Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Finding common ground in new relationships.

Post 515 - I’ve been watching episodes of an old British TV series, Coupling, recently. Produced for the BBC from 2000 to 2004, the shows center on the dating and sexual adventures and mishaps of six friends in their thirties, often depicting the three women and the three men each talking among themselves about the same events, but in entirely different terms. The show was based on the author’s experiences meeting his wife, and on the issues that arise in new relationships.

There are so many jokes about the lack of understanding between men and women that I think it makes sense for couples in new relationships to take them seriously and try to find a way to reconcile their differences early on. Sometimes this means learning to compromise; however, most of the time, it just requires lots of work and mutual understanding by both parties in the relationship.

In addition, when couples first get together, they tend to be attracted by their similarities. As they get to know one another better, their differences start to come into focus. Younger couples are attracted to each other’s complementary differences - sometimes, the more different, the better. The logistics of sharing a larger list of coping skills against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune can seem wise for survival. However, relationships later in life tend to develop between people with greater similarities.

Some people won’t get involved in a serious relationships even with someone they like very much if they don’t have a shared background. They have a deep connection to their culture and its rituals, and they want someone who’ll be able to keep these traditions alive with them. Here, cultural continuity is what’s important. However, when people feel they have a cultural match, many things are taken as a given and people don't feel the need to discuss them. It’s easy to imagine that there’s more compatibility with someone than there actually is just because they both feel they already know each other.

Similarly, using the same language isn’t always speaking the same language. It's quite a common assumption that just because both parties speak the same language, there are no serious cultural differences. Even if they share the same values, there are many assumptions about how values are communicated that are quite different among those who come from different cultures or different backgrounds.

In my experience, the big things, like religion for example, are usually easy enough to deal with because they're more visible and so people tend to talk them through early on. It's the small things, like sarcasm, which go unnoticed at first, or are too small to really "discuss," that can add up over time to cause big problems later on.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Time to create a ‘Department of Louise.’

Post 514 - Here are this week's impressions and statistics:

I'm told that
- 50% of our health is related to our behavior
- 20% is related to our environment
- 20% is related to our genetics
- 10% is related to our access to health-care.

More than 400 million people worldwide are obese, including 72 million here in the U.S. Currently, 112,000 obese Americans die every year. Over the past decade, medical costs related to obesity have more than tripled to the point where they now account for almost 10 percent of U.S. annual health care spending. San Diego County lost $3 billion last year in obesity costs, including lost work productivity. The California Center for Public Health Advocacy reported that statewide, the California total came to $43 billion!

In America, we have a sick-care system, not a health-care system.

According to a study by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, married couples have intercourse about 66 times a year. But that number is skewed by young marrieds, as young as 18, who have sex, on average, 84 times a year.

There were 4.25 million births in the U.S. in 2008 – a two percent decline from 2007. A U.S. woman could expect to have 3.7 children in the late 1950s. A typical American woman expects to have 2.09 children today. A typical woman in Western Europe is expected to have 1.59 children today. Worldwide, a typical woman is expected to have 2.56 children.

The Department of Homeland Security estimates that at least 10.8 million illegal immigrants are currently living in the United States.

Between 2008 and 2010 the share of voters who considered the Democrats too liberal surged from 39 percent to 49 percent, according to Gallup surveys.

Asked why she frequently doesn’t wear pants, Lady Gaga said, “My grandmother is basically blind, but she can make out the lighter parts, like my skin and hair. She says, ‘I can see you, because you have no pants on.’ So I’ll continue to wear no pants so that my grandma can see me.” Who knew?

Maybe checking out Lady Gaga is why men watch 32 minutes of television more than women do. In 2009, men spent three hours, six minutes a day watching TV, compared to two hours, 34 minutes for women.

On a really serious note, in international standing, America’s K-12 students are now 32nd in math, 10th in science and 12th in reading scores. Our weakness in K-12 catches up as applications to graduate school in the technical sciences are largely foreign born. Nearly 70 percent of engineering PhDs awarded in 2006 were to foreign born students, as were more than half the PhDs awarded in the physical sciences.

Many K-12 students don’t have role models with whom they identify because only 24 percent of teachers are men and only 17 percent are from a minority background.

Politicians in California are now trying to craft a balanced budget by cutting funds for education. For example, they're calling for a 20 percent cut in support for the University of California system on top of significant earlier cuts made in the past few years.

