Friday, January 29, 2010

To An Athlete Dying Young, a poem by A. E. Housman.

Post 418 - Alfred Edward Housman was born in Worcestershire, England. in 1859. After graduating from St. John's College, Oxford, with first class honors, he worked as a clerk in the Patent Office in London for ten years. During this time, he studied Greek and Roman classics, and as a result, in 1892 was appointed professor of Latin at University College, London. In 1911 he became professor of Latin at Trinity College, Cambridge, a post he held until his death. Housman only published two volumes of poetry during his lifetime: A Shropshire Lad in 1896, and Last Poems in 1922. A third volume, More Poems, was released posthumously by his brother, Laurence, in 1936, as was an edition of Housman's Complete Poems in 1939. Despite acclaim as a scholar and a poet in his lifetime, Housman lived as a recluse, rejecting honors and avoiding the public eye. He died in 1936 in Cambridge. He once observed, "I find Cambridge an asylum, in every sense of the word."

This poem may be familiar to many of you as it was read by Karen Blixen (played by Meryl Streep) at the burial of Denys Finch Hatton (played by Robert Redford) in the movie, Out Of Africa.

To An Athlete Dying Young by A. E. Housman.

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honors out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Post 417 - Summary of Dale Carnegie's classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People. If you haven't read it recently, I recommend you do so.

Part One: Fundamental Techniques in Handling People.

1: Don't criticize, condemn or complain.
2: Give honest and sincere appreciation.
3: Arouse "an eager want" in the other person.

Part Two: Six Ways to Make People Like You

1: Become genuinely interested in other people.
2: Smile.
3: Remember that a person's name is to them the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
4: Be a good listener. Encourage the other person to talk about themselves.
5: Talk about the other person's interests.
6: Make the other person feel important - and do it sincerely.

Part Three: How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking.

1: The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
2: Show respect for the other person's opinions. Never say, "You're wrong."
3: If you're wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
4: Begin in a friendly way.
5: Get the other person saying "yes, yes" immediately.
6: Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
7: Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
8: Try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view.
9: Be sympathetic with the other person's ideas and desires.
10: Appeal to their nobler motives.
11: Dramatize your ideas.
12: Throw down a challenge.

Part Four: Be a Leader - How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment.
1: Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
2: Call attention to people's mistakes indirectly.
3: Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
4: Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
5: Let the other person save face.
6: Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be "hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise."
7: Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
8: Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
9: Make the other person happy about doing the things you suggest.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Harnessing the power of resilience.

Post 416 - Experience shows that successful people develop the capacity to manage adversity rather than being controlled by it. They've learned to let go of the negative, and find the talents, skills, and strength to function well, whatever their current situation. In their book The Resilient Self, Steven and Sybil Wolin studied psychological resilience and found that triumphing over adversity involved seven key elements - insight, independence, relationships, initiative, creativity, humor and morality. These are outlined below:

- Resilience requires insight. You need to develop the ability to ask tough questions of yourself and be honest with your answers. If you had something to do with your lack of success to date, be honest and responsible for it.

- Resilience is independent. As a resilient person, you can count on yourself to bounce back into life.

- Although resilience is independent, it’s also tied to others. The more people you’re responsible to, the greater your motivation to renew yourself. The stronger the reason, the stronger the action.

- Resilience calls for initiative. You need to develop the ability to take charge of the situation, to take charge of the problem. You need to stand up and do whatever is necessary to get back on course.

- Resilience has an element of creativity. With resilience, you're able to look at a situation and creatively determine the best way out. You're enterprising in your approach toward starting over.

- A resilient person has humor. You may cry until you start laughing, but a sense of humor is so important when turning your life around. You’ve got to take your goals seriously, and you’ve got to take yourself seriously. But you’ve also got to be able to laugh at yourself and your situation at times. If somebody says, “You’ll look back on this and laugh someday,” maybe today is the day to start.

- A resilient person has a strong sense of morality. Whatever you do to get back on your feet, whatever you do to bounce back into life, make sure it’s moral. Make sure that your upcoming success is not at the expense of others. Success, if it is yours to keep, must be at the service of others.

Consultant Ole Carlson, the author of Beneath The Armor, gives the following advice about how to lead a company so it's resilient enough to survive today’s ongoing challenges:

1. Make your personal resiliency unmistakably visible. If your employees see your resilience, they're more likely to pick themselves up after a failure and work towards success. If you moan and whine and stay face down on the mat, it's unlikely that the people who work with you will rise to the challenge.

2. Resilient people don't try to go it alone. If they do, they eventually unravel. Everyone needs a little support to get through difficult times. So work to create a strong support group around you.

3. Be willing to do something different. Part of being resilient is knowing where you messed up, then figuring out what to do differently. You have to be willing to try new things if you want to be successful. If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got.

4. Throw intelligent and appropriate resources at your obstacles. When faced with company-threatening adversity, there's no reason to hold back. If you do, you may blow any chance you have of overcoming the problems you face.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fifteen rules to watch out for.

Post 415 - Here are fifteen little known but scientifically proven rules and principles that govern how we live:

1. The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts.

2. The belief that enhanced understanding will necessarily stir a nation or a company to action is one of mankind's oldest illusions (currently known as Obama's law).

3. The solution to a problem changes the problem.

4. Each problem solved introduces a new unsolved problem.

5. Memos are written not to inform the reader but to protect the writer.

6. Anybody can win - unless there happens to be a second entry.

7. If you have to ask, you're not entitled to know.

8. As soon as you mention something, if it's good, it goes away ... and if it's bad, it happens.

9. If a thing cannot be fitted into something smaller than itself, some idiot will do it.

10. The first ninety percent of the task takes ten percent of the time, and the last ten percent takes the other ninety percent.

