Friday, April 30, 2010

Halley's Comet, a poem by Stanley Kunitz.

Post 478 - Stanley Kunitz was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1905. He attended Harvard College, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1926 and a master's degree in 1927. He served in the Army in World War II, after a request for conscientious objector status was denied. Following the war, he began teaching, first at Bennington College in Vermont, and later at Columbia, Yale, Princeton, Rutgers, and the University of Washington. He died at the age of 100 in 2006.

His honors include the Bollingen Prize, a Ford Foundation grant, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, Harvard's Centennial Medal, the Levinson Prize, the Harriet Monroe Poetry Award, a senior fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Medal of the Arts, and the Shelley Memorial Award. He served for two years as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, was designated State Poet of New York, and a Chancellor Emeritus of The Academy of American Poets. In 2000 he was named United States Poet Laureate.

About his own work, Kunitz has said: “The poem comes in the form of a blessing — ‘like rapture breaking on the mind,’ as I tried to phrase it in my youth. Through the years I have found this gift of poetry to be life-sustaining, life-enhancing, and absolutely unpredictable. Does one live, therefore, for the sake of poetry? No, the reverse is true: poetry is for the sake of the life.”

Halley's Comet by Stanley Kunitz.

Miss Murphy in first grade
wrote its name in chalk
across the board and told us
it was roaring down the stormtracks
of the Milky Way at frightful speed
and if it wandered off its course
and smashed into the earth
there'd be no school tomorrow.
A red-bearded preacher from the hills
with a wild look in his eyes
stood in the public square
at the playground's edge
proclaiming he was sent by God
to save every one of us,
even the little children.
"Repent, ye sinners!" he shouted,
waving his hand-lettered sign.
At supper I felt sad to think
that it was probably
the last meal I'd share
with my mother and my sisters;
but I felt excited too
and scarcely touched my plate.
So mother scolded me
and sent me early to my room.
The whole family's asleep
except for me. They never heard me steal
into the stairwell hall and climb
the ladder to the fresh night air.

Look for me, Father, on the roof
of the red brick building
at the foot of Green Street -
that's where we live, you know, on the top floor.
I'm the boy in the white flannel gown
sprawled on this coarse gravel bed
searching the starry sky,
waiting for the world to end.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

How to hunt elephants.

Post 477 - Bill Garrett from the University of North Carolina once claimed that you could tell a lot about people by researching how they hunted elephants. Here are some of his findings:

- Mathematicians hunt elephants by going to Africa, throwing out everything that is not an elephant, and catching one of whatever is left.

- Computer scientists hunt elephants by exercising Algorithm A:
1. Go to Africa.
2. Start at the Cape of Good Hope.
3. Work northward in an orderly manner, traversing the continent alternately East and West.
4. During each traverse pass,
(a) catch each animal seen.
(b) Compare each animal caught to a known elephant.
(c) Stop when a match is detected.

- Experienced programmers modify algorithm A by placing a known elephant in Cairo to make sure the algorithm will terminate.

- Engineers hunt elephants by going to Africa, catching grey animals and stopping when any one of them weighs within plus or minus 15 percent of any previously observed elephants.

- Economists don't hunt elephants, but they believe that if elephants are paid enough, they'll hunt themselves.

- Statisticians hunt the first animal they see n times and call it an elephant.

- Consultants don't hunt elephants, and many have never hunted anything at all, but they can be hired by the hour to advise those people who do.

- Politicians don't hunt elephants, but will share the elephants you catch with the people who voted for them.

- Lawyers don't hunt elephants, but they do follow the herds around arguing about who owns the droppings.

- Quality assurance inspectors ignore the elephants and look for mistakes the other hunters made when they were packing the jeep.

- Salespeople don't hunt elephants, but spend their time selling elephants they haven't caught, for delivery two days before the hunting season opens.

- Software salespeople ship the first thing they catch and write up an invoice for an elephant.

- Vice presidents of R & D try hard to hunt elephants but their staffs are designed to prevent it. If and when they do get to hunt elephants, the staff will try to ensure that all possible elephants and completely pre-hunted before the vice president sees them.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wage and hour checklist.

Post 476 - Based on the current French Gourmet case here in San Diego, the hiring of illegal immigrants is becoming a "hot" issue in employment practices (the federal government is asking to take over the restaurant and bakery business involved if the owner is found guilty). However, another more common but less publicized practice of interest involves whether a company's compensation practices are in line with both state and federal law. In the past, employees knew even less about the standards in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) than supervisors and managers. The internet has changed this giving employees today almost instant access to updated information. Labor relations expert Hunter Lott suggests that the following questions are worth asking (and answering) in this regard:

- Are you sure that exempt salaried employees qualify for the exemption? Exempt and non-exempt classifications are determined by people's job duties, not by how they're paid. Check out for more input on FLSA.

- Are non-exempt employees being paid overtime at one-and-a-half times their regular hourly wage? This is a federal requirement and some states may require even more.

- Are all non-exempt employees recording all hours actually worked? Signing a timecard is certifying that it's an accurate reflection of the hours worked.

- Are employees taking lunch at their desk or in their work area? If they work during lunch, the law says they have to be paid.

- Are exempt employees docked for hours not worked within a workday? It's a mistake to treat exempt like non-exempt, and in most cases, this type of docking will jeopardize the exemption.

- Is "comp time' granted in lieu of overtime? In the private sector, this may be a problem so check with legal counsel to be safe.

Make sure company practices are consistent with FLSA and state regulations when classifying and paying employees. The monetary damages can go back up to three years, in some cases, and double the damages for all current and former employees.

For more information, look up

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How to create a strong culture.