Some time ago, Dave Barry suggested that we create a ‘Department of Louise.’ Louise would be a sensible woman of a certain age and experience. Once legislators had passed a bill, she would have final say before implementation. Don’t you think it’s time the voters of California adopted Dave’s excellent recommendation?

Friday, June 25, 2010

There Are Men Too Gentle, a poem by James Kavanaugh.

Post 513 - James Kavanaugh was a former Catholic priest who came to fame in 1967 with his controversial bestseller, A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church. He later wrote bestselling books of poetry and other works and died in December, 2009 at the age of 81. In the early 1970's, as an ex-priest, living in a New York walk-up, sustained by peanut butter and cheese whiz, he wrote his first book of poetry, There are Men too Gentle to Live Among Wolves. To date, it has sold over two million copies.

There Are Men Too Gentle To Live Among Wolves by James Kavanaugh

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who prey upon them with IBM eyes
And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon.
There are men too gentle for a savage world
Who dream instead of snow and children and Halloween
And wonder if the leaves will change their color soon.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who anoint them for burial with greedy claws
And murder them for a merchant's profit and gain.
There are men too gentle for a corporate world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And pause to hear the distant whistle of a train.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who devour them with appetite and search
For other men to prey upon and suck their childhood dry.
There are men too gentle for an accountant's world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And search for beauty in the mystery of the sky.
There are men too gentle to live among wolves

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who toss them like a lost and wounded dove
Such gentle men are lonely in a merchant's world
Unless they have a gentle one to love.

“If anything has changed over the years, and it has, I only feel more confident now about what I wrote then. I am far more aware of the power that guides each of us along the way, and provides us with the insights and people we need for our journey. There are, indeed, men and women too gentle to live among wolves and only when joined with them will life offer the searcher, step by step, all that is good and beautiful. Life becomes not a confused struggle or pointless pain, but an evolving mosaic masterpiece of the person we were destined to become."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Are you qualified to be a "professional."

Post 512 - The following short quiz consists of four questions and tells whether you're qualified to be considered a "professional."

Scroll down for each answer. The questions aren’t that difficult.

1. How do you put a giraffe into a refrigerator?

The correct answer is: Open the refrigerator, put in the giraffe and close the door. This question tests whether you tend to do simple things in an overly complicated way.

2. How do you put an elephant into a refrigerator?

Wrong answer: Open the refrigerator, put in the elephant and close the refrigerator. Correct Answer: Open the refrigerator, take out the giraffe, put in the elephant and close the door. This tests your ability to think through the repercussions of your actions.

3. The Lion King is hosting an animal conference. All the animals attend except one. Which animal does not attend?

Correct Answer: The elephant. The elephant is in the refrigerator. This tests your memory.

OK, even if you didn’t answer the first three questions correctly, you still have one more chance to show your abilities.

4. There’s a river you must cross, but it’s inhabited by crocodiles. How do you manage it?

Correct Answer: You swim across. All the crocodiles are attending the animal conference. This tests whether you learn quickly from your mistakes.

According to Andersen Consulting Worldwide, around 90% of the professionals they tested got all the questions wrong. But many preschoolers got several correct answers.

This seems to confirm what I've often suspected - that some professionals lack the brains of a four-year-old.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How to survive in the modern office.

Post 511 - Sitting at the computer with bad posture for extended periods of time can cause health problems, especially backaches and carpal tunnel syndrome. If you work in an office and use a computer, you can avoid injury by following these tips:

- Support your back.
A correctly adjusted chair will reduce the strain on your back. Get one that’s easily adjustable so that you can change the height, back position and tilt. Sit back in your seat, so your back touches the back of the chair. Have your knees level with your hips. Your feet should be flat on the floor. If they’re not, get a foot-rest which lets you rest your feet at a level that’s comfortable to you. Avoid crossing your legs, as this can cut off circulation and cause hip problems.

- Place your screen at eye level.
A good guide is to place the monitor about an arm's length away, with the top of the screen roughly at eye level. If necessary, get a stand for your monitor so you can do this.

- Avoid screen reflection.
Your screen should be as glare-free as possible. Position the monitor to avoid reflection from overhead lighting and sunlight. Adjusting the screen's brightness or contrast can also make it much easier to use.

- Look away from your computer screen often.
Focusing on a computer screen for too long can lead to dry eyes and eye fatigue. Be sure to change your focus often, looking at a point in the distance, and blink regularly to keep your eyes moist. Looking away from the monitor often will reduce eye fatigue. Covering your eyes for 10-15 seconds will also help.

