!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: July 2006

Monday, July 31, 2006

Attitude Adjustment

Shankar Vedantam of the Washington Post published another article today on how extreme partisans process (or fail to process) information that contradicts their pet beliefs. (In an earlier post I discussed Vedantam's July 23 article on partisans' susceptibility to the hostile media phenomenon.)

After I finished today's article, I found myself frustrated because there were no clues concerning how to approach the problem of opening a partisan's closed mind. I decided to hunt around for some intelligence on this question, and, though I haven't yet found good material to report, I did come upon related research that is useful.

Randy Garner, a professor of behavioral sciences at the College of Criminal Justice of Sam Houston State University, published an article last year in Applied Psychology in Criminal Justice that addresses Police Attitudes: The Impact of Experience After Training (pdf). Garner's conclusions concerning how new police officers' attitudes1 change between their time at the police academy and the end of their first year on the job have relevance for just about any occupation.

Garner reports:
  • Direct behavioral experience can have a strong impact on attitude change. I.e., attitudes people develop as students can change markedly once they've experienced life in the real-world of their chosen profession.

  • The most important on-the-job influences for rookie police officers are their Field Training Officers (experienced officers who guide on-the-job learning), fellow officers, and the police culture.

  • People whose attitudes have changed are often not aware of these changes.
In light of his research, Garner makes two main recommendations. Again, these recommendations have applicability outside the police station.
  • An occasional attitude check (generally, through a survey) can be a good way of catching any drifting of attitudes toward countenancing unacceptable behavior (e.g., lying in court). Since people are often not aware that their attitudes have shifted, collecting data becomes important for producing self-awareness, as a first step toward achieving an attitude readjustment.

  • Role models help reinforce desirable attitudes and behaviors. As Garner explains, "Rookie officers may have few well-formed attitudes regarding the experiences encountered during training. As a result, police agencies and training professionals have the opportunity to forge positive associations through specific, compelling, and direct experiences that occur during the formative training period ..."
Garner sums up the conclusion he draws from his research with this thought: "Through attention to these [attitude forming] issues, police organizations and training personnel can play a substantial role in the attitudinal development and shifts that may be experienced by those beginning their professional police service."

1 An attitude is a predisposition a person has that guides the person's behavior.



Sunday, July 30, 2006


Among the many topics covered by John Chardin, the seventeenth-century traveler in Persia whose memoir I cited yesterday, I naturally found myself paying particular attention to anything relating to education and training.

Especially interesting in this regard was what Chardin had to say about how Persia handled apprenticeship at the time of his visit. Chardin reports:
There is ... no binding of Apprentices among [tradesmen], and [no forcing them to] learn their Trades for nothing: Far from it; the Boys that are put out 'Prentices with a Master, have Wages the very first Day they go to him. The Parents make an Agreement between the Master and 'Prentice for so much per Day the first Year; a Half-penny, or a Penny a Day, according to the Age of the 'Prentice, and the Hardship of the Trade; and the Wages encrease now and then, according to the 'Prentice's Improvement.

The thing is still without any mutual Confinement, with respect to Time, as I have said; the Master having always the Liberty to turn away his 'Prentice, and the 'Prentice to leave his Master.

There it is indeed that Knowledge must be stolen; for the Master thinking on the Profit he may reap by his 'Prentice, more than on teaching him his Trade, doth not trouble himself much with him, but employs him only in those things that relate to his Profit. [p. 251, emphasis added]
As a counterpoint to seventeenth-century Persia's haphazard approach to training young tradespeople, here's what the Employment & Training Administration of the US Department of Labor offers in the way of basic program standards for registered apprenticeship programs1:
  • full and fair opportunity to apply for apprenticeship

  • a schedule of work processes in which an apprentice is to receive training and experience on the job

  • the program includes organized instruction designed to provide apprentices with knowledge in technical subjects related to their trade (e.g., a minimum of 144 hours per year is normally considered necessary)

  • a progressively increasing schedule of wages

  • proper supervision of on-the-job training with adequate facilities to train apprentices

  • apprentice's progress, both in job performance and related instruction, is evaluated periodically, and appropriate records are maintained

  • no discrimination in any phase of selection, employment, or training
Of course, it is possible to take standards like those listed above to a bureaucratic extreme, but handled intelligently, they strike me as consistent with what we should aim for in any serious apprenticeship program.

1 Program standards are based on Title 29, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 29.5.


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Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Traveler in Persia

I'm reading an account of seventeenth-century Persia (Iran) written by John Chardin, a French merchant of that era.1 The book is full of interesting material. Below I reproduce a passage that illustrates the type of negotiation that European and Middle Eastern parties engaged in during the period in question.

Early 17th-Century Persian Belt Buckle
(leather, gold, silver, gems, glass)

Chardin came to Persia with a collection of custom-made jewels ordered by the current king's late father. In the passage below, Chardin describes a point in the negotiation over which jewels will actually be sold, and at what prices, that occurred following an initial agreement on terms.
I Answer'd [the Nazir, the king's righthand man], with abundance of thanks, for exposing himself to the King's Anger for a Foreign Merchant. [The Nazir was claiming that the king was irate over the already-agreed prices for the jewels.] That his Affection was a fresh Motive for me to deal plainly with him but that I did Protest to him, I had told the Truth [about the cost of the jewels], and that I look'd upon the King to be a Prince of too much Equity, to desire that the Dangers, the Pains, and the Expences of a Seven Years Journey [seven years have gone by since the deceased king placed his order], should afford me nothing but Losses. That in a Word I could not part with my Jewels for less than what he had been pleas'd to promise. That after all, he would give me leave to tell him, that the King would without doubt, have taken them, if he had let him know that they were Cheap, and a Pennyworth, as they were in Effect.

How, reply'd he, raising his Voice, could I do less? Must I tell the King Lyes to oblige you? And shall I eat his Bread like a Profidious Servant? Moreover, have I not a Head to lose? And if I don't acquaint the King with the dearness of Things, can he fail of knowing it? And when inform'd thereof, will he not send to have [my head] taken off of my Shoulders?

I was two Hours before this Minister arguing the Matter, but without any Success, and I could not but wonder that so great a Minister, who had such Business upon his Hands, and of so much Importance, could spare so much Time in playing a Part, so little suitable to his Dignity; But all is Gesture and Fiction, thorough Artifice and Cunning in those Oriental Courts, as I have frequently observ'd. [pp. 51-52]
Chardin and the Nazir eventually came to terms well below those initially agreed to.

1 Sir John Chardin. Travels in Persia, 1673-1677. Dover, 1988.



Friday, July 28, 2006

Favorite Teachers

Among the most interesting discussions I've listened to in training classes are those in which participants talk about managers and mentors who have really helped them learn technical skills and life skills and opened their eyes to career possibilities.

In the August 2006 issue of Dance Magazine, several dancers talk about their favorite teachers. Since the qualities that made these teachers memorable apply with minor modifications in any field, I'd like to quote some of the accolades.

Derick Grant (tap dancer, choreographer, director) on Dianne Walker
"With Dianne [one of my own very favorite active performers -KN], I've learned as much off the ice, as we say, as in the studio — riding around in the car, talking. She's a social worker at heart. She makes a bridge for you to connect who you are as a person with who you are as an artist.
    "Our generation wouldn't be here without her. We were learning from the tap greats, but it was rudimentary steps. They weren't teaching their stuff, because that was their stuff. For some reason they let Dianne into their circle. She learned their stuff. Who knows what the tap world would be like without her? She's the mother of our generation."

Kishaya Dudley (entertainment choreographer) on Keith Lewis
"Keith Lewis was the first person to teach me hip hop. He was a hard teacher and he expected us to pick up the steps fast. At first I was slow at getting the combinations and I wasn't naturally flexible, so he gave me some stretching exercises to do at home. He taught me about presence and confidence during performances — always reminding me to check in with what my face was doing. I grew up in a rough neighborhood in the Bronx and it was easy for me to get sidetracked. Keith taught me to focus on dance — and let it take me up and out of there."

