Monday, June 30, 2008

How to reason together more effectively.

“I never saw an instance of one or two disputants convincing the other by argument”
— Thomas Jefferson.

It's been my experience that many contentious conversations at work end up in argument and debate. As a result, they do little to resolve the issues at hand. Debate creates a lot of heat - but not much light! Dialog, on the other hand, is a lesser-known form of conversation and a different way of relating to people. It differs from debate because it seeks to inform and learn, rather than just to persuade.


Is all about winning.

Assumes that there’s one right answer (and you have it).

Attempts to prove the other person wrong.

Listens to find flaws and make counter-arguments.

Defends your assumptions.

Criticizes the other person’s point of view.

Defends your views against others.

Searches for weaknesses in the other side's position.

Seeks an outcome that agrees with your position.

Doesn't focus on feelings or relationships.

Often belittles or deprecates the other person.


Assumes that others have pieces of the answer.

Attempts to find common understanding.

Listens to understand and find a basis for agreement.

Brings up your assumptions for inspection and discussion.

Re-examines all points of view.

Admits that the other person’s thinking can improve your own.

Searches for strengths and value in the other person's position.

Discovers new possibilities and opportunities.

Enlarges and possibly changes the participants' point of view.

By engaging in dialog, we:
- transform a difference of opinion into something that isn't negative,
- reduce the polarization that prevents two parties from recognizing shared values,
- and help advocates form working relationships around common interests.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Poem by Hone Tuwhare (a NZ Maori poet).

I was reminded of this poem while watching Euro 2008, the European soccer championship games this week (this will give you some idea of how my mind works!). Tuwhare is New Zealand’s most distinguished Maori poet writing in English, and also a playwright and author of short fiction. His major, recurrent concerns ... love, friendship, the life of the feelings, the experience of loss and death.

Study in Black and White.

A friend rang me last week as soon as he got
back from the Antartic. Wonderful wonderful:
he seemed genuinely pleased to find me in
but in a careful voice asked if I could look
after something for him. I know,
you’ve brought back a lump of coal, I said.

I have a King Penguin in my fridge.
I look in on it every day as it stands there
with a huge egg between its feet, waiting ...
Stolid, taciturn, it shares the fish with the
cat, the raw minced meat with me.
It stands there with its head absolutely still.
Only its eyes follow me when they are not
already glazed in sleep: I’ve grown fond of it.

And I’m not the only one.
In this house, people come together mainly to
say true and surprising things about each other.
The light-hearted irreverent ones unhappily
have turned particularly grave; frequently
begging me to open the fridge door.
Wonderful, they chant, stroking it: truly wonderful.
I hate it when they go on like that.
Any moment now I’m afraid, they will deify it.

I should ring my friend
to ask if there is a ship or plane leaving soon
for the Antartic: because I really think
King Penguin would be happier standing shoulder to
shoulder with his Royal brothers, each with an egg
at its feet, their backs to the wind and driven
snow, waiting:
for the F. A. Cup winners with the colourful jersies
red noses, flapping arms, to trot on to the
snow-field in single file.

King Penguins should all kick off then and watch the visitors
really break up in a beautiful shower of soaring
eggshells and baby penguins wonderful wonderful.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Thinking about Web 2.0.

A friend of mine, Jo Green, brought an interesting new book to my attention this week - Andrew Keen's "The Cult of the Amateur."

Keen points out that blogs, social networking sites, and other Web 2.0 phenomenon now bombard us with "superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, with shrill opinion rather than considered judgment.” By celebrating the opinion of the amateur over the knowledge of the expert, and by touting popularity rather than reliability, misinformation and rumors proliferate. We end up more news, more perspectives, more opinions, more everything, but most of it comes without filters or verification. All in all, he sees mostly danger in these developments.

This distrust of advances in technology isn't new. In Plato’s "Phaedrus," which was written about 370 B.C., Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry in their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialog’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong - the new technology did often have the effects he feared - but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).