- Sit close to your keyboard.
Place it right in front of you, with the part you use most often centered on your body. Adjust the tilt of the keyboard so it feels comfortable. If you sit in a forward or upright position, tilt the keyboard away from you at a negative angle. If you’re reclined, a slight positive tilt will help maintain a straight wrist position.

- Avoid wrist pain.
Your wrists should be straight when using the keyboard. Position and use the mouse as close to you as possible. Your upper arms should be relaxed at your sides. Keep your elbows vertical under your shoulder and right by your side. A mouse mat with a wrist pad may help to keep your wrist straight and avoid awkward bending.

- Use a document holder.
Choose one that’s at the same height and distance as your computer monitor. Holders that can be mounted to the monitor are ideal.

- Reduce repetitive movements.
Movements that you repeat over and over, such as answering the phone or reaching for a stapler, can lead to strains and stress. Reduce unnecessary movements as much as possible by keeping items you use often within arm's reach and using tools, such as a phone headset, to reduce repetitive movements. Repeatedly cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder can strain the muscles in your neck. Also, alternate the hand you use to operate your mouse.

- Move around often.
Your body can only tolerate being in one position for about 20 minutes before it starts to feel uncomfortable, according to the Mayo Clinic. About every 15 minutes, stand, stretch, walk around or change your position for at least 30 seconds.

- Keep your desk tidy.
Take a few minutes each day to go through your papers. Throw away those you don't need and file those you do. While keeping away from too much clutter is good, adding a few items that mean something to you will personalize your desk and make it more enjoyable to work at.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How to think about the stock market.

Post 510 - Here are some words of wisdom from the master of the business universe, Warren Buffett:

- "In a bull market, one must avoid the error of the preening duck that quacks boastfully after a torrential rainstorm, thinking that its paddling skills have caused it to rise in the world. A right-thinking duck would instead compare its position after the downpour to that of the other ducks on the pond."

- "The fact that people will be full of greed, fear or folly is predictable. The sequence is not predictable."

- "It's far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price."

- "When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it's usually the reputation of the business that remains intact."

- "Risk comes from not knowing what you're doing."

- "Whether we’re talking about socks or stocks, I like buying quality merchandise when it is marked down."

- "I don’t look to jump over 7-foot bars: I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over."

- "If a business does well, the stock eventually follows."

- "Look at market fluctuations as your friend rather than your enemy; profit from folly rather than participate in it."

- "Most people get interested in stocks when everyone else is. The time to get interested is when no one else is. You can’t buy what's popular and do well."

- "The line separating investment and speculation, which is never bright and clear, becomes blurred still further when most market participants have recently enjoyed triumphs. Nothing sedates rationality like large doses of effortless money. After a heady experience of that kind, normally sensible people drift into behavior akin to that of Cinderella at the ball. They know that overstaying the festivities — that is, continuing to speculate in companies that have gigantic valuations relative to the cash they are likely to generate in the future — will eventually bring on pumpkins and mice. But they nevertheless hate to miss a single minute of what is one helluva party. Therefore, the giddy participants all plan to leave just seconds before midnight. There’s a problem, though: They are dancing in a room in which the clocks have no hands."

- "Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks."

- "Never count on making a good sale. Have the purchase price be so attractive that even a mediocre sale gives good results."

- "Investors making purchases in an overheated market need to recognize that it may often take an extended period for the value of even an outstanding company to catch up with the price they paid."

- "The investor of today doesn't profit from yesterday's growth."

- "I try to buy stock in businesses that are so wonderful that an idiot can run them. Because sooner or later, one will."

Monday, June 21, 2010

A post about statistical indicators.

Post 509 - Some interesting statistics I noted during this the past week. I believe most of these indicators speak for themselves.

- In 1994, nearly two-thirds of American-born teens ages 16 through 19 were working or looking for work. Last summer, the number had dropped to less than half. Over that same period, the number of teens not in the labor force rose from 4.7 million to 8.1 million.

- Enrollment in U.S. colleges rose from 5.9 million in 1965 to 17.5 million in 2005. In the fall of 2009, 70 percent of high school graduates were headed to a university campus, an all-time high. In 1970, one million Americans continued their education beyond college compared to 2.3 million in 2007.