11. Simple ideas are always worded in the most complicated way.

12. An executive will always return from lunch early if no on takes him.

13. People are always available for work in the past tense.

14. Nobody notices when things go right.

15. You can lead a horse to water, but if you can get him to float on his back then maybe you've got something.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ten additional invariant laws of the universe.

Post 414 - Cleaning out my office files over the weekend, I came across some more invariant laws of the universe. In case you're interested, here they are:

1. You will receive a body.
You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period you're here this time around.

2. You will learn lessons.
You are enrolled in a full-time informal school called life. Each day in this school, you'll have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or you may think them irrelevant and stupid, but the lessons will continue.

3. There are no mistakes, only lessons.
Growth is a process of trial and error experimentation. The "failed" experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiments that ultimately "work."

4. A lesson is repeated until it is learned.
A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you've learned it. When you've learned it, you can go on to the next lesson.

5. Learning lessons never ends.
There is no part of life that doesn't contain its lessons. As long as you're alive, there are lessons to be learned.

6. "There" is no better than "here."
When your "there" has become a "here," you will simply find another "there" that will, again, look better than "here."

7. Others are your mirrors.
You can't hate or love something about another person unless it reflects to you something that you love or hate about yourself.

8. What you make of your life is up to you.
You have all the tools and resources you need; what you do with them is up to you. The choice is yours.

9. The answers lie inside you.
The answers to life's questions are inside you. All you have to do is listen and trust.

10. You will forget all this from time to time.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Girl Writing a Letter, a poem by William Carpenter.

Post 413 - Born and raised in New England, William Carpenter earned his B.A. from Dartmouth and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. He began publishing poetry in 1976, and won the Associated Writing Program’s Contemporary Poetry Award in 1980. In 1985 he received the Samuel French Morse Prize and a National Endowment for the Arts grant. He moved to Maine in 1972 to help found the College of the Atlantic, a school dedicated to human ecology and the environment, where he remains a faculty member.

He remembers in the fifth grade, moving to a mill town in central Maine. “Most of the neighbors were taught by nuns in the parochial schools. I was the first protestant they'd ever seen, and they had to ask the mother superior if they could play with me. ‘You can,’ the nun told them, ‘but don't get too attached to him. He'll be going to hell.’"

Girl Writing a Letter by William Carpenter

A thief drives to the museum in his black van. The night
watchman says Sorry, closed, you have to come back tomorrow.
The thief sticks the point of his knife in the guard's ear.
I haven't got all evening, he says, I need some art.
Art is for pleasure, the guard says, not possession, you can't
something, and then the duct tape is going across his mouth.
Don't worry, the thief says, we're both on the same side.
He finds the Dutch Masters and goes right for a Vermeer:
"Girl Writing a Letter." The thief knows what he's doing.
He has a Ph.D. He slices the canvas on one edge from
the shelf holding the salad bowls right down to the
square of sunlight on the black and white checked floor.
The girl doesn't hear this, she's too absorbed in writing
her letter, she doesn't notice him until too late. He's
in the picture. He's already seated at the harpsichord.
He's playing the G Minor Sonata by Domenico Scarlatti,
which once made her heart beat till it passed the harpsichord
and raced ahead and waited for the music to catch up.
She's worked on this letter for three hundred and twenty years.
Now a man's here, and though he's dressed in some weird clothes,
he's playing the harpsichord for her, for her alone, there's no one
else alive in the museum. The man she was writing to is dead -
time to stop thinking about him - the artist who painted her is dead.
She should be dead herself, only she has an ear for music
and a heart that's running up the staircase of the Gardner Museum
with a man she's only known for a few minutes, but it's
true, it feels like her whole life. So when the thief
hands her the knife and says you slice the paintings out
of their frames, you roll them up, she does it; when he says
you put another strip of duct tape over the guard's mouth
so he'll stop talking about aesthetics, she tapes him, and when
the thief puts her behind the wheel and says, drive, baby,
the night is ours, it is the Girl Writing a Letter who steers
the black van on to the westbound ramp for Storrow Drive
and then to the Mass Pike, it's the Girl Writing a Letter who
drives eighty miles an hour headed west into a country
that's not even discovered yet, with a known criminal, a van
full of old masters and nowhere to go but down, but for the
Girl Writing a Letter these things don't matter, she's got a beer
in her free hand, she's on the road, she's real and she's in love.

By the way, can anyone tell me the year that William Carpenter was born?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Some final thoughts on character.

Post 412 - "In great affairs, men show themselves as they wish to be seen; in small things they show themselves as they are." - Nicholas Chamfort

Michael Josephson’s book, Making Ethical Decisions, lists the six pillars of character as: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship. Today, we’ll review the last three.

4. Fairness.

Fairness is probably the subject of more legitimate debate and interpretation than any of the other ethical values listed here. It involves issues of equality, impartiality, proportionality, openness and due process. For example, it’s unfair to handle similar matters in an inconsistent way. And it’s unfair to impose a punishment that doesn’t fit the offense. Essentially, fairness means adhering to a balanced standard of justice without considering our own feelings and inclinations.

- Process

A fair person uses open and impartial processes to gather and evaluate the information he needs to make a decision. He doesn’t wait for the truth to come to him; rather, he looks for relevant information and evaluates conflicting perspectives before making an important judgment.

- Impartiality

A fair person strives to make decisions without favoritism or prejudice.

- Equity

A fair person corrects his mistakes, quickly and voluntarily. He knows it’s wrong to take advantage of the weakness or ignorance of others.

5. Caring.

Ethics is ultimately about good relations with other people and caring is at the heart of ethical decision-making. People who lack a caring attitude rarely feel an obligation to be honest, loyal, fair or respectful in their relationships except when it’s prudent for them to do so. When we really care, we feel an emotional response to both the pain and the pleasure of others.

