the rest of George Will's column here.

Google Glasses: You Know You Want a Pair

FutureLawyer has the audience-wowing video.

Miscellaneous and Fast

VodkaPundit has a collection of Sorkinisms.
FutureLawyer on a blazer that folds into a pouch.
Tim Ferriss: The Slow Carb Diet.
Chinese bloggers push for change.
Eclecticity: Where does he find this stuff?
The trailer for: "Anna Karenina"
WSJ Law Blog: Hackers target law firms.
The trailer for: "Hotel Rwanda"
James Lileks on comic book sins.
Michael P. Maslanka has a proposal to keep lawyers honest.
The trailer for: "Jack The Giant Killer"

Quote of the Day

You can't get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first.

- C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Kick Back

At Fast Company: Sound business reasons to take a vacation.

Happiness and Focus

At The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin interviews author Dan Ariely:

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
These days, I get a lot of joy from getting better at what I do (mostly research and writing), even when the rate of progress is slow.  When I was young, I only enjoyed the sense of progress when it was fast – when I was getting much better every day.  I think that this is why I used to switch from activity to activity rather quickly (in order to get the sense of large improvements), whereas now I focus on fewer things to a higher degree.

Modern Living

The Onion: Moving to New City to Solve All of Area Man's Problems.

When Lawyers Advertise

"That vermin you call a spouse": A divorce attorney with an unconventional ad.

Miami Vibes

Carl Hiaasen analyzes that bizarre case on his home beat:

However, a zombie-like face-eating attack would be major news in any city. And had it happened in Des Moines or Spokane, the worldwide reaction would have been one of plain revulsion.
The initial response to the MacArthur Causeway bloodbath was the same kind of horror, but then — after the dateline was noted — almost a sigh of relief.
Oh, this was in Miami? Well, that explains it.

Read more here:

Guttenberg's Career Advice

“It’s great when you don’t know the rules, when you don’t know that you aren’t supposed to call someone or you are not allowed to do something.” Guttenberg says he benefited from his youthful confidence when he commandeered an empty building at Paramount Studios as his own office. “When you only have your ambition, you don’t realize that you aren’t supposed to build computers in your garage (referencing two other infamous Steves),” he says. “You just go ahead and do it.”

Read the rest of
Steve Guttenberg's advice at Forbes.

Job Searches and Unicorns

The headhunters won't call. The job requirements will be senselessly inflated. You'll get  interviews where they'll practically ask you to start that afternoon and then you'll never hear from them again. You'll labor over applications for jobs that are just being advertised so they can say they advertised and everyone (but you) knows Betty in Budget & Finance already has a lock on it. You'll use your network of friends and relatives again and again hoping to find an opening that won't draw 3,000 competitors. You'll scan job boards and search sites and apply for things you wouldn't have considered a few months ago and each rejection will be a knife in your heart. You'll fight depression and learn an upbeat patter to hide it because you know that getting a job is like applying for a loan and you only get an offer if they think you don't desperately need the dough. But you do, so you scramble about. You attend professional groups and do volunteer work and take a class or two so you can add them to your credentials and then one day, a unicorn shows up on your doorstep and you get a job and when you have a moment to sit down alone somewhere you wonder what you could have done to have landed it earlier and the answer is "Nothing." Just be happy that it happened and later, no matter how far you go in life or how good things get, never forget what it was like to send off a dream and wait for a reply.

Quote of the Day

If you want staff to give great service, give great service to staff.

- Ari Weinzweig

Monday, June 25, 2012

First Paragraph

1985. The Alps make you feel all starched and clean as you fly into Milan - they punctuate the long transatlantic sleep of a nighttime flight; groaning bodies stir and strengthen and come to morning life as the mountains exert a rosy magnetic pull that won't allow you not to pay them the compliment of being crisply awake.

- From Italian Days by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

Great Moments in Law Enforcement

You can't make this stuff up.

[HT: Dave Barry]

Godin on Trust

Here's Seth Godin on where trust comes from. An excerpt:

We trust people because they showed up when it wasn't convenient, because they told the truth when it was easier to lie and because they kept a promise when they could have gotten away with breaking it.

