!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: January 2007

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Byzantine Affairs

Over the last couple of years, I've been trying intermittently to fill a gap in my education. Like most Americans, I learned very little about Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and the Middle East in school.

Now, as an adult, I've been able to visit Turkey twice, very briefly, and I've read several books on the history of the Arab world. Last month I listened to Prof. Kenneth Harl's series of lectures on the "Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor," put out by The Teaching Company, and just today I finished The Wanderer, a novel by the Finnish writer Mika Waltari (translated by Naomi Walford) set in the time of Suleiman the Magnificent.

One thing I haven't done yet, because I didn't know about it until reading today's New York Times, is check out podcasts on "12 Byzantine Rulers," created by Lars Brownworth, a history teacher at the Stony Book School in New York. Thanks to the miracles of downloading and subscription, I will shortly be starting to listen to the thirteen podcasts Mr. Brownworth has already recorded, and I'm looking forward to the receiving in due course the remaining four he has promised.



Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Question about Innovation at Nike

About ten years ago, Thomas Finholt, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan, included this question on the mid-term exam for his introductory industrial pyschology course:
Nike has a potent corporate culture that acts to inculcate similar perspectives among Nike employees. In battles for dominance of the athletic shoe market, this unity of purpose has been a tremendous competitive advantage. However, recently, many analysts have speculated that Nike increasingly lacks the boldness and innovativeness that characterized the company's products and advertising in the late 80s.

Consider Nike's growing conservatism in terms of organizational learning. Describe how you think Nike's strong culture might negatively influence one of the following strategies for organizational learning:
  • learning from direct experience

  • learning from others' experience

  • learning from experimentation
Next, describe changes to Nike's culture that you would recommend to improve the organization's ability to learn.

Finally, speculate on factors of corporate culture that make it difficult for CEOs and other managers to realign corporate values, attitudes, and behaviors. [Hint: Remember that culture acts as the repository for an organization's history and traditions.]
A hint from me: I was drawn to this particular question by Prof. Finholt's reference to the concept of a competency trap in the example answer he provides for the question. A competency trap is an organizational dynamic whereby
[t]he more a particular behavior is used, the more it will be reinforced by experience and thus used more frequently. This positive feedback loop reduces the possibility of substituting another, potentially more suitable alternative.

Competency traps mean people who are successful with one technology may continue to exploit the technology and reinforce their focus and reliance upon it to the exclusion of other potential ideas. Competency can increase exploitation and reduce exploration, which may cause future difficulties if the environment changes.1
The problem of competency traps is highlighted in an excellent column in the January/February issue of Business 2.0, written by one of my favorite academics, Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford University's Graduate School of Business. (Pfeffer is co-author of The Knowing-Doing Gap, one of the this blog's suggested readings.)

Pfeffer outlines three strategies organizations can adopt to help them avoid falling into a competency trap:
  • Avoid excessive specialization. "Toyota has never put all its eggs in one basket — it makes high-quality trucks, minivans, even hybrids. By building a broad range of competencies and knowledge, Toyota can react quickly to changes in market conditions."

  • Develop peripheral vision to scan for changes in the marketplace. "Markets don't change all at once. Pay attention to the facts, not to what you want to believe."

  • Build a mind-set of continuous learning and vigilance. This equips the organization to explore emerging opportunities, rather than allowing today's strengths to decline into weaknesses through failure to adapt to changed circumstances.
As Prof. Finholt's example answer suggests, adopting the second and third of the strategies listed above could have been particularly helpful to Nike in making its culture "more receptive to experimentation and innovation."

1 Definition provided by Keith Rollag, Babson College Assistant Professor, at his organizational theory website.


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Monday, January 29, 2007

Creating, Implementing, and Maintaining a Scorecard

As a complement to yesterday's post, which outlined a process for incorporating risk management into an organization's balanced scorecard, it seems appropriate to document a process for creating, implementing, and maintaining the scorecard system itself.

The Balanced Scorecard Institute offers a straightforward nine-step process:
  1. Do an organizational assessment — Clarify the organization's mission and vision for the future. Identify key success factors for achieving the mission and vision.

  2. Identify strategic themes — The themes are derived from the vision and the organizational assessment, and provide the focus for planning. For example, a county government might have as one of its strategic themes "social, educational, and economic opportunity."

  3. Define perspectives and strategic objectives — Spell out organization-specific details of the four scorecard perspectives: financial, customer, internal, and learning and growth. For each of the perspectives, derive strategic objectives from the strategic themes.

  4. Create a strategy map — The map represents the organization's best thinking concerning the cause-and-effect links that will lead to achievement of the strategic objectives. There is an example here.

  5. Define performance measures and targets — The measures, along with their target values, spell out how the organization will know when each strategic objective has been met. For example, a oounty government might decide that its strategic objective of encouraging young adults to stay in the county is met, in part, if at least 70 affordable housing units are added to the housing stock each year.

  6. Develop strategic initiatives — Identify specific programs and actions that will help in achieving the organization's strategic objectives. Link each initiative to performance measures, so progress can be monitored.

  7. Automate and communicate — Define specifications for a scorecard portal and scorecard reports, based on the organization's specific measurement requirements, data sources (manual records, databases, surveys, interviews, etc.), and the scope of its scorecard system. Then assess software vendors' products against the specs.

  8. Cascade the scorecard through the organization — Meet with managers in each work unit to explain the purpose of the scorecard, the strategic initiatives, the measurement requirements, and the roll-up of unit-level scorecards into the organization-wide scorecard. Involve managers and, as practical, employees in defining metrics for their own processes.

  9. Collect data, evaluate and revise — Based on the performance data that are collected for the scorecard, decide how to revise the strategies, initiatives, and measures.
You can review an excellent public sector example of this process — from Mecklenburg County NC — here (first six steps – pdf) and here (final three steps – pdf). Mecklenburg County's latest reports on its "Managing for Results" system are here.


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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Including Risk in a Balanced Scorecard

In the process of writing two previous posts on effective use of scorecards, I came upon a helpful article in Management that illustrates how the scorecard tool can be extended to cover risk.

To anyone keeping up with the business press, it is apparent that attention to risk management is increasing. This is a topic I myself have been following closely since collaborating on a training project for a large industrial insurer several years ago. In talking with underwriters and others at the company, I developed an appreciation of the scope companies have for deploying sophisticated risk management techniques if they choose to do so.