Post 475 - Here are some central concepts about culture:

- Culture = Behavior.
We use the word culture to describe behaviors that represent the general operating norms in a given environment. In business, some aspects of culture will support a company’s progress and success while others will impede that progress.

- Culture is Learned.
People learn certain behaviors because of the rewards or negative consequences that follow that behavior. What’s rewarded is repeated and the association eventually becomes part of the culture. For example, a thank you from an executive for work performed in a particular way helps to shape a culture of appreciation.

- Culture is Learned Through Interaction.
Employees learn a company’s culture by interacting together. Job applicants form an initial opinion of a culture as early as their first phone call with the HR department. They also get a sense of the culture and their fit with it during the interview process.

- Sub-cultures Form Through Rewards.
Sometimes employees value rewards that aren’t associated with the behaviors that management wishes for the good of the overall company. That's how subcultures are formed, as people get social rewards from coworkers or have their most important needs met in their project teams or departments.

One way to create a strong culture — let's say one that emphasizes fun, sharing, collaboration and connection — is by following these four simple steps:

Step 1: Understand.
Effective leaders understand what’s important to their fellow employees. So developing a strong company culture starts by taking steps to find out what motivates the people who work with you. They talk with employees to find out what they expect from the company and to learn what's important to them. This understanding will help them develop a culture that’s appropriate for the business, rather than one that’s just based on their own ideas of what people might enjoy. It also sends a message that collaboration and communication are an important part of the culture.

Step 2: Take action and Involve.
Next, follow-through is important because it shows that you’ve taken the employees' interests and concerns to heart. Try this simple exercise: Divide a blank piece of paper into four quadrants labeled fun, sharing, collaboration and connection. For each heading, involve a group of employees in brainstorming a list of actions that will improve the company’s culture in this area. For example, under "fun," you could have a weekly drawing for free passes to a movie. Rather than trying to do everything at once, start by implementing a selection of ideas that you know you can do well. Highlight a few of the items from the brainstorming list that can be implemented immediately and save the rest to do later.

Step 3: Collaborate
Give employees the freedom they need to follow through with their own ideas. This doesn't mean letting them to go off in all kinds of different directions. Instead, create a small multi-level leadership group to oversee and guide their creative efforts along the right path. This group is responsible for encouraging employees to come up with ideas, discussing concrete ways of putting their ideas into action, and holding them accountable for meeting their objectives and delivering on their commitments.

Step 4: Demand accountability
Changing a company culture isn't something you start and then ignore. Like a well-tended garden, a strong culture is the result of continuous creativity and care. It’s important to make accountability a continuing part of the culture through strong communication and follow-up.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Is your company's culture out of alignment?

Post 474 - Culture is a body of learned behavior that goes on over time. A company's culture determines how it responds to everything and anything. Many years ago, Aetna bought a "vanilla" group benefits company. It only had 3,000 employees and Aetna at that time had about 50,000. Aetna's CEO didn’t think it important to assimilate the new company into the its culture. After all, there were only 3,000 of them - what impact could they have?

The Aetna culture was pretty loose back then. But the "vanilla" company's culture was incredibly tight and disciplined so everyone was on the same page. They wound up taking over the Aetna culture and destroying what had been in place for more than a hundred years. Today, Aetna has one line of business - group benefits - instead of the five or six they had before the acquisition. About 18-months after the acquisition, the 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'd lost his job ... to one of the vanilla guys.

The following are some signs that your company's culture is out of alignment:

- Management is stretched to the limit. All real decisions are made at the top. Employees "upward-delegate" and thus avoid accountability for their actions.

- Gossip is widespread, attributing sinister motives actions taken by senior management. Employees show little interest or awareness in market conditions or in the state of the business.

- There are many different "custom" processes in place and no reliable outcome measures. Turf wars and conflicts between departments and functions are common.

- There's a pervasive atmosphere of complaining, blaming, and accusations of favoritism. Petty grievances and HR issues are common.

- People complain about overwork, that there's no time to "do my job," and "too many meetings." Employees are frequently absent without notice.

- Employees show disdain for change efforts and keep doing things the "old way."

- Employees are uninterested in events outside of their immediate work areas and are reluctant to take on new responsibilities.

- Passive-aggressive behavior is quite common, with employees generally unresponsive and reluctant to talk with management.

- People continually need reassurance about job security and the future of the business.

Any of these signs are troublesome. A company with four or more has a culture that's out of alignment with the requirements of the marketplace and this represents a significant threat to its future success. Companies with an adaptive culture that's aligned to their business goals routinely outperform their competitors by 200% or more. To achieve results like this, you have to figure out what your culture is, decide what it should be, and then move everyone in the desired direction. Tomorrow, we'll explore ways to change culture.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Yes, I’ll marry you, my dear, a poem by Pam Ayres.

Post 473 - Pam Ayres MBE is a popular English poet, songwriter and presenter on radio and television. She was born in Oxfordshire in 1947 and when she was 19, she joined the Royal Air Force and was posted to Singapore. Upon her return in 1970, she got her her big break on the TV talent show Opportunity Knocks. She says the Bob Dylan and Lonnie Donegan records her brother played when she was growing up first inspired her to write poetry.

A keen gardener and beekeeper, Pam currently lives in the Cotswolds where she and her husband keep some rare breeds of cattle, as well as sheep, pigs, chickens, and guinea fowl. In England, she's known as "the doyenne of doggerel." However, at her best, she's observant, lightly mocking, gently thought-provoking and never heavy or difficult.

Asked to share something that no one knows about her earlier this year, she confessed: "I filled Janet Weavers fur-lined gloves up with plaster of Paris when I was about 13. I never owned up to it until now. She had to suffer cold hands for a considerable time afterwards."

Yes, I’ll marry you, my dear, by Pam Ayres.