Sometimes we hurt those we really care about when our decisions cause them pain. In these instances, we shouldn’t cause any more harm than is absolutely necessary while carrying out our duties.

6. Citizenship.

Citizenship includes virtues and duties determining how we should behave as part of a community. The good citizen knows and obeys the laws, but that isn’t all. He also stays informed on the issues of the day so he can better fulfill his responsibilities as a member of a self-governing democratic society. He volunteers and does more than his "fair" share to make the society work, both now and in the future. The good citizen gives more than he takes. He believes, as did Dwight D. Eisenhower, that "There’s nothing wrong with America that the faith, love of freedom, intelligence, and energy of her citizens cannot cure."

Being of exemplary character is easier to write about than to put into practice. Yet, people like my late friend, Armon Kamesar, seemed to live a life that was true to most of these virtues most of the time. As such, his example gives the rest of us hope and energy to try to do better. As John Quincy Adams said, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."

In all human affairs, there are efforts and there are results, and the strength of the effort is the measure of the result.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How to encourage respect and responsibility.

Post 411 - Continuing to explore Mike Josephson’s ideas about the six pillars of character, we move on from pillar number one, Trust, to pillars number two and three, Respect and Responsibility.

2. Respect.

Everyone has a right to be treated with dignity, so we have a duty to treat them with respect, regardless of who they are and what they may have done. The Golden Rule of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us illustrates this. This means avoiding violence, humiliation, manipulation and exploitation and instead emphasizing civility, courtesy, decency, dignity, autonomy, tolerance and acceptance.

- Civility, Courtesy and Decency

A respectful person always treats others with consideration. He doesn’t resort to intimidation, coercion or violence except in situations where he’s called on to defend others, maintain order, or further social justice. He uses punishment in moderation and only when it’s necessary to advance important social goals.

- Dignity and Autonomy

In order to help people make informed decisions about their own lives, a respectful person doesn’t withhold the information they need to do so. Rather, he allows everyone, including growing children, to have some say in decisions that may impact them. As advice columnist Dear Abby (Abigail van Buren) once said, "If you want your children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders."

- Tolerance and Acceptance

A respectful person recognizes and accepts individual differences and beliefs without prejudice, and judges others based on their character, abilities and behavior.

3. Responsibility.

Being responsible means being in charge of our own choices and, therefore, of how we live our lives. This means being accountable for what we do and who we are, and answerable for the consequences of our actions. A responsible person demonstrates this by exercising self-restraint and pursuing excellence in all things.

- Accountability

Adulthood is defined by our willingness to accept full responsibility for where we're at in life, no longer blaming others or our circumstances. An accountable person doesn’t try to shift the blame when things go wrong and doesn’t claim credit for the work of others. He thinks through the likely consequences of his behavior and associations, and recognizes that sins of omission are as culpable as sins of commission. He leads by example.

- Pursuit of Excellence

The pursuit of excellence has an ethical dimension when others rely on our knowledge, ability or willingness to perform our tasks safely and effectively. Diligence means always striving to do our best, and being reliable, careful, prepared and informed. Responsible people persevere and finish what they start. They work to overcome obstacles rather than avoiding them or making excuses such as, "It’s not my job." In addition, responsible people always look for ways to do their work better.

- Self-Restraint

Responsible people exercise self-control, and never seek to "win at any cost." They’re aware of who they choose to be, every single day of their life.

According to George Bernard Shaw, "We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.”

Tomorrow, we conclude by examining fairness, caring and citizenship.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What it means to be a person of good character.

Poost 410 - In Michael Josephson’s book, Making Ethical Decisions, he lists the six pillars of character as: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship. He goes on to describe how to use these values as a multi-level filter in our decision-making. Being trustworthy isn’t enough - we must be caring as well. Following the letter of the law isn’t enough - we must also accept responsibility for our action or lack of action. Thus we can identify situations where we focus so hard on upholding one principle that we sacrifice another - where we’re so intent on holding others accountable, we ignore the duty to be compassionate; where, intent on getting a job done, we ignore how we go about doing it.

Let’s follow Josephson’s logic so we can get a better understanding of what it takes to be a person of good character:

1. Trustworthiness

When people trust us, they give us greater leeway because they feel they don’t have to watch us to be sure we’ll meet our obligations. Since they believe in us, they hold us in higher esteem than others. So to constantly live up to their expectations, we must refrain from telling even small lies or engaging in other forms of self-serving behavior, otherwise it will quickly destroy our special relationship. However, simply refraining from deception isn’t enough. Trustworthiness also includes a variety of qualities like honesty, integrity, reliability and loyalty.

Honesty is a broad concept involving both communications and conduct.

• Honesty in communications means telling the truth as best we know it and not telling it in a way that’s likely to mislead or deceive. There are three dimensions to this:

- Truthfulness.
Truthfulness is presenting the facts to the best of our knowledge. Intent is what’s important here. Being wrong isn’t the same thing as lying, although honest mistakes can still damage trust insofar as they may show sloppy judgment.

- Sincerity.
Sincerity is genuineness, being without trickery or duplicity. It excludes half-truths, out-of-context statements, and even silence, when it’s intended to create beliefs or leave impressions that are untrue or misleading.

- Candor.
Sometimes relationships require us to be frank and forthright. This imposes an obligation to volunteer information that another person needs to know but to do it in a compassionate and caring way.

• Honesty in conduct means playing by the rules, without stealing, cheating, fraud, subterfuge and other trickery. Cheating involves not only seeking to deceive but also taking advantage of those who aren’t cheating, and as such is a violation of both trust and fairness.

• Integrity.

