After watching the news, I have concluded that it is time to revisit Lewis Carroll's "The Walrus and the Carpenter."
Tuesday, August 31, 2021
When it comes to judgment, the group is not inherently superior to the individual. [Sometimes, all of us are dumber than one of us.] When forming a group for action, it is important that personalities and proclivities be considered because the little things will ultimately mean a great deal, regardless of how impressive the credentials or backgrounds.
This is not a group of individuals as much as it is a group of relationships. To assume that productive relationships will naturally ensue is to believe in magic.
And it is not wise to rely on magic.
“There is no such thing as learning loss,” she responds when asked how her insistence on keeping L.A.’s schools mostly locked down over the last year and a half may have impacted the city’s 600,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade students. “Our kids didn’t lose anything. It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience. They learned survival. They learned critical-thinking skills. They know the difference between a riot and a protest. They know the words insurrection and coup.”
- The head of United Teachers Los Angeles quoted in Los Angeles Magazine
Monday, August 30, 2021
- When do you make your best decisions?
- What are your greatest weaknesses?
- Which of your strengths may keep you from being more effective?
- Where do you invest your time?
- How much time do you squander with self-reproach?
- Have you underestimated the amount of your impatience?
- Do you permit others to make you upset or angry?
- How much of your career was chosen to please others?
- Is there a statute of limitations on your mistakes?
- Do you listen as well as you speak?
- Is your head in the game?
- Are you good at saying no?
- Do you feel guilty about decisions over which you had no control?
- Do you continually compare yourself to others?
- If others win, do you lose?
- What would you regard as success?
Successful communities, successful countries, don't just happen. They are built by dedication, sacrifice, and hard work. They must find or build unifying bonds and values. They are also built by caring for each other, helping each other, and working jointly on projects and programs.
- Richard D. Lamm
Sunday, August 29, 2021
Saturday, August 28, 2021
All lives need a soundtrack. Check out the following:
- The Thin Red Line by Hans Zimmer
- Cinema Paradiso by Ennio Morricone
- Legends of the Fall by James Horner
- Nowhere in Africa by Niki Reiser
- Amélie by Yann Tiersen
- The Cowboys by John Williams
- The Mission by Ennio Morricone
- Deep Impact by James Horner
- Jurassic Park by John Williams
- Interstellar by Hans Zimmer
When you want to control a complex social situation, the first thing you do is make categories and award privileges. But, as in any statist system, for every entitlement there is an equal and opposite obligation. When, in the flush of class action, entitlements are compassionately granted to groups, obligations are cruelly drawn from individuals. Over all, the state is the decisive arbiter. Its power increases as it manufactures new rights and new relations, shifting them in an ever-changing shell game in which players have the illusion that they are winning but it is the dealer who goes home with the money.
- From "Diversity is Not a Virtue" - an essay by Mark Helprin in Reinventing the American People: Unity and Diversity Today, edited by Robert Royal (1995)
Friday, August 27, 2021
Solutions to one problem are often regarded as problems later on. It may make sense not to remove that "problem" until you know the original problem that it solved.
Those who say this or that action was a mistake frequently regard the world as if it were frozen in ice. They do not know what would have happened had the action not been taken. [In most cases, no one does.] This is particularly true of major decisions.
A Harvard Business School Working Paper by Joshua Coval. An excerpt:
Which schools chose to favor teacher interests over those of their students? The answer turns out to be quite simple: it was those schools that had demonstrated a willingness to do so in the past. Schools that chose virtual instruction during the 2020-2021 school year were schools that, prior to the pandemic, had a history of favoring teachers over students. During the 2018-2019 year, students at schools that would later opt for online instruction had school days that were 18 minutes (4 percent) shorter. Their teachers spent 30 fewer minutes at school each day and 1.5 fewer non-teaching days at school each year.
Thursday, August 26, 2021
“We sit by and watch the barbarian. We tolerate him in the long stretches of peace, we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence; his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creed refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond, and on these faces there are no smiles.”