Yes, I'll marry you, my dear, and here's the reason why;

So I can push you out of bed when the baby starts to cry,

And if we hear a knocking and it's creepy and it's late,

I hand you the torch you see, and you investigate.

Yes I'll marry you, my dear, you may not apprehend it,

But when the tumble-drier goes it's you that has to mend it,

You have to face the neighbor should our labrador attack him,

And if a drunkard fondles me it's you that has to whack him.

Yes, I'll marry you, my dear, you're virile and you're lean,

My house is like a pigsty, you can help to keep it clean.

And that little sexy dinner which you served by candlelight,

As I just do chipolatas, you can cook it every night!

It's you who has to work the drill and put up curtain track,

And when I've got the PMT it's you who gets the flak,

I do see great advantages, but none of them for you,

And so before you see the light, I do, I do, I do!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wisdom for the 21st century.

Post 472 - Wisdom is defined as a deep understanding of people, things, events or situations, which results in the ability to choose or act to consistently produce the optimum results with a minimum of time and energy. These aphorisms on life and the way you should live are from The Art of Worldly Wisdom, which was written in 1637 by a Spanish Jesuit priest called Baltasar Gracian. The book is a collection of 300 paragraphs on various topics giving advice and guidance on how to live fully, advance socially, and be a better person. It has as much to teach us today as it had in the seventeenth century.

- Do good a little at a time, but often.

- Have no careless days.

- Keep to yourself the final touches of your art.

- Do not show your wounded finger.

- Attempt easy tasks as if they were difficult and difficult as if they were easy.

- Never let things be seen half finished.

- Do not explain too much.

- Do not carry fools on your back.

- Watch out for people who begin with another's concern in order to end with their own.

- Leave something to wish for.

- In all things keep something in reserve.

- Never have a companion who puts you in the shade

- Have knowledge, or know those who do.

- Get used to the failings of those around you.

- Do not be the slave of first impressions.

- Always act as if others were watching.

- Do and be seen doing.

- Use, but do not abuse, cunning.

- Drain nothing to the dregs, neither good nor bad.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How to turbo-charge your creative thinking.

Post 471 - Roger von Oech writes that the first principle of traditional logic is the law of non-contradiction. Logic can only comprehend those things that have a consistent and non-contradictory nature. This is fine except that most of life is ambiguous; inconsistency and contradictions are the hallmarks of human existence. As a result, the number of issues that can be thought about in a logical manner is small, and too much emphasis on the logical method can inhibit the exploring mind.

"Hard thinking" is logical, precise, exact, specific and consistent. "Soft thinking" is metaphorical, approximate, diffuse, humorous, playful and able to deal with contradiction. Hard thinking is like a spotlight, bright, clear and intense, but the focus is narrow. Soft thinking is like a floodlight, more diffuse, not as intense, but it covers a wider area.

Some people have little use for soft thinking because it's not logical. When faced with an issue, they immediately think, “Let’s see the numbers and get down to brass tacks.” And as Karl Albrecht points out, they'll never give themselves the opportunity to consider steel tacks, copper tacks, plastic tacks, sailing tacks, income tax, syntax or contacts. Using a little soft thinking early in the creative process may still cause you to end up going with the brass tacks, but at least you’ll have the confidence of having considered other alternatives.

Our educational system does a fairly good job of developing logical thinking skills but doesn’t do much to develop soft thinking. In fact, most of our educational emphasis is geared toward eliminating soft thinking, or teaching people to regard it as an inferior tool. As a result, most people aren't very adept at soft thinking, so it takes some practice to do it well.

Human intelligence is a complicated phenomenon, and yet almost all of our formal ideas of intelligence are based on logic and analysis - I. Q. tests are a good example. Musical ability, decorating, painting and cooking seem to have no place in many test-makers’ idea of intelligence. As Edward de Bono points out, if someone says he’s learned to think, most people assume that means that he’s learned to think logically.

When exploring a creative challenge, take a leaf out of Einstein's book and utilize the power of hard thinking followed by soft thinking. Einstein would pour over his calculations and cover everything he knew before having in-depth discussions with his peers. All this involved hard creative effort. But Einstein appreciated soft thinking as well, so he consciously set the problem aside and redirected his attention to playing the violin or sailing - two things he loved to do and could "disappear" while he was doing them. He found was that during these pleasurable pursuits, his unconscious mind would go on thinking about the challenge and surprise him with a breakthrough insight or innovation at the time when he least expected it. So following Einstein's method seems like a good way to turbo-charge your creative thinking breakthroughs.

“What concerns me is not the way things are but rather the way people think things are” – Epictetus.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How to deal with stalled meetings.

Post 470 - Most of us have a one sided view of the world and find it difficult to change when we're asked to think about a view that differs from our own. During meetings, some people argue their own point of view at length, and never seem to stop. How to solve the problems of time wasted in meetings? How to focus more on the points that really matter instead of concentrating on unrelated and inappropriate topics? How to reduce or stop endless discussions? How to improve communication and decision-making in groups?

Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats is a good technique for looking at the effects of a decision from a number of different points of view. To improve the quality of communication and decision-making, he suggests looking at the decision "wearing" each of the following "Thinking Hats" in turn. De Bono reports that this process reduces time spent in meetings by 20 to 90 percent, based on experiences reported to him since his book of the same name was first published. Each represents a different style of thinking as explained below:

• White Hat:
Here, look at the information that's available, and see what can be learned from it. Look for gaps in knowledge, and either try to fill them or take them into account. This is where you analyze past trends, and try to extrapolate from historical data. Care in characterizing what's actually known is important here.