I believe Andrew Keen is correct in much of what he says but he is shortsighted too.

Perhaps Alfred North Whitehead was right when he observed, “Everything of importance has been said before by somebody who did not discover it.”

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How to manage your boss.

If your boss tends to be unfocused and all over the place, define the priorities that have to be covered first before meeting with him or her. Provide direct, respectful feedback that honors the behavior when issues are being over-processed.

If your boss loves to talk (“we’ll spend as much time as we need to ...”)
- go to meetings with a set agenda that specifies the desired result.
- maintain the offensive by keeping him or her focused on the agenda.
- start meetings on time and end them on time.

Build some goodwill with your boss at the start of a potentially contentious meeting by giving him or her some positive feedback at the very beginning.

Start by affirming out loud:
- I’m on your team.
- I’m here to help you, to make life easier for you.
- In the end, I’ll do whatever you decide, irrespective of my own personal feelings.

This will allow you to express your feelings and opinions more freely during the meeting.

If you work for an entrepreneur and want to raise an issue, you’ll probably have very little time to get his or her attention. It helps:
- to initially present the issue in summary form (less that one page).
- honor his or her personal style.
- if you’re dealing with visual person, use pictures and graphs.
- if your boss isn’t detail oriented, quickly present the facts - no big stories.

Realize you won’t change the boss’s behavior but you can change your mode of influence.

If you work for an analytical boss, let him or her hear it, see it, think about it, and have time to process it before you engage in a discussion to influence the outcome. Don’t present the answer first and then proceed to argue about it.

Most bosses don’t like to be blindsided or to be surprised by bad news in front of others.

If you need your boss’s approval, work on your presentation until you’re convinced that you’re convincing.

Sometimes, it’s easier to get the boss’s attention and cooperation in the morning before something has gone wrong and spoiled his or her day

Position yourself as a coachable employee. Give your boss feedback in this regard such as, “I heard you say that I was …… .I wouldn’t have thought about that on my own and I’m thankful to you for pointing it out to me.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How do you handle adversity?

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how difficult things were for her. She was tired of fighting and struggling. As soon as one problem was solved, a new one arose. She didn’t know how she was going to continue and was ready to give up.

Her mother took her into the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on high heat. Soon the pots came to a boil. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word. In about 20-minutes, she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me, what do you see?” “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied. Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma.

The daughter then asked, “What does it mean, mother?” Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity ... boiling water … and each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquefied interior, but after sitting in the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

“Which are you? She asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?”

Which are you? Are you the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do you wilt and become soft and lose your strength? Are you the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Does your shell look the same, but are you bitter and tough on the inside? Or, are you like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you’re like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level?

Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Guidelines for positive office politics.

* Play the game being played, not the one you want or think should
be played.

* Keep it professional at all times.

* Don't make enemies.

* Don't burn bridges.

* Don't whine and complain. Present solutions as well as problems.

* Strive to create win/win solutions.

* Don't intimidate superiors. Find a way to be right without making
the other person wrong.

* Don't be seen as someone who makes others look bad.

* Don't criticize other employees.

* Keep the employer's perspective in mind.

* Couch criticism in terms of the company's interests, not in
personal terms.

* Find common ground with others.

* Establish affiliations of mutual advantage with important people.

* Help others get what they want.

* Don't discuss personal problems.

* Be selective about self-disclosure.

* Don't assume anything you say will stay secret.

* Cultivate a positive, simple, accurate image.

* Force yourself to do difficult, uncomfortable or scary things.

* Be pleasant. Laugh and smile.

* Be assertive and tough when you need to be without being

* Don't oversell. Be natural. Trust your own style.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A poem about communication.

When a Woman Loves a Man

by David Lehman

When she says margarita she means daiquiri.

When she says quixotic she means mercurial.