- Most people think a full-time college student is someone who enrolled in a four-year full-time program, straight from high school. In reality, this description only fits 27 percent of college students in America today. Instead, more than 73 percent study part-time, have families to support, and work in challenging full-time jobs for at least 35 hours a week.

- In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had acquired all the traditional trappings of maturity by age 30: that is they’d left home, completed school, had full-time employment, and were married with a family. In 2005, that figure was 27 percent for women and 30 percent for men, respectively.

- The first 10 years of employment is when workers see 70 percent of their overall wage growth, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

- More than 82 million people in the U.S. created content online during 2008. This number is expected to grow to nearly 115 million by 2013.

Only 11% of teens email each day, according to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. People are increasingly spending more time on social networks rather than on email.

Barely a third of the soccer players who started games in the English Premier League in 2009 were actually English. Maybe that's why the English team has done so badly in the World Cup.

In the U.K., productivity losses tied to the World Cup could total $1.5 billion. Just over half or working men and a fifth of working women intend to watch the matches scheduled to take place during office hours as they happen.

More than 2,800 mail carriers were bitten by dogs in 2009 and most of these were attacked in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas.

The number of people giving up on cable hasn’t grown in the last two years, despite the growth of online web video over the same period. Since 2008, according to data from Nielsen, the percentage of the U.S. population that only has broadband Internet access and no cable television has hovered around 4%. Meanwhile, the percentage of people who subscribe to both cable and broadband has grown to 66% of the population from 55%.

Last time I checked, Southern California Edison had 18,000 employees. Of these, 30 % were older than 50. 41% of the top executives are currently retirement eligible. It’s estimated that 75% of the management team will turn over in the next seven years. Leadership development at Edison consists of 70% on-the-job experience, 20% coaching and 10% training. Do you know the numbers for your company? How do you compare to So. Cal. Edison?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Abandoned, a poem by Matthew Sweeney.

Post 508 - Matthew Sweeney talks about how he makes a living as a poet, and about Alternative Realism, something I believe we can all use more of these days:

"I'm lucky enough to make my living as a poet. That doesn't mean sitting at home writing and expecting the royalties to come in and pay the rent and the restaurants because they won't. They help a little bit but like now I'm putting my tax together - late - and there are all these different strands, and royalties will be one of them but they really only come into play in a year where you deliver a new book. Most of the income comes in from other stuff like readings - I do a lot of readings throughout the year , and I go into schools and have residencies - sometimes big ones like 15 months at the South Bank or short ones like at this school, Hounslow Manor. I do radio stuff. Every now and again something good happens and it just happened recently. I'm working on a new collection - my Selected Poems is coming out soon and looking beyond that I've got twenty-five poems or so. I sent these to the Arts Council Of Ireland hoping that they might give me readies in terms of a bursary and I got a letter last week saying that they're giving me a nice one. So that takes a lot of the pressure off. You can make a living as a poet but it's a very precarious living."

He goes on to say, "The tradition I come from, the Irish Tradition, is open to what I call Alternative Realism - it's open to going beyond the borders of realism. It's also open to mixing up the humorous and the serious. And in a way that the English tradition is not so open to ... irony is much more important in English writing than in Irish."

Here's one of his poems that illustrates this.

Abandoned by Matthew Sweeney.

After two days he knew they were lying,
they wouldn’t send anyone to rescue him,
he was stuck here, forever, on the moon
without even a dead man for company.
Why did they load so much dust and rocks
the module couldn’t lift off?
How many experiments could they do?
How long before he’d replace some of the dust?
He looked up at Earth where his wife was.
What would they say to her? More lies,
he knew. His children would never learn
he hadn’t died in a meteor shower,
and neither of them would visit his grave.
He wouldn’t even have a grave!
He countered this by thinking back
to the last time he and his wife
had made love, to the borsch she’d cooked
that night, the vodka they’d drunk.
What was she doing now? Did she
know he was beaming thoughts at her
across the thousands of miles of space,
hoping that in her sleep she’d beam some back?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

This little pig .....etc.

Post 507 - I'm in the mood for pig stories today...

A pig went into a bar and asked the bartender for a glass of water. The bartender gave the pig the water and when the pig was done he asked the bartender if he could use the restroom. The bartender said, "Sure. It's down the hall and to your right." A little while later another pig went into the bar and asked the bartender for two glasses of water. The bartender gave the pig the water and when the pig was done he asked the bartender if he could use the restroom.