News You Can Use

The science of a Slinky: A video of how it can suspend in mid-air.

Quick Report: Today's U.S. Supreme Court Decision

On the Arizona immigration law.

Hollow Reputations

It took me longer than it should have but the lesson eventually sunk in that having a reputation for being extremely able is not the same as being extremely able. I've met people in my personal and professional life who were so far from the lofty heights of their respective reputations that I suspected conscious deceit or an active public relations campaign, not to be redundant.

Conversely, there are those who turn out to be hugely underestimated. Spend time in their company and you question the assumption that the best performers will, over time, naturally rise to the top. Some pretty sharp people get trapped in life's storm drains.

Experience can foster a natural wariness when it comes to reputations, be they positive or negative. I've found that a few probing questions about the basis for the rankings usually reveals whether there is any substance. Often, the worshipful and the cynical fold when asked to support their opinions or they creep into the fog of vague defenses.

Consequently, I've reached this sad conclusion: A reputation is only as sound as the insight of its creators.

Gimme Money

At The Motley Fool: Three predictions for the week.

Quote of the Day

This was the first time I ever thought about God as a real person rather than some sort of misty presence in the firmament. Here was someone with a sense of humor, who was all-powerful, and wanted to be my friend.

- Philip B. Crosby

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Bad Vibes

At Unhappy Hipsters:

Parties at the family homestead were never quite the same after the bath salts fiasco.

Kept Secret for Years

Here's an uplifting story to remember. An excerpt:

Over the next three hours, The 9 Nanas (who all consider themselves sisters, despite what some of their birth certificates say) will whip up hundreds of pound cakes, as part of a grand scheme to help those in need. And then, before anyone gets as much as a glimpse of them, they’ll disappear back into their daily lives. The only hint that may remain is the heavenly scent of vanilla, lemon and lime, lingering in the air.

[HT: A Simple, Village Undertaker]

Find Something Beautiful Today

Saturday, June 23, 2012

First Paragraph

When I was a small child, I used to sneak into my father's study and leaf through the papers on his desk. He is a mathematician. He wrote on graph paper, in pencil - long rows of neatly written numbers and figures. I would sit on the edge of his chair and look at each page with puzzlement and wonder. It seemed miraculous, first of all, that he got paid for what seemed, at the time, like gibberish. But more important, I couldn't get over the fact that someone whom I loved so dearly did something every day, inside his own head, that I could not begin to understand.

- From What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell

Music Break

Back by popular demand: Herbert von Karajan and the Berliner Philharmoniker with the second movement from Beethoven's 7th Symphony plus Big Mama Thornton and Buddy Guy with "Hound Dog" and Ennio Morricone's theme from "Cinema Paradiso."

Messy World

Parents know how often they are tempted to remind children that life is unfair. Consider how often adults need to realize that life is illogical, messy, and complicated. Recall the grand pronouncements that followed the end of the Cold War. Much of the gushing related to technological advances but you would have thought some of the gushers would have cracked a history book or two. As one savvy wag put it, when surveying world history it is more accurate to say that on rare occasions peace broke out.

Someone is always off-stage, waiting to run on and upset the furniture and kill members of the cast. We may have written a tidy little script but those folks have scripts of their own. In his book on terrorism, Lee Harris observes that there was nothing the Ethiopians could have done to change Mussolini's desire to add them to his new Roman Empire. In his mind, they were relevant only so far as they advanced his aims. He was reacting to nothing they did.

Another blunder is the wish to ascribe one major driving force behind the ways of the world. Hitler and his cult members had their wacky concept of race. The Communists smugly cited economic motives and bragged that History was on their side.

Cynics like to joke that "Whenever someone says 'It's not the money, it's the principle of the thing,' you can bet it's the money." That's a pretty shallow reading of human behavior and history. In reality, a variety of motives can combine to spur action and people often act unselfishly. And yes, sometimes it is the principle of the thing.