And when she says, "I'll never speak to you again,"

she means, "Put your arms around me from behind

as I stand disconsolate at the window."

He's supposed to know that.

When a man loves a woman he is in New York and she is in Virginia,

or he is in Boston, writing, and she is in New York, reading,

or she is wearing a sweater and sunglasses in Balboa Park and he

is raking leaves in Ithaca

or he is driving to East Hampton and she is standing disconsolate

at the window overlooking the bay

where a regatta of many-colored sails is going on

while he is stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway.

When a woman loves a man it is one ten in the morning

she is asleep he is watching the ball scores and eating pretzels

drinking lemonade

and two hours later he wakes up and staggers into bed

where she remains asleep and very warm.

When she says tomorrow she means in three or four weeks.

When she says, "We're talking about me now,"

he stops talking. Her best friend comes over and says,

"Did somebody die?"

When a woman loves a man, they have gone

to swim naked in the stream

on a glorious July day

with the sound of the waterfall like a chuckle

of water rushing over smooth rocks,

and there is nothing alien in the universe.

Ripe apples fall about them.

What else can they do but eat?

When he says, "Ours is a transitional era,"

"that's very original of you," she replies,

dry as the martini he is sipping.

They fight all the time.

It's fun.

What do I owe you?

Let's start with an apology.

Ok, I'm sorry, you dickhead.

A sign is held up saying "Laughter."

It's a silent picture.

"I've been fucked without a kiss," she says,

"and you can quote me on that,"

which sounds great in an English accent.

One year they broke up seven times and threatened to do it

another nine times.

When a woman loves a man, she wants him to meet her at the

airport in a foreign country with a jeep.

When a man loves a woman he's there. He doesn't complain that

she's two hours late

and there's nothing in the refrigerator.

When a woman loves a man, she wants to stay awake.

She's like a child crying

at nightfall because she didn't want the day to end.

When a man loves a woman, he watches her sleep, thinking:

as midnight to the moon is sleep to the beloved.

A thousand fireflies wink at him.

The frogs sound like the string section

of the orchestra warming up.

The stars dangle down like earrings the shape of grapes.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Guidelines for expressing your feelings.

Try to be specific rather than general about how you feel. Consistently using only one or two words to say how you’re feeling, such as bad or upset, is too vague and general. What kind of bad or upset? (specify irritated, mad, anxious, afraid, hurt, lonely, etc.).

Specify the degree of the feelings, and you’ll reduce the chances of being misunderstood. For example, some people may think when you say, "I’m angry," it means you’re extremely angry when you actually mean you’re a "little irritated."

When expressing anger or irritation, first describe the specific behavior you don’t like, then your feelings. This helps to prevent the other person from becoming immediately defensive or intimidated when they first hear "I'm angry with you" so they miss the message.

If you have mixed feelings, say so, then express each feeling and explain what that feeling is about. For example: "I’ve got mixed feelings about what you just did. I’m glad and thankful that you helped me, but I didn’t like the comment about being stupid. It was disrespectful and unnecessary and I found it irritating."

Whenever you tell someone they’re wrong and you’re angry at the same time, you’ll likely make an enemy. Anytime negative emotion enters into a conversation, the conversation continues but the communication ceases.

To get better information, ask “What,” not “Why” questions.

“What” questions (“What was in your mind when you did that?”) are fact oriented.

“Why” questions (“Why did you do that?”) trigger emotional responses.

Never, ever argue. Listen instead. It’s physically impossible to say something wrong if you’re listening. And you may just learn something about the other person’s point of view. Then test and summarize – “Are you saying that this is what’s important to you?”

And last but not least, be careful of the words you use. Avoid the word “but” - it’s the great eraser: Everything said before that word is window dressing and is ignored once you’ve said it.

The word “try” (“I’ll try to get that done in time”) usually means it’s not going to happen. When someone says “try,” ask more questions. In many cases, they don’t know how to do what they’re being asked to do. They need help and they’re not planning to ask for it.