There’s no difference in how a person of integrity makes decisions in different situations, at work or at home, in public or alone. The events and crises of the day don’t determine the course of his moral life. He stays in control. He may be courteous, even charming, but he never does it to deceive. He never flatters those who might do him some good. He’s trusted because everyone knows who he is: what you see is what you get.

• Reliability.

When we make promises or other commitments that create a legitimate basis for another person to rely upon us, we accept the responsibility of making all reasonable efforts to fulfill our commitments. Because promise-keeping is such an important aspect of trustworthiness, it's important to:

- Avoid bad-faith excuses. Interpret your promises fairly and honestly. Don’t try to rationalize non-compliance.

- Avoid unwise commitments. Before making a promise, consider carefully whether you’re willing and likely to keep it. Think about future events that could make it difficult, undesirable or impossible. Sometimes, all we can promise is to do our best.

- Avoid unclear commitments. Be sure when you make a promise, that the other person understands what you’re committing to do.

• Loyalty.

Loyalty is a responsibility to promote the interests of certain people, organizations or affiliations. This duty goes beyond the normal obligation we all share to care for others.

- Limitations to loyalty. Friends, employers, co-workers and others may demand that we rank their interests above ethical considerations. But no one has the right to ask another to sacrifice ethical principles in the name of a special relationship.

- Prioritizing loyalties.
Since many individuals and groups make loyalty claims on us, we must rank our obligations in some rational fashion. For example, it’s reasonable and ethical to look out for the interests of our children, parents and spouses even if we have to subordinate our obligations to other children, neighbors or co-workers in doing so.

- Safeguarding confidential information.
Loyalty requires us to keep some information confidential. When keeping a secret breaks the law or threatens others, however, we can have a responsibility to "blow the whistle."

- Avoiding conflicting interests.
Elected officials and public servants have a duty to make all professional decisions on merit, unimpeded by conflicting personal interests. They ultimately owe their loyalty to the public.

Tomorrow, we’ll deal with respect and responsibility.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Remembering Armon Kamesar, a man of character.

Post 409 - Yesterday, I attended a celebration for the life at UCSD for my dear friend and colleague, Armon Kamesar.

Born in 1927 in Milwaukee, Wis., he graduated from Oklahoma A&M in 1949 with a degree in animal husbandry. He then joined his father's meat packing business as a cattle buyer in the Chicago Stock Yards.

In the 1960s, he joined the stock brokerage firm Loewi & Co, and soon was managing the branch office for the North Shore suburbs of Milwaukee. In 1970, he and his family moved to Jamaica, West Indies, where he owned and operated a small resort hotel in Sign, Jamaica.

He moved to La Jolla in 1973 where he was president of California Heritage Bank and in 1975, he founded American States Leasing Corp., an equipment and computer leasing company. He took the company public in the 1980s, changing its name to Amstad.

For the last 35 years, he's been involved with Vistage International, serving as chairman of several groups, and working with more than 60 CEOs as mentor, facilitator, coach, confidant and friend. He also served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees and of the Audit Committee for Consulting Group Capital Markets Funds, a New York based money management company.

In addition, Armon worked hard to contribute to the local community and was actively involved in public service. This including serving as president of the San Diego Food Bank in the early 1970s. He was also a board member of Neighborhood House, president of the Athenaeum Music and Arts Library, chairman of Citizens Oversight Board of the California Highway Patrol and chairman of the Audit Committee of the San Diego Employees Retirement System from 2007-08. In addition, he served as chairman of the Federal Emergency Management Administration for San Diego, dedicated to providing emergency food and shelter to those in need.

He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Barbara, his son Adam and five grandchildren. His son Daniel and two sisters predeceased him.

The ancient Greeks didn’t write obituaries. They asked only one question when a man died - "Did he have passion?" They'd certainly have loved Armon on that score, as did all of us who were fortunate enough to be his friend. He was what the Irish used to call "a character,' but in addition, he was a man of substance, a man of great character. In his memory, I plan to write about the importance of character this week.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Love Song, a poem by William Carlos Williams.

Post 408 - William Carlos Williams was born in Rutherford, New Jersey, in 1883. He began writing poetry in high school, where he decided to become both a writer and a doctor. He received his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1906 and returned to Rutherford, where he sustained a medical practice as a pediatrician and general practitioner throughout his life. Williams "worked harder at being a writer than he did at being a physician," and during his long lifetime, he excelled at both. He had a prolific career as a poet, novelist, essayist, and playwright.
Williams's health began to decline after a heart attack in 1948 followed by a series of strokes. However, he continued writing up until his death in New Jersey in 1963. In May 1963 he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962) and the Gold Medal for Poetry of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. The Poetry Society of America continues to honor William Carlos Williams by presenting an annual award in his name for the best book of poetry published by a small, non-profit or university press.

Williams believed that “The better work men do is always done under stress and at great personal cost.”

A Love Song by William Carlos Williams.

What have I to say to you
When we shall meet?
Yet -
I lie here thinking of you.

The stain of love
Is upon the world.
Yellow, yellow, yellow,
It eats into the leaves,
Smears with saffron
The horned branches that lean
Against a smooth purple sky.

There is no light—
Only a honey-thick stain
That drips from leaf to leaf
And limb to limb
Spoiling the colours
Of the whole world.

I am alone.
The weight of love
Has buoyed me up
Till my head
Knocks against the sky.

See me!
My hair is dripping with nectar -
Starlings carry it
On their black wings.
See, at last
My arms and my hands
Are lying idle.

How can I tell
If I shall ever love you again
As I do now?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Guidelines for Managing Mergers and Acquisitions.

Post 407 - I believe a company's culture determines how it responds to everything and anything. Some years ago, Aetna bought a "vanilla" group benefit company. It only had 3,000 employees and Aetna at that time employed about 50,000 people. Aetna's CEO didn't think it important to assimilate the new company into the Aetna culture. After all, he reasoned, there were only 3,000 of them so what impact could they have?