As James Madison warned us, however, we shouldn't assume that men are angels. That's why savvy governments (and organizations) have checks in place to protect people from leaders both wise and foolish. It's also why relying upon reason instead of the lessons of human experience can be a risky endeavor.

To modify a concept of Michael Novak's, many of us would probably expand our perspective if we could work as a street cop or run a shoe-shine stand for several years.

It's a marvelous world out there but it can resist simple explanations.

Note in a Closet

Be sure to read Wally Bock today:

None of the really important things are "valuable" in a monetary sense. Downstairs, in the closet, is a framed note to my father from the poet Edwin Markham. It thanks dad for his service as Markham's secretary and wishes him well in life. The closing is gloriously Victorian, "Yours to command" in Markham's flowery script.

"Mounted Marauders"

Steroid-crazed cyclists—with their maniacal veering in and out of traffic, up and down sidewalks, and into lanes clearly designated "Pedestrians Only"—threaten joggers in Chicago, picnickers in San Francisco, sunbathers in Los Angeles and even retired nuns lollygagging along the banks of the Schuylkill in Philadelphia. They turn a casual midday Manhattan stroll into a terrifying gauntlet; they turn a postprandial constitutional along Boston's Charles River into pure hell. You have to go back to the time of Genghis Khan to find mounted marauders more bloodthirsty, more treacherous and more pitiless than American bicyclists.

Read the rest of Joe Queenan here.

How Time Shoots Past with Random Chores

Finishing materials for two upcoming presentations. Deciphering the inscription on a French sword bayonet made in 1873. Reading a management book. Getting a computer up and running after its Internet connection was skewed by a new router. Staring at some gardening work. Considering the purchase of a new pistol. Looking for the hawks that moved into the neighborhood. Shifting a book manuscript from WordPerfect to Word. Reading Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Preparing the president's report for a board of directors of a community organization. Making notes on a James Collins monograph. Cleaning out clothes closet. Mowing back yard. Writing notes to some friends. Watering a patch of lawn that the irrigation doesn't reach. Buying some French Market coffee.

Quote of the Day

In the absence of a simple BIG objective to act as a unifying force, no leader or manager can hope to make a company more productive. 

- Bill Zollars

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Tad Warm Today in Phoenix

I was outside this afternoon and felt like Lawrence of Arabia raiding the Turks.

Traffic was sparse. It took several minutes before I could fully grasp the steering wheel. Should be fun in July and August when it gets really hot. No wonder we scurry about like lizards.

New Math

Back by popular demand: Ma and Pa Kettle give a math lesson.

College Students at Home

Cultural Offering has some words to the wise for college students who are back at the old homestead for summer. An excerpt:

We enjoy your new-found hours as well.  The world really doesn't come alive until 10:00 p.m. or 11:00 p.m. and the sounds of laughter on the back porch as we sleep helps us to dream.  Consider the beer in the refrigerator yours.  Turning lights off when you go to bed at night - or during the day - is such a chore; we'll probably wake up between 3:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. and get them.

Long Lingo

Reka-Zsuzsanna gives a Hungarian language lesson.

First Paragraph

On the morning of December 1, a man named Theodore Bellamy went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean off South Florida. Bellamy was a poor swimmer, but he was a good real-estate man and a loyal Shriner.

- From Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen

Miscellaneous and Fast

Tanmay Vora has ideas for employee engagement.
Style: Highest paid models of 2012.
The trailer for "Inseparable."
Katherine Jenkins singing the theme from "Band of Brothers."
The trailer for "8 1/2."
WSJ Law Blog: Executive privilege declarations in the past 50 years.

Batting Away The Life Preserver

It is not unusual to find individuals and organizations who will resist rescue. Some of the reasons for this odd behavior are:
  1. They are waiting for another form of rescue - one more to their liking - and are willing to risk disaster in order to get their preference.
  2. They don't believe they need any assistance.
  3. Acknowledging the need for rescue goes against one of their core beliefs. They have a personal investment in the beliefs that produced, or will produce, disaster.
  4. They think that rejecting rescue will only result in a mild setback and not a full-blown disaster.
  5. Their mindset is so positive that it will not accept that disaster is possible.
  6. They regard disaster as a form of penance they must pay for past sins.
  7. They fear success.