The bartender said, "Sure. It's down the hall and to your right." Soon after, another pig went into the bar and asked the bartender for three glasses of water. The bartender gave the pig the water and when the pig was done he asked the bartender if he could use the restroom. The bartender said, "Sure. It's down the hall and to your right." Then another pig went into the bar and asked the bartender for four glasses of water. The bartender gave the pig the water and when the pig was done he asked the bartender if he could use the restroom. The bartender said, "Sure. It's down the hall and to your right."

After a little while another pig went into the bar and asked the bartender for five glasses of water. The bartender gave the pig the water and the pig drank all five glasses and was about to leave when the bartender stopped him and said, "Wait a minute. All these other pigs have come in here and drank between one and four glasses of water and they all needed to use the restroom. But you drank five whole glasses of water. Why don't you need to use the restroom too?" And the pig replied, "Don't you know the story? I'm the little pig that goes wee-wee-wee all the way home."

And here's another piece of pig folklore:

A homeless man stops at a farmhouse to beg to spend the night. The farmer answers the door and says, "Sure, we can put you up." The vagrant washes up for dinner and meets the family downstairs. Sitting at the dinner table are the farmer, his wife, their son, and a gigantic pig who is sitting at the table like a human.

Throughout the meal the vagrant tries not to stare at the pig, who sports three medals around his neck, as well as a wooden leg. Finally, he can contain his curiosity no longer. He asks "Would you mind telling me about the bronze medal around your pig's neck?" The farmer says "Sure. It's really an incredible story. Little Timmy here was swimming in the lake when he got a cramp and started to drown. This pig heard his cries for help, busted out of his pen, ran to the lake, and saved our son's life. So, we gave him the medal."

The vagrant is amazed and says "Well, how about that silver medal?" The farmer says "A few months ago our house caught fire in the middle of the night while we were all sleeping. This pig saw the flames, busted out of his pen and ran into the house, waking us up in time. To show our gratitude we gave him that silver medal."

The homeless man says "While I'm at it, I might as well ask you about the gold medal." The farmer says "My wife was attacked by a burglar several weeks ago. This pig heard her cries, busted out of his pen, and chased that man far away. To show my thanks I gave him that gold medal" The homeless man sits in awe of the pig, who is blithely eating his meal with a knife and fork.

He asks "What about the wooden leg?" The farmer says, matter-of-factly, "Well, you don't eat a pig like THAT all at once!"

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How to write a book proposal.

Post 506 - This is something I get asked about all the time, so here are some tips and guidelines about preparing a book proposal that I learned from my agent, Michael Snell. Most editors ask the same questions about any book proposal that's submitted to them for review:

- does the material have a proven book-buying audience?
- does it compliment rather than duplicate what's already been published?
- why is the author qualified to write this book?
- how well does he know his subject?
- can he write well?
- will the final manuscript confirm the promise of the proposal?

So, a good proposal answers these questions, clearly and compellingly, by presenting the following information:

- a title page with the title (and subtitle), the author's name, the address of the author's agent, and the book title. The best titles are short, enticing, catchy and clear.

- a three to five page synopsis that "pitches" the book, listing previously published examples and explaining why this book is unique. Contrast the proposal with the competition. Include sales figures, statistics and other qualified arguments that show there's a wide audience for the material you plan to present.

- a one or two page biographical sketch, written like a press release, that establishes the author's expertise, demonstrates his writing ability, and depicts him as presentable and promotable. Editors give credit for previously published work, even if the work was quite different from the book that's now being proposed.

- a one-page bird's-eye view of the scope of the book, listing chapter titles only. These should be catchy, lively, clear and enticing. At the bottom of the page, include the approximate number of words, the desired format (hardcover or paperback), and the projected delivery date.

- summarize each chapter in one or two paragraphs. Show the logical flow from chapter to chapter and illustrate the internal logic within each chapter. Use concrete examples and anecdotes to enliven the presentation.

- show that the manuscript will live up to its promise by including a sample chapter from the book or a few pages of actual text from each chapter. A brilliant proposal can be ruined by weak chapter examples. Similarly, strong samples will seldom overcome a weak proposal.

Most traditional publishers won't even consider manuscripts submitted directly by a potential author anymore but rely on the endorsement of a qualified literary agent. Agents always want to represent their clients exclusively and will likely dismiss any query that seems to have gone to other agents as well at the same time. So submit material to one agent at a time and include a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you want a response or want your material returned.