Noelani Pantastico (principal dancer) on Darla Hoover
"When I was 12 or 13, Darla came down to Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet to teach and set Balanchine ballets. She taught me how to phrase music, to make the dancing more brisk and exciting. She sometimes gave us brainteaser combinations. You had to be quick on your feet; it trains your brain to work in a certain way. She would take me to New York City to watch New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre. She brought me into that world. I didn't even know I wanted to be a dancer, but she opened my eyes to it."



Thursday, July 27, 2006

Organizational Learning Styles

One of the notions I especially like in the Nevis/DiBella/Gould article I introduced in an earlier post is their stance that there is no one best way to be a learning organization. The key is to assess what your particular organization does well and not so well, and then decide what to build on and what to adjust.

The article describes how an organization's learning system is made up of its pattern of learning orientations and the degree to which it takes advantage of facilitating factors.

Learning orientations (or dimensions) are organizational values and practices concerning learning. They are based on the organization's culture, experiences, and core competences. Collectively, the define the organization's learning style.

A company's pattern of learning orientations plays a major role in determining what is learned and where the learning occurs. (The facilitating factors, overviewed in my earlier post, play a major role in determining how well learning is promoted.)

The 7 learning orientations are described below, listed according to the stage in the learning process that each most affects.

Knowledge acquisition stage

1. Internal vs. external source of knowledge — Preference for developing knowledge internally vs. preference for acquiring knowledge developed externally.

2. Product (what) vs. process (how) focus — Emphasis on accumulation of knowledge about what products and services are vs. accumulation of knowledge about how the organization develops, makes, and delivers its products and services.

Knowledge dissemination stage

3. Personal vs. public documentation — Assumption that knowledge is something individuals possess vs. making a point of having knowledge publicly available.

4. Formal vs. informal dissemination — Formal, prescribed, organization-wide methods of sharing learning vs. informal methods, such as role modeling and casual daily interaction.

Knowledge utilization stage

5. Incremental vs. transformative learning focus — Incremental or corrective learning vs. transformative or radical learning.

6. Focus on the design portion of the value chain vs. focus on the deliver portion — Emphasis on learning investments in engineering and production activities ("design and make" functions) vs. investments in sales and service activities ("market and deliver" functions).

All three stages

7. Focus on individual skill development vs. focus on group skill development — Development of individuals' skills vs. development of team and group skills.



Wednesday, July 26, 2006

How to Apologize

A sincere, convincing apology is a key part of the process of recovering from making a mistake. Thanks to research by Barry R. Schlenker & Bruce W. Darby1, it is clear what elements an apology needs to include in order to serve its purpose:
  1. Saying "I'm sorry."

  2. Expressing remorse.

  3. Offering to make up for the damage, i.e., offering restitution.

  4. Castigating oneself. ("I was an idiot" is the example Schlenker and Darby give.)

  5. Asking for forgiveness.
Making a point of having these five items memorized is one of the easiest steps one can take in the ongoing effort to polish interpersonal skills.
1 Barry R. Schlenker & Bruce W. Darby, "The use of apologies in social predicaments," Social Psychology Quarterly, Vol. 44, pp. 271-278.



Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Facilitating Organizational Learning

Any organization aiming to improve its performance over time needs to know what facilitates organizational learning.

Edwin C. Nevis, Anthony J. DiBella, and Janet M. Gould offer a valuable list of facilitating factors in "Understanding Organizations as Learning Systems," a 1995 article published in the Sloan Management Review. Their list can serve as a source of ideas for steps to take to improve learning within your own organization.

The ten facilitating factors are described below, listed according to the stage in the learning process that each most affects.

Knowledge acquisition stage

1. Scanning imperative — Information gathering about conditions and practices outside the organization; curiosity about the external environment.

2. Performance gap — Shared perception of a gap between the actual level of performance and the desired level; performance shortfalls seen as opportunities for learning.

3. Concern for measurement — Considerable effort spent on defining and measuring key factors when venturing into new areas; striving for specific, quantifiable measures; discussion of metrics as a learning activity.

4. Experimental mind-set — Support for trying new things; curiosity about how things work; ability to "play" with things; "failures" are accepted, not punished; changes in work processes, policies, and structures are a continuous series of learning opportunities.

Knowledge dissemination stage

5. Climate of openness — Accessiblity of information; open communications within the organization; problems/errors/lessons are shared, not hidden; debate and conflict are acceptable ways to solve problems.

6. Continuous education — Ongoing commitment to education at all levels of the organization; clear support for all employees' growth and development.

Knowledge utilization stage

7. Operational variety — Variety of methods, procedures, and systems; appreciation of diversity; pluralistic rather than singular definition of valued competencies.

8. Multiple advocates — New ideas and methods advanced by employees at all levels; more than one champion for any learning initiative.

All stages

9. Involved leadership — Leaders articulate vision, are engaged in its implementation; frequently interact with employees; become actively involved in educational programs.

10. Systems perspective — Interdependence of organizational units; problems and solutions seen in terms of systemic relationships among processes; connection between a particular unit's needs and goals, and those of the overall organization.

Nevis, DiBella and Gould identified the above facilitating factors by analyzing why learning occurred in a group of companies whose learning processes they studied.



Monday, July 24, 2006

The Hostile Media Phenomenon

Show two people the same TV newsclip, and you can get very different evaluations of its fairness, and very different recollection of just what it reported.

In an article in yesterday's Washington Post, Shankar Vedantam reports on a 1985 study (pdf) that has continuing relevance as partisans involved in issues like war in the Middle East, regulation of energy plants, net neutrality, etc., quarrel over whether media treatment of these issues is fair.

"Hostile media phenomenon" is the name Stanford researchers Robert P. Vallone, Lee Ross, and Mark R. Lepper gave to the tendency of partisans to believe that media reports are placing their side of a contested issue in a bad light.

Tellingly, the more informed a partisan, the harsher his/her view of the media coverage. Ross suggests that this correlation between knowledgeability and perception of bias is due to better-informed partisans being especially concerned about lack of context in a report. They want extenuating circumstances to be explained.

The question is: How can people reach very different conclusions about the same media reports? Two cognitive mechanisms appear to be involved:
  • Partisans evaluate "the fairness of the media's sample of facts and arguments differently." Partisans choose and apply standards and criteria "in light of their own divergent views about the objective merits of each side's case and their corresponding views about the nature of unbiased coverage."

  • Partisans perceive and recall the content of media reports differently. Specifically, both groups in a controversy recall more negative than positive references to their side of the story.
What can someone do to step back from an emotional reaction to a report dealing with an issue (e.g., a labor-management issue, or an engineering-manufacturing issue) on which he/she has a strong opinion? How can someone acting as a mediator counteract the tendency of both sides to perceive bias, even when the mediator is being scrupulously neutral?

In an earlier post I listed questions a person can ask to counteract the tendency to perceive a situation through a distorting lens of bias. Some of these questions, in slightly modified form, can help counteract the hostile media phenomenon. For example:
  • How did the report's authors reach their conclusions? What exactly is the evidence they cite? (Note that the report can be either written or oral.)

  • What are the sources of the information in the report? What are the contending parties' sources? Are any of the sources less than reliable?

  • Why do I believe that I'm right? What is my evidence? Where and why is it different from the evidence in the report? (Or, if a mediator is asking the questions: Why do you believe you're right? What is your evidence? Etc.)
Some additional suggestions for applying critical thinking that you can adapt to help in countering the hostile media phenomenon are summarized in this post.



Sunday, July 23, 2006

Check Your Solution

Before submitting a solution proposal to a prospect, you need to check that you've put yourself in the best possible competitive position. Ask yourself whether your proposed solution meets all of the following criteria. If not, make fixing the shortcomings a priority.

Solution Checklist

My proposal:
  • is clearly linked to goals and needs the prospect has described to me.

  • helps the prospect differentiate itself in the marketplace.

  • has a "hook" that I have good reason to believe the prospect will find exciting.

  • hits the prospect's hot buttons.

  • reflects concerted effort on my part — using S.C.A.M.P.E.R. or a similar technique — to enhance the freshness and uniqueness of what I am offering the prospect.