Quote of the Day

"Practice makes perfect" is a stupid thing to say. If you practice the wrong thing you don't get better; you just learn how to do the wrong thing extremely well.

- Larry Winget

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Modern Troubleshooting

At Cultural Offering: The flow chart.

Turning Pro

The sequel to The War of Art: Read an excerpt from Steven Pressfield's new book.

Art Break: Desch

Art Contrarian looks at the work of Frank H. Desch.

Crisis Management Techniques

This one is especially popular with government officials.


Combine candor with discretion, action with analysis, kindness with toughness, book smarts with street smarts, work with rejuvenation, observation with indifference, honesty with caring, passion with detachment, courage with restraint, science with faith, and urgency with patience. The best of life can be found in such mixtures.

Quote of the Day

They think everything is normal just because the streetcars are running.

- Osip Mandelstam to his wife about the citizens of Moscow on the dawn of the Soviet Union

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Warm Up The Oven

Tasty Kitchen: Coconut Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Management Involves Follow-Up

A letter that President Abraham Lincoln sent to General Irvin McDowell on May 28, 1862:

You say Gen. Geary's scouts report that they find no enemy this side of the Blue Ridge. Neither do I. Have they been to the Blue Ridge looking for them?

Circling the Project

Nature's Circle Experts

I like to circle projects, see them from all sides, and probe the weak spots. It can be vital to know what the critics will say before they say it and whether their points will have merit. My own assumptions need to be questioned and I'm wary of those times when passion may be obscuring reality.

In other words, this approach does not resemble a straight line. It's more like a series of recon patrols.

The practice can appear somewhat odd, even to myself. It's important that each circle bring me closer to the goal and that the circling not become a rut. Time is another important consideration. Some projects permit little or no circling. You have to go right to the main issue and neutralize the negatives. Circling can be a luxury.

But when it is possible, there are many benefits. The greatest is insight.

Poetry in Life

Note this advice at The Hammock Papers.

Another Sign That It's a New Day in the Publishing Biz

James Lileks on his decision to self-publish. An excerpt:

Last year I decided to write a series of mystery novels, price them cheap, and put them on the Kindle. Oh, I could go the traditional route, and wait six months for some underpaid reader in a Manhattan publishing house to get around to it, sniff at its deficiencies, lament its worldview, stamp PASS on the envelope – or pay a pittance, dump it in the market, and consider “mailing an uncorrected proof” to a newspaper reviewer to constitute “marketing and publicity.” I work at a paper, and I see the number of books that come in every day. We have a special room to hold the ones that will never be cracked.

Quote of the Day

Cultural relativism, which asserts that all cultures are essentially equal and eschews comparative value judgments, has been the conventional wisdom in academic circles for decades. Yet some cultures are progress-prone, while others are not. I believe that cultures that nurture human creative capacity and progress are better than those that don't. Some may be offended by this assertion, but it is, I believe, corroborated by the persistent flow of immigrants from cultures that suppress progress to those cultures that facilitate it.

- Lawrence E. Harrison

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Midnight Hour

Remember the singer in "The Commitments?" Here he is in concert in Dublin.

The Best Sherlock Holmes

The Telegraph's  top 20 Sherlocks. Good ranking.

First Paragraph

The last time I tried to quit my job I was turned down - on the grounds that I was incompetent. My resignation letter was returned with editing marks circling the typos, inventive spellings, infinitives split so wide they would never heal. It was all rather embarrassing, considering that I was a writer for a newspaper.

- From Falling Up the Stairs by James Lileks

Take to Me to the River

FutureLawyer considers a branch office.

Too Many Books?

Question answered at Cultural Offering.

Got Ideas?

Over the years, I've found that coaching clients don't always come in with a request for a specific course of action. They are often in search of fresh perspectives which they can then integrate into their own approaches. They've already examined a topic with their associates and they'd like a person with gray hair, a few scars, and a completely independent attitude to tell them something new.