For more information, go to:

Monday, June 14, 2010

And a note about the importance of kissing.

Post 505 - Here are some miscellaneous facts and figures that crossed my mind in the past week.

In a recent survey, 73 per cent of air travelers said that a little small talk is fine, but they prefer to keep to themselves for most of the flight.

When the cost of a suitable house exceeds 20 times the rent of comparable quarters, the experts say it makes more sense to rent.

Natural gas, which is currently priced at just over $4 per thousand cubic feet, can power a truck as far as seven gallons of diesel.

New census estimates show minorities added more than two percent in 2009 to 107.2 million people. During that time, the white population remained flat at roughly 200 million people. Four states – Hawaii, New Mexico, California and Texas – as well as the District of Columbia, have minority populations that exceed 50 percent. Fifteen states, led by California, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania, have lost more than 10 percent of their younger white population since 2000.

The California State University system lost 10% of its teaching force in 2009 which is the equivalent of 1,230 full-time positions. The University of California's share of state general fund revenue of $2.6 billion in the 2009-10 fiscal year was 20% less than it was two years earlier. The number of full-time faculty members at American universities was around 51% in 2007, down from 78% in 1970.

The annual per–inmate cost of California’s corrections system is $47,000, which is 50% higher than the national average. About 20% of the 167,000 prisoners are “three strikes” offenders convicted of nonviolent drug offenses and property crimes.

The U.S. debt will top $13.6 trillion this year and climb to an estimated $19.6 trillion by 2015, according to a Treasury Department report to Congress. The total U.S. debt includes obligations to the Social Security retirement program and other government trust funds. The amount of debt held by investors, which include China and other countries as well as individuals and pension funds, will rise to an estimated $9.1 trillion in 2010 from $7.5 trillion in 2009.

Plastic bags are often made from polyethylene, which is derived from natural gas and petroleum. Californians use 19 billion plastic bags each year (that’s approximately 552 for each individual in the state). Less than 6% are recycled, leaving 147,000 tons of waste created by these bags. It’s estimated that it takes 500 to 1,000 years ffor plastic bags to degrade, although the exact figure hasn’t been determined. California spends $25 million annually to clean up plastic–bag waste and that’s on top of the $300 million that municipalities also spend.

According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses:
• Represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms
• Employ more than half the private-sector employees
• Pay 44 percent of the total U.S. private payroll
• Have generated more than 64 percent of all new jobs during the past 15 years
• And create more than half the private gross domestic product

Chief Executive magazine’s CEO Confidence Index rose 15.6 points to 109.9 in May – a gain of 14.2%. The Current Confidence Index had the largest percentage gain, rising 24.4% to 86.9. Nearly 60% of CEOs forecast slow, continual growth in the economy.

And finally, a chewing gum commercial I saw on TV claims that the average American spends 20,000 minutes kissing in a lifetime. Compare this with the nine years glued to the tube that the average American watches in a lifetime, and you have some idea why our world is as screwed up as some of the statistics above indicate. So pucker up and do your part to move that kissing number forward and improve the quality of life in America. If you're unsure about your technique, go to for some tips on how to get better. It's worth a try!

As e. e. cummings wrote in since feeling is first, "and kisses are a better fate / than wisdom / lady i swear by all flowers..."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Word to Hostesses, a poem by Phyllis McGinley.

Post 504 - Phyllis McGinley (1905 - 1978) was an American writer of children's books and a poet who stressed the positive aspects of suburban life. Her poems were published in the New York Herald Tribune and The New Yorker, among others. In 1955, she was elected a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 1961 she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

In a 1965 interview in Time magazine, McGinley noted, “At a time when poetry has become the property of the universities and not the common people, I have a vast number of people who have become my readers. I have kept the door open and perhaps led them to greater poetry.”

A Word to Hostesses by Phyllis McGinley.

Celebrities are lonely when
They congregate with lesser men.
Among less ambient men they sit,
Bereft of style, deprived of wit,
A little chilly to the touch,
And do not sparkle very much.

Wrenched from their coteries, they lack
Mirrors to send their image back,
And find it, therefore, hard to muster,
Glint for a purely private luster.
(One sees the hunger in their eyes
For splendor they can recognize.)

But seat them next to a Name, and Lo!
How they will most instantly will glow,
Will light the sky or heat the room
With gossip’s incandescent bloom,
As if, like twigs, they only burst
In flame when rubbed together first.