  • can be executed by my company markedly better than by any of our competitors.

  • reflects feedback from the prospect on the basic concepts and components of what I am proposing.

  • if accepted, will be a win for my company because it will deliver good profit and strengthen our reputation in the market.


Saturday, July 22, 2006

Fred Brooks on "The Mythical Man-Month"

I was introduced to Fred Brooks' 1975 book, The Mythical Man-Month, by a man at IBM who swore by its experience-based advice on managing development of new products — most particularly, development of software. It is from this book that we have Brooks' Law:

Adding people to a software project that's late makes it later.

Here are some further nuggets of Brooksian wisdom, taken from an interview in the December 12, 2005 issue of Fortune, published to mark the 30th anniversary of The Mythical Man-Month:
  • Brooks' Law applies broadly. Brooks told Fortune, "Surprisingly enough, a partner in a big law firm said, 'Oh, this describes our practice.' I've had physicians say the same. It's really about people and people in teams: the communication problems, the scheduling problems, the estimating problems."

  • "The best single advice [for managers] is a motto I read on the ceiling of a German drinking fraternity in Heidelberg — this cave had been there, I guess, since the 16th century. It said, Numquam incertus; semper apertus: 'Never uncertain, always open.' Sometimes the first part is put as saying, 'You can't steer a ship that's not underway.' At any given time, you ought to have pretty clear goals, and know where you're going, and be going there. On the other hand, you always should be open to saying, 'Is that what we really ought to be doing? Here's another idea.' But sitting still in the water waiting to decide which way to go is the wrong thing to do."
À propos of the second quote, one of the epigrams in The Mythical Man-Month reminds readers of a similar sentiment from another well-tempered executive — Franklin Delano Roosevelt: "It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."


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Friday, July 21, 2006

Business Acumen V: AccountingCoach.com

If you're interested in beefing up your knowledge of accounting, run don't walk to AccountingCoach.com, which provides an abundance of free learning resources.

Topics covered are:
  • Accounting basics

  • Accounting principles

  • Adjusting entries

  • Balance sheet

  • Bank reconciliation

  • Breakeven point

  • Cash flow statement

  • Chart of accounts

  • Debits and credits

  • Depreciation

  • Evaluating business investments

  • Financial ratios

  • Improving profits

  • Income statement

  • Inventory and cost of good sold

  • Lower of cost or market

  • Overhead and activity-based costing

  • Payroll accounting

  • Present value

  • Standard costing

  • Stockholders' equity
To help cement learning, the site provides a number of drills. There are also crossword puzzles to help with getting definitions and basic accounting principles straight. Whenever you think you're ready, you can test yourself with three exams. A glossary is provided for reference.


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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Inspired by the Shakers

Tero Saarinen is a well-regarded choreographer from Finland whose company is appearing this week at Jacob's Pillow, a dance venue of international importance conveniently located only 35 miles from where I live.

Several years ago, Saarinen became fascinated by the Shakers, a religious community whose philosophy I discussed briefly in an earlier post. When he stumbled on a CD of Shaker music put out by the Boston Camerata, he got in touch by e-mail with Joel Cohen, the Camerata's music director, and inquired about the possibility of some kind of collaboration.

The result was this week's US premiere of "Borrowed Light,"1 a 70-minute piece that combines contemporary choreography for eight dancers (including Saarinen) with a capella performance of 20 Shaker tunes by seven members of the Boston Camerata. The spirit of community expressed in the choreography (which does not in any literal way attempt to reproduce the dancing Shakers used in their rituals) makes for an inspiring evening.

Tero Saarinen's program note for "Borrowed Light": My main source of inspiration for Borrowed Light has been the Shakers — a sect of utopian Christians with strong social values and strikingly beautiful, functionalistic aesthetics. However, this piece is not about Shakerism. It is about community and devotion. To me the nature of total commitment — whether religious, artistic, or politcal — is fundamentally the same."

Tero Saarinen's statement of artistic purpose: "Dance is my attempt to understand human nature and its manifold manifestations — friendship, love, strength of spirit. Even though I believe in constant change and evolution, at the same time, I feel deep respect for tradition and the past: we can't avoid carrying our ancestors' heritage in our minds and in our bodies. / With my dance I want to reach the unsaid, the inexplicable, the unnamed. I believe in dance that touches, in dance that speaks for itself." [from the English version of the "Borrowed Light" brochure]

1 The world premiere of "Borrowed Light" took place in Le Havre, France, on October 8, 2004.

A US National Park Service web page devoted to the Shakers explains the notion of "borrowed light": "The interior space of Shaker meetinghouses had to include large, uninterrupted floor space to allow for their religious dances ... These large dwellings also necessitated the introduction of interior windows to bring natural light into dark interior rooms." I.e., the interior rooms "borrow" light from adjoining rooms that receive natural light from the outside.



Wednesday, July 19, 2006

21st-Century Journalism VII

I have now finished The Elements of Journalism, the brief book by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel that I introduced in an earlier post. The strength of the book is that its findings and recommendations are based on considerable careful research. The weakness is that in the fast-moving world of media, it does not have enough to say about the explosion of online sources of news and other information. I hasten to add that Kovach and Rosenstiel deserve credit for clearly recognizing the trends in electronic information delivery; the problem is that their book is now five years old.

From amongst the array of suggestions Kovach and Rosenstiel offer for maintaining quality at newspapers, there are a couple I'd like to highlight.

First, an enumeration of "the intellectual principles of the science of reporting":
  1. Never add anything that was not there.

  2. Never deceive the audience.

  3. Be as transparent as possible about your methods and motives. Obviously, being as detailed as possible about sources is a core aspect of this principle.

  4. Rely on your own original reporting. Avoid just passing along what others have reported, without checking yourself.

  5. Exercise humility. "In other words, not only should [reporters] be skeptical of what they see and hear from others, but just as important, they should be skeptical about their abiity to know what it really means."
Second, here's a checklist for accuracy that Kovach and Rosenstiel adopted from David Yarnold, until 2005 executive editor of the San Jose Mercury News. Yarnold offers seven questions for editors to ask about a story prior to publishing it. (Please note that this list is not exhaustive.)
  • Is the lead of the story sufficiently supported?

  • Has someone double-checked, called, or visited all the phone numbers, addresses, or Web addresses in the story? What about names and titles?

  • Is the background material required to understand the story complete?

  • Are all the stakeholders in the story identified, and have representatives from that side been contacted and given a chance to talk?

  • Does the story pick sides or make subtle value judgments? Will some people like this story more than they should?

  • Is anything missing?

  • Are all the quotes accurate and properly attributed, and do they capture what the person really meant?

As we hear more and more how information is becoming a commodity, it is imperative that newspapers with survival aspirations distinguish themselves by adding value. This means maintaining a reputation for reporting clearly and accurately on stories that are distinctive in some way, e.g., stories that are relatively complex, or that involve material in which a newspaper's reporters have deep expertise. For an example of this thinking, see this article from the July 14 edition of the Wall Street Journal.



Tuesday, July 18, 2006

"The Expert Mind"

As a follow-on to my earlier post concerning how people develop expertise, I'll provide a quick summary of an article on "The Expert Mind" in the August issue of Scientific American. In the article, Philip E. Ross, a contributing editor, explains these three points:
  • Because skill at chess can be easily measured and subjected to laboratory experiments, the game has become an important tool for testing theories in cognitive science.

  • Some scientists theorize that chess grandmasters, contrary to what one might expect, do not depend on above-average analytical powers, but rather organize their knowledge of chess positions into chunks, which in toto comprise a large structured store of knowledge. The theory is that grandmasters retrieve relevant chunks quickly from long-term memory and manipulate them in working memory.

    A shortcoming of the chunking theory is that it does not "fully explain some aspects of memory, such as the ability of experts to perform their feats while being distracted." Ross cites work of Anders Ericsson and colleagues that suggests that experts are able to manipulate information stored in long-term memory (as opposed to simply retrieving the information).