Bari Weiss's Common Sense: Peter Savodnik gives a sense of what is bubbling outside of Washington. An excerpt:
Our elites’ dereliction of duty, their forgetting — about who they were supposed to be and, just as important, what America was supposed to be — is mostly to blame for the ocean of inanity that has engulfed us. The multiplying stupidities. The mythologies we promulgate online unironically or strategically. The preeners. The pronoun displayers. The opportunists. Michael Moore with his mindless Instagram post about everyone having their own Taliban.
Wednesday, August 25, 2021
There is more in common between two parliamentarians one of whom is a socialist, than between two socialists one of whom is a parliamentarian.
- Jean Jaurès, French socialist and member of the Chamber of Deputies
[Update: Correction made. Aargh.]
Tuesday, August 24, 2021
In every civilized society, in every society where the distinction of ranks has once been completely established, there have been always two different schemes or systems of morality current at the same time; of which one may be called the strict or austere; the other the liberal, or, if you will, the loose system. The former is generally admired and revered by the common people: the latter is commonly more esteemed and adopted by what are called people of fashion.
- Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations
[It is not difficult to find people who preach one system and yet practice the other.]
Monday, August 23, 2021
The best thing I did as a manager at PayPal was to make every person in the company responsible for doing just one thing. Every employee's one thing was unique, and everyone knew I would evaluate him only on that one thing. I had started doing this just to simplify the task of managing people. But then I noticed a deeper result: defining roles reduced conflict.
- Peter Thiel in Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
Yes, I've posted this before and will do so again.
If there is no respect for freedom of speech, the presumption of innocence, due process, the right to dissent, and the right to privacy, then alarm bells should be sounding, regardless of whether or not you are dealing with an individual or a group.
[Photo by Alexey Soucho at Unsplash]
Sunday, August 22, 2021
Saturday, August 21, 2021
This composite list contains fifty-two items. Be all fifty-two and you are bound to be an effective manager. Even if not a human one.
- From Simply Managing by Henry Mintzberg
Friday, August 20, 2021
Nicholas Bate is sorting out time management.
And much more.
[Photo by Jason Blackeye at Unsplash]
Politico on chaos in the Biden administration as Afghanistan falls.
See the Harvard Business Review article "Whatever Happened to Accountability?" by Thomas E. Ricks.
Consider how George C. Marshall would have viewed this debacle.
Probably the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, but the opening battles of all subsequent wars have been lost there. One of the dominant facts in English life during the past three-quarters of a century has been the decay of ability in the ruling class.
- From England Your England, an essay by George Orwell
Organize a new group and see how quickly the temptation to complicate matters starts to surface.
Keeping things simple and action-oriented is difficult and yet if that orientation is not present from the start, it may be too late. Territory may already have been seized and boundaries drawn.
One salvation may be found in keeping the organization's structure in loose and revisable draft until actions suggests its shape.
Minor delays can help. You can later build sidewalks where the paths were made.
Thursday, August 19, 2021
Sometimes, the more you learn about a famous person, particularly if you get to glimpse something of their private character and feelings, the harder it is not to sympathize with them on some basic human level, regardless of what you might think of what they did. Neville Chamberlain is not one of those people. The more you learn about the private man, the harder it is to find anything to like about him at all.
- Alan Allport in Britain At Bay: The Epic Story of the Second World War, 1938-1941
Wednesday, August 18, 2021
After the Wall fell the German media called East Germany 'the most perfected surveillance state of all time'. At the end, the Stasi had 97,000 employees - more than enough to oversee a country of seventeen million people. But it also had over 173,000 informers among the population. In Hitler's Third Reich it is estimated that there was one Gestapo agent for every 2000 citizens, and in Stalin's USSR there was one KGB agent for every 5830 people. In the GDR, there was one Stasi officer or informant for every sixty-three people. If part-time informers are included, some estimates have the ratio as high as one informer for every 6.5 citizens.
- From Stasiland: Stories From Behind The Berlin Wall by Anna Funder
- My wife continues to go through physical therapy? Check.
- Deadlines keep swooping in? Check.
- Another coyote was in our backyard? Check.
- Some thief took the catalytic converter off our car? Check.
- We are continuing to have rain storms in Phoenix? Check.
Tuesday, August 17, 2021
Is our personal "default mode" one of simplicity or complexity?
Based on my own experience as well as the experiences of clients, I believe needless complexity has become almost a sport.