In the Management article, Cam Scholey, a Certified Management Accountant, looks at "how the concept of risk management can be included in the Balanced Scorecard to assist in the process of properly identifying, measuring, managing, and reporting risks." He outlines a four-step risk management process:
  1. Brainstorm a comprehensive list of the risks the organization faces. Questions to ask:

    Which of our objectives, strategies, and intiatives are at risk of not being achieved, given our internal environment, and why? The internal environment encompasses both financial factors and human resources factors.

    Which of our objectives, strategies, and intiatives are at risk of not being achieved, given our external environment, and why?

    What environmental shifts or trends leave us exposed, and why?
    Consider all possibilities in the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political realms.

    What competitive factors threaten our ability to achieve our sales and profit objectives, and why?

    What market factors threaten our ability to achieve our sales and profit objecives, and why?

    What procedures, controls, and practices do we have that may contain a design flaw that creates an organizational risk?

    What procedures, controls, and practices do we have that may not be operating as intended?

  2. Prepare a risk assessment chart for each risk type. The chart for a particular risk type lists:

    • Causes. (E.g., bad weather is a cause of the risk that an outdoor event will attract smaller crowds than planned.)

    • The risk factor for each cause — found by multiplying the likelihood of the cause by the severity of the associated consequences. The risk factors guide prioritizing of the various risk causes.

    • Action plans for managing all substantial risk causes.

    • Status notes on which actions have been taken, which are underway, and which are pending.

    • Contingency plans for most or all substantial risk causes.

  3. Prepare a risk report card, summarizing the information in the risk assessment charts. The report card compares actual numbers to targets and stretch numbers for each of the following:

    • The number of new risks identified and assessed.

    • The number of risks with a risk factor greater than a set threshold (e.g., 25).

    • The percentage decrease in the overall risk factor (total risk score) relative to the previous period.

    • The number of actions that have moved from a status of pending to a status of underway or completed.

    • The number of substantial risks (e.g., risk factor greater than 20) for which there is no contingency plan

  4. In the internal perspective portion of the scorecard, enter the total risk score. This score provides an overall gauge of the effectiveness of the organization's risk management.
Once this four-step risk management process is in place, the organization is able to keep tabs on what risks are most in need of monitoring and of managing in order to maximize the odds that the organization will meet its strategic objectives.


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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Scorecard vs. Dashboard

As a follow-on to my earlier post concerning effective use of scorecard systems, I'd like to highlight the distinction between scorecards and dashboards. This is a topic that Raef Lawson, William Stratton, and Toby Hatch (LSH), the authors of the report on use of scorecards cited in my earlier post, bring into focus in another recent Management article.

LSH list several issues that managers face that are related to the choice of appropriate metrics for monitoring what's happening in a business. I'd emphasize these five:
  • Needing to respond faster to market changes and competitive pressures

  • Strategy having little or no impact on the day-to-day actions employees take

  • Little accountability for, or confidence in, long-term plans

  • The budget not being tied to the strategy

  • Needing to be able to do better at executing the strategy
Both scorecards and dashboards can play a role in addressing these issues, but only if their distinct purposes are kept straight. LSH offer these definitions:

(click on the image to see a larger version)

Scorecard — a strategic management tool that helps an organization measure, monitor, and communicate its strategic plan and goals throughout the organization, in a way that is understood by everyone.1

(click on the image to see a larger version)

Dashboard — a style of user interface designed to deliver user-specific information relating to the health of the business, typically represented by key performance indicatiors (KPIs) and links to relevant reports. Provides visual cues and graphs and focuses user attention on important trends, changes, and exceptions.2

Drawing on the results of the International On-Line Scorecard Study, on a set of nine case studies in a variety of industries, and on personal experience, LSH enumerate these typical characteristics of a scorecard:
  • Data updated relatively infrequently, e.g., quarterly, semi-annually, or annually.

  • Data visualized in grids, maps, and trend charts, with all users seeing the same display.

  • Contains metrics explicitly related to the strategy, and used to monitor progress toward achieving strategic goals.

  • Focus on forward-looking, strategic information.

  • Supports collaboration and communication about strategic goals and progress in achieving them; does not drill down to transaction-level detail.

  • Provides textual explanations of results.

  • Focuses primarily on outcome measures (as opposed to output, or throughput, measures).
Dashboards are generally used to monitor the health and efficiency of an organization. Typical characteristics are:
  • Frequently updated data (some may be real-time).

  • Data displayed in graphs and dials with little or no textual description; visualizations can be customized by users.

  • Metrics that are either not related to strategy, or only implicitly related.

  • Focus on historical information and analyzing what has already happened.

  • Focus on results, and on comparisons to benchmarks.

  • Often allows drilling down to detail, sometimes to the transaction level.

  • Focuses primarily on input and output measures for processes, e.g., measures of efficiency and throughput.
The key in choosing when to use a scorecard, and when to use a dashboard, is to be clear about the purpose of monitoring and analysis in any given situation.

If the purpose is operational, i.e., to support day-to-day decision-making concerning the running of the business, a well-designed dashboard is appropriate. It provides data on KPIs that enable timely response to operational issues.

On the other hand, if the purpose is strategic, i.e., to support:
  • decision-making concerning how best to meet strategic objectives

  • development of a culture of customer focus and of accountability for meeting strategic objectives
a properly designed scorecard is appropriate. It provides data on KPIs that enable any needed adjustments to the strategy or to the actions being taken to execute the strategy.

In the case studies they reviewed, LSH found that "organizations had actually implemented a scorecard system for dashboard purposes." LSH go on to say,
By the same token, based on our experience, organizations that implement dashboards often push the functionality to help align the organization with their strategy and measure progress towards it.

This makes sense. A well run and successful organization really requires aspects of both scorecards and dashboards to be truly successful in the short and long term.
In other words, scorecards and dashboards have distinct purposes, but both are powerful tools in helping an organization be successful. LSH suggest that ultimately, as software improves and organizations become more sophisticated in how they use metrics, the two tools may actually converge.
1 Originally taken from an article in the Financial Gazette, a publication in Zimbabwe that is not currently online.

2 From a 2003 IDC (International Data Corporation) article.


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Friday, January 26, 2007

Help with Aggregation of News and Info on the Web

In the January/February issue of Business 2.0, Om Malik describes several of the currently available websites that spare you the need to visit individual aggregator sites in order to keep up with news and information of particular interest to you.