    Ross also describes an alternate theory of Fernand Gobet. Gobet theorizes that experts use "templates" to structure information in long-term memory. The expert can "fill in" a template in various ways in order to consider a range of related chunks of information.

  • To accumulate the knowledge they use, grandmasters typically engage in years of effortful study (deliberate practice), continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond their competence.

    The top performers in music, mathematics and sports appear to gain their expertise in the same way, motivated by competition and the joy of victory.
It's not a stretch to extrapolate the principles Ross describes to the world of business, where competition is typically intense. The people who come out on top — without cheating — work hard to hone and maintain their job- and market-related expertise.

Note: Ross does not handle the issue of talent in an entirely satisfactory way. Although evidence on experts indicates that "motivation appears to be a more important factor than innate ability in the development of expertise," one cannot infer from this that innate ability is of minor importance. As discussed in my earlier post, above-average talent surely is necessary, if not sufficient, to rise to the very top ranks of musicians, mathematicians, and some (if not all) sports. Perhaps research will eventually establish that in business, by contrast, the importance of hard work (including deliberate practice) relative to talent is greater than in music, mathematics, and sports.


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Monday, July 17, 2006

Lessons from Training Animals

In honor of Maggie, a very cute and, I'm sure, highly trainable dog who has just arrived in a colleague's household, let me note a phenomenon in the world of training that I've been monitoring for over three weeks.

Back on June 25, the New York Times published an article by Amy Sutherland that has been among the top 10 accessed on the nytimes.com site ever since. This longevity on the top 10 list is extremely unusual. Typically, articles last only a day or two, certainly not several weeks.

Sutherland writes about how she adapted techniques from exotic animal training to dealing better with habits of her husband Scott that particularly annoy her. She reports:
The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't.

... I began thanking Scott if he threw one dirty shirt into the hamper. If he threw in two, I'd kiss him. Meanwhile, I would step over any soiled clothes on the floor without one sharp word, though I did sometimes kick them under the bed. But as he basked in my appreciation, the piles became smaller.

I was using what trainers call 'approximations,' rewarding the small steps toward learning a whole new behavior. ...

I also began to analyze my husband the way a trainer considers an exotic animal. Enlightened trainers learn all they can about a species, from anatomy to social structure, to understand how it thinks, what it likes and dislikes, what comes easily to it and what doesn't. ...

The exotic animal known as Scott is a loner, but an alpha male. So hierarchy matters, but being in a group doesn't so much. He has the balance of a gymnast, but moves slowly, especially when getting dressed. Skiing comes naturally, but being on time does not. He's an omnivore, and what a trainer would call food-driven.

Once I started thinking this way, I couldn't stop. At the [animal training] school in California, I'd be scribbling notes on how to walk an emu or have a wolf accept you as a pack member, but I'd be thinking, "I can't wait to try this on Scott."
And here's the happy ending:
After two years of exotic animal training, my marriage is far smoother, my husband much easier to love. I used to take his faults personally; his dirty clothes on the floor were an affront, a symbol of how he didn't care enough about me. But thinking of my husband as an exotic species gave me the distance I needed to consider our differences more objectively.

I adopted the trainers' motto: "It's never the animal's fault." When my training attempts failed, I didn't blame Scott. Rather, I brainstormed new strategies, thought up more incompatible behaviors [e.g., having Scott chop parsley at the far end of the kitchen island so he couldn't drive Amy nuts by hovering over her while she worked] and used smaller approximations. I dissected my own behavior, considered how my actions might inadvertently fuel his. I also accepted that some behaviors were too entrenched, too instinctive to train away.
Amy Sutherland's book on exotic animal training was published in June.


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Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Good Attitude

Barbaro's slow recuperation from a very serious break to his right hind leg at the Preakness Stakes in May is a story that I, like a lot of people, am following with fingers crossed.

Due to severe laminitis in his left foot, Barbaro's odds for survival are less than 50-50, as I understand it. But ... for several days in a row now, we've received welcome updates from the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine saying that his condition is stable. I particularly enjoy reading that "his attitude remains positive."

There was a time some years ago when out of the blue, it seemed, a client announced that the idea that attitude matters was simply bogus. This was not a view I shared, but I played along because it seemed so important to the client to assume that attitude was something we should ignore.

I'm happy to note that nowadays it's hard to find anyone except a compulsive contrarian who dismisses the importance of attitude. Certainly, if a skilled veterinarian considers an injured horse's positive attitude a plus, it seems smart for humans to acknowledge the power of attitude to significantly affect how well individuals and teams perform.



Saturday, July 15, 2006

Edward Tufte on the Visual Display of Information

Edward Tufte, a professor of political science, statistics, and computer science at Yale, defines state of the art when it comes to using graphs and other visual tools to present information. His first book on the subject, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, was published in 1983, with a second edition coming out in 2001.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning the finer points of communicating quantitative information clearly and cleanly. As a very brief overview, I've listed below the six design principles Tufte promotes. A more complete summary of his work (with specific reference to Web design) can be found here.

Tufte's design principles:
  1. Document the sources and characteristics of the data you cite.

  2. Enforce appropriate comparisons. E.g., stacked bar charts, such as in the example below, should be used with caution because often only the bottom segments are readily compared by eye.

  3. Demonstrate mechanisms of cause and effect.

  4. Express mechanisms of cause and effect quantitatively.

  5. Recognize the inherently multivariate nature of analytic problems (i.e., don't oversimplify your description of cause and effect).

  6. Inspect and evaluate alternative explanations.
The aim of these design principles is "simple design, intense content".

While you're checking out what Tufte has to say about presenting evidence, you might also want to take a look at his essay, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. In this essay, Tufte explains why PowerPoint presentations generally fall pitifully short when evaluated against the above principles.

Tufte has continued to publish books on the visual display of information. Envisioning Information came out in 1990, followed by Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative in 1997. His latest book, Beautiful Evidence, came out this month.


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Friday, July 14, 2006

Project GLOBE I: Leadership in France

I decided to mark Bastille Day by looking into what might be distinctive about views of leadership in France. In hunting around for some information on the subject, I came upon a report (.doc) produced by Project GLOBE called "Cultural Influences on Leadership and Organizations."

The Project GLOBE research investigates "how the role of culture influences leadership and organizational processes." The questions considered include:
What characteristics of a society make it more or less susceptible to leadership influence? To what extent do cultural forces influence the expectations that individuals have with respect to the role of leaders and their behavior? To what extent will leadership styles vary in accordance with culturally specific values and expectations? To what extent does culture moderate relationships between organizational processes, organizational form, and organizational effectiveness? What principles and/or laws of leadership and organizational processes transcend cultures? [emphasis added]
The GLOBE researchers define leadership as:
the ability of an individual to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of organizations of which they are members.
The researchers identified six leadership dimensions, embodying the characteristics and abilities perceived by people in a culture to contribute to, or to inhibit, outstanding leadership. In common parlance, these leadership dimensions are often called leadership styles. The six are:

Charismatic/Value-Based Leadership — taps ability to inspire, motivate, and communicate high performance expectations on the basis of firmly held values.

Team-Oriented Leadership — emphasizes team building and implementation of a common purpose or goal among team members.

Participative Leadership — involves others in making and implementing decisions.

Humane-Oriented Leadership — is supportive, considerate, compassionate, generous.

Self-Protective Leadership — focuses on ensuring the security of the leader himself/herself.

Autonomous Leadership — exercises independent and individualistic decision-making.

The researchers also identified nine cultural attributes that can be measured in order to capture significant cultural differences among organizations and societies:

Uncertainty Avoidance — the extent to which members of an organization or society try to avoid uncertainty by reliance on social norms, rituals, and bureaucratic practices to alleviate the unpredictability of future events.

Power Distance — the degree to which members of an organization or society expect and agree that power should be unequally shared.

Institutional Collectivism — the degree to which organizational and societal institutional practices encourage and reward collective distribution of resources and collective action.

In-Group Collectivism — the degree to which individuals express pride, loyalty, and cohesiveness in their organizations or families.