Use people’s names. You get more attention from someone when you use their name.

Using variety when speaking. Talk fast and then talk slowly.

Avoid sarcasm, condescension and negativity. It’s easy for smart people to rip others to shreds in two seconds in a clever, articulate, and funny way. “Put downs” are never appropriate in a leadership position.

Lastly, some more reminders about body language:

Putting your hands in your pockets can indicate relaxation or disinterest. It may be appropriate to put your hands in your pockets to diffuse a tense situation. If you do it when someone comes to you with an urgent problem, it can convey a lack of interest.

Keeping your hands behind your back is a “yes sir” position. It’s a submissive stance. You're giving way to the other person.

Standing shows power and exerts leadership. During a presentation or meeting, you may choose to give up your power by sitting.

Just remember, whatever you do, it’s impossible to not communicate. So try to be conscious about it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Communicating your feelings.

Use “I Messages” to communicate with others when feelings are involved. They’re called I messages because the focus is on you and the message is about yourself. When using I messages, you take responsibility for your own feelings, rather than accusing the other person of making you feel a certain way.

There are four parts to an “I message.”

1. When .....
Describe the person’s behavior you’re reacting to in an objective, non-blameful and non-judgmental manner.

2. The effects are .....
Describe the concrete or tangible effects of that behavior. This helps the other person to understand your reaction.

3. I feel .....
Say how you feel. This helps to prevent a buildup of feelings.

4. I’d prefer .....
Tell the person what you'd prefer they do. (You can omit this part if it’s very obvious).

Then ask, "Have I explained that well?" (not “Did you understand that?”)

Here are a few examples:

"When you take company time for your personal affairs and then don’t have time to finish the urgent work I give you, I get furious. I want you to finish the company’s work before you work on your personal affairs."

"I lose my concentration when you come in unexpectedly to ask a question, and I don’t like it. Please don’t interrupt me when I’m working unless it’s really urgent."

"It’s very hard for me to keep our place neat and clean when you leave your clothes and other stuff laying around. It creates a lot more work for me and it takes a lot longer, and I get resentful about it. I want you to put your clothes away and put your trash in the basket."

Common Mistakes:

Not expressing a feeling at all, but expressing a belief or judgment.

Only expressing negative feelings.

The nonverbal body language contradicts what's being said. For example, smiling when irritated.

Conclusion tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The benefits of active listening.

Sometimes people just need to be heard and acknowledged before they're willing to consider an alternative or to soften their current position.

It’s often easier for someone to listen to and consider another position when they know they're being listened to and their position is being taken seriously.

It helps people to spot flaws in their reasoning when they hear it played back without criticism.

It also helps identify areas of agreement so the areas of disagreement are put in perspective and are diminished rather than magnified.

Reflecting back on what we hear each other say creates a new awareness of the different levels that are going on below the surface. This helps to bring things into the open where they can be more readily resolved.

If we accurately understand the other person’s point of view, we can be more effective in helping that person see the flaws in his or her position.

If we listen attentively, we can also be more effective in discovering the flaws in our own position.

Listening Tips

Usually it’s important to paraphrase in your own words your understanding of the message you hear. Parroting back the words verbatim is annoying and doesn’t ensure an accurate understanding of the message. Depending on the purpose of the interaction and your understanding of what’s relevant, try reflecting back to the other person:

1. An account of the facts.
2. Thoughts and beliefs.
3. Feelings and emotions.
4. Wants, needs or motivation.
5. Hopes and expectations.

Don’t respond just to what is said. Look for the feelings or intent behind the words as well. The actual words used by the sender usually don't convey the core message.

Don’t follow your impulse to answer questions immediately. Sometimes when people ask questions, they really just want to express themselves and aren’t open to hearing an answer at that time.

Know when to stop using active listening. Once you accurately understand the sender’s message, it's time to respond with your own message. Don’t use active listening to hide and avoid revealing your own position.