The "aggregators of aggregators" Malik discusses are:

Doggdot.us — aggregates popular stories from three technology news sites: deli.cio.us, Digg, and Slashdot.

ViralVideos.com — aggregates the most popular videos currently on Break.com, grouper, IFILM, Google Video, metacafe, myspace, Yahoo Video, and YouTube.

Original Signal — aggregates the most popular "signals," i.e., RSS feeds for news, blogs, and video in five categories: the Web (Web 2.0 news, Digg, Web buzz, 15 selected Web-oriented blogs), technology (tech news, Apple, gadgets), world (news, politics, sports, science), business (finance, marketing, Web 2.0 jobs), and entertainment (movies, games, video). To see how the site is organized, click on the link.

Popurls — created by Thomas Marban, a single long page that aggregates RSS feeds from the Web's most popular sites. To see how the page is organized, click on the link.

Spokeo — alerts you whenever there are new posts to the profiles at social networking sites of individuals you've put on your Spokeo friends list. Your list can also include websites, such as favorite blogs, that provide an RSS or Atom feed. Spokeo users can recommend posts that they deem particularly interesting; these posts are automatically displayed on the recommender's friends' pages. The posts that are most recommended are displayed on Spokeo's front page.

VodPod — created by Mark Hall and crew, this site enables you to collect into a personal "pod," favorite videos from any source, including uploads. If you designate your pod as public, anyone can view it and, if you wish, add to it. If you designate the pod as private, only those you specifically invite can view it and add to it.


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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Laughter is the Best Medicine VI

I'm sure everyone will have his or her own favorites among the 101 Dumbest Moments in Business published in the January/February issue of Business 2.0 magazine. As a training specialist, I have to give special mention to Moment #17:
A jury in Fresno, Calif., awards $1.7 million in damages to Janet Orlando, who quit her job with home security company Alarm One after team-building exercises during which she and her colleagues were forced to eat baby food, wear diapers, or submit to being spanked on the butt with a rival company's yard signs.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What's the problem?

As a follow-on to an earlier post, I'd like to home in on the first step in any effective problem-solving process — defining the problem.

The US Department of Energy Guidebook to Decision-Making Methods (pdf) offers a useful worksheet for clarifying the specifics of the problem you are dealing with. The worksheet has seven sections (somewhat adapted here):
  1. Summary statement of the problem (= the unacceptable or undesirable condition).

  2. Define the initial state.

      • What are the symptoms?

      • What are notable features
         of the problem situation?

      • What are potential causes
         of the problem?

      • What assumptions are
         appropriate for the analysis?

  3. What will happen if the problem is not solved? Why fix it?

  4. What historical causes or barriers may be important considerations in defining and evaluating alternative possible solutions?

  5. What is the desired state? Describe the expected characteristics of the improved situation after the problem is properly solved.

  6. Who is affected by the problem, i.e., who are the stakeholders? What other significant impacts does the problem have?

  7. What is included in the system boundary of the problem, i.e, what is the scope of the problem in "big picture" terms?
Once you have completed the worksheet, you should have captured the details you need in order to express the problem in a single, clear sentence that describes both the initial state and the desired state. That sentence becomes the final version of your entry in the first section of the worksheet.



Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sensible Mentoring

As with any technique for employee development, mentoring requires planning and appropriate ground rules in order to yield good results. In the January 29 issue of Business Week, Susan Berfield reports on some of the lessons learned in the corporate world from what is now considerable experience with mentoring.

Berfield highlights three best practices:
  • Be disciplined — There should be specific, timebound goals and success criteria that the mentoring is intended to achieve. For example, "by this time next year, the employee will be able to identify and assess likely acquisition targets. We'll know that this goal has been met if she has spearheaded preparation of at least two reliable and actionable reports within the next twelve months."

  • Maintain contact — Staying in touch after the formal mentoring relationship has ended allows an employee to continue using the more experienced person as a periodic sounding board. Though the intensity of contact is less, the value of maintaining a friendly relationship is undiminished.

  • Bow out if it's not working — Of course, ending the mentoring relationship is something that should be handled tactfully. "If you're in a formal program, talk to those in charge. If the relationship is informal, give your mentor permission to get out. In other words, make it look like ending it is her decision."
Additional best practices for mentoring, compiled by the Institute of Physics, are listed here.



Monday, January 22, 2007

Using a Scorecard Effectively

Judging from the results of a survey conducted by the Institute of Management Accountants, companies are having trouble using scorecard systems effectively. Only 51% of the 382 usable survey responses (from 44 countries) reported that the companies in question were realizing benefits from their scorecard system.

Management magazine provides a summary of the survey findings, by Raef Lawson, director of research for the Institute; William Stratton, professor of accounting at Udvar-Hazy School of Business, Dixie State College; and Toby Hatch, a business process management specialist at Hyperion Solutions.

Since the purpose of a scorecard is to provide a meaningful indication of a company's progress toward meeting its objectives, it stands to reason that the scorecard should be clearly linked to the company's strategy. For example, the scorecard should be based on an explicit mapping of the cause-and-effect relationships among the elements of the strategy (as in the strategy map shown below). A scorecard system should not be simply a tactical tool for monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs).

(click on the image to see a larger version)

In analyzing the differences between companies that realized benefits from their scorecard systems, and those that did not, Lawson, Stratton, and Hatch arrived at several telling conclusions. Notably, best-practice companies1 are much more likely than no-benefit companies2 to:
  • integrate scorecard measures into their planning and budgeting process.

  • use the scorecard system to provide feedback to responsible managers so they can make adjustments to the strategic plan as needed.

  • link strategy to the scorecard system in at least one of the following ways:

    • The responsibility for implementing actions that are part of executing the strategy, is assigned to specific people (teams, departments, etc.). Progress on execution is measured, and the measures used are on the scorecards of the responsible parties.

    • Each scorecard rolls up to the next level.
The benefits of the scorecard system that best-practice companies cited most frequently were:
  • increased communication.

  • ability to measure performance.

  • understanding cause-and-effect relationships among measures and among the various components of the company's strategy.
In sum, best-practice scorecard organizations tend to exhibit the characteristics of strategy-focused organizations. Conversely, most organizations that have not realized significant benefits are using a scorecard system that has weak strategic focus.