Gender Egalitarianism — the extent to which an organization or a society minimizes gender role differences.

Assertiveness — the degree to which individuals in organizations or societies are assertive, confrontational, and aggressive in social relationships.

Future Orientation — the degree to which individuals in organizations or societies engage in future-oriented behaviors such as planning, investing in the future, and delaying gratification.

Performance Orientation — the extent to which an organization or society encourages and rewards group members for performance improvement and excellence.

Humane Orientation — the degree to which individuals in organizations or societies encourage and reward individuals for being fair, altruistic, friendly, generous, caring, and kind to others.

Having defined and validated their lists of leadership dimensions and cultural attributes, the researchers collected assessments from thousands of middle managers in 62 countries, including France. Specifically, the managers were asked to report:
  • for each underlying leadership attribute and behavior,1 their assessment of the extent to which it contributes to or impedes effective leadership.

  • for each cultural attribute, their assessment of the extent to which it is actually practiced in their organization and country, and the extent to which it should be practiced.
The full details of country-level results will not be available until January, when Project GLOBE will publish a book covering 25 of the countries studied. In the meantime, an article (pdf) published in 2002 provides basic information on the results for France:
  • The only leadership style that French managers rate higher, on average, than managers elsewhere in the world is the Participative style. For the other styles — Charismatic, Team-Oriented, Humane, Self-Protective, and Autonomous — the French managers give a lower score, on average, than managers elsewhere.

  • For the cultural attributes, the biggest differences between the Is and Should Be scores are for (1) the Power Distance attribute, which French managers find to be considerably higher in actuality than they believe it should be, and (2) the Humane Orientation attribute, which French managers believe in actual practice falls well short of where it should be.

  • The Assertiveness and Uncertainty Avoidance attributes also have their Should Be scores above their Is scores.

  • For all the other cultural attributes — Institutional Collectivism, In-Group Collectivism, Gender Egalitarianism, Future Orientation, and Performance Orientation — the Should Be score is below the Is score, i.e., the managers believe these attributes are present to a greater degree than is ideal.
Project GLOBE's in-depth information on the interaction of culture and the characteristics of effective leaders is well worth tapping for training and development. Designing training that has participants explore how the Project GLOBE findings apply to their particular business relationships and activities will help them refine their ability to assume a leadership role in a different culture.

1 Each of the six leadership dimensions has associated with it underlying leadership attributes and behaviors (e.g., Trustworthy, Encouraging, Irritable, Ruthless). The Project GLOBE research defined 65 such attributes.



Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Cultural Dimension of Organizational Learning

When an organization has trouble taking lessons learned and incorporating them into its strategies, processes, and practices, it may be that cultural barriers are to blame.1

In an important 1996 article in the Sloan Management Review, Edgar H. Schein, an emeritus professor at the Sloan School, argues that operators, engineers, and executives have divergent assumptions concerning the job of learning, with the result that
... when oreganizations attempt to learn in a generative way, when they attempt to reinvent themselves because the technologies and environmental conditions have changed drastically, these three cultures collide, and we see frustration, low productivity, and the failure of innovations to survive and diffuse.
Schein summarizes the guiding assumptions and considerations each of the three groups bring to their view of how the organization functions. For operators, Schein identifies four items:
  • Because the action of any organization is ultimately the action of people, the success of the enterprise depends on people's knowledge, skill, learning ability, and commitment.

  • The required knowledge and skill are "local" and based on the organization's core technology.

  • No matter how carefully engineered the production process is, or how carefully rules and routines are specified, operators must have the capacity to learn and to deal with surprises.

  • Most operations involve interdependencies between separate elements of the process; hence, operators must be able to work as a collaborative team in which communication, openness, mutual trust, and commitment are highly valued.
For engineers, Schein enumerates five considerations underlying how they approach their work:
  • Engineers are proactively optimistic that they can and should master nature.

  • Engineers are stimulated by puzzles and problems and are pragmatic perfectionists who prefer "people-free" solutions.

  • The ideal world is one of elegant machines and processes working in perfect precision and harmony without human intervention.

  • Engineers are safety-oriented and overdesign for safety.

  • Engineers prefer linear, simple cause-and-effect, quantitative thinking.
Finally, Schein lays out an extended list of factors that executives tend to base their thinking and decisions on:

Financial focus
  • Executives focus on financial survival and growth to ensure returns to shareholders and to society.

  • Financial survival is equivalent to perpetual war with one's competitors.
Self-image: The embattled lone hero
  • The economic environment is perpetually competitive and potentially hostile, so the CEO is isolated and alone, yet appears omniscient, in total control, and feels indispensable.

  • Executives cannot get reliable data from subordinates so they must trust their own judgment.
Hierarchical and individual focus
  • Organization and management are intrinsically hierarchical; the hierarchy is the measure of status and success and the primary means of maintaining control.

  • The organization must be a team, but accountability has to be individual.

  • The willingness to experiment and take risks extends only to those things that permit the executive to stay in control.
Task and control focus
  • Because the organization is very large, it becomes depersonalized and abstract and, therefore, has to be run by rules, routines (systems), and rituals.

  • The inherent value of relationships and community is lost as an executive rises in the hierarchy.

  • The attraction of the job is the challenge, the high level of responsibility, and the sense of accomplishment (not the relationships).

  • The ideal world is one in which the organization performs like a well-oiled machine, needing only occasional maintenance and repair.

  • People are a necessary evil, not an intrinsic value.

  • The well-oiled organization does not need people, only activities that are contracted for.
To overcome the brake on learning — and the resulting below-potential efficiency and effectiveness — these cultural mismatches cause, Schein prescribes three steps:
  • Recognize the concept of culture. Each culture needs to learn how to learn, how to analyze its own culture, and how to evolve its culture around its strengths.

  • Acknowledge that engineers or executives alone cannot solve problems, but must work together. "Until executives, engineers, and operators discover that they use different languages and make different assumptions about what is important, and until they learn to treat the other cultures as valid and normal, organizational learning efforts will continue to fail."

  • Conduct cross-cultural dialogues. The purpose of these dialogues is to achieve alignment among the three cultures by "creating enough mutual understanding among them to evolve solutions that will be understood and implemented."
1 Schein defines culture as "a set of basic tacit assumptions about how the world is and ought to be that a group of people share and that determines their perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and, to some degree, their overt behavior." The assumptions underlying a culture arise out of shared experiences of success.


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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Quality Healthcare from the VA

The goal: Make the healthcare system of the Department of Veteran Affairs work for the patient.

According to an article by Catherine Arnst in the July 17 issue of Business Week, this goal became the lodestar for a complete makeover of the VA system that began in the mid-1990s. The makeover was spearheaded by Ken Kizer, Health Under Secretary at the VA during the period in question.

Arnst is clear about a key enabling condition: "A nationwide health-care network that gets its funding from a single payer..." Arnst explains:
Not having to rely on piecemeal insurance payments means the VA can finance large-scale improvements such as [its] electronic medical-records system, up and running in all of its facilities since 2000.1 In contrast, only some 20% of civilian hospitals have computerized their patient records. ... When hospitals were evacuated from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, the VA's patients were the only ones whose medical records could be accessed immediately anywhere in the country.
The VA's charter also confers some unique advantages. Because it treats patients throughout their lives, it can invest in prevention and primary care, knowing it will reap the benefits of lower long-term costs. ...

The VA uses the data gathered in its computers to pinpoint problem areas, such as medication errors. The network also allows it to track how closely the medical staff is following evidence-based treatment and monitor deficiencies.
Though Kizer left the VA in 1999, his culture of quality lives on:
Practices and outcomes are evaluated constantly, and staffers throughout the system meet regularly to discuss ways to improve patient care.
There are change management lessons here not only for civilian hospitals, but also for any type of organization willing to make the effort to investigate where its circumstances and environment overlap those of the VA.
1 The VA has just been awarded an Innovations in American Government Award by Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. The award honors the VA's model electronic medical-records system. You can read the Kennedy School press release here (pdf).



Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Social Networking in Sales

For ideas on how to engage in productive networking, there is no better place to look than the discipline of sales, in which networking skill has an especially large impact on the degree of a professional's success.

In the July-August issue of the Harvard Business Review, Tuba Üstüner of the Cass Business School in London and David Godes of Harvard's business school offer their analysis of how best to improve a company's sales network.

Üstüner and Godes cite three types of resources embedded in networks:
  • Access to the right information.

  • The ability to disseminate information to the right people.

  • The power to coordinate the efforts of groups of people in order to deliver value to customers.
Üstüner and Godes argue that the configuration of a network makes a substantial difference in how much it contributes to progress in a given phase of the sales process. The two basic types of networks Üstüner and Godes discuss are:
  • Widely dispersed networks — networks with limited duplication of contacts and plenty of indirect contacts. Dispersed networks are most useful when the salesperson is scouting for leads (market network), is trying to achieve prospect buy-in (prospect network), or is at the point of identifying who can best help with drawing up a proposal for a particular prospect (intra-organizational network).

  • Dense networks — networks in which there are lots of interconnections amongst individuals. Dense networks are most useful when a salesperson needs to coordinate efforts. For example, at the proposal stage for a custom solution, the salesperson needs to have a tightly coordinated team (possibly ad hoc) contributing the requisite specialized expertise.
Learning network skills is of paramount importance. Among Üstüner's and Godes's recommendations:
  • Encourage salespeople to consider joining online networks, where they can learn from "a vast pool of contacts who are entirely different from their current contacts."

  • Teach salespeople how to evaluate their own and others' networks.
Areas to cover in training include:
  • Questions to ask to evaluate networks. For example: Are my marketplace ties sufficiently diverse? Should I de-emphasize a redundant contact so I'll have more time to build new relationships? Who in the prospect firm has the biggest and sparsest networks? Who will be likely to promote my offering effectively to colleagues at the prospect? Who are the brokers, the people who make connections between people I need to be in contact with?

  • How to evaluate such factors as the extent of a contact's connections in a prospect firm, whether contacts are connected to one another, and how well the salesperson is positioned to make use of key influencers and decision-makers.

  • How to evaluate a contact's personality type.

  • How to keep in touch with contacts without being annoying. The key is to deliver value, e.g., via a newsletter with information relevant to the contacts.
Parallel to the training provided salespeople, there needs to be coordinated training for managers to ensure that managers are equipped to coach the salespeople effectively.



Monday, July 10, 2006

Web 2.0: Tools for Conversation

Our local paper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, had a sidebar today by Mary Carey addressing the question of when to use a listserv to communicate about a particular subject with others who share your interest, and when to use a blog.

Carey discussed the question with Stephanie O'Keefe, a member of the Amherst MA town meeting. O'Keefe's blog has a post in which she explains her take on the differences between these two tools:
Consider the e-mail listservs. They spread info also, but have several drawbacks – A) They are not open to the public, so the people we were elected to represent aren’t aware of the info and discussion occurring there and have no ability to weigh-in. B) They are kind of clunky – following discussion threads can be a mess. C) Some people complain about all the e-mails clogging up their inboxes. D) Unless one vigilantly saves and categorizes the mail by topic, it is difficult to find the info you want later. As an example, there is an interesting discussion going on on the Yahoo list now about genetically engineered foods, which may well be a T[own]M[eeting] topic again in the future. If the folks on both sides of that issue had blogs where they explained their views and posted links to relevant articles and web sites, they would be creating valuable information resources available to all TM members and the public, and they would be accessible when we want or need them. Very valuable. And there are plenty of folks on committees and boards who could make important info available in a similarly accessible manner.
I would just add that my experience with moderating an online forum has convinced me that any forum or blog that allows comments, needs to have those comments moderated. Otherwise, the occasional, or not so occasional, troll can make visiting the site an uncomfortable experience for the people whose sense of community you're trying to facilitate.


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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Shakespeare & Company

Saturday evening I set off from Northampton to see the press opening of Shakespeare & Company's new production of Hamlet. I hadn't yet had a look at the company's new 30-acre campus in Lenox, to which they moved from Edith Warton's mansion, The Mount, in 2000.

The grounds are a relaxing expanse of lawns and gardens with a number of buildings of different vintages. The main building is Founders' Theatre, which houses a flexible performance space, rehearsal space, and a lobby with bar and gift counter.

The company is now in its 29th season, which is a tribute to the entrepreneurial energy and skill of artistic director, Tina Packer, and her dedicated associates.

Aside from the quality of the performances the company stages — Hamlet was excellent — their dedication to learning is exemplary. The company has programs for training stage professionals and for education relating to Shakespeare and his times.

In S&Co's words, the aim of the professional training programs is:
... deepening of the actor’s connection to language, to releasing the natural voice, to freeing the body from habitual patterning and stimulating the imagination, to finding illumination in the relationship of the actor with the audience.
There is a three-weekend series of workshops, a summer training institute, a clown workshop, weeklong and monthlong intensive Shakespeare programs, and a workshop on speaking Shakespeare persuasively, a skill whose value Tina Packer particularly emphasizes.

The education program provides opportunities for teachers and students to deepen their knowledge and appreciation of Shakespeare's work and, by extension, their knowledge and appreciation of literature and of the English language. There are residencies in schools, touring productions of Shakespeare, a Macbeth CD/DVD, student matinees, youth programs, teachers programs, resources for teachers, and a fall Shakespeare Festival.

The Shakespeare Festival, for students in western Massachusetts and nearby areas of New York State, is:
... a nine-week, language-based exploration of a Shakespeare play culminating in a full-scale production. Each project includes a series of inter-scholastic master classes in stage combat, Elizabethan dance, text in performance, stage management, and technical theatre. At the end of the residency, students perform their plays at their schools, and then gather, in a spirit of celebration, to perform their plays for one another and the public in a four-day festival on Shakespeare & Company's Mainstage.
As a final note, I'd mention that Tina Packer, in the time-honored fashion of artists who undertake various outside projects to supplement their income, has published Power Plays: Shakespeare's Lessons in Leadership and Management, a book co-written with John Whitney, a professor at Columbia Business School. This is not a book I've read, and, based on feedback at Amazon, it won't ever make it to the top of the pile by my bed. Its interest for me lies in the additional evidence it offers of what a productive person based in the non-profit sector can do to make her lifework financially feasible.



Saturday, July 08, 2006

Social Networks

As the disadvantages of overly rigid hierarchy have become apparent to businesses, the value of the informal networks through which much work actually gets done has become more evident.

In a June Wharton School article, some of the advances in mapping social networks in a business organization are discussed. Professor Lori Rosenkopf explains that there are two central reasons pioneering companies are putting effort into mapping their social networks. They want to:
  • identify key employees — influential individuals whose views and activities play a disproportionate role in determining what gets done and how it is done.

  • understand better how employees interact.
The idea is to learn what the actual work flow and communication flow are. As Rosenkopf explains,
Maybe there are bottlenecks where one person is managing all interactions. If you expect two groups to work together closely, and you don't see them doing this, you might want to create liaison roles or other relationships to make information flow better. On the other hand, you may see groups talking to each other too much. When managers see network diagrams, they often realize they need to reconfigure their organizational chart.
How do you actually map an informal network? This is something that can be handled quite straightforwardly. Ask people whom they go to for advice, and who provides the best advice.

Helping managers take advantage of social networks, while also being alert to associated problems, should be an prominent element in any company's manager training.



Friday, July 07, 2006

21st-Century Journalism VI

Hard on the heels of The Elements of Journalism, the book highlighted in yesterday's post, the July/August issue of Columbia Journalism Review arrived with an article by Daniel Schulman addressing single-minded efforts at some newspapers to improve circulation through catering more intensively to reader interests.

The occasion for Schulman's article is the inauguration in January of John Lavine as the new Dean of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. Schulman reports preliminarily on the promgram of change that Lavine is introducing at the school.

Lavine came to Medill from Northwestern's Media Management Center, where he was founding director. While at the Media Management Center, Lavine devoted much of his energy to the Readership Institute, an affiliated news industry think tank.