Hostesses then, when you are able
To lure Celebrity to table,
It is discreet to bear in mind
He needs the comfort of his kind.
Fetch other Names. Fetch three or four.
A dozen’s better, or a score.
And half a hundred might be fitter,

But even one will make him glitter.

How to be more persuasive.

Post 503 - The authors of Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, share these top five ways to increase your influence and persuasiveness with others:

- Be the first to give.
Studies show that we’re more easily persuaded by people who’ve done something for us first. We’re more likely to help colleagues with their projects if they’ve helped us with ours in the past. And personalized requests are the most persuasive of all. When researchers randomly sent out surveys, they were able to double the response rate when they personalized the requests by including a handwritten note with each one.

- Don’t offer too many choices.
Too many choices often frustrate people whether it’s the number of products you offer or the number of benefit plans you allow employees to choose from. For example, companies offering a small number of retirement plans have far greater enrollment than similar companies that offer a large number of plans.

- Speak against your self-interest.
Trust is a critical component to persuasion. The surest way to be seen to be honest is to admit to a small weakness in your argument, product or business immediately before presenting the strongest positive argument for your product or service.

- Losses are more persuasive than gains.
Instead of telling your audience what they stand to gain from taking your advice or buying your product, research shows that people are more often persuaded if you tell them what they stand to lose if they don’t take your advice or buy your product.

- Let people feel they’re already making progress toward a goal.
A car wash offering a loyalty card nearly doubled customer retention by changing their offer from “Buy eight washes, get one free” to “Buy 10 washes, get one free - and we’ll start you off by crediting you with two washes.”

Robert Cialdini's six universal principles of social influence are very similar:

- 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 someone, the more we want to say yes to them.

- Social proof.
We look to what others do to guide our behavior.

Some people have the ability to convince the undecided and others don't. However, persuasion isn’t just a skill that a chosen few are born with. Researchers have developed rules and guidelines for moving people in your direction and learning about these can help you become a more effective influencer.

Finally, here's what Napoleon Hill has to say on this subject.
"Your view of yourself will greatly influence how others perceive you. If you are a confident, cheerful, positive person, your co-workers, friends, and family will be attracted to your personality. If you are unhappy, negative, and always complaining about your situation, others will be repelled. Even when at times you don't feel very happy, by forcing yourself to behave in a positive fashion, you will find that you soon feel genuinely upbeat, because your subconscious mind doesn't know the difference between an artificial emotion and the real thing. When you behave positively, you will positively influence everyone around you-including yourself."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Stop and T. H. I. N. K. before you communicate.

Post 502 - "There are no misunderstandings; there are only failures to communicate,” according to a Senegalese Proverb.

A friend told me recently about instructions he gave his assistant. He had a very nice training certificate that he wanted to send to someone who lived out of town. So my friend asked his assistant to “fold it as little as possible.” He was surprised to find out later that the certificate arrived safely as a two-inch square of tightly folded paper. The certificate was folded “as little as possible.” Who was at fault here?

To communicate effectively, it’s important to realize that we’re all different in the way we see and interpret the world, and then to use this understanding as a guide when we communicate with others. So the next time you plan to communicate something important, follow the T.H.I.N.K. guideline and ask yourself these questions before you start:

T: Is it True?

H: Is it Helpful?

I: Is it Inspiring?

N: Is it Necessary?

K: Is it Kind and Respectful?

It's easy to think that workplace norms are explicit and easy to obey - be at your desk by nine, don't ask superiors personal questions, and don't dress too casually, for example. Managing someone who doesn't follow these norms can be frustrating, especially if you think their lack of understanding reflects poorly on your own management. Before you tear out your hair wondering why some Gen X employees just don't seem to get the dress code thing, try using the following tips:

- Stay open. Some of the rules that we think are gospel may actually just be our own preferences.

- Spell out what's essential to the business. It's unlikely that dressing in a too-casual way will derail the company’s success. If the employee needs to be presentable when making client calls, that's one thing. But be clear about what’s truly important to the firm’s performance.

- Communicate expectations clearly. Don't expect everyone to pick up on informal cues. Be explicit with someone who doesn't appear to be getting the message about what rules need to be followed and why.

- Make sure that all of you is sending the same message as your words. Body language, facial expression, posture, movement, and tone of voice all help to emphasize the truth, sincerity, and reliability of your communication. Consistency in the total message ensures effective communication.