Lawson, Stratton, and Hatch conclude, "organizations that are considering deploying scorecard systems should give close attention to the level of strategic focus when designing and implementing their system to optimize the value received."

1 The best-practices companies have the following characteristics: (1) They have had a scorecard system in place for more than one year. (2) They drive a company vision with the scorecard. (3) Their scorecard system facilitates sustainable alignment around company strategy. (4) They realize significant benefits from their scorecard system.

2 "No-benefit companies" are those that answered "somewhat disagree," "disagree," or "srongly disagree" to the statement, "Our organization has realized significant benefits of our scorecarding system."


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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Laughter is the Best Medicine V

News from across the Pond:

The Times
January 5, 2007
The £7 million guide to a tidy desk
by Michael Hornsell

Red tape has given way to black marker tape for thousands of bemused civil servants as part of a £7 million paperclip revolution aimed at ensuring that they keep the tools of their trade in the right place.

Office workers have been given the tape to mark out where they should put their pens and pencils, their computer keyboards and to indicate where to place their phones.

National [Health] Insurance staff have been chosen as guinea-pigs for the latest phase of the “Lean” programme brought in by the logistics consultants Unipart. The programme prohibits workers from keeping personal items on their desks.


Revenue & Customs declined to say how much Unipart had been paid for the project. But a PCS spokesman said that the project was costing £7.4 million nationally.

He said: “... We had a situation in some offices in Scotland where staff were asked, ‘Is that banana on your desk active or inactive?’, meaning were they going to eat it? If not, it had to be cleared away.”

Kevin McHugh, PCS branch secretary, said that some staff at Longbenton shared a desk, and had had to rearrange their workspace, regardless of the tape. “If the person coming in after you has longer arms, he will have to move the markers,” he said. “This office has been open for 60 years and people have managed to find their pens and staplers without consultants helping them.”

A spokeswoman for Revenue & Customs said: “It is only right that those staff who now share desk space with their colleagues are given advice and support in deciding how to make the most efficient use of the space available.” She said that staff could still move things on their desk to positions that suited them best.

“Lean is all about how we can work more efficiently to deliver an even better service to our customers, providing support and appropriate levels of management to busy staff while providing real value for money to the taxpayer.”


George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, joined the criticism of the project, blaming Gordon Brown. He said: “On the day that it is revealed that nurses are being sacked and operations are being cancelled, we hear that Gordon Brown is spending £7.4 million telling civil servants where to put their paperclips.

“People are wondering where their money has gone, and now they know.”


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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Procrastination Quotient

Prompted by an article at the Scientific American website, I had a look at a pair of tests developed by Piers Steel to gauge one's propensity to procrastinate. You might want to give them a try.

Steel, an industrial psychologist at the University of Calgary, defines procrastination as
To voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse-off for the delay
In a recent paper (pdf) detailing his research on the causes of procrastination, Steel suggests that
problems due to procrastination and lack of self-control appear to be increasing as jobs are expected to become unstructured or at least self-structured. This absence of imposed direction means that the competent worker must create the order — he or she must self-manage or self-regulate. As structure continues to decrease, the opportunity to procrastinate will concomitantly increase. Furthermore, the prevalence and availability of temptation, such as computer gaming or internet messaging, continues to augment the problem of procrastination. [bibliographic references omitted]
Given the trends Steel describes, knowing how to minimize procrastination is an increasing priority in the business world. Steel provides practical advice at his website. In brief, the three approaches he suggests are:
  • Learned industriousness — Set up a virtuous circle for yourself: Structure a new task so that your initial efforts lead to success. This will reinforce the satisfaction you derive from working at the task, and it will boost your confidence that you can succeed, both of which will help motivate you to carry on, even in the face of setbacks.

  • Energy regulation — Get enough sleep and exercise, and eat properly. Schedule the tasks you are most inclined to avoid, for times of the day when you are particularly alert and able to concentrate.

  • Goal setting — Break a larger goal into manageable chunks. Each smaller goal should be SMART — specific, measurable, achievable (but still challenging), results-oriented, and timebound (with the completion date in the near future). It also helps to develop routines, i.e., as far as possible, schedule any regular task for a set time and place so that you build some automaticity into completing the task.
Steel's entire section on treating procrastination is well worth reading. (It's about three pages long.)


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Friday, January 19, 2007

Using Widgets

You can add capabilities to a Web page by making use of widgets — elements on the page that accept input and/or display output. For example, you can add a weather widget to your page that displays updated weather information for specified locations. Or you can add a newsfeed to your page. You can incorporate a virtual sticky note or notepad that makes it easy to jot notes. Or you can include a virtual calculator. Etc.

As an example you can see several widgets in use in the righthand column of Stephen Kirkwood's "The Seagull has Landed" blog. Kirkwood has a site meter, an analog clock displaying the time in his hometown of Bristol, England, a map showing the locations around the world of visitors to the blog, and a bar showing the blog's "Technorati" rank.

A good list of widgets is provided by Widgetbox. Instructions for using Widgetbox widgets are here.

Google has compiled a list of widgets here. For a particular widget you'd like to use, click on the "Add to your webpage" button below the widget. This takes you to a screen that will supply the code you'll need to incorporate into the HTML code for your Web page.



Thursday, January 18, 2007

Decision-Making Taxonomies

The Foundation Coalition provides a useful taxonomy of seven team decision-making processes at their website. In a compact format, the FC lists strengths and weaknesses of each method and identifies the situations in which each method is most appropriate.

The seven methods are:
  1. Decision made by a person with authority without group discussion.

  2. Decision made by an expert.

  3. Decision made by averaging individuals' opinions (in my experience, the least desirable approach).

  4. Decision made by a person with authority after group discussion.

  5. Decision by a minority.

  6. Decision by majority vote.

  7. Decision by consensus.
For a particularly clear explanation of decision-making methods, you can have a look at a 40-page guidebook (pdf) developed for the US Department of Energy. After laying out a straightforward eight-step general decision-making process,1 the guidebook describes these decision-making methods:
  • Analysis of pros and cons — The preferred alternative is the one with the strongest pros and the weakest cons.

  • Kepner-Tregoe decision analysis — Experts weight the individual evaluation criteria, and then score the alternatives under consideration against the criteria. The preferred solution is the one with the highest score.