Why is that so? Because simplicity is more challenging. It requires more work.
As a rule, Mark Lynas did not enjoy upsetting people. He liked to read history books and play ultimate frisbee. He had a job editing a small charity network website. The son of a scientist, he was passionate about protecting the environment. But he preferred to write his arguments rather than scream them.
- From High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out by Amanda Ripley
Monday, August 16, 2021
Political language - and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists - is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
- George Orwell in "Politics and the English Language"
Sunday, August 15, 2021
Saturday, August 14, 2021
Friday, August 13, 2021
Coaching an executive or manager is like changing a tire while the car is still moving. It is a collection of hundreds of mental photographs and a mound of minor comments that can hide the one - the one - that is truly revealing.
And then you have to question that because the numbers in any mental equation are not like those in real equations.
The coaching "figures" can think and move.
[Photo by Siora Photography at Unsplash]
Thursday, August 12, 2021
Wednesday, August 11, 2021
I am hungover and steer myself like a car through the crowds at Alexanderplatz station. Several times I miscalculate my width, scraping into a bin, and an advertising bollard. Tomorrow bruises will develop on my skin, like a picture from a negative.
- From Stasiland: Stories From Behind The Berlin Wall by Anna Funder
Tuesday, August 10, 2021
The criticism in the newspapers and pulpits across the country was intense. The ball cost $370,000 at a time when $400 was the per capita annual income. One outraged protestant minister thundered: “You rich people put next to nothing in the collection plate, and yet you’ll spend thousands of dollars on Mrs. Bradley–Martin’s ball.” New York City promptly doubled the tax assessment on the couple’s New York mansion.
Read the rest of John Steele Gordon's essay in City Journal.
I will be cryptic.
One of my projects resembled a bureaucratic detective story. Down its foggy and winding streets, the signs were unreliable and there were many dark alleys. People lurked. Maps were designed to confuse. Lighting was poor. Job titles meant little and standards which should have been objective were highly subjective.
And at the top floors, there was a lot of "sentence first, verdict later."
Some day I'll tell you about it.
Monday, August 09, 2021
"What is a person?" If I knew the answer to that, I might be able to program an artificial person in a computer. But I can't. Being a person is not a pat formula, but a quest, a mystery, a leap of faith.
- Jaron Lanier in You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto
All of us are familiar with Mission Creep. The group starts out with Mission A and, over time, adds Mission B and perhaps even Missions C, D, and Z.
With distraction and neglect, Mission Creep can happen very quickly. Those in charge may not realize that carefully-considered Mission A has, without changing its title, become a very different project.
I recently found an example of Mission Slither. The original mission was not expanded. It ostensibly remained the same but some poison was injected. As a result, although the surface appearance of the original mission was the same, the inner substance had died.
How did that happen? A "minor" change was proposed and accepted without thorough analysis. Close scrutiny would have revealed that the proposed change was not minor at all and was flat-out dangerous but such scrutiny was not present. My guess is the senior partners approved the change on the tail-end of a long meeting about weightier matters. No one was asked to identify possible negatives.
It was probably regarded as bold decision-making.
God save us from such decisions.
[Photo by David Clode at Unsplash]
Sunday, August 08, 2021
Saturday, August 07, 2021
The health advantages of deep breathing are often noted.
I won't get into those. Let's consider, however, the professional advantages of deep observation and deep listening.
Some people attend meetings and leave with scant knowledge of what took place. Others can tell you about undercurrents, alliances, position shifts, subtle opposition, and intentional distractions. They can cite the significance of what was not said as well as what was said. They spot phrases that were used to disguise and summaries that were brilliant. They know which direction the group leaned on various topics and whether there were any trade-offs.
In other words, they were in the meeting and not simply physically present.
The more you use deep observation and deep listening, the more those skills improve.
You might even begin to enjoy meetings.
Friday, August 06, 2021
If you run in highly educated, professional circles in big cities, you have probably come across your fair share of Asian Americans. Your family doctor is disproportionately likely to be Asian American. The cellist at your local orchestra is likely to have straight jet-black hair and brown eyes. Your "quant," i.e., your math guy - perhaps the classmate you stole your homework from when you were a kid - is disproportionately likely to have some connection to China. In some sense, many Asian Americans have developed professionally and ensconced themselves in lives of middle-class "stability," despite looking and acting different from the average white guy.