• Red Hat:
Wearing the red hat, look at the decision using intuition and gut reaction. Think about how other people will react emotionally, and try to understand the intuitive responses of those who don't fully understand your reasoning. This allows emotion and skepticism to be brought into what would otherwise be a purely rational decision.

* Black Hat:
Using black hat thinking, look at things pessimistically, cautiously and defensively. Try to see why ideas and approaches being considered mightn't work. By highlighting the weak points in a plan or course of action, you can eliminate them, change your approach, or develop contingency plans to counter any problems that may arise. Black hat thinking helps persistently pessimistic people be positive and creative. Another benefit of this technique is that many successful people get so used to thinking positively that they often can't anticipate problems in advance, which leaves them ill-prepared for difficulties later on.

• Yellow Hat:
The yellow hat encourages positive thinking. An optimistic viewpoint helps to see all the benefits of the decision and to spot the opportunities that arise from it. Yellow hat thinking helps you to keep on going when everything looks gloomy and difficult. This view is helpful in opening up the possibilities.

• Green Hat:
The Green Hat stands for creativity. This is where you can develop creative solutions to a problem. It's a freewheeling way of thinking, where there's little criticism of ideas. Most ideas begin with the green hat and then get analyzed from the black and yellow hat point of view. This is the entrepreneurial hat - fertile, creative, provocative.

• Blue Hat:
The Blue Hat stands for process control and can be used to move between different thinking styles. This is the hat to wear when chairing meetings. Running into difficulties because ideas are running dry? Direct people's activity into green hat thinking. Then, when contingency plans are needed, ask for black hat thinking, and so on. You can use these different hats in meetings to help defuse disagreements when people with different thinking styles discuss the same issue.

People learn best when they're playing, and the six hat approach clearly encourages a spirit of play. By having everyone in a group focus on a specific element (Hat) at the same time, not individually, this technique reduces the amount of personality-based conflict, encourages more participation, and gives validation to many different ways to present the question at hand. It also suspends judgment longer so that more ideas can emerge.

I suggest you give this process a trial run with something unimportant before unleashing it on a big issue. Otherwise, you might be stalled by lack of understanding about how the process works. Keep practicing until you're satisfied that it's working well.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The power of lateral thinking.

Post 469 - Reading Edward de Bono's book New Think over the weekend, I was reminded again of the difference between vertical and lateral thinking. Vertical thinking begins with a single idea and then proceeds with that idea until a solution is reached. Lateral thinking generates alternative ways of seeing the problem before looking for a solution.

DeBono explains this by talking about digging holes:
Logic is the tool that's used to dig holes deeper and bigger, to make them altogether better holes. But if the hole is in the wrong place, then no amount of improvement is going to put it in the right place. No matter how obvious this may seem to every digger, it's still easier to go on digging in the same place than to start all over again in a new place. Vertical thinking is digging the same hole deeper; lateral thinking is trying again elsewhere.

de Bono acknowledges the advantages of digging in the same hole, agreeing that "a half-dug hole offers a direction in which to expend effort." He also points out that no one is paid to sit around being capable of achievement. Since there's no way to assess such capability, we have to pay and promote people according to their visible achievements. So it can work to your advantage to dig the wrong hole (even one that's recognized as being wrong) to an impressive depth than sitting around wondering where to start digging. However, breakthroughs usually come when someone abandons a partly-dug hole and starts afresh in a different place.

Many successful people think from a very rational, positive viewpoint, and this is part of the reason that they're successful. Often, though, they may fail to look at problems from emotional, intuitive, creative or negative viewpoints. This can mean that they underestimate resistance to change, don't make creative leaps, and fail to make essential contingency plans. Similarly, pessimists may be excessively defensive, and people used to a very logical approach to problem solving may fail to engage their creativity or listen to their intuition.

Tomorrow, I'll cover de Bono's "Six Thinking Hats," which is a way to look at important decisions from a number of different perspectives. This helps make better decisions by pushing people to move outside their habitual ways of thinking. Thus by understanding the full complexity of a decision, they can spot issues and opportunities which they might not otherwise notice.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Velvet Shoes, a poem by Elinor Wylie.

Post 468 - Elinor Morton Hoyt Hichborn Wylie Benet was born in 1885, in New Jersey. She attended a private elementary school for girls in Bryn Mawr. Although her father began poor, he ended up Solicitor General of the United States, appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt. In December 1906 Elinor married Harvard graduate Philip Hichborn, the son of a rear-admiral. In 1910, she abandoned her husband and three-year-old son and ran off with Horace Wylie. A Washington lawyer with a wife and three children, Wylie was 17 years older than Elinor. They lived in England until World War I broke out when they moved to Maine. In 1922 she became literary editor of Vanity Fair magazine. In 1923 she divorced Horace, and married William Rose Benet, a widower with three children. In 1928 Elinor returned to England alone. There she fell in love, again with a married man. But this time it was apparently on her side alone. She sailed back to New York to spend Christmas with Bill Benet and died quietly at home of a stroke on December 16, 1928. During her lifetime, she completed ten volumes of poetry and four novels.

She once wrote, "In masks outrageous and austere, The years go by in single file; But none has merited my fear, And none has quite escaped my smile."

Velvet Shoes by Elinor Wylie

Let us walk in the white snow

In a soundless space;

With footsteps quiet and slow,

At a tranquil pace,

Under veils of white lace.

I shall go shod in silk,

And you in wool,

White as white cow's milk,

More beautiful

Than the breast of a gull.

We shall walk through the still town

In a windless peace;

We shall step upon white down,

Upon silver fleece,

Upon softer than these.

We shall walk in velvet shoes:

Wherever we go

Silence will fall like dews

On white silence below.

We shall walk in the snow.

Words of wisdom from my father.