  • Analytic hierarchy process — A scoring method that is particularly useful when there are multiple criteria (more than about seven) to evaluate. Pairwise comparisons are used to establish the relative importance of the evaluation criteria, and then to assess the relative ability of each alternative under consideration to satisfy the criteria. (The term "hierarchy" refers to the use of relative, rather than absolute, comparisons.)

  • Multi-attribute utility theory analysis — A method that enables quantitative comparison of costs, risks, and benefits that are measured in different units (e.g., dollars, miles per gallon, and inches of legroom), while taking into account the preferences of individuals and stakeholders (hence the term "utility").

  • Cost-benefit analysis — All costs and benefits associated with each alternative under consideration are estimated in dollar terms. The alternative with the greatest excess of benefits over costs is selected. (If no alternative has benefits in excess of costs, it will probably be necessary to reconsider the list of alternatives. It may even be necessary to revisit the problem statement itself.)

  • Custom-tailored tools — Used when complex behavior within a system must be analyzed.
Part of the beauty of the guidebook is that it provides a clear example of each of the above methods. The guidebook also describes aids for carrying out each of the eight steps in the general problem-solving process.

For a more comprehensive list of decision-making methods, you can see the "Decision making in business and management" section of the Wikipedia entry for Decision-making.

1 1) Define the problem. 2) Determine the requirements that the solution to the problem must meet. 3) Establish goals that solving the problem should accomplish. 4) Identify alternatives that will solve the problem. 5) Develop evaluation criteria based on the goals. 6) Select a decision-making tool. 7) Apply the tool to select a preferred alternative. 8) Check the answer to make sure it solves the problem.



Wednesday, January 17, 2007

National Survey of Student Engagement

A while back I wrote about the College Learning Assessment, a tool developed by the Council for Aid to Education in order to measure outcomes of a college education in three key areas: critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and written communication.

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) is another tool for measuring quality in higher education. Developed by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems and administered by the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, the NSSE
is designed to obtain, on an annual basis, information from scores of colleges and universities nationwide about student participation in programs and activities that institutions provide for their learning and personal development.
The idea is to understand
how undergraduates spend their time and what they gain from attending college. Survey items on The National Survey of Student Engagement represent empirically confirmed "good practices" in undergraduate education. That is, they reflect behaviors by students and institutions that are associated with desired outcomes of college.
The results of the NSSE have suggested these five benchmarks of effective educational practice:
  • Challenging intellectual and creative work — clear emphasis on acadmic effort, with high expectations for student performance (as evidenced by, e.g., frequent writing assignments).

  • Student interactions with faculty members inside and outside the classroom — to get first-hand exposure to how experts think about and solve practical problems.

  • A supportive campus environment — achieved through cultivating positive working and social relations among different groups on campus.

  • Active and collaborative learning — involving students in thinking about and applying what they are learning in different settings and in working with others to solve complex problems and master difficult material.

  • Enriching educational experiences — such as interacting with a diverse group of fellow students, undertaking internships and community service, and carrying out senior-year capstone courses or projects.
Individual colleges and universities use the results of the survey to identify ways of improving their undergraduates' experience at school. Prospective college students and their parents and advisers can look at the results for a range of schools when deciding which schools the students will apply to.

The NSSE was piloted in 1999. It has been administered every spring since then, with over 970 different colleges and universities participating in the first six years. You can read the NSSE's 2006 annual report here (pdf).


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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Stable Employment for the Disadvantaged: Employer Incentives vs. Intensive Intervention

An article in the January 15 edition of The Boston Globe reinforces conclusions of research on employing the disadvantaged that I discussed in two earlier posts.

The earlier posts, dealing with the Cincinnati Works and Michigan Work First programs, reported on real-world experience indicating that people facing barriers, such as unstable work history, criminal convictions, and skills deficits, have the best chance of achieving full-time permanent employment if they receive a planned array of services to help overcome the barriers. People provided with intensive employment-readiness intervention are less risky for employers to hire than people selected from an off-the-street pool.

The Globe article reports that a distinctly different approach adopted by the State of Massachusetts has produced distinctly different, less positive results. The Massachusetts Full Employment Program offers wage subsidies and tax breaks to employers as incentives for them to recruit and hire welfare recipients. But
[e]mployers have said the risks of hiring welfare recipients — including high turnover and greater need for job training — are not offset by the tax benefits. They have also complained the program is overly bureaucratic.
I will be watching to see what Massachusetts' next move turns out to be. One hopes they will learn from the experience of Cincinnati and Michigan.


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Monday, January 15, 2007

Permission to Get Started without a Formal Business Plan

The Wall Street Journal struck another blow against bureaucratic excess when they published an article on January 9 asking, "Do Start-Ups Really Need Formal Business Plans?"

Naturally, opinions differ. Kelly K. Spors reports that enough experienced hands say the answer is No for entrepreneurs to feel comfortable doing informal planning and then implementing an idea quickly, while the opportunity for it to win in the marketplace is brightest. The exception is when an entrepreneur needs external financing, in which case a formal business plan is likely to be a considerable help.

The issue is whether preparing a formal business plan improves a venture's odds. So far, Spors reports, researchers have found "little concrete evidence that extensive planning is highly correlated to success." Instead of laboring over a detailed plan, an entrepreneur is better advised to
write a "back-of-the-envelope" plan with basic financial projections, such as cash flow, and fine-tune the business model after launching the business.
In other words, an important advantage of going ahead with just an informal plan is that the entrepreneur can find out if his idea is sound without investing untold hours in spinning out detailed financial projections. With some market experience under his belt, the entrepreneur can adjust, as necessary, to take actual customer response into account.

Among the academics Spors talked with, Benson Honig at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario offers the most compelling counterpoint to the "plan meticulously" school of thought:
Mr. Honig says he teaches "contingency planning" to his students — or thinking about a business as constantly progressing, changing and making decisions based on the market climate — instead of traditional business planning.
Spors makes clear that there are informed observers who believe formal business plans are desirable even when an entrepreneur does not need external financing. These people argue that formal planning makes it more likely that significant issues and risks will be investigated and addressed.

After weighing both sides of the argument, I conclude that a rule of reason should prevail: Think your concept through, assure yourself that there are strong prospects for what you are proposing to sell, and, if you proceed, be prepared to learn and adjust as you get feedback from the market.