- From An Inconvenient Minority: The Attack on Asian American Excellence and the Fight for Meritocracy by Kenny Xu
The bug, that perverse and elusive malfunctioning of hardware and later of software, was born in the nineteenth century. It was already accepted shop slang as early as 1878, when Thomas Edison described his style of invention in a letter to a European representative: "The first step is an intuition and it comes with a burst, then difficulties arise - this thing gives out and then that - 'Bugs' - as such little faults and difficulties are called - show themselves, and months of intense watching, study and labor are requisite before commercial success - or failure - is certainly reached."
- From Why Things Bite Back: Technology and The Revenge of Unintended Consequences by Edward Tenner
Believing that it is our nature to enjoy giving and receiving in a compassionate manner, I have been preoccupied most of my life with two questions: What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, leading us to behave violently and exploitatively? And conversely, what allows some people to stay connected to their compassionate nature under even the most trying circumstances?
- From Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg
Thursday, August 05, 2021
A key question that should be considered by any management coach is whether or not the client is coachable. If the answer is no, then there is no reason to go further.
I see a similar situation in disagreements. There the question is whether or not both parties are willing to discuss the subject in a polite manner so that the differing areas can be identified, facts can be evaluated, and possible areas of agreement can be pinpointed. In essence, the goal is for each side to understand the other person's position.
If either or both sides adopt a strategy of beating down the other side and refusing to hear counter-arguments, then there is little room for discussion. It is not a conversation. It is an attack.
The current social climate provides many examples of the attack mentality. That is a shame. Even if there is reason to suspect that little or no agreement will be reached, there is more to be learned via the conversation route than there is in a rejectionist mode.
Perhaps even a great deal more.
Avoid those who seek compliance more than conversation.
Wednesday, August 04, 2021
"We think about the future all day, every day. What time do I need to leave the house? What's for breakfast? Can we picnic on the weekend? Should I change jobs? Move house? Online and offline, the news is mostly speculation: what will happen in Congress, in traffic, in the markets. However much we might aim to live in the present, we can't cross the road without thinking ahead: Will that car reach me before I'm safely across? Our brains have evolved to anticipate whether we'll like this food, this person, that book. Entire industries - property, travel, banks, insurance, pensions, technology - analyze, construct, and sell permutations of the future. So we cannot not think about it: neither our brains nor our lives will allow it."
- From Uncharted: How to Navigate the Future by Margaret Heffernan
Jonathan Turley on the President's actions on the eviction moratorium.
One of the most trite observations that anyone can make about China in the twenty-first century is that it is run by a single party of which Xi Jinping is the current leader, and which is interested solely in staying in office and cares only about power, and that one must assume therefore that if power is located anywhere, it must be there. This is as illuminating as saying humans need food and want to live. The interesting question is what sort of power the Party wants and how it wishes to use it. What no one disputes, however, is that when talking about political power - the ability physically to organize people, and to control natural resources - any discussion has to embrace and understand the CCP. It is in this entity that the real action happens, and it is here that we need to seek answers to the question of what political power is in modern China.
- From CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping by Kerry Brown
"Before we go any further, please disabuse yourself of the notion that I am dumb. I watch, listen, and learn from what happens around me. In some ways, I’m probably smarter than you. I bought three kilograms of cocaine for $93,000 last week. Quick: tell me how many quarter pounds, ounces, and eight-balls I have, and what should I sell each amount for if I need to make $250,000. I did that in my head while you were reaching for a calculator."
Read all of "I, Criminal" by Thomas Hogan and Kevin Dykes at City Journal.
Tuesday, August 03, 2021
This is a portrait of a pessimist. He dominated the political life of Portugal for forty years, never wavering in his scepticism about the ability of the Portuguese, and indeed wider humanity, to be virtuous and rational in political matters. An outlook sustained by thinkers from Thucydides to St Augustine and from Hobbes to Sigmund Freud convinced him that democracy was a dangerous innovation quite likely to end in disaster, except in a few exceptional countries like Britain and Switzerland.
- From Salazar: The Dictator Who Refused to Die by Tom Gallagher