Post 467 - For some reason, I woke up thinking about my late father this morning. He's been dead for 25-years now and was always a man of few words when he was alive. However, what he said was always worth listening to and I learned many life lessons from him. My mother, on the other hand, taught me about behavior modification: "Stop acting like your father!"

Anyway, I remember him fondly and here's some of what he tried to teach me:

• The world doesn't pay off on effort . . . it pays off on results.

• You'll never choke to death swallowing your pride.

• You are what you do, not what you say you are.

• If you burn your bridges, you'd better be a real good swimmer.

• Education is like exercise. As soon as you quit, you begin to lose the benefits.

• If you win, say little. If you lose, say less.

• You’re judged by what you finish, not by what you start.

• Winning is sweeter when you've played the game fairly.

• Always stand up for what you know in your heart is right.

• Family comes first, above all else.

• Work at what you love, do your absolute best and be happy.

• Live within your means.

• Always buy “the good article.”

• Women appreciate a man who knows how to dance.

I will open my mouth in a parable. I will utter dark sayings of old.
Things that we have heard and known that our fathers told us
We will not hide them from their children, but tell it to the coming generations.

- Psalm 78: 1-4

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More better meeting ideas.

Post 466 - Someone once told me, “A meeting is an event where minutes are kept and hours are lost.” Here are some more ideas about how to avoid this:

During the meeting:

- Start with a crisp summary of purpose.
This will minimize digressions later on and will help you to keep the meeting on track. And on top of every agenda, put the $$ cost of the meeting (cost of salaries times two for opportunity).

- Encourage everyone to have their say.
Invite people who haven’t spoken to contribute in their area of expertise. Show that you value everyone’s opinions.

- Don’t let individuals dominate the meeting.
Intervene and cut people off when they’re going on too long or are obviously pushing a personal agenda. Steer the discussion back to the main point, tactfully but firmly. The other participants will thank you for it.

- Be ready to learn and change.
Change your course of action if new information pops up. Sticking to the script isn’t always the appropriate way to proceed.

- Get closure and move on.
When you sense consensus is emerging, push for a decision and move on to the next topic. No one wants to spend more time in a meeting than is absolutely necessary. Few meetings achieve much after the first two hours.

- End by summarizing what was learned.
“We’ve decided on A, B and D, and need to give further consideration to C and E.” That way, participants can leave with a sense of achievement and everyone knows what has to be done next.

After the meeting:

- Follow up quickly.
Send copies of the minutes to those who attended ASAP, and remind them about what they’ve agreed to do.

- Meet with participants who were unhappy with the meeting’s outcomes.
Take time to soothe the egos of those whose support you may need in the long run. These conversations can also provide you with helpful feedback.

- Send a memo describing next steps.
This document will provide a roadmap for future action by spelling out responsibilities and timelines going forward. It may also point out to dissatisfied participants that they’ve been heard and the issues they raised will be addressed in the future.

- Give people appropriate resources.
When people have been assigned a task to complete, make sure they have the means to accomplish it. If not, explain why.

- Act quickly to implement decisions made in the meeting.
People are judged more by what they do than what they say.

Like the meeting of the seagulls and the waves, we meet and come near.
The seagulls fly off, the waves roll away and we depart.

- Rabindranath Tagore in Stray Birds

Checklist for running better meetings.

Post 465 - All meetings require preparation, execution and follow-up. Today, I'll cover some rules dealing with preparation. Tomorrow, I'll address execution and follow-up.

Start by asking yourself:

- What are your goals for the meeting?
Write down, in a sentence or two, what your ideal outcomes will be.

- Should you call this meeting at all?
Often issues or decisions addressed in meetings could be better dealt with by personal contact or executive order. This holds for regularly scheduled meetings as well as those convened to deal with special issues.

- Has everyone got an agenda in advance?
A clear agenda encourages preparation and suggests an order of discussion that will help you achieve your goals. If difficult issues need a thorough exploration, put them first on the agenda. Less controversial issues are best tackled later when everyone is ready to end the meeting.

- Have you touched base with key players first?
Key players don't like to be surprised and can be uncooperative if they feel cornered. Build support for your proposals ahead of time.

- Do participants have information to make informed decisions?
You don't want to waste time during the meeting bringing people up to speed. When everyone has the same information to start with, it's easier to get agreement on actionable decisions.

- Have you anticipated objections?
You don't want to get ambushed on an important point you hadn't thought about before. Be prepared to show why your proposed course of action is superior to other possible alternatives.

- Do you have support from superiors?
Check with higher-ups before the meeting to make sure.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Meeting pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Post 464 - Recent studies have found that 16 of the 45 hours that US workers toil every week are “unproductive,” and that the average executive manages to complete only three hours and fifty minutes of constructive work a day. Two different research studies calculate that wasted time loses the US economy $650 billion a year. Office distractions are a serious problem and in my experience, one of the biggest time-wasters is most companies is badly run meetings. Here are a few of the most common problems and some ideas about how to avoid them:

- Lack of clarity about the meeting's purpose.
If you ask many executives why they go to the Monday morning meeting, they'll say "Because it's Monday, and we always have a meeting first thing on Monday." Or they say, "We're going to talk about sales." Both of these answers focus on activities. People who like to believe they're results-focused are often activity-focused instead. The regular get together becomes more important than its original purpose. One way to deal with this is to spend the opening minutes of every meeting clarifying its purpose and what the meeting is supposed to accomplish.

- Is the meeting really necessary?
A meeting is a transaction where something matters. If it doesn't matter, it shouldn't be held. Meetings convened to share FYIs and project updates can be avoided and information shared by email instead. Unless people are going to have some say in what goes on, you're better off sending them a memo telling them what you want them to do.