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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Web 2.0 Tools at Eastern Mountain Sports

In an article in the January issue of Optimize magazine, Jeffrey Neville, the CIO at Eastern Mountain Sports, explains how his company is actively expanding its internal and external use of Web 2.0 tools. The EMS experience suggests ideas for other organizations that are looking to facilitate collaboration both among employees and with suppliers and customers.

Neville points out that many EMS employees use Web 2.0 tools in their personal lives and "want to apply the same sorts of tools in the work environment, and to easily access data that's tailored to the roles they play in the organization and the business metircs they influence."

The particularly interesting wrinkle at EMS is that the company is integrating RSS feeds, wikis, and blogs with its corporate scoreboard, which tracks about 20 operational metrics. Neville explains that
... Web 2.0 tools encourage collaboration within our analytic dashboards — not only to find, summarize, and integrate relevant data, but also to ease the process of sharing it with internal and external stakeholders in an interactive way. We use RSS feeds to report on exceptions and alert users when certain operational metrics are out of tolerance range.
Down the road, EMS plans to set up a wiki for employees to use to propose, test, and refine hypotheses, e.g., proposed explanations for why Item A sells better than Item B. Blogs will be used to collect ideas relating to "a piece of data or a key metric."

The plan for exploiting the collaborative nature of Web 2.0 tools includes a plan for making sure everyone in the company has the skills they need in order to participate. Presumably, that means making training — informal and/or formal — available to anyone who is not already up-to-speed due to personal experience on the Web.


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Saturday, January 13, 2007

21st-Century Journalism XVII: The Five I's

Among the various avenues newspapers and TV broadcasters can explore to try to bolster their long-term prospects, one that I think needs more attention is substantially improving their reporting. I was heartened to find an article in the January/February issue of the Columbia Journalism Review that addresses this point.

Mitchell Stephens, a professor of journalism at New York University, argues:
In a day when information pours out of digital spigots, stories that package painstakingly gathered facts on current events — what happened, who said what, when — have lost much of their value. News now not only arrives astoundingly fast trom an astounding number of directions, it arrives free of charge. Selling what is elsewhere available free is difficult, even if it isn't nineteen hours stale.
Stephens strongly recommends that news organizations leave routine newsgathering — collecting and organizing the facts of a story — to the wire services and online news sites.

Stephens acknowledges that exclusives and investigative reports will remain viable — because they add value to the compilation of raw facts. As in any business, adding value is the key.

Stephens argues that the main way for the traditional media to add value in the Internet age is to perform analysis that helps people understand the significance of events. This would require training journalists to replace an approach based on presenting "just the facts," with an approach that includes drawing rational conclusions from the facts — not to be confused with finding sources who can be quoted drawing various conclusions, none of which is identified as the objectively correct conclusion.

Stephens offers The Independent in Great Britain as an example of what he has in mind. The Independent routinely publishes a mix of:
  • reporting a news event

  • placing it in wider context

  • adopting a coherent point of view on its significance
Stephens notes:
It is not that shocking, by European standards, that The Independent has been saying what it thinks; what is fresh and vital is the magazine-like boldness and focus (think The Economist) with which it is saying it.
Stephens goes on to describe the deepened reporting that presenting credible analysis and conclusions requires:
Getting the meaning of events will demand looking beyond press conferences, escaping the pack, tracking down more knowledgeable sources, spending more time with those who have been affected ...
Stephens notes that newspapers may be able to hire capable analysts from think tanks and universities, but he believes that "daily news-analysis organizations must also develop their own career path for analysts." This would commonly include a combination of on-the-ground experience and formal training.

The goal is to have reporters who go beyond Who, What, When and Where — now covered by the wire services and Internet news sources — to focus on finding out and explaining Why. Which brings us to the five I's. Such reporters, Stephens suggests, will produce stories that are Informed, Intelligent, Interesting, Industrious, and Insightful. And the newspapers and TV broadcasters who deliver such reporting will have a compelling raison d'être for the indefinite future.



Friday, January 12, 2007

Debriefing a Simulation

Use of simulations in business training is increasing. This is true both for relatively technical training, such as in aviation, and for training in which soft skills are an essential factor. It's the latter type of simulation, which I'll refer to generically as management simulations, that I want to discuss here.

Benefits of management simulations include:
  • Helping people think several steps ahead as they plan how to approach a situation. For instance, participants find that they fare better when they anticipate the likely reactions of competitors and other interested parties.

  • Affording an opportunity to try out ideas without having to worry about real-world consequences if things don't pan out as hoped.

  • Investigating the ramifications of landing in a worst-case situation.

  • Putting oneself in other people's shoes, e.g., people from a different culture or with different life experiences.
In order to realize these benefits as fully as possible, good debriefs are essential. In the Streamline spirit, I'd suggest the following short outline for a simulation debrief, with the understanding that a good facilitator will pose appropriate follow-up questions to ensure that participants share and reflect on all the valuable insights the simulation has produced.

Debrief questions (for both teams and individuals):
  • What are your strongest impressions of how the simulation played out? What did you put the most energy into?

  • What was frustrating for you? How did you cope with the frustration?

  • What strategies did you try? How did they work out for you — short-term and long-term?

  • What other strategies might you have tried? Based on your own experience and what you've heard from others, where do you think those strategies would have led?

  • What decisions were especially difficult to reach? How did you handle these decisions? Did certain types of decisions get easier as you went along?

  • What trade-offs and compromises did you make? Are there any that you would change?

  • Did you make any assumptions that proved useful? misguided? If yes, explain your thinking and, if applicable, how you adjusted your thinking as you went along.

  • How did your values influence your decisions?

  • What lessons learned are you planning to take back to your job and/or your personal life?
A final note: For a simulation that lasts more than a half-day, it's generally best to have interim debriefs so that people can get their impressions, reflections, and insights articulated before they fade.



Thursday, January 11, 2007

Training in a World of Niche Marketing

As implemenation of IT-enabled relationship marketing has become more effective, companies are shifting from mass marketing toward targeting compact consumer segments, and even individual consumers.

There has been a corresponding shift in the skills most important for marketing personnel.

This is one of the key points Niraj Dawar, professor of marketing at the University of Western Ontario's business school, makes in What Are Brands Good For?, published in the Fall 2004 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review.