Their unspoken question is "What am I missing?"

This can be fun because the consultant gets to play Sherlock Holmes. 

That's not necessarily difficult because in many instances the client knows the situation but simply wants confirmation. In others, the answer has been standing in front of the client but the management team is so close to the situation that the problem has blended in with the background. As someone once noted, "It's difficult to see the picture when you're standing inside the frame."

Of course, there may not be a problem at all. Things are cruising along and the client just wants some advice on how to get better.

Those are the most enjoyable sessions of all.

Tired, Angry, and Stalling

The two times when you must be especially careful are when you are tired or angry. Combine them and  regret is almost certain.

If you have all of the resources for a decision or action but are lacking the proper frame of mind, then it is wise to buy some time, even if it is for as little as 30 minutes. I've seen people who damaged their careers for years because of one injudicious remark or decision made at a moment when judgment was obscured by fatigue or emotion.

Alarm bells should sound whenever someone claims that a decision must be made immediately. Such deadlines are rarely real and the person who is pressing for a commitment is using one of the oldest power ploys in the book. Let me make a suggestion that is only slightly tongue-in-cheek:

Ask "What would Calvin Coolidge do?"

Quote of the Day

I've just read that I am dead. Don't forget to delete me from your list of subscribers.

- Rudyard Kipling

Monday, June 18, 2012

Tell The Damn Story

One of the best films about the madness of writing and writers: "Adaptation"

Art Break

Art Contrarian looks at the work of Edgar Payne.

7 Points When Going Beneath the Surface

Here are just a few areas to explore when reviewing positions:

  1. Facts. We can find many "facts" that aren't really facts at all, but are opinions, guesses or assumptions.
  2. Assumptions. What are we assuming to be desirable, well established or unchangeable? Assumptions can lead us down many a rabbit hole.
  3. Comparisons. Think apples and oranges. Notice how often false comparisons are made in political discourse.
  4. Burdens. Who is bearing the heaviest burden? Are we paying too much or too little attention to the burdens?
  5. The Long Term. It may be a grand short term solution but how will it fare over the long? Will it set a positive precedent?
  6. Appearance. Does it fail The Front Page Test? What if close friends or family knew about this behavior?
  7. Self-Interest. Are we adopting a position that is solely for our own interest and which will harm other stakeholders? Is this done to promote an ethical value?

Book Review: Giving Voice to Values

Being a tad impatient - one of my thoughts while reading many management books is "Get to the point!" - I was frustrated with the beginning of Giving Voice to Values by Mary C. Gentile. That was unfair and I should have tempered my expectations. She is, after all, a research scholar at Babson College and the book was published by Yale University Press so it was wrong to assume that we'd get an Elmore Leonardnesque plunge into the topic. Around 50 pages in, however, Professor Gentile decides to cut loose with the preamble and seize the subject. As her book notes, it is one thing to be ethical but how can we talk about ethics without turning off our audience? How can we surface ethical concerns in a manner that is likely to encourage ethical behavior?

I found the most helpful part of the book to be her "A Tale of Two Stories" exercise in which participants recall times when their values conflicted with a nontrivial management decision and they spoke up versus a similar time when they did not speak up. The idea is to identify the "enablers" and "disablers" that affect a willingness to voice ethical concerns.

Gentile does a thorough job of examining the rationalizations for failing to address unethical behavior and she proposes ways to voice ethical values that are, as she puts it, "more likely, more comfortable, and more apt to be effective." Even savvy practitioners of office politics who are familar with some of the techniques will find the collection of these approaches to be helpful and the book includes an appendix that summarizes key areas.

Gentile's book will be a great source for stimulating discussions of ethics at staff meetings. [I will be using it in the ethics workshops that I teach to managers.] Its framework should be accompanied by a caution that being ethical can involve significant risk. Although these approaches can stiffen some spines and reduce the likelihood of a backlash, they may not remove all dangers. Sometimes, our "voicing" will go only so far and courage is required. At those moments, we must be willing to pay a price - perhaps a heavy one - if we are going to be ethical.