The Readership Institute aims to provide research-based guidance to the industry concerning what attracts and sustains reader interest. To see an example of a newspaper that has taken the Readership Institute's recommendations to heart, you can check out The Journal Times, a 30,000 circulation paper in Racine WI.

The obvious concern as newspapers harken to the advice of the Readership Institute, is that they may begin pandering to readers. Indeed, a major issue under discussion in the portion of the blogosphere that focuses on civic affairs and politics, is the traditional media's weakened embrace of their watchdog function. A common explanation for this dialing back of combative coverage of government is that it's a turnoff for many readers.

In fact, one of the big advantages of the rise of the blogosphere is that it provides people seriously interested in news with an alternative source of information and analysis, thereby providing a countervailing force to those who would push traditional papers too far in the direction of "news lite."



Thursday, July 06, 2006

21st-Century Journalism V

Bill Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, and Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, published a book in 2001 that just arrived at my house yesterday. Titled The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect, it's a modest-sized volume — 200 pages — that I plan to study closely.

As a start, I pass along the "clear principles that journalists agree on — and that citizens have a right to expect" that Kovach and Rosenstiel lay out in their introduction:
  1. Journalism's first obligation is to the truth.

  2. Its first loyalty is to citizens.

  3. Its essence is a discipline of verification. [nota bene]

  4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover. [ditto]

  5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.

  6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.

  7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.

  8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.

  9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.
Kovach and Rosenstiel did not pull these "elements of journalism" out of thin air.
...the Committee of Concerned Journalists, organized the most sustained, systematic, and comprehensive examination ever conducted by journalistts of news gathering and its responsibilities. We held 21 public forums attended by 3,000 people and involving testimony from more than 300 journalists. We partnered with a team of university researchers who conducted more than a hundred three-and-a-half-hour interviews with journalists about their values. We produced two surveys of journalists about their principles. We held a summit of First Amendment and journalism scholars. With the Project for Excellence in Journalism we produced nearly a dozen content studies of news reporting. We studied the history of those journalists who came before us.
The basic message here is that high-quality 21st-century journalism is grounded on the same foundation of ethical and professional principles as the high-quality journalism of earlier eras.



Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Ted Levitt's Legacy

What business are you in?

This question has concentrated untold business minds since it was first posed by marketing expert Ted Levitt, emeritus professor at the Harvard business school. (He joined the Harvard faculty in 1959 and retired in 1990.)

The importance of insightfully defining one's core business was explored in Levitt's famous article, Marketing Myopia, published in the Harvard Business Review in the July/August 1960 issue.

Industries are prone to marketing myopia because it is so natural to be reluctant to abandon existing investments and established distribution and marketing methods.

According to Levitt, marketing myopia takes the form of "suicidal product provincialism." A product-oriented company focuses on managing existing activities well. Levitt argues:
If management lets itself drift, it invariably drifts in the direction of thinking of itself as producing goods and services, not customer satisfactions.
It seeks markets for whatever technology is its current area of expertise.

A clear-sighted business is customer-oriented and therefore is continually looking for "right purposes" for the future. It seeks customer-satisfying products and services that it can bring strongly to market. Such a company has learned
to think of itself not as producing goods or services, but as buying customers, as doing the things that will make people want to do business with it.
Customer-oriented, forward-looking companies are able to define purposes for the future that involve imaginative departures from what they are currently organized to do.

Levitt takes the position that "there is no such thing as a growth industry... There are only companies organized and operated to create and capitalize on growth opportunities." Such companies focus on the needs of buyers rather than on their own needs as sellers. In particular, a customer-oriented company does research that is as free as possible of assumptions concerning what the company will offer on the market. Having identified customer needs, the far-sighted industry
... develops backwards, first concerning itself with the physical delivery of customer satisfactions. Then it moves back further to creating the things by which these satisfactions are in part achieved.
By contrast, a product-oriented company researches customer preferences among products that the company has already decided to offer, with a view to determining which possible product innovations and improvements are most attractive.

Another Levitt article, The Globalization of Markets (HBR, May/June 1983), is also a classic, though more for its coining the word "globalization," and its warning that companies must gird themselves for global competition, than for the details of its analysis of the future dynamics of markets around the world.

Professor Levitt died at the end of June, aged 81. You can read an obituary here.



Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Revolution in the Understanding of Work

I have been an admirer of Gordon Wood, a professor of history at Brown University, ever since I read his book, The Radicalism of the American Revolution: How A Revolution Transformed a Monarchical Society into a Democratic One Unlike Any that Had Ever Existed. This major study won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for history.

One of the most striking propositions Wood argues is that the people of colonial America came to view work in quite different terms from the traditional conception assumed by people back in England.

Instead of work being a curse of those living in poverty, for American farmers and artisans work was a source of value for them personally that enabled them to support their families at a comfortable standard of living. After explaining this state of affairs, Wood notes:
Yet because such equality and prosperity were so unusual in the Western world, they could not be taken for granted. The idea of labor, of hard work, leading to increased productivity was so novel, so radical, in the overall span of Western history that most ordinary people, most of those who labored, could scarcely believe what was happening to them. Labor had been so long thought to be the natural and inevitable consequence of necessity and poverty that most people still associated it with slavery and servitude. Therefore any possibility of oppression, any threat to the colonists' hard-earned prosperity, any hint of reducing them to the poverty of other nations, was especially frightening; for it seemed likely to slide them back into the traditional status of servants or slaves, into the older world where labor was merely a painful necessity and not a source of prosperity.
Wood goes on to quote a South Carolinian named Christopher Gadsden, an eighteenth-century merchant and political figure who has left us a considerable written record of his times.
"No wonder," said Gadsden, "that throughout America,we find men extremely anxious and attentive, to the cause of liberty." These hardworking farmers and mechanics were extraordinarily free and well off and had much to lose, and "this, therefore, naturally accounts for these people, in particular, being so united and steady, everywhere," in support of their liberties against British oppression.
This idea that work can be a source of one's own prosperity, rather than a mark of belonging to the underclass, has been a strong current throughout our nation's history. The countercurrent fed by discrimination against blacks is a glaring discredit, but the slow process of eradicating discrimination is also premised on the concept that people's hard work should enable them to achieve a decent standard of living that is in no way dependent on race or other irrelevant factors.



Monday, July 03, 2006

Favorite Fallacies

Below is a rogue's gallery of the more common fallacies to be alert to, followed by some tips for finding and eliminating such errors in reasoning.

Ad hoc explanation — After an event occurs, you offer an after-the-fact explanation that isn't really applicable. For example: "The fax was late because there is so much spam clogging the network."

Ad hominem attack — You attack the person making an argument rather than the argument itself. For example: "John is a naysayer. With his negative attitude, naturally he's against opening an office in Beijing."

Anecdotal evidence — Generalizing from individual instances without any assurance that the instances are representative. For example: "Crocodiles are moving into city parks. They found one in the Central Park reservoir yesterday."

Appeal to authority — You try to win support for an assertion by citing an authority who doesn't actually have relevant expertise. For example: "Tiger Woods says Wheaties is the best cereal."

Begging the question — You, in effect, assume what you are claiming to prove; or you offer what you are claiming to prove as evidence that your conclusion is true, i.e., you argue in circular fashion (see next item). (In this context, "begging" means "evading.") For example: "We need to add a week to the schedule because an extra week will help us."

Circular reasoning — You assume what you're claiming to prove. For example: "That idea will never work because it's completely impractical."

Fallacy of composition — It is assumed that something true of parts is also true of the whole that those parts comprise. For example: "If it's good for individuals to save more, it's good for everybody to save more." This is a favorite example of economists, who point out that our economy would generally be hurt if overall consumption were to fall due to an overall increase in saving.

False causality You decide that because B occurred after A, A caused B. (This fallacy is often referred to by its Latin name, "post hoc ergo propter hoc," i.e., "after this, therefore because of this." A similar fallacy is "cum hoc ergo propter hoc," i.e., "A and B happened at the same time; A must have caused B.") — For example: "As soon as we raised tuition reimbursement to 100%, employees started complaining more about our in-house training sessions taking too much time. They must prefer going to outside classes."