The Aetna culture was pretty loose in those days. But the "vanilla" company's culture was incredibly strict and disciplined. Everyone was on the same page. They wound up taking over the Aetna culture and destroying what had been in place for more than 100-years. Very soon, Aetna had one line of business, group benefits, instead of the five or six they had before the acquisition. About 18-months after the acquisition, the Aetna CEO was quoted as saying that had they understood the importance of culture, they would have approached the acquisition very differently. Of course, by then it was too late and he lost his one of the vanilla guys. So there’s more to successful mergers and acquisitions than just focusing on the numbers.

To consolidated different companies successfully, consider using the following guidelines:

- Be clear about the logic of any potential acquisition. Rather than relying on ‘synergy,’ ask how the combined companies will leverage their assets and abilities to make the whole worth more than the sum of the parts. Understand just how the new combination will create value.

- Besides examining a prospective partner’s financial and legal standing, use cultural due diligence to examine organizational health, leadership talent and managerial abilities. While some differences can be worked out, others are insurmountable and should be avoided.

- Apply the guiding principles that were important to the success of the acquiring company to the acquired business as well. If core values remain at odds, today’s merger will likely become tomorrow’s breakup.

- Design the integration as carefully as the initial deal. If you’re Quaker Oats, don’t buy Snapple and then dismantle the distribution system that made it successful.

- Specify specific roles for the top executives of each of the merging companies in advance. Working it out as you go is usually a recipe for disaster.

- Standardize transferable practices and apply what’s worked in the past. If the acquired company insists on doing things its own way, be sure it’s essential to achieve strategic leverage rather than a way of resisting change. Allow full autonomy after a sustained period of excellent performance during which the acquiring company learns to trust the acquired company’s leadership.

- Avoid engaging in further acquisitions to fix, justify or further leverage the original deal. If it doesn’t provide the anticipated value, fix what can be fixed and cut your losses.

Some additional tips:

- Define where you want to be before you define the “as is.”

- Identify issues of common concern and rally everyone around these issues.

- Get the leadership established as quickly as possible.

- Promote some high-performing people and give them responsibility for managing the integration process.

- Reward the behaviors that support the culture you want.

- Make sure the executive compensation system rewards the behaviors you want.

- Make it painful to hold on to the old.

- Focus on getting to the point where no one talks about the merger anymore.

- Get the transition over with as quickly as possible.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

There are no mergers, only acquisitions.

post 406 - Richard Kovacevich, Chairman, President and CEO of Wells Fargo says, “For every ten deals being done today, seven won’t work.” It seems that the road to successful acquisitions is fraught with danger. And mergers today differ from marriages in that there’s seldom a honeymoon period.

Mergers can't solve problems for weak companies. You don’t become more buoyant by strapping two leaky canoes together. For example, the merger of Atari and Federated was intended to improve Atari’s distribution; however, the problem was a poor product, not poor distribution. Even if the business strategy is well thought out, getting managers from different parts of the integrated company to work together effectively often turns out to be more difficult than expected. Companies looking for rapid growth through mergers and acquisitions often end up with different business units, each with a previous history as an independent company and with its own distinct principles and practices. As each unit jealously guards its turf, the combined company is predominantly focused inward on its own issues rather than outward towards its customers, suppliers and investors. As a result, companies that grow by acquisition usually have very political cultures.

Corporate culture means the organization’s values, norms and beliefs that determine how people behave in formal and informal networks and relationships. It’s often described as ‘the way we do things around here.’ If you’re looking to acquire another company, how do you know what its corporate culture is? Ideally you could interview employees or look at opinion surveys. However, most firms today are in too much of a hurry to do this and suspect there are many external factors that might influence the results if they did. So this is often a case of more haste means less speed.

If we really want to correct this, we must include other functional aspects in the due diligence examination prior to the merger besides strictly finance, legal, and accounting issues. Virtually every business today says that at least part of its competitive advantage is due to its people. Firms typically have little physical capital and lots of intellectual capital. So managers of acquisitions need to move their interest from what happens after the merger and more into the actual due diligence process if they're to have a chance of creating greater value.

It’s important to know when to try to change the culture and when not to. Is it worth trying to change people’s core values? Sometimes not. Merging cultures is important when there’s a need for horizontal integration. Where companies or business units operate in a stand-alone fashion, integrating individual cultures is usually less important. The range of culture choices can be thought of as A, B, and best of breed. There can be different choices for different areas of the business. Initially, integrating the IT and financial systems may be more important than integrating the culture. And if the IT systems of neither company is robust enough to handle the whole, it’s best to initially concentrate on reengineering the process and designing a new system.

Here are three dimensions to guide the choice of an integration strategy:

- autonomy: that is, the extent to which you want to leave the acquired company alone. Generally you have a high degree of autonomy when the workforce is heavily creative. Pixar, for example, has a great deal of autonomy from Disney, which owns the company. Autonomy matters when you’re trying to preserve something like craft skill (as in beer brewing), R&D talent (in bio-tech labs), or creative ability (as in developing computer games).

- interdependence: where the value chain must work together to achieve greater industry penetration or to expand the company's reach. As an example, when a steel manufacturer purchases a steel furniture fabricator, it can create value if efficiency is improved by cutting out intermediaries and can also guarantee a source of supply.

- control: Cisco CEO John Chambers notes: “In a merger, you can’t blend resources and cultures – only one can survive.” So he usually favors an absorption strategy, where leadership, control systems and business processes become that of the acquirer. In cases like this, which are the majority in my experience, there are no mergers, there are only acquisitions. The sooner everyone realizes this, the better.