- Inadequate preparation.
The following should be decided ahead of time: What's the purpose, who's coming, what's going to be decided, who's expected to present, how long will the meeting run, who will chair it, who will take notes and where will it be held. Use a conference room without a phone to avoid disruption. Distribute an agenda to all participants in advance. Label the agenda as "tentative" and ask for changes and additions at the start of the meeting. The two biggest problems in America today are making ends meet and making meetings end.

- Unclear decision-making process.
Often, participants come to the meeting with only a seat-of-the-pants idea of how they're going to reach agreement. Too often, people mistake politeness for consensus. Fearful of being viewed as dissenters and not good team players, they avoid open disagreement. I remember working with technical staff at National Semiconductor in Greenock, Scotland some years ago and being struck by how effective their meetings were. They refused to go forward with any meeting unless the purpose was clear and the process of making decision was agreed to at the very beginning. While this was often trickier than it first appeared, I found it saved an enormous amount of time and frustration later on.

- Jumping to conclusions.
In reaching a decision, groups rarely establish criteria to use in evaluating solutions. Meeting participants are often impatient and don't want to slow down to think though the issues under discussion. Ignoring a systemic analysis, they lobby instead for a favorite preordained outcome. This usually involves a lot of talking and not much listening which produces flawed meeting results.

- Too many egos.
Very often, meetings consist of dramas where conflicts with little to do with the goal of the meeting are played out in public. Issues get decided not on their merits, but on the competing interests of people at the table. Thus, for political reasons, people sometimes end up opposing ideas they otherwise support. If personal conflict is likely to high-jack a meeting, it's best to use informal consultation or one-on-one sessions instead. Then convene a meeting to talk about what they agree on, what they disagree on, and where there are different views about how to proceed. The first and the second just need to be acknowledged, and productive discussion can then focus on reaching agreement about next steps. Areas of clear disagreement between individuals are best resolved outside the meeting room.

Not enough followup.
Meetings don't end until someone is assigned to take action. So always keep a diary of assignments and check on them regularly to be sure they're being carried out. Otherwise, you don't know how effective your meetings actually are.

Here’s a wonderful recipe for wasting time and money, recounted recently by a VP in a high-technology company:
“The new CEO made a big deal out of fast decisions. His staff all had pagers, cell phones, and wireless e-mail, so they could be reached quickly. He really thought just going faster helped. Do you know how we made faster decisions? We excluded the people who knew our customers and our technologies best. People joked about going to marching-order meetings, because they knew there would be no discussion, only instructions. Our big improvement was getting to market faster with products that only sold if we discounted them so much we couldn’t make our profit targets … We made fast decisions, but we didn’t always make smart decisions.”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

After the Movie, a poem by Marie Howe.

Post 463 - Marie Howe was born in Rochester, NY in 1950 and grew up there as one of nine children. She didn’t start writing poetry in any serious way until she was 29 years old. She was teaching high school before that. Howe earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Windsor and an MFA from Columbia University. Her debut volume, The Good Thief, selected by Margaret Atwood as winner of the 1987 Open Competition of the National Poetry Series, was published in 1988 by Persea Books. Since then, she's published two more collections, What the Living Do (W. W. Norton, 1998) and The Kingdom of the Ordinary (2008). Her awards include a fellowship at the Bunting Institute, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. She's served on the faculty of Tufts University and Dartmouth College. She currently teaches at Sarah Lawrence, New York University, and Columbia University. She lives with her daughter (who is adopted from China) in New York City.

She once said, "Growing up, I loved reading but I had no idea you could be a living person and write poetry."

After the Movie by Marie Howe

My friend Michael and I are walking home arguing about the movie.
He says that he believes a person can love someone
and still be able to murder that person.

I say, No, that's not love. That's attachment.
Michael says, No, that's love. You can love someone, then come to a day

when you're forced to think "it's him or me"
think "me" and kill him.

I say, Then it's not love anymore.
Michael says, It was love up to then though.

I say, Maybe we mean different things by the same word.
Michael says, Humans are complicated: love can exist even in the murderous heart.

I say that what he might mean by love is desire.
Love is not a feeling, I say. And Michael says, Then what is it?

We're walking along West 16th Street—a clear unclouded night—and I hear my voice repeating what I used to say to my husband: Love is action, I used to say to him.

Simone Weil says that when you really love you are able to look at someone you want to eat and not eat them.

Janis Joplin says, take another little piece of my heart now baby.

Meister Eckhardt says that as long as we love images we are doomed to live in purgatory.

Michael and I stand on the corner of 6th Avenue saying goodnight.
I can't drink enough of the tangerine spritzer I've just bought —

again and again I bring the cold can to my mouth and suck the stuff from the hole the flip top made.

What are you doing tomorrow? Michael says.
But what I think he's saying is "You are too strict. You are a nun."

Then I think, Do I love Michael enough to allow him to think these things of me even if he's not thinking them?

Above Manhattan, the moon wanes, and the sky turns clearer and colder.
Although the days, after the solstice, have started to lengthen,

we both know the winter has only begun.

How to plan for your next vacation.

Post 462 - Question: "So, I hear you're going on vacation soon! How long will you be gone?" Answer: "The whole time!"

Americans failed to take 438-million vacation days in 2007 according to a Harris Interactive poll. This is a significantly higher number than in any other industrialized nation. And as a result, America ranks number one in depression and mental health problems, as people here experience burnout, reduced productivity, diminished creativity, failed marriages, and stress-related ailments such as depression, heart disease and stomach ulcers.