If you’re confused and know you don’t understand, either tell the person you don’t understand and ask him/her to say it another way, or proceed using your best guess. If you’re wrong, the person will likely try to correct you.

Active listening is a very effective first response when the other person is angry, hurt or expressing difficult feelings toward you, especially in relationships that are important to you.

Use direct eye contact and careful body language to make sure the other person really sees that you're listening to them. Avoid looking at your watch or at other people or at other activities in the room. Face the speaker, lean toward them and nod your head in acknowledgment whenever it’s appropriate. Be careful about crossing your arms as this can make you appear closed or critical.

Most of all, be empathic and nonjudgmental. You can accept and respect the person and their feelings and beliefs without invalidating or giving up your own position, and without agreeing with the accuracy and validity of their point of view.

Still more tomorrow.......

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Thoughts on communication.

This topic comes to mind because of a comment by a senior technician during a recent consulting project interview. He said:
“I don’t expect management to rub our bellies - just talk to us and listen to us like we were intelligent human beings. This is our livelihood - we don’t want to mess it up.”

To build or maintain a relationship, you must communicate honestly and reveal yourself to someone else. People naturally hold back until they’re aware of the intentions of others. The more we trust someone, the more deeply we can communicate with them.

Recent studies suggest that over 90% of all communication is non-verbal. Attitude, spirit and body language are all factors in the communication process. Understandings or misunderstandings in verbal communication come through the interpretation of three things:

1. Words: about 7% of interpretation is based on the words used.

2. Tones: about 33% of interpretation is based on the tones used. Someone can say “have a nice day,” but by their tone make it clear that they wish the opposite.

3. Body language: about 60% of interpretation is based on body language.

Expressing our wants, feelings, thoughts and opinions clearly and effectively is only half of the communication process. The other half is listening and understanding what others communicate to us. When a person decides to communicate with another person, he or she does so to fulfill a need. The person wants something, feels discomfort, or has feelings or thoughts about something. When deciding to communicate, the person selects the method or code which he or she believes will effectively deliver the message. The code used to send the message can be either verbal or nonverbal. When the other person receives the coded message, they go through the process of decoding or interpreting it into understanding and meaning. Effective communication exists between two people when the receiver interprets and understands the sender’s message in the same way the sender intended it.

There are three basic listening styles:

1. Competitive or Combative Listening: Here we’re more interested in promoting our own point of view than in understanding or exploring someone else’s view. We either listen for openings to take the floor, or for flaws or weak points we can attack. While we pretend to pay attention, we're impatiently waiting for an opening, or internally formulating our rebuttal and planning our devastating comeback that will destroy their argument and make us the victor.

2. In Passive or Attentive Listening, we’re genuinely interested in hearing and understanding the other person’s point of view. We’re attentive and assume that we heard and understand what they said correctly. but we don’t verify it.

3. Active or Reflective Listening is the single most useful and important listening skill. In active listening, we’re also genuinely interested in understanding what the other person is thinking, feeling, wanting or what the message means, but we’re active in checking out our understanding before we respond with our own new message. We restate or paraphrase our understanding of their message and reflect it back to the sender for verification.

More tomorrow............

Friday, June 13, 2008

Here's a poem for Fathers Day.

It's really about husbands, which in our family has been a first step towards fatherhood........and it's called:

What Almost Every Woman Knows Sooner Or Later
by Ogden Nash

Husbands are things that wives have to get used to putting up with.
And with whom they breakfast with and sup with.
They interfere with the discipline of nurseries,
And forget anniversaries,
And when they have been particularly remiss
They think they can cure everything with a great big kiss,
And when you tell them about something awful they have done they just
look unbearably patient and smile a superior smile,
And think, Oh she'll get over it after a while.
And they always drink cocktails faster than they can assimilate them,
And if you look in their direction they act as if they were martyrs and
you were trying to sacrifice, or immolate them,
And when it's a question of walking five miles to play golf they are very
energetic but if it's doing anything useful around the house they are
very lethargic,
And then they tell you that women are unreasonable and don't know
anything about logic,
And they never want to get up or go to bed at the same time as you do,
And when you perform some simple common or garden rite like putting
cold cream on your face or applying a touch of lipstick they seem to
think that you are up to some kind of black magic like a priestess of
And they are brave and calm and cool and collected about the ailments
of the person they have promised to honor and cherish,
But the minute they get a sniffle or a stomachache of their own, why
you'd think they were about to perish,
And when you are alone with them they ignore all the minor courtesies
and as for airs and graces, they utterly lack them,
But when there are a lot of people around they hand you so many chairs
and ashtrays and sandwiches and butter you with such bowings and
scrapings that you want to smack them.
Husbands are indeed an irritating form of life,
And yet through some quirk of Providence most of them are really very
deeply ensconced in the affection of their wife.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

How much work actually creates value?

When Fleet Financial Inc., in Providence, Rhode Island, set about examining how its 6,000 employees added value to their banking business, what they found shocked and surprised them. For example, they discovered that although each of Fleet’s 800 branch offices prepared 28 monthly reports, no one read 22 of them. Four employees worked full-time collating credit-card reports which they Federal Expressed daily to managers who could already access this information on their computer terminals. Thomas Tomai, a senior vice president involved in the study commented, “A lot of people did rinky-dink things we didn’t need…. If you looked closely, you could find ways to save millions of dollars in costs.” Surprising as it may seem, most organizations can make similar discoveries:

• When asked how they spent their time, nurses at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston reported that half of the handwritten doctor’s orders they dealt with required them to contact the doctors later to translate illegible writing or provide missing information about times and dates.

• A financial reporting team at Ameritech roamed the company asking employees “Do you really need these financial reports?” As a result, they eliminated six-million pages of unnecessary paperwork - a stack four times higher than Ameritech’s forty-one story headquarters building in Chicago.

Managers often think their operations are working efficiently only because they’ve never stopped to examine just what‘s really going on. Work processes tend to acquire extra steps as time passes, sometimes to divide up responsibility among functional specialists, other times to cope with problems that arise. In most cases, informal practices develop when employees can’t accomplish their work by following the formal system (e.g. when parts don’t arrive on-time, people go out of their way to expedite “hot” items). As this sort of elaboration grows over time, more and more energy goes into making a business process work rather than on making sure the process does the work it was originally designed to do. Once people add additional steps, even if they intended to do so only temporarily, they soon find them taking on a life of their own and quickly becoming permanent. These tasks now “belong” to someone, who jealously guards them since they help justify that person’s employment.

A value-adding activity is either required by law, or it contributes to making the product or service more valuable to the customer. Potential non-value adding tasks include filing, re-working, moving, copying, tracking, expediting, reviewing, approving, verifying, inspecting, processing change requests, etc. Management should involve employees in identifying and dropping any activities that don’t provide added value from the customer’s perspective.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Thoughts on accountability.

Accountability is often the determining factor for whether a company’s initiatives succeed or fail. I think of it as a mindset that demands a personal willingness to answer for outcomes produced (or not produced) “after the fact.” Going into any endeavor, it's essential that those involved have clarity about what their role is and what constitutes success. In addition, they need to have a mindset of ownership where they are individually and collectively responsible at the same time. This creates a culture of no fault, no blame, no guilt, where people are comfortable answering "yes" to the following statements:

• I'm accountable for understanding my role, the tasks I’m assigned, the final deliverables and all relevant due dates.

• It's up to me to be clear and successful in my role.

• If obstacles or conflicting priorities arise, it's still up to me to regain focus and create greater effectiveness.

Experience shows the following probabilities of completing a goal:

• Someone hears an idea – 10% probability.