After determining the rationale for a deal, a firm must make choices about each of these factors so that its integration strategy fits with its business rationale. The integration strategy that’s finally adopted must be closely linked to the corporate strategy in terms of what the overall business is trying to do.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Observations about mergers and acquisitions.

Post 405 - Most mergers and acquisitions do little to increase the acquiring company’s bottom line. A KPMG study of 700 mergers found that only 17% created real value, and that more than half destroyed it. And a McKinsey study of mergers that took place in the nineteen-nineties found that less than a quarter generated a positive return on investment.

The myth of synergy seems to appeal to many executives’ sense of themselves as magicians. As Warren Buffett has observed, executives see the companies they acquire as handsome princes imprisoned in frogs’ bodies, awaiting only the “managerial kiss” to set them free. Unfortunately, most frogs turn out to be as ugly as they look, and magic kisses are harder to bestow than executives believe. Only a few companies today - Cisco is one - have consistently been able to acquire firms and then improve their performance and profitability.

Merger mania also rests on the fallacy of ownership - the assumption that you have to own a company to make money from it. However, much of the benefits that mergers are supposed to accomplish can be achieved instead through partnerships and alliances. Google has made deals to handle searches and advertising for companies like A.O.L. and I.A.C., giving it access to their customers without the hassle of acquiring them. And I.B.M. has marketed the products of its competitors, Sun Microsystems and Novell, aallowing it to expand its offerings and its potential customer base.

According to a recent analysis of a number of merger studies, mergers that rely more on cost-cutting - combining back-office operations, eliminating redundancies - than on promises of fast growth are more likely to be successful. Acquisitions of smaller, newer private companies are usually a better idea than acquiring publicly traded companies as they’re more likely to provide access to new technologies or products, and more likely to be acquired at a good price. In 2000, for instance, Microsoft paid less than $40M to buy the video-game developer Bungie, the creator of Halo. In the six years that Microsoft owned the company, Bungie’s products brought it well over a billion dollars in revenue.

So, history suggests that, when it comes to mergers, the best response is often to do as Nancy Regan advised and "just say no." A decade ago, America Online merged with Time Warner in a deal valued at a stunning $350 billion. It was then, and is now, the largest merger in American business history. The trail of despair in subsequent years included countless job losses, the decimation of retirement accounts, investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department, and countless executive upheavals. Today, the combined values of the companies, which have recently been separated, is about one-seventh of their worth on the day of the merger. To call the transaction the worst in history, as it’s now taught in business schools, doesn’t even begin to tell the story of how some of the brightest minds in technology and media collaborated to produce a deal now generally regarded as a huge mistake.

Richard Parsons, the former Chairman and CEO of Time Warner said recently, “It was beyond my abilities to figure out how to blend the old media and the new media cultures. They were like different species, and in fact, they were species that were inherently at war.” Seems like managing the soft stuff is always the hardest part of running a successful business.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Familiar laws of reality.

Post 404 - Someone reminded me of these invariant laws of the universe over the weekend and I'm sharing them with you this morning. I trust you'll find them familiar - I certainly did. Do you have any you'd like to add?

The Law of Mechanical Repair.
After your hands become coated with grease, your nose will begin to itch and you'll have to pee.

The Law of Gravity.
Any tool, when dropped, will roll to the least accessible corner.

The Law of Probability.
The probability of being watched is directly proportional to how stupidly you're acting.

The Law of Random Numbers.
If you dial a wrong number, you never get a busy signal and someone always answers.

The Law of the Alibi.
If you tell the boss you were late for work because you had a flat tire, the very next morning you'll have a flat tire.

The Law of Variation.
If you change traffic lanes, the one you were in will always move faster than the one you're in now.

The Law of the Bath.
When your body is fully immersed in water, the telephone rings.

The Law of Close Encounters.
The probability of meeting someone you know increases dramatically when you're with someone you don't want to be seen with.

The Law of the Result.
When you try to prove to someone that a machine won't work, it will.

The Law of Biomechanics.
The severity of the itch is inversely proportional to your ability to reach it.

The Law of the Theater.
At any event, the people whose seats are furthest from the aisle arrive last.

The Starbucks Law.
As soon as you get a cup of hot coffee, your boss will ask you to do something which will last until the coffee gets cold.

Murphy's Law of Lockers.
If there are only two people in a locker room, they'll have adjacent lockers.

The Law of Physical Surfaces.
The chances of an open-faced jam sandwich landing face down on a floor covering are directly correlated to the newness and cost of the carpet.

Brown's Law of Physical Appearance.
If the shoe fits, it's ugly.

Wilson 's Law of Commercial Marketing Strategy.
As soon as you find a product that you really like, they'll stop making it.

The Doctors' Law.
If you don't feel well, make an appointment to go to the doctor, and by the time you get there, you'll feel better. If you don't make an appointment, you'll stay sick.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cows In Art Class, a poem by Charles Bukowski.

Post 403 - Henry Charles Bukowski (1920 – 1994) was an American poet, novelist, and short story writer. His writing was heavily influenced by the geography and atmosphere of his home city of Los Angeles, and emphasizes on the ordinary lives of poor Americans, the act of writing, alcohol, relationships with women, and the drudgery of work. A prolific author, Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories, and six novels, and eventually had over 60 books in print. In 1986 Time called Bukowski a "laureate of American lowlife."

A heavy drinker all his life, he once observed, “Drinking is an emotional thing. It joggles you out of the standardism of everyday life, out of everything being the same. It yanks you out of your body and your mind and throws you against the wall. I have the feeling that drinking is a form of suicide where you're allowed to return to life and begin all over the next day. It's like killing yourself, and then you're reborn. I guess I've lived about ten or fifteen thousand lives now ... I don't like jail, they got the wrong kind of bars in there.”