Dawar's explains the rise of relationship marketing by arguing that
... the information revolution is undermining the logic of [consumer] aggregation, the very source of brand power. In fact, it is becoming evident that in an information-rich environment, consumer disaggregation is vastly more efficient and profitable than aggregation.
Dawar goes on to talk about the need to at least consider replacing brand management with segment management:
As with any radical change, disaggregation represents both opportunities and threats. The opportunities for sharpening the role of brands and redisributing some of their tasks to other tools are unprecedented. But as companies pursue such opportunities, they may end up reorganizing their marketing in a way that ultimately challenges the centrality of brands.
The strategic tasks Dawar has in mind are:
  • Building a relationship, which requires earning trust and credibility

  • Communicating a key benefit, which means staking a position

  • Charging a premium price
The tactical tasks are:
  • Driving trial and traffic and increasing sales volume

  • Building the likelihood of repurchase

  • Responding to competitive moves
In the business environment Dawar describes, "each brand becomes a tool in the toolbox of the marketer, whose job is manage consumer relationships, not brands." Along the same lines, Dawar sees brands increasingly having a derivative role in retailing. More and more, the primary requirement for manufacturers will be that they "become an essential element of the retailer's value proposition to particular consumer segments." A manufacturer's brands serve as a tool for achieving this result.

Which brings us to the implications for training.

In the world of mass marketing, brand management was central, and training focused on branding, message development, and managing relationships with marketing services agencies.

In the world of disaggregated marketing, Dawar believes the focus needs to be on deepening knowledge of:
  • particular consumer segments

  • consumer behavior

  • data interpretation and management
The latter skills enable marketers to effectively use a company's brands to develop a portfolio of differentiated value propositions. That portfolio, in turn, becomes the basis for building profitable customer relationships.


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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Evaluating a Proposed Training Investment

Usually, though not always, it is possible to pull together a meaningful quantitative analysis of the likely return on a proposed training investment.

Back in 1992, Training magazine published a widely cited article by James Hassett that offers a practical approach, an approach Hassett embodied in a Training Investment Analysis Work Sheet (pdf, p. 27).

The work sheet begins, as you would hope any training investment analysis would, with space for you to spell out the objective of the proposed training. You then list the audience and the period of time (e.g., one year) over which the impacts of the training will be measured.

The actual calculation of the anticipated return is carried out in either of two ways:

Option A — If it is feasible to quantify specific areas of impact on revenues, do so either by projecting a "most likely" scenario, or by projecting a likely range for each estimated impact. Hassett suggests looking at:
  • Increased sales

  • Higher productivity

  • Reduced errors [or other relevant quality measure]

  • Client retention

  • Employee retention

  • Any other expected impacts

  • Once you have estimated the individual revenue impacts, add them up to arrive at the revenue produced by training.
Option B — If disaggregated impacts cannot realistically be estimated, prepare a summary analysis in which you project revenue after training and then subtract revenue without training in order to estimate the revenue produced by training.

After using Option A or Option B to calculate the revenue produced by training, substract the cost of training to arrive at the estimated total return on training investment.

Note that this same template can be used to evaluate the ROI on training that has already taken place.



Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Distinction Between Design and Planning

I decided to have a look at the Army's new
counterinsurgency field manual (issued jointly with the Marine Corps). There is much of interest, but I have to say, after reading through the 282 pages, what most intrigued me was the careful distinction drawn between design and planning.

The manual summarizes the distinction as that between problem-setting and problem-solving. Design "inquires into the nature of a problem to conceive a framework for solving that problem." Planning "applies established procedures to solve a largely understood problem within an accepted framework."

In a nutshell (somewhat adapted):

Design: Problem-setting.
Planning: Problem-solving.

Design: Conceptual, so start with a "blank sheet."
Planning: Physical and detailed.

Design: Questions assumptions and methods.
Planning: Follows best-practice procedures.

Design: Develops understanding.
Planning: Develops products.

Design: Paradigm-setting.
Planning: Paradigm-accepting.

Design: Complemens planning, preparation, execution, and assessment.
Planning: Structures activity by establishing patterns and templates.

Design: Leader-driven dialogue.
Planning: Staff-centered process.

It is important to recognize that design and planning fall along a continuum — there is no bright line between them. On the other hand, you do need to determine upfront whether a particular situation requires starting at the design end of the spectrum.

A further key point is that design is iterative. As decision-makers gather further information and experience, they learn and adapt, a strong theme throughout the manual.


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Monday, January 08, 2007

Managing Your Boss

Every so often, the Harvard Business Review republishes an article that has proven especially useful over an extended period of time. One such is "Managing Your Boss," by John J. Gabarro and John P. Kotter, long-time members of the Harvard business school faculty. (Kotter is now retired.) The article was first published in 1980, and then reprinted, with a retrospective commentary, in 1993.

Gabarro and Kotter take position that bosses and employees are mutually dependent, and that this means that they share responsibility for building good working relationships. In other words, bosses and employees are more successful when they work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding.

Gabarro and Kotter provide a checklist that an employee can proactively use to note any areas in need of work in order to ensure understanding both of one's boss and of oneself, and also understanding of the context in which the boss is making decisions:
  1. Make sure you understand your boss, including his or her:
    • goals and objectives
    • pressures
    • strengths, weaknesses and blind spots
    • preferred work style

  2. Assess yourself and your needs, including:
    • strengths and weaknesses
    • personal style
    • predisposition toward dependence on authority figures

  3. Develop and maintain a relationship that:
    • fits both your needs and styles
    • is characterized by mutual expectations
    • keeps your boss informed
    • is based on dependability and honesty
    • selectively uses your boss's time and resources
It is important to understand that the active process of "managing your boss" means "consciously working with your superior to obtain the best possible results for you, your boss, and the company." For example, this post provides an outline of how to consciously plan a presentation to your boss so that it matches his or her preferred approach to decision-making. Note that there is no manipulation or insincerity involved.



Sunday, January 07, 2007

Bring News and Info Feeds to Your Computer

As a follow-on to yesterday's post, here's an overview of how to use a personal portal to make it easier to keep up with updates to your favorite news and information sites.

Increasingly news and information sites — both traditional media and blogs — include syndication capability. This means that you can arrange to have headlines and short descriptions notifying you of updates delivered to a news reader (aka news aggregator) that you either have installed on your computer, or that you access at a Web site. You are also provided with a link to the full article for each item whose headline is listed.1

There are basically two syndication formats:
  • RSS — Really Simple Syndication, in several versions. The most recent is 2.0.