• They consciously decide to adopt it – 25% probability.

• They decide when they will do it – 40% probability.

• They plan how they will do it – 50% probability.

• They commit to someone else that they will do it – 65% probability.

• They have a specific accountability appointment with the person they committed to – 95% probability.

So, here are some basic ground rules for effective accountability:

▪ Never let committees, groups or multiple persons be accountable for making something happen.

▪ Make sure one person is responsible and accountable for each key assignment.

▪ Establish SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bounded).

▪ Conduct regularly scheduled follow-up meetings to gauge progress on goals and to hold people accountable.

▪ If people consistently fail to get important things done, give them different jobs or replace them with new people. The bottom line is if people are unteachable, untrainable or unwilling, they'll end up unemployed

Friday, June 6, 2008

How writers write.

I write daily on a Smith Corona SL 580 from midnight to two a.m., mostly to the sounds of classical music, no doubt a throwback to my mother's constant pianoforte cocooning me from the first, even in the womb. I respond best to piano music, so there must be something in my theory. I had never realized that, say, 350 mornings times three pages approximates 1,000. It doesn't feel like much effort or much prose. If you have spent years delivering a weekly essay, as I did, this is more or less the way your mind works. I have always been able to sense the rhythm of the next five sentences and sometimes, so as not to lose it, chant it out in pseudo-language. If I felt like a freak as a child, imagine how much of a freak I feel now.
Paul West

I write on to a computer - I like the rhythm of the keyboard - and I draft and redraft endlessly. It always amuses me when people say 'I did six drafts.' How can they draw a line, six times, and call those pages 'a draft.' The book never becomes a stable object for me - if I had the chance now I would rewrite again.
Anne Enright

(I write) … directly into an Apple notebook. I've been writing one way or another since I was ten and learned to use a typewriter at fifteen, so the keyboard feels natural to me. The advantage of the computer is being able to do endless versions, but this is also the main disadvantage. You are never obliged to commit yourself. If I get stuck, or am traveling, or out in nature, I carry a notebook and write with a fountain pen, usually a Rotring Newton 600 with hexagonal barrel, but the best fountain pen I have at the moment is a Bic. The hand-written sentences flow faster with less reflection and contain ideas that haven't been intercepted by the busybody editor in the brain. The computer makes it possible to achieve deep layering, but one has to be careful. As Kingsley Amis used to say, overworked prose has 'a whiff of the lamp.'
Indra Sinha

A room of one's own in which to write: it's an old and chronically romanticized idea – the solitary space, with an ashtray, an Olivetti, the morning light just so. Each writer has his own preferences and fetishes, of course. For Marcel Proust, it was walls insulated with cork, to keep sound out. For Saul Bellow, a tilted drafting table, so that he could write standing up. John Cheever looked out a window facing the woods; Nathaniel Hawthorne turned his back on one. Joseph Heller worked atop a shag carpet. The ideal persists, in a wireless age. Amy Tan surrounds herself with furniture from imperial China.
Ben McGrath

Superstitiously, Jonathan Franzen writes sitting in a beaten-up old leather office chair that he scavenged off a street in 1982. A.M. Homes claims that she cannot write without the view of a tree. Or natural light. To find the right words, Joyce Carol Oates needs the comfort and consolation of art and paintings. Michel Faber is more demanding: ‘An HB pencil sharpened exactly halfway between sharpness and bluntness. A beloved old office chair with armrests at a 25° angle. A cup of filter coffee, served at exactly 8:15 in the morning, along with a blueberry Danish from my favorite baker.’ Neil LaBute counts on the inspiration of Frank Sinatra's LP ‘In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning’ to invoke his muse. Chef Anthony Bourdain needs to smoke cigarettes. (‘No smokes? No writing.’) Will Self is a Post-it notes freak, sticking them in relevant zones on a wall and then organizing them into scrapbooks that become novels. Nicholson Baker can only work by wearing orange Mack's earplugs.
Alexander Theroux

Me? I sit for an hour in my office at the end of the day looking at the ocean and whatever comes into my mind goes out in this blog.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

New perspectives on business strategy.