Cows In Art Class by Charles Bukowski.

good weather
is like
good women -
it doesn't always happen
and when it does
it doesn't
always last.
man is
more stable:
if he's bad
there's more chance
he'll stay that way,
or if he's good
he might hang
but a woman
is changed
the moon
the absence or
presence of sun
or good times.
a woman must be nursed
into subsistence
by love
where a man can become
by being hated.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The importance of self-assessment.

Post 402 - "Man knows himself completely until he makes his first compromise. The more he compromises, the more he takes in that which is not himself. Soon he forgets who or what he is. He becomes his name rather than receiving the name that is his." - traditional American Indian saying.

Jung emphasized the importance of balance and harmony. He cautioned that today we rely too much on science and logic, and would benefit from integrating spirituality and an appreciation of the unconscious into our lives. He also recommended that we treat conflict as a gift because challenging conversations deepen trust. He cautioned to remain an “I” in the face of “we” pressures. It’s important not to give up who we are because of pressures for ‘togetherness’ and not to become an emotional domino by fusing with others. Remain differentiated instead, saying, “I’m really uncomfortable with XXXX and I’d like to explore it further.” Be an ‘I.’ But don’t take a stand and then disconnect. The challenge is to take a stand and remain connected.

Synchronicity, as Jung talks about it, means meaningful coincidence. We don’t do anything without a reason. “We are what we think about all day long.” It’s destructive to be controlled by negative thoughts because our subconscious mind won’t hold a negative. Instead, create and hold a positive vision of people lined up at the door to see us, then having wonderful meetings, giving spectacular service, etc. Having a truly successful life depends on having a really clear intention. How much depends on having the means to realize that intention? Not much. If we’re genuinely committed to the intention, we’ll find the means to make it happen. Ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing right now getting me closer to what I really want?”

Use language to sustain awareness that doesn’t write excuses into our thoughts that are disempowering and self-ensnaring. We need to mind the intentionally of how we talk. Start using “I want to” (implies choice), not “I need to” or “I have to” (implies addiction). Don’t join others in “pity parties” when they complain and bring problems to us. Tell them, “Here’s what I think the problem is. You’re the only one who can fix it. So stop complaining - come up with an action and a resolution.” Point out that there are only three choices: fight, flight, or stand and deliver. Start by taking our finger off someone else and putting it right on ourselves. Remember, when we point our finger at someone else, three fingers are still pointing at us.

Circumstances don’t determine our experience; our perspective - how we view our circumstances - determines our experience. An optimist thinks he has the best of all possible worlds. A pessimist is afraid he’s right. Events are neutral. How we contextualize them determines what happens to us. To see clearly, we have to stop being in the middle of the picture.

“Consistently and overwhelmingly, the evidence showed that experts are always made, not born … if you want to achieve top performance as a manager and a leader, you’ve got to forget the folklore about genius that makes many people think they cannot take a scientific approach to developing expertise … the journey to truly superior performance is neither for the faint of heart nor for the impatient. The development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice, and honest, often painful self-assessment.”

This quote is from a major study reported in the Harvard Business Review (July-August 2007) “based on rigorous research from over 100 leading scientists that looked at exceptional performance using scientific methods that are verifiable and reproducible.”

Although Jung's ideas can be very helpful in guiding our self-assessment, they aren’t typically included in the psychology or business curricula at most major universities. However, you’ll occasionally find them explored in courses on personal development and the humanities. Here are some suggestions for further reading:

Connie Zweig, “Meeting the Shadow,” “Romancing the Shadow.”

Robert Johnson, “Owning Your Own Shadow”

Shunryu Suzuki, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.”

Phil McGrath, “Life Strategies”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

How to regain our integrity.

Post 401 - “Character is a quality that embodies many important traits, such as integrity, courage, perseverance, confidence and wisdom. Unlike your fingerprints that you’re born with and can’t change, character is something that you create within yourself and must take responsibility for changing.” - Jim Rohn

Carl Jung pointed out that we support and maintain the image we have of ourselves by seeking out others who reinforce the person we like to think we are. Guilt also allows us to hold on to what we pretend to believe even as we act in ways that contradict our espoused beliefs and values. It’s useful to think of guilt as a warning sign that we’re getting off course, and that we need to rethink a belief or behavior. Guilt is a mirror where we get a look at our self-limiting beliefs. Once we knock down one of these self-limiting beliefs, it’s easier to knock down the others - a bit like dominos.

As a result, the best place to work on building better relationships is in the mirror. Creating a positive persona that attracts others requires a shift in how we view ourselves. The bravest thing we can do is to be who we really are and not apologize for it. Rather than asking, “What am I going to do to solve this problem?” ask instead, “Who am I going to be to solve this problem?” Living a ‘no fault’ life means acting like “it all depends on me.” Personal accountability is essential if we’re to grow and develop our potential.

So, even though it’s difficult to do, we’re better off if we face up to our fears and insecurities. Jung emphasizes that we need to take responsibility for our own actions instead of blaming others. Denying our own accountability doesn’t make us any less accountable. Integrity is the state of being whole and complete. It involves having personal honesty. Anytime we break our word, there’s a loss of self, a loss of respect - our own and that of others. Accountability without integrity is like a ticking time bomb. If we want our lives to work, it’s all about personal integrity.

One way to start regaining our integrity is to make a list of broken agreements and things we didn’t complete in the past. If we write these down and do clean-up work by acting in ways that atone for them, then we can start over and move on.

Operating from blame or from judgment is one of the clearest signs that we’re doing something wrong. Anytime we’re blaming, we’re operating from a lower level of consciousness. Anyone we can’t forgive, we carry around inside us like a hostage. We can’t simultaneously know love and be unwilling to forgive. If we won’t forgive, we have to judge. Fear condemns and love forgives.