“I like what happens as a result of communication problems because I don’t think people communicate truly in any way. Communication is always imperfect. Language is an imperfect instrument - so is sex, so is shouting at each other - and although you get the occasional moments when you feel truly connected, they’re pretty hard to keep hold of.” – Colin Firth

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Post 501 - Here are some more recent facts and figures that caught my interest:

In California, motorists younger than 18 can’t by law transport other youths unless a licensed adult driver, 25 years or older, is in the car. State law also bans teens from driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless accompanied by a licensed adult driver.

The world’s urban population, currently about 3.3 billion, is projected to nearly double by 2015, adding the equivalent of a city the size of a Philadelphia each week.

China’s middle classes are concentrated along its coast, where an estimated 140 million internal illegal immigrants have moved to find work in its factories. Last year, China’s central government budgeted $88 billion to build more intercity high-speed rail. It has laid as many miles of track in four years as Europe did in twenty. That’s as well as paving 30,000 miles of highway and building runways for 40 new airports in major cities.

India expects to spend $500 billion on roads, rail and runways by 2015 to sustain its current growth rate.

More than 8.2 million animals, nearly a fifth of all the livestock in Mongolia, have died in a winter of snow, cold and gales so severe that Mongolians have a special word for it. It’s “dzud.”

2009 was the third year in succession that the Irish counties on the Atlantic seaboard experienced record rains and flooding. Some counties had 32 consecutive days of rain. As a result, waters rose in rivers and lakes and gushed out of drains and manholes because the tropical downpours fell on land already saturated by earlier rains. The famous Lakes of Killarney spilled over and inundated the ground floor of the four-star Lake Hotel for the first time in its 190-year history.

In most states, it’s one-third property tax, one-third sales tax and one-third income tax. But in California it’s 55 percent income tax. And 45 percent of that comes from the top brackets.

Overall, American states other than California gave away $1.8 billion in incentives to Hollywood between 2006 and 2008. In 2002, five states offered such discounts to movie companies. Today, 44 do. As tax credits lured production to states like Michigan, Georgia and Louisiana, feature-film location shooting days in Los Angeles fell to 929 in the first quarter of 2010, down 61 percent from 2,386 in the first quarter of 2008, this according to FilmL.A., which monitors filming in the area.

The Conference Board reported last week that its index of consumer confidence in the U.S. grew in May for the third month in a row.

The monthly jobs report just issued by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) showed 540,000 jobs added in May - by far the largest jump in more than 10 years. The overwhelming majority of these job gains are temporary hires from the Census Bureau, and almost all of them will reverse within the next three months. Only 41,000 of the 431,000 non-farm jobs created in May were in the private sector, and perhaps 20% of those were to help clean up the oil spill.

A new study of 500 couples by the British dating site ForgetDinner found that people married one year spend 40 minutes of an hour-long dinner engaged in conversation. By 20 years of marriage, they’re down to 21 minutes. By 30 years, it’s 16 minutes. Those married 50 years are talking for just three minutes.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Home Thoughts, from Abroad, a poem by Robert Browning

Post 500 - Can this really be the 500th post? Every weekday, since June 3rd, 2008, I’ve posted thoughts, tips, strategies, ideas and poems in the hope of helping people create a better workplace and a more fulfilling life. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together. If you have any thoughts about what you’d like to read about here in the future, let me know at And please help me celebrate this milestone by forwarding my blog to your friends and colleagues. I’m always looking to expand the reader base.

My daughter's moving to London next week to continue her career in the film business. I'm glad I had London as my playground for four years when I was a young man and I trust she'll also have a wonderful experience there. We'll miss her but we look forward to visiting her often.

Here's a poem about England by Robert Browning (1812 – 1889), one of the most famous Victorian poets, written when Browning was living in Italy. In 1845, Browning met another poet, Elizabeth Barrett, who lived as a semi-invalid in her father's house in London. Gradually a significant romance developed between them, leading to their secret marriage and flight to Italy in 1846. The Brownings lived first in Pisa before finding an apartment in Florence at Casa Guidi, which is now a museum to their memory. In 1849, at the age of 43, Elizabeth gave birth to a son, Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning, whom they called Pen. Their son later married but had no legitimate children. However, it's rumored that the areas around Florence are peopled with his descendants!

Home Thoughts, from Abroad, by Robert Browning.

O, to be in England
Now that April 's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England - now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom'd pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops - at the bent spray's edge -
That 's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
- Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

Bon voyage, Alysia.