Depending on your perspective, Steve Swasey is either an oppressed worker or the luckiest guy in the world. As a salaried employee at Netflix, Swasey has no set number of vacation days. He can spend as much time out of his California office as he wants, provided he gets all his work done. And there's the hitch: Like many of today's competitive professionals, Swasey always has more work that he can do. "We're always on, 24/7," says Swasey, who admits to checking his BlackBerry throughout a recent trip with his wife to Chile. Still, he insists that he and his colleagues are "not being workaholics. It's being engaged with your job because you love what you do." Thanks to Netflix's unlimited vacation policy, Swasey leaves the office a lot. But the office usually goes with him.

Many people when they do take vacations often bring work along with them, keeping themselves essentially still in the work mindset they’re supposedly trying to escape. This is unfortunate for several reasons:

* Vacations Promote Creativity:
A true vacation can help people reconnect with themselves, providing a vehicle for self-discovery that helps them get back to feeling their best.

* Vacations Help People Avoid Burnout:
Employees who take regular time to relax are less likely to experience burnout. This makes them more creative and productive than their overworked, under-rested counterparts.

* Vacations Can Keep People Healthy:
Taking regular time off to ‘recharge the batteries’ lowers stress levels, which in turn keeps people healthier.

* Vacations Can Strengthen Relationships:
Spending time enjoying life with loved ones can keep interpersonal relationships strong, thus increasing enjoyment of the good times and helping to work through the stress of the bad times. A study by the Arizona Department of Health and Human Services found that women who took vacations were more satisfied with their marriages than those who did not.

• Vacations Can Help With Job Performance:
The Arizona study also showed that the psychological benefits of more frequent vacations led to increased quality of life, and that in turn led to increased job performance.

Jobs can be greedy things, gobbling up all the time we give them. In a country where we have six weeks less time off per year than our Western European counterparts, nearly half (46 percent) of U.S. employees feel overworked, according to the Families and Work Institute. Often people are reluctant to take vacation because work piles up while they're away, making re-entry to the workplace very stressful. Here are several survival strategies that help to avoid this:

* Take care of as much work as you can before leaving for vacation.

* Make choices about how you do your work so you don't have work pile-ups when you return.

* Don't schedule anything on your calendar for your first day back.

Try to remember that, "An unhurried sense of time is in itself a form of wealth," according to Bonnie Friedman.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How to ask good questions.

Post 461 - The average 5-year old asks 200 questions a day. The average 20-year old asks 20-30 questions a day. So, most people learn to stop asking questions as they get older. When I first started coaching CEOs and business owners, I quickly learned the value of asking questions instead of providing answers. A good coach knows how to elicit a client’s best thinking and to have the client say what they haven’t said, dream what they haven’t dreamed, think what they haven’t thought about. You do this by asking many more questions than you give answers.

As Don Miguel Ruiz advises in The Four Agreements, “Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life. We have millions of questions that need answers because there are so many things that the reasoning mind cannot explain. It is not important if the answer is correct; just the answer itself makes us feel safe. This is why we make assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.”

If you want to help someone come to terms with their problems or opportunities, remember that most people aren't going to reveal what the real issue is after the first question. The real issue is usually two or three questions deep. Finding the right questions is crucial to finding the right answers.

in this kind of situation, here are ten smart questions:
- What has to be done?
- Can you explain the process?
- How do you feel about it?
- Can you explain that further?
- What are some of the reasons this didn’t work as well as you hoped?
- What are we pretending we don’t know?
- What could you do to improve the situation?
- What can you change to make this work better?
- What key results are you looking for?
- What can I do to help you?

According to Michael J. Marquardt in Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask, the most effective and empowering questions create value in one or more of the following ways:
- They create clarity: "Can you explain more about this situation?"

- They build better working relationships: Instead of "Did you make your sales goal?" ask, "How have sales been going?"

- They help people think analytically and critically: "What are the consequences of going this route?"

- They inspire people to reflect and see things in fresh, unpredictable ways: "Why did this work?"

- They encourage breakthrough thinking: "Can that be done in any other way?"

- They challenge assumptions: "What do you think you’ll lose if you start sharing responsibility for the implementation process?"

- They create ownership of solutions: "Based on your experience, what do you suggest we do here?"

There's great value in asking proactive questions. Executives appreciate it when you act as a thought partner and demonstrate your concern for the business and its results. And they value questions that get the answers without undue prying or intimidation.

Try these tips for asking better questions:

- Keep them open-ended. Ask provocative questions that encourage others to think for themselves. Start questions with "why" or "how."

- Don't lead. Avoid asking questions you already know the answer to.

- Encourage solutions. "What do you suggest we do to get the best results?" is a great question because it elicits ownership.

- Help clients to create a questioning culture by encouraging others to ask critical questions as well.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

How to write a report.

Post 460 - One of the most challenging tasks in business is preparing a persuasive report or memo. Here are some thoughts on this topic informed by the writings of Monci J. Williams.

The thinking in any report will be easy for a reader to follow if it focuses on answering a question that already exists in the reader’s mind. For example, a situation exists. Therefore a complication arises. As a result, a disturbing event is anticipated or a sensitive, threatening topic needs to be addressed. The complication, or the event, or the tension it creates, triggers a question which the report will answer.

Most business reports set out to answer one of the following four questions:

1. We have a task to perform. Something is stopping us from performing that task. What should we do?

2. We have a problem. We know the solution. How do we best implement it?

3. We have a problem. A solution has been suggested. Is it the right solution?

4. We have taken an action. The action didn’t work. Why not?

Reports are best prepared using the following guidelines:

- The opening sentence should anchor the reader in space and time, thus setting the stage for a story to come.

- Don’t start off by trying to “get it all down.” You may think you can find the structure more easily afterwards. But the chances are you’ll leave it, disjointed thinking and all, and move on to something else once you see it typed up.

- Put the history and chronology in the introduction but make it brief. The purpose is only to set the stage for the question and answer that will be presented in the report.