  • Atom — developed in response to RSS standardization and versatility issues.
Because it's easy (if not feature-rich), I use My Yahoo as my news reader.2 To get my customized page of news feeds set up, I used two approaches, both accessed on Yahoo's Add Content page (reached via the "Add Content" link at the bottom of the My Yahoo page).
  • For most of the newspapers that are now sending me a list of headlines, I used the search and browse features on the Add Content page to home in on the websites I was interested in.

  • For some items on my customized page, e.g., the Washington Post, I started at the publisher's website and clicked on a special feed subscription button. Often this button is orange with an "XML" label (standing for the eXtensible Markup Language in which the syndication file is written), but it may also read "RSS" or "Atom" (in which case, it's blue).

    To find the syndication URL (Web address), right-click on the feed subscription button (Ctrl+click on Macs) to "Copy Shortcut." Or click on the feed subscription button and use Ctrl+C on your keyboard to copy the URL found in the address bar of your browser. (Ignore the raw code that appears in the main window on your screen.) Return to the Yahoo Add Content page and click on "Add RSS by URL" to bring up a page with a box into which you can paste the URL (use Ctrl+V). Finish by clicking on "Add."

    Some sites have a "My Yahoo" button. Clicking on this button adds the RSS for the site instantly to your My Yahoo page.
If you want to track news updates about a particular topic (e.g., "telecommunications" or "Andy Grove"), you can do that on the Yahoo news search page. Type in your search terms. When the search results come up, click on the "My Yahoo" button and, on the next screen, click on "Add to My Yahoo." Yahoo will pull the latest headlines from any site that mentions your topic and deliver them to your My Yahoo page.

1 Some sites now syndicate full text of articles, podcasts, images, video and metadata. So long as you have compatible software (on your computer or Web-based), you can set up subscriptions so that when new material is posted it comes to you automatically. For instance, if you wish to subscribe to podcasts, popular services enabling you to do so include iTunes and Juice.

2 You need a Yahoo ID in order to create a My Yahoo page. You can register with Yahoo by following the instructions provided on each of Yahoo's personalized services pages.

If you want to try a news reader other than My Yahoo, you can get a list of possibilities from Yahoo or Google. Two news readers you might like to check out for comparison to the Yahoo news reader are Bloglines and Newsgator.



Saturday, January 06, 2007

Business Acumen XII: Collecting Business Intelligence

With so much information available for mining in today's Internet-enabled world, it's good to have a routine for staying up-to-date.

The sorts of information you want to keep track of would generally include:
  • Annual reports of companies of interest, including your own. You can go to individual company websites, or use the Securities and Exchange Commission's edgar.sec.gov site.

  • Current financial results and the factors that are driving these results. Company websites and Edgar can provide data on financial results, while the driving forces can be found in analytical pieces published in the general and trade press (online and offline). For example, it doesn't take long to find a report on weak earnings in the newspaper industry that points the finger at "the rising cost of newsprint, flat or falling circulation and sluggish advertising growth."

  • External forces, such as rising energy costs, that impinge on the prospects for your company and other companies of interest.

  • Strategies and actions of competitors, along with whatever intelligence you can pick up concerning the underlying rationales.
In addition to tapping the sources of information already mentioned, you can keep up with business affairs by looking regularly at:
  • Business magazines such as Business Week and Fortune

  • Government publications, many of which are online. For print copies of Federal government documents, you can go to the nearest depository library or purchase from the Government Printing Office's online store.

  • Network and cable TV websites, such as www.cnnfn.com.

  • Research reports and industry newsletters.

  • Your company's internal documents (some or all of which may be accessible via intranet) — strategic plans, business plans, marketing plans, newsletters, monthly and quarterly reports, etc.

  • Discussions in company meetings you attend.

  • Informal conversations with colleagues.
The key, as in most areas of business performance, is consistency. By staying on top of relevant economic, industry, and company information, you equip yourself to identify issues in need of attention, to plan the best way to reach your goals, and to adjust your goals as opportunities evolve.



Friday, January 05, 2007

The Twelfth Day of Christmas: "The Briefcase"

"The Briefcase" appeared in Madoc, the first book Irish poet Paul Muldoon published following his move to the United States in 1987. The poem is dedicated to fellow poet and Irishman, Seamus Heaney, 12 years Muldoon's senior and recipient of the 1995 Nobel prize in literature.

The Briefcase
for Seamus Heaney

I held the briefcase at arm's length from me;
the oxblood or liver
eelskin with which it was covered
had suddenly grown supple.

I¹d been waiting in line for the cross-town
bus when an almighty cloudburst
left the sidewalk a raging torrent.

And though it contained only the first
inkling of this poem, I knew I daren't
set the briefcase down
to slap my pockets for an obol -

for fear it might slink into a culvert
and strike out along the East River
for the sea. By which I mean the 'open' sea.

Paul Muldoon is currently the Howard G. B. Clark '21 Professor at Princeton University and Chair of the University Center for the Creative and Performing Arts.


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Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Eleventh Day of Christmas: "We Wear the Mask"

By the time Paul Laurence Dunbar died in 1906 at the age of only 33, this son of former slaves had become an acclaimed writer, both in the US and overseas. The poem below is often cited as his most famous.

We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes —
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
         We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To Thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile,
But let the world think other-wise,
         We wear the mask!


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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Tenth Day of Christmas: "Outwitted"

As we try to pin down a reasonable definition of "victory" in an ambiguous situation of conflict, the poem below by Edwin Markham provides some food for thought.


He drew a circle that shut me out
      Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
But love and I had the wit to win
      We drew a circle that took him in.


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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Ninth Day of Christmas: "Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile"

Act 2 of Shakespeare's As You Like It opens with the speech quoted below. The speaker is the exiled Duke Senior, who has just entered the Forest of Arden with Lord Amiens and several other lords.

Reading Duke Senior's words invites reflection on "the uses of adversity."

Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,
The seasons' difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter's wind,
Which, when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
'This is no flattery: these are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.'
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in every thing.


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Monday, January 01, 2007

The Eighth Day of Christmas: "The world is too much with us"

In the poem below, William Wordsworth expresses some of the central values of the Romantic poets.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. —Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.


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