Book received from publisher
Version: Paperback, 273 pages

Quote of the Day

People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?
- Rodney King

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Wolfe on Writing

Watching Tom Wolfe makes me want a solid reassurance from his publisher that his upcoming novel, which is based in Miami, will indeed be released. The last I heard was it will be out in October.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Wally Bock: Weekend imagination igniters. The rise of naked vacations.
Will Smith: Success secrets.
Hip music break with a gray bonnet.
Judicial humor: A Happy Meal.
Michael Crichton on DDT.
CoolTools: Items that collapse.

Constantin's Covers

Art Contrarian looks at the work of Alajalov.

The Information Gap

Organizations run on information. If you doubt that, visit one in which information is scarce and you'll see the effects. Performance is subdued, coordination is limited, and planning is about as accurate as a blindfolded dart-thrower. The shocking thing is how people will blissfully operate in the dark.

That's why a central question is "How does this place operate?" That can be quickly followed with "How comprehensive and reliable is our information about how this place operates?" I include the second question because often the people making the reports know only a tad more than those receiving them. Major decisions are made in the absence of key information which is available but not surfaced.

Scary things, the basics. That's why they need to be watched.

Quote of the Day

You can't teach a man what he thinks he already knows.
- Epictetus

Friday, June 15, 2012

Entertainment Break

Two trailers with extraordinary scenes:
"The Leopard"
"An Englishman Abroad"

First Paragraph

Have you heard the joke about the Norwegian farmer who loved his wife so much he almost told her? My father - Louis C. Rove, Jr. - was a Norwegian, one of those taciturn midwesterners who held back a lot. But in the last decades of life, Dad began to open up about himself, his marriage, and my childhood. He would meet me and my wife, Darby, in Santa Fe for the opera and the Chamber Music Festival each summer, and while exploring New Mexico, he would reveal secrets of our family life that were shocking because they were so intimate. But I disclose them here because my early years have been painted very differently. There is something to be said about setting the record straight, especially when it involves your kin.

- From Courage and Consequence by Karl Rove

Internet Bias

Over the past year, I have read several admissions/proclamations/boasts by people who note the they would never hire someone who has an AOL email address. [For the record, I do not have one.]

Apparently, they believe such an address denotes a lack of hipness or creativity and reveals a certain stodginess. Based on my unscientific review of friends who have those addresses, I can say that conclusion doesn't hold up. One or two might be somewhat cautious or formal, but all of the others are pretty bold operators and a few are very unconventional. Perhaps having an AOL address is their way of protesting the accepted forms of hip and they see it as so far out it's in.

Anyway, have you encountered or practiced this bias? Looking over your own circle of acquaintances, are there any who use an AOL address and don't fit the negative stereotype?

[Update: Check out Eclecticity.]

An Affordable Tablet?

At FutureLawyer: An ASUS Nexus 7 tablet for $150.

Political Eloquence

As some of you know, I teach workshops and coach executives and managers on presentation skills. I've found politicians to be fascinating studies in the ups and downs of public speaking. Many of the best would lose points in a public speaking contest but they remain highly effective due to their overall performance. [It is possible to be too smooth.]

The most eloquent American presidents in my lifetime were - no surprise here - Kennedy and Reagan. Their pacing and use of phrases are extraordinary and they were able to carry that magic onto the stump. Bill Clinton was eloquent but not memorable. Jimmy Carter fell into an odd staccato. [His speeches are a real contrast to JFK's fairly rapid pace.] Lyndon Johnson, by all accounts a dynamic figure in person, had a schoolmarmish persona when speaking formally. Reagan's voice possessed a warmth that was assuring whereas George H. W. Bush's voice tended to grate. [One observer famously said that Bush reminded every woman of her first husband.]

There is a strange similarity between Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Both can do a grand job of delivering a set speech - see Obama's speech after the Iowa caucus victory and Bush's speech at the National Cathedral after 9/11 - but their stump speeches fall into the "flirting with  disaster" category. Due to Bush's notorious misuse of the English language, his impromptu efforts could be, as one wag described it, like watching a fat man on ice. Obama, a well-educated man, drops his "g"s when on the stump and sometimes, when searching for the end of a sentence, seems as lost as his predecessor. Ted Kennedy could give inspiring set speeches but his impromptu utterances could cause you to shout - as a Doonesbury character once did - "A verb, Senator, a verb!"