This reminds me of an old Irish Proverb:

What shall I do to love? Believe.
What shall I do to believe? Love.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

How to practice acceptance, not judgment.

Post 400 - Our judgments provide the biggest clues to finding out more about our Shadow. Whenever we feel ourselves over-reacting emotionally to a quality or a characteristic in someone else that pushes all of our buttons, we can be sure that we’re seeing a part of our own Shadow. “If you can spot it, you've got it.” We have to be willing to see the part we play in attracting certain relationship issues into our own lives. We can’t change anything we don’t know about. And we certainly can’t change other people. So if we become aware of our total self, the dark and the light, then we're able to make more conscious choices about how we behave.

Here are some new definitions to use when examining your Shadow:
• Truth - What is.
• Honesty - To be at one with what is.
• Belief - An interpretation of what is.
• Self-deceit - Believing distortions of what is.
• Intimacy = think of this as “into - me - see.”

Defensiveness comes from the fear of being hurt. When someone becomes defensive, we tend to react to their reactivity. Our response is usually to fight or to run away. What we fear triggers anger, and this is almost always a secondary emotion because we have to experience something else first. When someone is defensive, the real message is, “Be aware.” We can be right, or we can have a relationship. Most people would rather be right than have their life work properly. If they have a belief, they’ll do whatever it takes to prove that their belief is true.

The dilemma of holding our cards close to our chest is that we can’t see the cards. The best card we can have up our sleeve is no card at all. Vulnerability is the perfect protection. As Rollo May noted, "Freedom lies in the ability to pause and choose between stimulus and response."

When we won’t forgive, we must judge to justify our inability to forgive. Protecting ourselves with judgment means binding ourselves to illusions. Judgment is a protective strategy of erecting a physic protective barrier by making other people wrong. In that sense, anyone we hold a grudge towards effectively owns us. Forgiveness is not about saying, “Your behaviors are OK.” Rather, it involves acknowledging a lapse in our own consciousness.

Try operating from a base of acceptance instead of judgment. Start by thinking that people do what they do with a positive intention. Think, “You've forgotten yourself and that's your only fault.” Being competitive and proving people wrong doesn’t work very well in real life. Trying to have a 50/50 relationships doesn’t work well either because it’s always about score-keeping. If we give 100% of ourselves and the relationship ends up not working, we can leave without feeling that we're a victim. So the message in building a healthy relationship is to keep judgment out of it. If we accept our own humanness, we’re better able to help others. Small s is our ego-based self. The ego’s work is to make us less that we really are. Large S is our true self. A clear understanding of our true self that involves deep personal knowledge generates significant learning opportunities.

He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened. “We don't reach enlightenment by going into the bright places in our lives, but by going into the dark places,” according to Jung. As the Buddha said, “Enlightenment is not a change at all but merely a recognition.” Maturity is a willingness to take responsibility for our own emotional field and for managing the impact of the wake we leave behind us. It’s best to work to be ourselves, without apology, so we eventually reach a state where we can say to others, “I’d like your love and respect, but it’s not essential to my well being.” If we’re really doing the best we can do, making the best choices we know how to make, we'll see ourselves as innocent. We'll then become more loving and we'll treat ourselves with more respect. If we can’t give ourselves love and respect, we’ll do things we don't want to for others instead in an attempt to get their love and respect.

Monday, January 4, 2010

How to make peace with our past.

Post 399 - "Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up your present."

This was the underlying philosophy of Carl Gustav Jung (1875 – 1961), a Swiss psychiatrist who was the founder of analytical psychology. He is thought by many to be the most influential psychiatrist in the twentieth century.

According to Jung, self-realization can be divided into two distinct parts. In the first half of our lives, we strive to separate ourselves from others as we attempt to create our own identities (with the focus on I, myself). Jung believed we then have a sort of “second puberty” between 35-40 where our outlook shifts from an emphasis on materialism, sexuality, and having children to concerns about community and spirituality. In the second half of our lives, we reunite with others and become part of the community again. This is when we start volunteering, building, gardening, creating art, etc. rather than excluding and destroying. We’re also likely to pay more attention to our conscious and unconscious feelings.

Jung said that, “Everyone carries a Shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.”

The “Shadow” is an archetype, a character with a universal meaning in everyone’s consciousness. We all have a Shadow and it’s essential that we learn to confront it if we’re to develop our self-awareness. We carry around all the disowned aspects of ourselves in our Shadow, that is, those parts of us that are unconscious, repressed, undeveloped and denied. Think about it as a large sack containing things that we don’t accept about ourselves that we have to drag about with us wherever we go. We can’t learn about ourselves if we don’t learn about our Shadow. As Jung said, “As we reclaim our shadow, we shed light in the world.”

Jung emphasized the importance of being aware of shadow material and incorporating it into conscious awareness in order to avoid projecting shadow qualities on others. He believed we should strive to become highly differentiated and highly individualized by first learning to know our limitations, then by moving beyond them. He warned that if we don’t own our own issues, they’ll own us. Highly differentiated people own their issues and have made friends with them. As a result, they’ve become a non-anxious presence in an anxious world. The journey of individuation is from being childish to childlike and involves removing the barriers to true awareness. The more we know about ourselves, the more choices we have. As Jung said, “How do you find the lion that has swallowed you?”

The first thing we have to do in order to begin to see into our Shadow is to take full responsibility for our lives. We project the characteristics we have in our Shadow on other people, those soft targets all around us who cooperate with our projections. What we disown, we project and this causes our inner states of consciousness to be reflected in external situations time and time again. We can learn to recognize what’s in our unconscious through the mirrors of other people. If we’re willing to look at the significance of these repeating patterns, we’ll see the syncronicity of events and situations and ultimately, we’ll become one with ourselves.

“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.” - Kurt Cobain.