False dilemma — You tell people they have to pick A or B, implying that there are no other options. For example: "Either we figure out how to get our costs down 10%, or we're never going to be able to compete with Brand X."

Loaded question — You ask a question that contains an implied accusation. An example from the Institute for Teaching and Learning at San José State University: Your boss asks, "Can you begin to appreciate this wonderful opportunity I'm making available to you?"

New (old) is better — Arguing that something must be better — it's new! (The converse is arguing that something is better because it is long-established.) For example: "It's a new book on how to lose weight. Everybody with a weight problem should read it."

Non sequitur — You draw a conclusion that has no logical relationship to the premises from which you are arguing. For example: "Young consumers are spending more and more time at social networking sites on the Internet. I think we should switch to Linux on our servers."

Slippery slope — You argue that if A is allowed, a progression of bad events will ensue, but you don't demonstrate that there is a necessary connection between A occurring and the subsequent cascade of undesirable events. For example: "If we start providing free soda, people will start expecting yoghurt and peanuts. We can't afford that."

Straw man argument — You exaggerate or oversimplify an argument, and then show it's easy to knock the rephrased argument down. You conclude that this shows that the original argument is wrong. A wikipedia example: Person A says "I don't think children should run into the busy streets." Person B responds by saying, "I think that it would be foolish to lock up children all day with no fresh air." Person B thereby insinuates that person A's argument is far more draconian than it actually is.

Sweeping generalization — You argue that something which is broadly true is true of a particular instance, even though, in fact, it is not. For example: "Summer is a terrible time to sell parkas, so we should have them in our online catalog only between September and March."

Weak analogy — You claim two objects, ideas, or situations are alike, but they really aren't in the particular areas that are relevant. For example: "No matter what the boss says, trying to keep the general ledger free of errors is like making a hole-in-one every time you go out on the golf course. It's impossible."

You, too — You argue that an action is acceptable because the other person has also done it. (You may see this fallacy referred to by its Latin name, "Tu quoque.") For example: "But, Mom, you hitchhiked a lot when you were young. How come now you're saying it's a bad idea?"

The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers some suggestions for finding fallacies in your arguments:

Pretend you disagree with the conclusion you're defending — What parts of the argument would now seem fishy to you? What parts are easiest to attack? Give special attention to strengthening those parts.

List your main points and your evidence for each — Seeing your claims and evidence laid out this way may make you realize that you have no good evidence for a particular claim, or it may help you look more critically at the evidence you're using.

Learn which types of fallacies you're especially prone to — You can identify your favorite fallacies by looking back through some of your writings (e.g., memos). Check for these favorites when you review your work. Some people make lots of appeals to authority; others are more likely to rely on weak analogies or set up straw men. Etc.

Be aware that broad claims need more proof than narrow ones — Claims that use sweeping words like "all," "no," "none," "every," "always," "never," "no one," and "everyone," are sometimes appropriate — but they require a lot more proof than less sweeping claims that use words like "some," "many," "few," "sometimes," "usually," etc.

Double check your characterizations of others — Often, characterizations are simply irrelevant. If there is a good reason to characterize another person (e.g., you're writing a performance review), be sure you are fair and accurate.



Sunday, July 02, 2006

Racine, Wisconsin

When I was out in Portland OR last month, I met for the first time an 84-year-old cousin (daughter of my paternal grandfather's sister) who had grown up on a farm in Wisconsin.

Her childhood stomping grounds were a place of happy childhood memories for me, too. When I was about 12, my family had visited my cousin's brother's farm near Waterford in western Racine County. I'd had a wonderful time watching the dairy operations and just generally getting to see how farming works. I even had a chance to drive one of the tractors -- just far enough to realize that moving in a straight line was nowhere near as easy as it looked.

After I got back home to Maryland, the school year rolled around, and one of our first big assignments was to write a report about one of the other states. I chose Wisconsin. The state has continued to have a special place in my heart ever since.

Today's New York Times has an article by Steve Lohr about contemporary Racine that lets me compare the city today to what I remember of Racine from when Cousin Karle took me there years ago.

The main point of the article is how the municipal leaders and much of the citizenry recognize the importance in today's economy of being adaptable and engaging in lifetime learning. For instance, Lohr describes a program set up by Olatoye Baiyewu, an immigrant from Nigeria. The program trains young men in construction trades.
Besides offering basic education on the construction trades, [Baiyewu's] six-week program requires his trainees to get a library card and to read books like "Animal Farm: and "Silas Marner. Workplace etiquette and personal finance are part of the curriculum. His training program is run on a shoestring budget with support from city and state governments and local foundations.

Darnell Mason is a recent graduate. ... Mr. Mason, a high school graduate and a Navy veteran, seemed particularly impressed by the reading requirement. "They were real books that spark your intellect and get you thinking," he said. "In everyday society, all kinds of things are going to be thrown at you, so you have to be flexible, think things through and adapt."
The article also cites the experience of S.C. Johnson & Son (of Paste Wax and Windex fame), whose largest manufacturing facility is about five miles west of Racine. The factory is competitive with other facilities the company has in 70 countries around the world because the company has invested in machinery that enables workers to be increasingly productive.

An interior view of the Johnson Wax Building in Racine, a landmark designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built 1936 to 1939 and 1944.

For example, one long-time worker, Willie Poole, is operating a computerized warehouse management system for which he received six months of training. Lohr explains, "To help maximize efficiency, [Poole] works closely with planners, production-line leaders and others to refine inventory and manufacturing flows,notifying his team with instructions he transmits wirelessly from his computer to forklifts on the factory floor."

Over and above the nostalgia it evokes, the article leaves me with a strong sense of the centrality of training in Racine's efforts to link its economy to drivers of economic growth around the world.



Saturday, July 01, 2006

Business Acumen IV: Confusing Inputs and Output

In a 2003 article, the Wharton School reports on the joint work of one of their professors, Maurice Schweitzer, and a colleague, Karen R. Chinander of Florida Atlantic University. Schweitzer and Chinander conducted several experiments to investigate how information on inputs is used in arriving at judgments concerning the quality of output.
In the first experiment, 83 participants were asked to rate the quality of two video-taped presentations about an emerging technology. In the first part of the experiment, 41 participants were told that the person giving the first presentation – on electronic ink – had spent 8 hours and 34 minutes preparing his remarks, while the person offering the second presentation – on optical switches – had spent 37 minutes preparing.

In the second part of the experiment, 42 participants were told the opposite: that the optical switches presentation was based on eight-plus hours preparation and the electronic ink presentation on 37 minutes.

Participants were asked to rate the presentations on such factors as quality of information, quality of presentation skills and knowledge of the subject.
You can probably predict the outcome. People's evaluation of the presentations tended to reflect what they'd been told about preparation time, rather than the actual content and style of the presentations.
The study also showed that the same pattern of results occurred “even among participants who believe input time should not and did not influence their judgment.”
The other three experiments produced similar results, i.e., participants were inclined to use input measures to gauge output quality.(There was one exception. In an experiment where the output quality was low — participants were given tea that had had salt and a large quantity of lime juice added to it — participants were not swayed in their evaluation by information about the supposed expensiveness of the equipment used to produce one of the batches of tea vs. the supposed cheapness of the equipment used to produce the other batch.)

For me, one of the implications of this research especially worth pondering is what it says about how employees' performance is evaluated. All too often, the person who conspicuously spends long hours at the office is rated highly, even though what actually matters is the quality of the work produced. Somebody who works more efficiently than the long-hours type may, in fact, be creating more value for the organization.

Speaking more broadly about the implications of the research, Schweitzer says:
Most people in our experiment knew the input information was irrelevant, but they still used this information when judging quality. You have to design measures and put processes in place so that you can carefully assess exactly what the outcomes are that you need. It is often up to senior management to formalize the processes necessary to make important decisions, such as by using blind reviews of outcome measures. Doing this can be difficult, slow and expensive.

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