So far, Mitt Romney's speaking style tends to be more workmanlike than eloquent. I've heard one of his speeches that would fall in the eloquent category. The rest pretty much resemble cabinet-making. That may not be bad. Eisenhower and Truman were carpenters when it came to oratory and their presidencies show that we may place too much emphasis on eloquence.

Eloquence without substance is entertaining but little more. A beautiful performance by a modern-day empty suit (think John Edwards) is like the extravagant military uniforms worn in nations where the main job of the armed forces is protecting a dictator or plotting a coup. The uniform and all of the decorations look nice, but what do they really represent?

Quote of the Day

Trend is not destiny.

- Lewis Mumford

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Powerful Addiction

A thought-provoking post at Anderson Layman's Blog about one of life's most powerful addictions. Does anyone disagree with this?

I Wrote a Post

...that I thought was insightful but a few minutes later some uncertainty arose with the question: "Do I really agree with that?"

So it is now in the incubation period awaiting further inspection. That usually works.

The By-Product

I cannot begin to name the times when a project's direct reward proved to be far less valuable than what was learned in the course of the project. It is not surprising that we learn from disasters. Less obvious may be the lessons we glean from what initially seemed to be run-of-the-mill projects that at some point turned into bigger, and more exciting, courses of discovery.

Once we've adopted the role of prospector, it is as if the hidden treasure had been waiting for us to approach the mountain in a certain direction. Later, we thank God that we didn't dismiss that journey as just a minor task.

A Lubber's Story: Canal Boat Holiday

Neil Tweedie's saga. An excerpt:

Lovers of canal cruising will tell you it is the perfect way to de-stress, the slowness of the journey (speed limit four miles per hour) imparting an agreeable torpor as the frenetic pace of modern life recedes. Who, after all, has heard of canal rage?

Things to Chuck

The incomparable Bate advises to lose these. Pronto.

Down on the Farm

Consider how even non-agricultural workplaces can resemble farms. 

Planting. Certain things must be done in advance in order to reap a reward later. You cannot plant one week and harvest the next. This can require, to borrow a description from Admiral Rickover, courageous patience.

Nourishing. People and projects must be developed and given sufficient resources. Some projects must lie fallow in order to gain strength.

Weeding. Negative influences must be neutralized or removed.

Maintaining. The work environment and equipment must be kept in good order. Changes must be made to adapt to external threats, such as the workplace equivalent of locusts and bad weather.

Developing. Knowledge of techniques and skills must be kept up to date. You're always working or learning; preferably both.

Harvesting. Experienced hands must know when projects can be concluded and when they need more time.

Quote of the Day

Taking time is a thief's trade; making time a strategist's. An effective manager must be both strategist and thief, stealing time from less compelling or more leisurely pursuits to get the job done.

- Lewis Kelly

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What Would You Have Said?

There is a story about a wily bandit who was finally captured by the king's troopers. The king, a man fond of games and riddles, made the bandit a proposition. He told the bandit that he was allowed to make one statement. If that statement contained the truth he would be shot, if it contained a lie, hanged. The bandit, after some thought, said: "I am going to be hanged."

- Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries

If It Weren't for the People

A supervisor once told me that "being a supervisor wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the people." He said, "You get everything squared away. Everything is humming along and then someone does something stupid."

It's hard not to sympathize with him. (And yes, his supervisor may be saying the same thing). Supervising people, with all of the baggage and challenges they bring, requires a lot of attention and skill. One supervisor's results may differ greatly from those achieved by others and yet, on the surface, their teams may seem identical. Often, the difference is due to that sophisticated field known as people skills: the sort of talents many organizations feel are obtained through osmosis.