- Articulate the key question and the answer that the report will address in the introduction. Anyone who reads the introduction should know the essential substance of the full report.

- Outline the relationship between ideas before beginning to write. Cluster the ideas into groups that require similar or related actions. Each cluster of ideas should answer a question raised in the previous cluster.

This approach applies to every kind of document in which the purpose is to offer your thinking to the reader. This includes emails, one-page memos, multi-page reports, and formal slide presentations.

Finally, reports should always be written in the language of action. Instead of writing, “Improve financial reporting,” write instead, “Install a system that gives early notice of change.”

Monday, April 5, 2010

Using the principles of social influence.

Post 459 - Robert B. Cialdini lists the following six universal principles of social influence:
- Reciprocation (we feel obligated to return favors performed for us),
- Authority (we look to experts to show us the way),
- Commitment/consistency (we want to act consistently with our commitments and values),
- Scarcity (the less available the resource, the more we want it),
- Liking (the more we like people, the more we want to say yes to them), and
- Social proof (we look to what others do to guide our behavior).

Another way of looking at this is to think of the following seven Cs as proven ways to influence behavior - caring, coaching, correcting, confirming, collaborating, clarifying, and conciliating.

Caring is contagious. It develops trust and is the foundation for the remainder of the seven Cs. A few ways to show care and concern in the workplace include: sending get-well cards when employees are out sick, greeting people by their first name and with a handshake, and being available to listen to personal problems.

If people are taught to care, coaching will follow. The most effective coaching involves demonstration and repetition - "show and tell" - through a trial-and-error process. The door is always left open for questioning and feedback. When employees feel supported, they're more open to learn directly and by observation. They also more likely to coach each other.

When people aren’t corrected, and employees realize that supervisors and peers will look the other way, dysfunctional unwritten norms are established and bad behavior continues. Managers and peers must learn how to stop dysfunctional behavior so it doesn’t continue.

When employees are corrected regularly, they need to repeatedly hear words of praise as well when they're observed to be working effectively. Managers need to be "hero-makers." This is also true for supervisors and peers.

When employees are regularly involved working together, there’s a greater sense of ownership, accomplishment and pride, especially when they’re successful. It follows that they must be given the knowledge they need in order to function as an effective group.

Goals and objectives should be regularly and clearly communicated as employees are more likely to work for what they've "bought into." Additionally, by clarifying their individual values, they can better align their own behavior with what's really important to them.

Unresolved conflict is distracting. It interferes with communications and drains individuals and organizations of energy. Strained working relationships lead to a decline in morale and work performance. Conflicts need to be identified and agreements met in order to establish unified direction toward a common goal.

These seven principles need to be continually emphasized so that in time, they become an ingrained practice, a part of the culture. In addition, as Dale Carnegie notes in the opening chapter of How to Win Friends and Influence People: "If you want personal happiness, and if you want to create great relationships, avoid the following three Cs - don't criticize, condemn, or complain."

Friday, April 2, 2010

Daffodils, a poem by William Wordsworth.

Post 458 - William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was born in Cockermouth, Cumberland, part of the scenic region in northwest England known as the Lake District. He was educated at St John's College, Cambridge, and received his B.A. degree in 1791. He received an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree in 1838 from Durham University, and the same honor from Oxford University the following year. In 1842, the British government awarded him a civil list pension amounting to £300 a year. With the death of Robert Southey, Wordsworth became the Poet Laureate in 1843. When his daughter, Dora, died in 1847, his production of poetry came to a standstill. Wordsworth's personality and poetry were deeply influenced by his love of nature, especially by the sights and scenes of the Lake District, in which he spent most of his mature life. He believed that, "Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility."

I learned to recite this poem as a young boy and it has remained one of my favorites ever since.

Daffodils by William Wordsworth.

I wander'd lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Happy Passover or Easter or whatever you're celebrating this week.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Homage to Edward A. Murphy Jr.

Post 457 - Not many people know that Major Edward A. Murphy, Jr. (1918–1990), an American aerospace engineer working at Edwards Air Force Base, was the originator of the well-known Murphy's Law in 1949. Frustrated with a device that wouldn't work consistently due to an error in wiring, he remarked, "If there's any way to do it wrong, he will," referring to the technician who had wired the device. Hence,
Murphy's Law - If anything can go wrong, it will.

Since Murphy's time, many other less well known laws have been postulated. Here are just a few of them:

Iles's Law - There's always an easier way to do it.

Cotter's Law - Things will be damaged in direct proportion to their value.

Boling's Law - If you're feeling good, don't worry. You'll get over it.

Rudin's Law - In crises that force people to choose among alternative courses of action, most people will choose the worst one possible.

The Fifth Law on Thermodynamics - Things get worse under pressure.

Etorre's Law - The other line always moves faster.

Boob's Law - You always find something the last place you look.

Paul's Law - You can't fall off the floor.

Barbara's Law - It works better if you plug it in.

Bueller's Law - Whenever something is completely understood, some damn fool discovers something which either makes it obsolete or changes it beyond all recognition.

Jon's Law - A person's expertise varies in inverse proportion to the number of statements understood by the general public.

Osborn's Law - Variables won't; constants aren't.

Jones's Law - Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate.

Howard's Law - A man with one watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.

Emily's Law - You can't tell how deep a puddle is until you step in it.

Fett's Law - Never replicate a successful experiment.

Caitlan's Law - All great discoveries are made by mistake. The greater the funding, the longer it takes to make the mistake.

Johnson's Law - If you miss one issue of a magazine, it will be the issue which contained the article, story or installment you were most anxious to read.

Mary's Law - The minute you sit down on the toilet, the phone will wring.

Etc, etc.

What's your favorite version of Murphy's Law?