I spent yesterday afternoon at the Human Resource Roundtable for Senior Executives (HARRT) at UCLA, listening to Michael Raynor talk about new ways to think about business strategy.

Raynor began with a provocative assertion: "The same behavior and characteristics that maximize a firm's probability of notable success, also maximize its probability of total failure." This idea is the "strategy paradox."

It arises because to succeed, companies have to make bold strategic commitments to the future - to developing markets, products and distinctive capabilities. Yet if their assumptions about the future are wrong, they'll fail, even if they do everything else right because these commitments are difficult to reverse in the short term. This paradox has been largely invisible to researchers up to now because few have researched business failures.

Raynor used Sony Betamax as an example. Sony positioned Betamax as a high-fidelity video recording device to tape television programs. But shortly after it was introduced, consumers decided they preferred to watch newly available rented movies, so the lower-priced VCR won out in the marketplace. Sony had developed a cutting-edge product, understood its customers, and executed its strategy well. However, the strategy failed when customers' tastes unexpectedly changed.

Thus, strategy is always a very risky process. It has been assumed up to now that the best strategies generate the highest returns. But Raynor provided examples to show that the strategies that generate the best returns are also the riskiest.

He noted that many companies respond to strategic risk by avoiding big commitments, by following a middle-of-the-road strategy which usually generates mediocre returns. Hence, the key question:

Is there an alternative somewhere between a successful but risky strategy and a middle-of-the-road strategy?

The short answer, according to Raynor, is that companies should hedge their bets. When they commit to a core strategy, top managers should also create strategic options based on the possibility of alternative future scenarios. For example, Microsoft in the late 1980s simultaneously kept their the options open with different operating systems: Windows, MS-DOS, OS/2, writing applications for Apple, thus positioning itself for success under different industry scenarios.

A handful of leaders (Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch were mentioned) appear to do this informally. However, to manage uncertainty systematically, companies need to develop "strategic flexibility" - the ability to change strategy quickly when business environments change. This is a multi-stage process that involves developing and managing a broad portfolio of strategic options by making investments that give the company the right, but not the obligation, to make additional investments in the future.

The role of senior management, because it's responsible for longer time horizons and faces higher levels of uncertainty, is to focus on creating and managing these "strategic options," according to Raynor, rather than the actual implementation of strategy. Those lower down the hierarchy, who are responsible for shorter time horizons, should focus on delivering on the commitments already in place.

Raynor's new book, The Strategy Paradox, published by Doubleday, presents a concrete framework for strategic action that allows companies to seize today's opportunities while simultaneously preparing for the promise of tomorrow.
His web site is

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Getting started....

To paraphrase an Oscar Wilde character, one should keep a blog these days to have something sensational to read on the train. I am interested in many things and plan to write most days about what I find interesting and/or amusing. I will also include reflections about the business of business which I have studied close-up and personal for the past 50-years. As you will see, those who dive deeper tend to come up muddier….

A well-written blog, column, story or book forces readers to imagine different places, to confront their personal beliefs and to make judgements. To read is to think, which is hardly a passive activity. The best writers have always sought to elevate, to make complex subjects entertaining, or to make entertaining subjects complex. John Adams wife, Abigail, now there was a marvelous woman: in the middle of writing a letter, she excuses herself, has a baby and then continues her letter……..

So, here we go - starting with an Irish story:
McQuillan walked into a bar and ordered martini after martini, each time removing the olives and placing them in a jar. When the jar was filled with olives and all the drinks consumed, the Irishman started to leave. "S'cuse me," said a customer, who was puzzled over what McQuillan had done, "What was that all about?" "Nothin', said the Irishman, "My wife just sent me out for a jar of olives!"