I recently saw a decision paper that was drenched in cold logic. If people were machines, it would be perfect. The problem is that people don't like to be treated like machine parts. As the paper moves along in the review process, it is likely that a few of those machine parts will start to speak. The rules of supervision are easy. Being a good supervisor is not.

Fixing Your Swim Stroke

CoolTools has the info on SwimSmooth.

Quote of the Day

We are asked in life to make measurable progress in reasonable time.

- Jim Rohn

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Miscellaneous and Fast

Ferguson and Roubini: Europe on the brink.
Unveiling the statue of Dred and Harriet Scott.
The trailer for "Enemies, A Love Story."
Presentation wizard Rowan Manahan on presenter remote controls.
Tanmay Vora: Balancing the emotional with the rational.
The trailer for "Carlito's Way."
Laura Branigan singing "Gloria."
The trailer for "Delicacy."
WSJ Law Blog: Stealing $9 mil via a fake law firm.

World's Most Expensive City?

I'm not surprised, but it is surprising which ones have dropped. [HT: Instapundit]

Reviving a Passion for Anonymity

The Brownlow Commission during Franklin Roosevelt's administration noted the need for presidential aides who had a passion for anonymity. We've gone a long way since those days and not to the credit of many a presidential advisor.

I don't want to know which Kennedy or Reagan speechwriter wrote which famous lines. Those who don't take credit deserve praise. They understand that it is the President's speech and not theirs.

You can split seconds in how quickly many will scoff at such a quaint view but while all jobs carry an unwritten requirement to make the boss look good, some possess that more than others. The more sensitive and important the occasion, the more the staff needs to step into the shadows.

The best work is often done - and kept - behind the scenes.

Creating the Cone of Silence

In my view, an ideal company headquarters would have the usual meeting and training rooms, private offices, eating spaces, and appealing views and decor as well as one feature that is seldom found:


Designating some rooms as strictly enforced Zones of Silence and Contemplation would permit quick escape from the hubbub of the workday. Complete privacy would not be necessary - you could have a living room environment with space for several people at a time - but silence would be mandatory.

I believe this makes enormous sense. Now, pretend that money constitutes no barrier. Why would many organizations resist adopting the practice?

Quote of the Day

Parents are not simply a source of experience from their own lives; they are a conduit for the distilled experience of others in earlier generations, experience conveyed in traditions and moral codes responding to the many dangers that beset human life. Psychological-conditioning programs which enshrine current "feelings" fail to understand that it is precisely feelings of the moment which lead to many dangers, and that inhibitions toward some feelings have evolved for that very reason.
- Thomas Sowell

Monday, June 11, 2012

When "Who Does What?" Becomes "Who Cares?"

The activities that fall in-between work units can be vital ones and the fact that they are unaddressed can add to their importance. If the various parties knew of the neglect the situation might be improved and yet often the ignorance is calculated.

Each side suspects that the other is not handling the matter but chooses to sit on that suspicion, possibly out of laziness or the desire to avoid a confrontation. I've seen departments that kept such suspicions for years even though a resolution of the question would have improved matters for all concerned. The ability to blame was more important than proper performance of the mission. Both sides were contending for the award of "Who cares least?"

Crawling Back

New computer notebook arrived. I'm going through the break-in stage which takes around 10 minutes for anyone else but will take hours for me. The fact that it has not frozen up scores major points. I have simple expectations. Bear with me.

Trust and Jobs

Is there a single profession left in this country that anyone actually trusts?
Politicians, lawyers, journalists, CEOs, union leaders, lobbyists and builders are despised by just about everybody, according to my own unscientific analysis of some recent polls. The ranks of the reviled also include car salesmen, real-estate agents, telemarketers, plumbers, ad executives and even some members of the clergy. Not to mention such legendarily untrustworthy groups as actors, psychiatrists, weathermen and baristas, who routinely substitute generic 2% milk for the organic Vermont free-range soy skim that you asked for.

Read the rest of Joe Queenan here.

If It Works on Bears

Storeowner in Canada foils robbery.

Quote of the Day

Nobody ever wrote down a plan for being unsuccessful. Unsuccessful is what happens when you don't have a plan.

- Larry Winget